Disgorgement is the process of eliminating the sediment from Champagne and sparkling wine before it is corked and ready for sale. The disgorgement date has nothing to do with the age of the sparkling wine or when it was put on sale.
The French term is degorgement. This is an important step in producing sparkling wines that probably has its origins in the Champagne district in France. The wine is fermented a second time for at least 15 months to three years, depending on the winemakers. The dead yeast cells resulting from the fermentation are called lees in English. The process is called aging sur lies in French.
The neck of the wine bottle is racked at an angle so that the sediments, including the dead yeast cells, collect in that part of the bottle as the wine ages. The bottles are racked with a freezing brine around the neck that makes sediment removal very easy. The bubbles help push the lees out of the neck and the dosage is added before it is securely corked and ready for sale. The disgorgement is one of the final steps in the process of making Champagne and other sparkling wines.
This refers to the amount of sugar added to the wine before it is sold. Yes, sugar is added to French Champagne and other sparkling wines to give them more flavor and balance the acidity. The Extra Brut or dry sparkling wine has less than 6 grams of sugar per liter (g/l). The Brut, that has 6 to 15 g/l of residual sugar, is still very dry.
Wines with Sec designations usually have 16 g/l or more of sugar. An Extra Sec has up to 20 g/l of sugar. This makes the wine tastier to people who want a sparkling wine with a degree of sweetness. Demi-sec can have up to 50 g/l and Doux is the sweetest wine with more than 51 g/l of sugar. These are usually considered sparkling wines served with dessert.
This is the finished batch of sparkling wine. Champagne and other bubbly wines will not always be disgorged at the same time. A batch or cuvee with one date may taste different from bottles disgorged and prepared for sale at a later date. This system is now used for sparkling wines made in the United States and other countries.
If you are a knowledgeable wine consumer, you will be aware of the differences in the dates. Many people are not aware that the disgorgement date only tells you when the Champagne is prepared for sale. This makes the system open to controversy in the U.S. The good news is that more people who enjoy sparkling wines are now learning about this process so the date is important.
Wine experts advise consumers to buy what they like but to be aware that not all sparkling wines from one vineyard or winemaker will taste the same. Read the labels and experiment to find the sparkling wines you like.