Monday, August 4, 2008

Three Versions of the Same Wine... Or Is It?

It’s sometimes assumed that the more lees aging a wine receives, the better off it is. While tasting this morning with Gilles Dumangin of J. Dumangin Fils in Chigny-les-Roses, he pulled out an instructive pair of bottles for us to sample. They were both the same wine, Dumangin’s 1994 vintage, and both dosed at the same level (12 grams per liter). The only difference was that one was disgorged in 2000 and the other in 2002.

Eight and six years, respectively, after their disgorgements, the two wines were very different, and not in a way that I expected. The bottle disgorged in 2000 was developed in flavor but still lively, with firm acidity and balanced notes of cream, butter toffee and dried fruits. It was a delicious example of a well-matured champagne, and one that I enjoyed drinking. The later-disgorged bottle, however, felt much less fresh, with ponderously honeyed, caramelly flavors that made it tiring to drink, and the acidity was much less prominent.

Now, a comparison of only one bottle of each, especially with 14-year old wine, is prone to variability, and you could attribute the latter bottle’s advanced maturity to cork variation or other perturbations common to wine. But Dumangin has consistently experienced the same results, and specifically opened these two bottles to demonstrate this to me, emphasizing that choosing the time of disgorgement is critical to the way a champagne develops. “We’ve realized that when you disgorge the wine when it’s very young, it stays fresh for a long time afterwards,” he says.

What is perhaps even more interesting is that he’s re-releasing the 1994 now as a Vinothèque wine, but offering it as an Extra Dry! I thought that I’d initially heard wrong, and later took the above photo as proof. It’s common that people dose old wines less, but hardly anyone would suggest dosing an old wine more. Yet the wine is delicious, and at 17 grams per liter of sugar, it’s hardly a sweet wine. In fact, it tastes less sweet than some so-called brut NVs out there, the dosage giving it richness of body and texture and expanding the flavors much in the way that a Riesling Kabinett is often more fragrant and aromatically complex than a Riesling trocken. “I tried 12 different dosages, from zero to 24 grams of sugar per liter,” says Dumangin. “We tried blind tastings with our oenologists, looking for the dosage level that developed the aromas of old wine the best. It happened to be at 17 grams.” I always say that each wine finds its balance at a different level, and this wine seems perfectly happy where it is. A terrific and thought-provoking experience.

4 comments:

J David Harden said...

That's very interesting (as usual, I've now become a regular reader). Having had the chance to drink a few older Champagnes recently, I was coming to the conclusion that I might prefer young Champagne. I've noticed that several have in common a nose of sourdough and wet leaves that I'm not super crazy about (course, could just be I'm not drinking very good, though old, Champagne). But perhaps it's not about the bottle age?

Henri Vasnier said...

David, it's both time prior to disgorgement, and time in the bottle after disgorgement. In general, the older a wine was at disgorgement, the faster it will age after disgorgement. In other words, the age at disgorgement affects the RATE at which the wine will mature thereafter. (See generally Tom Stevenson's highly expert writings, plus personal experience.)

In theory, there is an optimum time at which to disgorge any particular wine, and Peter's posting raises the intriguing question whether the optimum dosage for a specific wine might vary depending on exactly when that wine was disgorged. The 1994 Dumangin example seems to teach that it may not pay to be too dogmatic about such matters?

spume said...

Fascinating post, Peter. And an interesting tasting to sit in on as well. I can't help in this situation but to think of Movia's Puro, which isn't disgorged at all; or rather, it's up to either the sommelier or the consumer to more or less take care of that issue.

Compared to Champagne, Puro seems dull, or at least not as racy. I do find it a lively wine, just in a different way. Old style cider comes to mind.

How it will age of course is a mystery.

Another question comes to mind, and I don't know the answer, or even if it makes sense: Does extended lees aging dull acidity in some way?

- wolfgang

Peter Liem said...

Yeah, that Puro is crazy! I like it, though, in its way. The last time I saw Ales Kristancic he disgorged it in a bucket of water, which I thought was the weirdest thing ever.

I don't know if lees aging dulls acidity or if it creates a richer presence and flavor that simply balances acidity in a different way. I can't see the acidity actually decreasing.