If you're looking for a bottle of bubbles and find yourself getting overwhelmed by all the labeling terms, you're not alone. Sugar in Champagne can be very confusing. Are you going to end up with a bone dry wine? Why does "dry" seem to taste sweet? And how much sugar is actually in your glass of Brut? Here's the breakdown of sugar in Champagne to help you find exactly what you're looking for.
Determining Sugar In Champagne
Normally, the sugar content in wine is a measure of residual sugars (RS) left behind during the fermentation process. In Champagne and other sparkling wines, the addition of sugar post-fermentation is common and accounts for the bulk of the sugar in the wine. Sugar in wine is measured in grams per liter (g/L). For reference, amounts less than 10g/L are not detected by most palates, so they are considered dry wines. Here's how the labeling for Champagne and sparkling wine works from driest to sweetest.
Brut Nature is the absolute driest, often with zero residual sugar. Technically, amounts can range from 0-3 g/L RS. You may also see this called Brut Zero, Brut Natur, bruto natural, or dosage zéro. Brut Nature is bone dry and can be aggressive if you are used to Brut or even sweeter bubbles, like Prosecco.
Next is Extra Brut, which can have anywhere from 0-6 g/L RS. So on the dry side, it can be just as dry as Brut Nature, but if on the sweeter end of the scale, it can be 3g/L more. Extra Brut is also generally considered bone dry.
Brut is the most commonly found style of Champagne or sparkling wine with 0-12 g/L RS. Again, the low end of this scale is the same as Brut Nature and Extra Brut, yet the high end of the scale is significantly higher and now is into the range where the human palate can detect sugar. Therefore, you can find a Brut that is free of sugar or have one that has detectable sweetness.
Extra Dry has levels between 12-17 g/L RS. This is also sometimes referred to as extra trocken or extra secco depending on where the sparkling wine is made.
Dry has between 17-32 g/L RS. Despite the name, Dry Champagne and sparkling wines can actually be quite sweet. Think of them as off-dry on the sweetness scale. You many also find these wines under the name trocken or secco.
Demi-Sec can be one of the sweetest wines with between 32-50 g/L RS. If you are looking for an overtly sweet bubbly wine, Demi-Sec would be a good choice.
Finally, Doux has 50+ g/L RS. This may also read dolce or sweet on the label. Doux is much less common than Brut and is considered a dessert wine, with a rounded palate and sweet finish.
Where Does the Sugar Come From?
Champagne is made in an incredibly precise and time-intensive way. One of the final steps in the process is the addition of liqueur d'expedition to each individual bottle after it has undergone two fermentations. Liqueur d'expedition is a mixture of wine and sugar which is added to balance characteristics in the final wine. Champagne has particularly high acidity, so some amount of added sugar balances both the taste and texture of the bubbles. The amount of sugar varies depending on which style the sparkling wine is intended to be.
A Note on Other Sparkling Wines
While Champagne can fall into one of the many categories above, other types of sparkling wines only use some of the above terms to describe individual style. Prosecco, for example, is made in either a Brut, Extra Dry, or Dry style. So if you're looking for bone-dry Prosecco, you simple won't find it. Spanish Cava goes through the entire spectrum of sweetness starting with Brut Nature. However, Cava calls a few of the styles differently, referring to the off-dry and sweet versions as Extra Seco, Seco, Semi-Seco, and Dulce.
Dry Bubbles, Sweet Bubbles
With the large spectrum of bubbles out there, it's easy to get a little lost. Remember that Brut is the most common and is a dry style wine, with very little residual sugar. If you are looking for bone-dry bubbles, stick with Brut Nature or Extra Brut. If you're unsure what you like, try a few to find where your palate falls.