While there are many producers in Champagne who seek to decrease the amount of sulfur that they use in their wines, I’ve never heard of a champagne made entirely without sulfur, from start to finish. At Champagne Drappier a few days ago, Michel Drappier allowed me to compare his excellent Brut Nature, a non-dosé, 100-percent Urville pinot noir based on 2004, with a version of the same wine made without sulfur.
Drappier notes that this came from the same vineyards and the same lots as the other wine, but it was made in different tanks, as the “regular” Brut Nature saw a minimal amount of sulfur at the beginning, while this had none. None during the entire vinification, none at bottling, and none at disgorgement. Of course, there is a miniscule amount of naturally-occurring sulfites (just to allow us to harass and ridicule all of those people who say that they’re allergic to sulfites but really aren’t), but that doesn’t count.
As expected, the sans soufre version is more evolved and more oxidative in tone, with a gently burnished, biscuity richness. The sulfured version still shows a lot of bold, primary cherry and berry fruit, whereas this has a nuttier, more developed and assimilated set of flavors. It’s not unlike the experience of tasting a wine by Claude Courtois or Emmanuel Houillon, where the wine feels softer, more visceral, with a more physical sensuality. I thought it was delicious.
This bottle was disgorged in November of 2007, and Drappier says that “it’s at the end of its life.” He intends it for drinking within the first year of release, and he’s about to release the next version in a few weeks. Although the house has been experimenting with un-sulfured champagnes since 2000, they didn’t release a commercial version until last year, as it took them a while to get it right. Drappier notes that they’ve learned a lot in the process as well. “We don’t want to make all of our wines without sulfur,” he says, “but at the same time, this experiment has helped us to lower the level of sulfur across the range and understand better how it affects the wine.”
It reminded me of tasting at Marcel Lapierre, who also has an un-sulfured version of Morgon that’s fascinating to compare with the “regular” version, but I didn’t have quite the same experience there. With Lapierre, I found the un-sulfured version to actually be more fruity, more nuanced, more pungent, as if you were looking through glass while drinking the regular version and then had the window opened. I’m interested to return to Drappier shortly to taste a recently disgorged sample of the un-sulfured wine, to see if I might have a similar experience. It might be different with champagnization, I don’t know. But there’s only one way to find out.