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Dear Dr. Vinny,
A friend of mine insists that many Champagnes are adulterated with apple juice. I maintain that this is rubbish and an old wives’ tale. It may have been so 100 years ago but no longer. Who is right, please?
—John D., France
“Adulterated” might be a strange way to phrase it, but you both are a little bit right.
If a bubbly is made in the traditional method of the Champagne region (the méthode traditionelle), just before corking, a small amount of what’s called dosage is added to the bottle, to replace the sediment removed during disgorgement. Dosage is typically a mix of sugar and wine, and how much dosage is added will determine the final style—whether the bubbly is extra brut, brut, extra dry, or so on. After all, before the dosage is added, all the sugar in the original wine has been converted to alcohol and the Champagne would be bracingly dry. A little bit of dosage goes a long way to balance out that acidity and round out the body.
I checked in with Wine Spectator senior editor Alison Napjus, who has the awesome job of reviewing Champagne, and she says that when it comes to dosage, many houses will use wine from the same pressing, but some will used aged reserve wines in hopes of adding complexity. Prior to 1960, it was legal to use other liquids instead of wine. Cognac was common, but Port, kirsch and elderberry or framboise wines were also used in the late 1800s—and perhaps even apple juice.
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