Thursday, July 30, 2009

Pascal Doquet Sans Soufre

First of all, let me emphasize that I am not a no-sulfur junkie. I have no less of a passion for natural wine than anybody else, but I am not a member of the religious order of Natural Wine, and I have a healthy distaste for anything resembling dogma, fanaticism or inflexibility of belief (unless it relates to football). I am not of the opinion that sulfur is intrinsically evil or that wine is automatically inferior when sulfur is used in its production. And just to throw a little elbow in that direction, I have tasted enough brown and oxidized wines (distinctly different from oxidative wines, mind you) that might have actually been improved if their makers hadn't been so dogmatic about this whole no-sulfur thing.

So now that that's out of the way, I can get on with telling you about this champagne that I'm drinking. It was actually opened two days ago, when I was down in Vertus with Pascal Doquet: he poured a pair of wines blind, and told me that they were in fact the same wine except for one detail. I guessed it on the second try—my first guess was that the oak was different, as it was so much more raw in one of the wines, but after that I did guess that one of them was made without sulfur. It's a 2007 from Le Mont Aimé, same grapes, same press, all vinified in barrel. The only difference is that part of it was sulfured and part wasn't.

The two wines are indeed remarkably different, even from the moment that the bottles were opened. The Avec Soufre version is tighter, crisper, yet it feels a bit unfriendly. It's like a sulking kid that just sits against the wall and pouts all through recess. Even now, two days later, it feels like it's fighting its wood, refusing to really integrate and become harmonious. The Sans Soufre is richer and fuller in aroma, and balances its oak much better at this stage. As with most good unsulfured wines, there's a certain voluptuousness about it, something sensual and visceral: in French, you might say it's gourmand. Pascal warned me that the unsulfured wine declines much more quickly after opening and that it ought to be drunk up soon, but even now, two days after it was opened, it feels generous and expressive, without any signs of fading. It's more oxidative than the sulfured wine, to be sure, but it's in no way oxidized. Right now, it tastes really good.

These won't be released until maybe around 2012, so they still have a long way to go in their development. How they will appear three years from now, I have no idea. Will the sulfured wine integrate better with its wood? Will it appear much fresher than the unsulfured version? Will we regret not drinking the unsulfured wine back in 2009 when it was still vibrant and delicious? Only time will tell.


Anonymous said...

Hey Peter,

Did he say how much he bottled with and without sulfer?


ned said...

That's cool. I like the willingness to experiment shown here by Mr. Doquet.

Thomas said...

Hi Peter,

Very interesting.

Speaking sulfur….I can relate to your intro, where the discussion can take form of almost religion.

In the past I have never reacted to sulfur, but some of my wine drinking friends have and they almost turn green when they detect it. I think on paper it’s a sensitivity barometer that works very individually.

However – my recent 2 encounters with Dom Perignon, the 1996 and the 1999 vintage, even surprised my own palate. Having never really paid any attention to sulfur and having had the 1996 vintage 7-8 times, I was now chocked by the level of sulfur. On the nose, it takes purity away from the wines, even though I am still not that sensitive. But the real problem for me is on the palate. No doubt that I have recently falling in love with the new side of Champagne and in some cases also biodynamic stuff. This had no doubt affected my reaction pattern. Not so much that I feel blessed and only drink wines wearing organic knitted socks – no. Sulfur (in big proportions) kills in my opinion the wines ability to show life on the palate. Life – or energy is vital for me and even more importantly with Champagne as the mousse is loaded with particles of energy. With tons of sulfur the mousses looses refreshing energy and goes lifeless and almost sticky.

So – to some extend, if we stay away from the dogmatic beliefs, I think the sulfur debate holds valid material if sulfur is used to mask raw material faults in the wine

Or what do you think?

Best from,


Jeremy said...


Interesting tasting Peter. I can see the temptation about not using sulfur, but as a winemaker, it's always important to look at where a wine is going taste-wise rather than trying to have it taste delicious now. The rapid oxidation of the Sans-Soufre would make me really worried about shipping, a few years down the line.

Thomas: Sulfur does are actually lower in Champagne than for still wines in general. DP is not particularly sulfur heavy, but they do have an especially reductive style, meaning that the wines have a lot of reduced sulfur compounds. This doesn't necessarily mean higher sulfur, but a more obvious form of it on the nose. I agree that it can be a little distracting, but in the case of DP, I find that it evolves nicely with age (in my limited experience). It tends to turn a little petrolly.


