'Brut Nature' or 'Brut Zero' champagnes contain less than 3 grams of residual sugar per litre, as opposed to the 6-15 grams typical in most Brut style champagnes and, if made correctly, can show great purity and expression of fruit but if made badly, they can be incredibly austere and thin. The champagne houses tend to use riper vintages as a base to the blend so these blends can be naturally balanced without the need for the sweet dosage. This style of champagne is not, however, necessarily a new concept. Many champagne houses use much lower dosages in their prestige cuvees. The addition of a dosage is often described as 'make up' for the champagne, so the better the champagne, in theory, the less dosage it needs to hide it flaws. This means Brut Nature champagnes can be some of the most candid, frank expressions of terroir and house style that there are.
So, what do Brut Zero champagnes bring to the table that Brut champagnes can't? For a start they are some of the least calorific wines you can buy. Brut nature champagnes have around 65 calories per 125ml glass which is all very well but they are much more than just a diet option. They are, also, incredibly food friendly because their high acidity levels make them a great palate cleanser. They work well with delicate foods like sushi, scallops and simply cooked fish and also work fantastically with fatty foods such as caviar and foie gras beacue the acidity cut through the fat.
Here are some of the best Brut Nature or Brut Zero champagnes I have tasted recently:
Perle d'Ayala Nature Brut 2002 - 20% Pinot Noir, 80% Chardonnay. This champagne is made from grapes from only Grand Cru and Premiers Cru villages. All the wines have been left on their lees for five years which helps to give them an aromatic nose and complex palate. This champagne has subtle red fruit along with a chalky minerality, candied lemons and a pleasant smokiness. £79.95 from Champagne Direct
Billecart-Salmon Extra Brut NV - 40% Pinot Meunier, 35% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay. Released last July this is one of the new kids on the block. It is made in a very similar way to its esteemed sibling, the Brut Reserve but is left on its lees for slightly longer to allow all its components to mingle. It has a wonderfully floral nose and a soft palate full of brioche and dried fruits and a slightly smokey character. £38.85 from Berry Brothers and Rudd
Laurant Perrier Ultra Brut NV - 55% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir. This is only made in very ripe years with high natural levels of sugar and the componant wines are selected from parcels which have an average of 97% on the echelle des crus. This champagne has a fine bead and a light palate with preserved lemons and a slightly saline minerality. It is a perfect match for super fresh oysters. £38 from The Champagne Company
Tarlant Zero NV - 33% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Meunier. This Oeuilly based house is a huge believer in the low dosage style and this is their flagship champagne. It is lean and focused with a razor-like citrus hit and crushed shells. I think this will appeal to Chablis Drinkers £27 from Marks and Spencer