In his latest Tipple Tattle, Francis O’Hagan ponders the up and down relationship between sugar and Champagne
Champagne houses are quick to adapt to changes in consumer fashion and taste and they’ve been ahead of the game when it comes to reducing sugar content. No need for a sugar tax in this sector which offers a good range of low-sugar, dry-to-bone-dry options. And, of course, the resulting low calorie nature of Champagne has long made it the drink of choice for the figure-conscious.
But it wasn’t always this way. Back in the 1830s Veuvee Clicquot was adding a whopping 144 grams of sugar to a litre of champagne at the final step of production called “Dosage’ (Champagne is high in acidity so a mixture of wine and sugar syrup is usually added to the sparkling wine at this stage.) With these levels of sugar, Veuve Clicquot was delivering more sugar content than a regular Coca Cola which probably explains why it was usually served with dessert.
As sugar became more affordable, demand for Champagne increased and consumers – particularly us Brits - wanted to drink it all meal long. Producers responded by dramatically reducing sugar levels and Brut Champagne (less than 12g of sugar per litre) became really popular in the 1970s. It’s still the most common Champagne bought today but in the 1990s several houses responded to a demand for an even drier, crisper drink with the introduction of a “Brut Nature/Extra Brut” containing around 5g/l of sugar. The fashionable hype around the low-calorie nature of Champagne may be behind Pommery’s decision to launch its first “naked” champagne in 2016 which contains absolutely no added sugar.
However, this downward sugar trend could be on the turn. With the Champagne industry coming under increasing pressure from Prosecco (12g /l sugar) - which has seen sales go through the roof - some houses are fighting back with innovative Demi Sec (32-60g/l sugar) wines. Moet Ice and Pommery Sur Glas are both Demi Sec Champagnes designed to be drunk over ice in a large glass by the pool or on the ski slopes. This latest twist brings new meaning to the phrase “putting the Champagne on ice”!