Thomas said...

Hi Jeremy,

I agree that Dom Perignon can show somewhat reductive in style and do have a good life span. Not that I have a huge preference sheet to judge from, but I have had a 1966 about a year ago.

Though, this recently tasted 1996 Vintage got worse and worse all the time over the 2-3 hours it took me to drink it.

Hmmmm….well time will tell….I have a few more ;-).



Jeremy said...

Hmmm, I haven't had the 96 that many times and there's always the question of how much the current wines have in common with the wines made in the 50s, 60s, 70s. I may be completely wrong. I'm glad you ahve the stock to test this. Let us know your conclusions!


chris said...

I was with Pascal on Wednesday and wanted to try his Sans Soufre but some bugger had run off with the bottles!

Peter Liem said...

Jesse: You know, I simply forgot to ask. I can't imagine that the quantities are very large, however.

Jeremy: Yeah, I guess that's what I'm trying to say. Sans soufre wines always taste good when they're super-young, but they also always tend to slide downhill quite rapidly. Especially when they have to be put on a truck or a boat (or both), and sent somewhere.

Thomas: Like Jeremy, I find DP to be more reductive than overly sulfured, and that reduction can actually be quite painful and constricting when the wines are young (and 1996 DP is definitely young). Having said that, I haven't had the "regular" '96 DP for about a year, so I can't really attest to how it's showing right now. I will say, though, that I was never very impressed with it until I tasted it as Oenotheque, so perhaps there's something there.

Chris: What can I say. You should have contacted me. Wednesday was my birthday....

Brooklynguy said...

happy belated birthday peter! your first paragraph is very well said.

and hi jeremy! hope all is well with you and yours. regarding the reduced sulfur compounds you mention, this is a conscious decision on the winemaker's part, right (by not stirring lees, or something)? is it possible to describe in a nutshell, the benefits of making wine this way versus in an oxidative style?

Anonymous said...


Désolé de ne pouvoir poursuivre en anglais, mais ma pratique de cette langue m'est vraiment trop limitée.

Nous utilisons très peu de soufre dans nos vinifications champenoises. Pour ma part, les vins contiennent de 30 à 50 mg/l à la mise en bouteille. Cela est nécessaire pour réussir la « prise de mousse » dans les conditions difficiles de nos caves fraîches.

La "réduction Moët" est plutôt la conséquence d'une vinification volontairement sans apport d'oxygène.

En 2007, après quelques années d'apprentissage, j'ai engagé en certification biologique l'intégralité de ma production.
Il y a là une part de risques assumés dans notre région si sensible au mildiou.
J'ai appris par l'expérimentation à me défaire des conseils des œnologues, qui sont tenus par leur contrat à diminuer au maximum les risques de déviation pendant la vinification.
Souvent les œnologues ne vont pas dans les vignes, ne mangent pas de raisins. Il "assurent" un résultat à partir d’une matière première dont ils ne sont pas responsables, et cela est légitime.

Mes vinifications sont devenues avec le temps le plus simple possible. La qualité du raisin né dans des vignes vivantes, je la vérifie en cueillant avec mon équipe de vendangeurs et en goutant dans les raisins le vin en devenir.
Si une partie de vigne a rencontré un problème, de pourriture par exemple, j'en suis averti et je peux intervenir immédiatement dans la vigne.

Les raisins des cuvées dégustées par Peter, cueillis les 18 et 19 septembre 2007 quand toutes les maisons avaient depuis longtemps nettoyé leurs pressoirs, titraient 11.5 d'alcool potentiel.
J'ai utilisé les jus des deux premières presses, séparés après homogénéisation.
Deux pièces neuves de 228 l de même provenance ont été utilisées pour chacun des deux vins jumeaux afin de ne pas faire intervenir une déviation issue d'une précédente vinification.
547 bouteilles de vin sans soufre ajouté et 573 bouteilles de vin avec 41 mg/l de soufre ont été mises en cave, de quoi assurer des dégustations comparatives pendant de nombreuses années.
Les bouteilles que nous avons ouvertes avec Peter avaient été dosées avec un moût de raisin concentré légèrement sulfité pour un dosage brut à 7g/l. Ce petit apport de soufre au dégorgement explique peut-être la bonne tenue du vin après deux jours d’ouverture de la bouteille.

