What Does 'Dosage' Mean in Wine? | Wine Enthusiast
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What, Exactly, Does ‘Dosage’ Mean in Wine?

Dosage is a useful term to learn for anyone who spends their hard-earned dollars on a bottle of bubbles. Sometimes called liqueur d’expedition, dosage is a sweet liquid that winemakers use to add complexity, flavor and balance to sparkling wines.

What is Dosage?

“It’s basically a blend of wine and sugar that’s unique to every producer,” says Raymond Ringeval, the global commercial director of Champagne Palmer. “The amount of sugar determines the dryness or sweetness of a finished bottle.”

Dosage has two primary components: reserve wine, which is sometimes an aged version of the same variety, plus sugar or another sweetener. It’s added right after riddling. When winemakers remove the yeast cells from the bottlenecks, they add the dosage then rest the bottles for at least three months.

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The exact ratio of sweetener-to-wine varies by producer, region, desired outcome and other factors. “Some Champagne houses purport to have their own proprietary dosage recipes,” says Davon D. E. Hatchett, a writer and wine-law attorney who runs the Instagram account @thebubbleista. These include “ingredients such as vintage Champagne, kirsch, beet sugar, Cognac or Port wine.”

Dosage is part of the arsenal of winemakers around the world, from producers working out of the limestone caves of Champagne to Cap Classique vintners on South Africa’s Western Cape. However, it’s possible to make bubbles without it. Sparkling wines that don’t undergo a second fermentation in the bottle, like pét-nats or Prosecco, don’t receive dosage. Additionally, some traditional-method sparkling winemakers opt not to sweeten their liqueur d’expedition to make drier styles of Champagne.

How Dosage Works

It’s tempting to think of dosage as a sweetener, akin to adding a splash of simple syrup to a glass of iced tea, but its effects are much more complex.  

“Dosage can completely transform a wine,” says Cédric Jacopin, the chef de caves at De Saint-Gall Champagne. “Through sugar concentration, it can influence perceived sweetness or, conversely, accentuate the wine’s acidity or bitter flavors. It can also affect the aromatic expression of the wine, both on the nose and on the palate.”

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Dosage impacts texture, too. Some winemakers calibrate dosage to create a richer, rounder mouthfeel, while others prefer to maintain a steelier style. 

They use dosage to accommodate vintage variables and the effects of aging, too. “A very mature and powerful vintage, like 2002 or 2012, will require less sugar than a more mineral and fresh vintage, like 2008 or 2013,” Jacopin says. “With aging, dosages generally decrease.” He might kick off a vintage with one level of dosage, for example, and adjust it two years later to accommodate the effects of again and maintain house style.

Dosage is Especially Important Now

As the climate and consumer tastes change, dosage is especially vital to how winemakers fine-tune their bottles. 

“One of the consequences of climate change is the increased maturity of grapes at harvest,” Ringeval says. Warmer temperatures mean that grapes in a historically cool region like Champagne contain more sugar right when they’re picked. As a result, wines made with those grapes typically require less dosage to balance them out. “We’ve gradually reduced dosage of our non-vintage brut reserve wines to adapt to the overall ripeness we’ve noted over the years,” he adds.

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Drier wines are more popular now than in previous years, so winemakers are inclined to release more brut, extra brut, brut nature and zero dosage bottlings. If you’re staring at a wall of labels at a wine shop, it might be helpful to break down those terms numerically: brut sparkling wines contain up to 12 grams per liter (g/L) of sugar; extra brut up to six g/L; and brut nature or zero dosage wines have less than three g/L and no additional sugar.

“Some sippers claim that zero dosage is akin to drinking Champagne in the purest form, while others claim it to be too bone dry and austere to be enjoyable,” Hatchett says. But, at the end of the day, “it’s really a palate preference.”

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