Not only do lower-sugar wines resonate with current health trends, they also open restaurants to new pairing opportunities.
In the age of minimalism, less is more for many consumers. To that point, restaurant guests are opting for a bit less of everything in their libations—especially alcohol and sugar. Indeed, whether or not a guest is specifically asking for sparkling drink with less sugar, they are asking for crisp, drier versions. These lower-sugar bubblies are typically labeled as brut nature, brut zero, or “non-dosé,” indicating they contain less than 3 grams of residual sugar per liter.
“I think these wines are becoming more popular with guests as a result of more people drinking Champagne and sparkling wine,” says executive chef Erik Niel of Easy Bistro & Bar and Main Street Meats in Chattanooga, Tennessee. “The zero dosage/brut zero movement is just an extension of the fact that more people are trying sparkling and exploring all that it has to offer.”
Historically, because the grapes in Champagne often struggled to ripen, dosage (the French term for sweetened wine) was necessary to bring balance to the final wine and temper the bracing acidity. Climate change has improved ripening, making dosage less vital for balance. The lower-sugar styles tend toward brilliant, crisp freshness and an almost architectural polish.
At Eastern Standard in Boston, wine director and sommelier Vanessa Rea describes these effervescent wines as vibrant, lively, and energetic to convey the lack of sweetness and emphasize the dryness. “Guests who are looking for a wine that is dry, crisp, and linear almost always enjoy these wines,” she says. “I find that accentuating the texture alongside the bright nature of wines without dosage is a great way to connect with our guests.”
Sommelier Leslie Hartman of The French Room in Dallas observes that the term zero dosage seemed to be a buzz word for a period of time, but adjectives like crisp, bone-dry, fresh, and mineral-driven have taken over. A wine with a very low dosage will also offer that clean drinking experience, especially if it isn’t made in a more oxidative (oaked) style.
For Niel, seafood is a natural complement for low-sugar sparkling wines. “We sell these styles as super dry and acidic wines that pair beautifully with oysters and small plates that feature seafood. There are plenty of other pairings that do well with them, but these options have been successful for us,” he says.
Hartman considers these styles perfect for aperitifs. Because the acid is more perceptible, low-sugar wines elicit a mouth-watering sensation, making them good companions to crudité or salty seafood. She also prefers using non-dosage styles in cocktails as well. Some of her personal favorites include Georges Vesselle Brut Nature Millesime 2011 Grand Cru and Duval-Leroy Blanc de Blanc Brut Nature. These are excellent paired with oysters and lighter styles of caviar.
Rea looks for contrast in her pairings, seeking foods with weight and texture. “Dishes that have rich components like crispy calamari or creamy pasta need something bright to add lift to the meal. These wines provide that perfect element of contrast,” Rea says. Yet, she also recommends seafood pairings. “I prefer to work with briny, crisp East Coast oysters and sweet, springy shrimp cocktail with a squeeze of fresh lemon; these dishes are elevated by the precise nature of these wines.”
Rea loves the Valentin Zusslin Brut Zéro Crémant d’Alsace Rosé NV. The 100 percent pinot noir features notes of alpine berries, Meyer lemon, and wet stone. The Zusslin Estate was established in 1691 and is currently overseen by the 13th generation of vignerons. Rea also suggests the 2015 Marie Courtin ‘Présence’ Blanc de Blancs, Extra Brut Champagne, which is made from 70 percent chardonnay and 30 percent pinot blanc.
She also looks to Germany for inspiration, especially the intriguing 1996 Peter Lauer ‘Natur’ Riesling Sekt. “Made with 100 percent riesling, this is my dream wine: softly sparkling and rich with minerality and precise with notes of mirabelle plum, dried honey, and savory herbs.” The wines produced from the fifth-generation estate are from site-specific plots in Saarland, a state in southwest Germany that borders France and Luxembourg.
Niel serves options from both the Old and New World, such as 12th-generation producer Benoît Tarlant of Tarlant Champagne. From the New World, Niel loves Stirm’s Los Chuchaquis Santa Ynez Valley Sparkling Albariño. “It’s a new one from California that I’m super excited about.”