Un sulfitage modéré au dégorgement pour maîtriser l’entrée d’oxygène dans la bouteille n’est pas en contradiction pour moi avec cette vinification sans soufre. Elle répondra peut-être à ce risque inconnu qui entoure nos bouteilles après le départ de notre cave.

Faire ce vin sans soufre était pour moi une nouvelle expérience que je vais renouveler cette année en plus grand volume. Car nous avons le meilleur anti-oxydant dans nos bouteilles avec le gaz carbonique. L‘action anti-bactérienne du soufre n’est pas toujours nécessaire si nous avons réussi à obtenir des raisins très sains et gorgés des minéraux de nos terroirs.

La prochaine fois, Peter, je préparerai une variante sulfité et non sulfité après dégorgement.
Et peut-être aussi une version plus sulfitée et sans fermentation malolactique du pressoir suivant cueilli dans la même parcelle.

Au plaisir,


Thomas said...

Thanks guys, for some insight about the Dom Perignon. I will defiantly cellar my remaining bottles for some time now.

Pascal – your Champagne sounds very interesting. I will see if I can find it here in Denmark



ned said...

Peter, I don't know if you will see this but Decanter reports Drappier releasing an NV No Dosage Blanc de Noirs today.

Can you try it? Also can you find out if any will be exported?

ned said...

Ha, it's been pointed out to me that the Drappier Sans Soufre has been released in the past and that you have written about previously, so apparently Decanter is not reporting developments in a timely fashion,
and not very accurately at that.

Franck PASCAL said...

Bonjour tout le monde,

Comme Pascal (je te salue bien, Pascal), je tourne aussi autour des vinifications sans soufre depuis un petit moment... car je crois qu'on beaucoup apprendre de cette approche.

Ainsi, en 2008, 6 vins différents ont été vinifiés sans soufre, dont un blanc qui a été vinifié comparativement avec et sans soufre.

Je ne les pas présenté a Salon Terres et Vins de Champagne de peur de passer pour un illuminé.

Toutefois, je ce que je peux constater, c'est que les vins sans soufre présentent une précision, un douceur, un éclat, une dégestibilité et une attractivité sans équivalent par rapport aux vins avec soufre.

Certes, il s'agit d'expériementations nécessaires pour progresser dans notre métier et en accord avec nos convictions profondes.

Quel plaisir de voir des rouges à la robe pure et éclatante, et des blancs à la robe si cristaline et brillante.

Dans les bariques, le boisé est intégralement intégré alors que la portion avec soufre change la perception du boisé.

La mise en bouteille de nos champagnes a eu lieu en Aout, toujours après la floraison.

Les assemblages ont aussi eu lieu en Juillet, après la floraison (c'est très important de faire les dégustations d'assemblage après la floraison). La décision d'assembler ces vins sans soufre ou de les tirer séparément a été difficile à prendre, tant ils gagnaient en précision aromatique, minéralité, en complexité, en longueur en bouche, et j'en suis convaincu, en potentiel de vieillissement.

Je n'aurais jamais pu tenir un tel discours si je n'avais osé fair esais car les cours d'oenologie nous enseignent exactement l'inverse !

Bref, décision a été prise d'élever le niveau de tous nos assemblages en intégrant les vins vinifiés sans soufre dans nos champagnes. J'ai trouvé le résultat extrêment prometteur et j'ai hâte de déguster ces vins après 6 mois et 1 an de bouteille.

Comme Pascal, j'envisage d'aller plus loin cette année, mais je reste prudent: ne pas tirer de conclusion hative, avancer step by step, valider ses impressions dans le temps. Les essais de 2008 correspondent à une année très particulière, où pH, acidité, état sanitaire étaient au rendez-vous pour réussir ces 6 vinifications sans soufre.

Je suis content que Pascal et Peter aient ouvert le débat sur les vinifications sans soufre. Je n'ai jamais osé parler de ces aspects des vinifications de peur d'être pris à parti ou ridiculisé par les préjugés...

Bien à vous, et bonnes vendanges 2009 à la Champagne !

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