Sweetness levels of Champagne: why and how they matter

by Aug 5, 2020News0 comments

Julien Miquel

Chief Wine Officer, Alti Wine Exchange

After having looked last time into the seven different grapes that make Champagne sparkling wines unique, today we’re looking into the sweetness levels: the Brut, the zero dosage, extra brut, demi-sec, etc.

We’re not just going to be looking at how much sugar is in each of them or how many grams per liter each level is at, but rather at something far more interesting

How and why the sweetness level of Champagne matters?

Learn about the sweetness of Champagne in video

Why are most Champagnes ‘Brut’?

About 95% of all Champagnes on the market, regardless of whether they are rosé or white, vintage, or non-vintage, are labeled as Brut.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that you hardly see anything else on bottles of Champagne, do you?

Let’s get the number out of the way. A Champagne called Brut has between 6 and 12 grams per liter of added sugar at what we call dosage.

Dosage, as a quick reminder, is the addition of a small amount of sweet liqueur containing wine and sugar before the Champagne is corked, labeled, and released.

Those 6 to 12 grams per liter of sugar are roughly the equivalent of about half a tablespoon in a bottle of Champagne. It’s not much at all, but it’s significant.

What does this sugar do in a Brut Champagne?

This small quantity is just the amount that allows to make the wine feel smoother on the palate, but not quite enough that you can actually taste the sugar and the sweetness in the wine.

Champagne is by nature very acidic, because it’s made from grapes that are picked with a high level of acidity. So, the wine tastes crisp and zingy.

A little bit of sugar balances the acidity and makes the wine feel softer, rounder, fruitier. In one word: better.

Yet, because it’s only half a tablespoon in an acidic beverage, you can’t taste the sugar per se. This is what is great about Brut and why Champagnes are all virtually at this level.

Brut Champagne feels dry and crisp, yet it’s not too aggressive. It’s pleasing and enjoyable to drink. Brut is the most consensual style…

champagne sweetness thumbnail.jpgchampagne sweetness thumbnail.jpg

Why making and drinking Extra-Brut or Zero Dosage?

Why would anyone bother buying a Champagne with less sugar added than that, then? Why would Champagne houses release bubblies as Extra-Brut which is the level below Brut in terms of sweetness, or even as Zero Dosage which is the term to designate Champagne with zero added sugar?

One reason can be that some specific customers may be looking for a very dry and acidic Champagne.

Top restaurant’s sommeliers for example are looking for something different and exclusive that pairs perfectly with certain dishes. With a very delicate entrée in a Michelin-Starred type of restaurant for example or some seafood dishes.

Sometimes you may just want something really crisp and dry. Some Champagne enthusiasts who love trying new things may buy this as well.

Secondly, these very dry Champagnes better reflect the expression of the grapes and of the terroir, the land they were made from.

 

Featured stories by Julien Miquel


Prestige Cuvées and single vineyard Champagnes


Sweetness levels of Champagne: why and how they matter


The 7 grapes of Champagne: How the world's finest sparkling wines are crafted

 


Iconic Burgundy producers you need to know

 


The world’s finest Pinot Noirs: a guide to Burgundy red wines (Vosne-Romanée, Pommard, Gevrey-Chambertin & more)

 


The fine Chardonnay wines from Burgundy: an overview of Chablis, Puligny, Chassagne-Montrachet, and Meursault

 


The Wine Classification System of Burgundy

 


Graves, Canon-Fronsac, second wines and other collectible Bordeaux wines

 


What you need to know about Sauternes – Bordeaux Sweet Wines and 1855 Châteaux

 


The Finest Wines from Bordeaux, Pt. 2 - Left Bank, Bordeaux 1855 Classified Chateaux

 


Saint-Émilion & Pomerol - The Finest Wines from Bordeaux, Pt. 1

 

 

There is no artifact from added sugar. You get the natural balance of the wine just the way the vines naturally made it.

For some vineyard-specific cuvées, if a winery wants to highlight the special characteristics of a plot or an area on their estate, they may want to release an Extra-Brut or a Zero Dosage.

Finally, to make such a dry Champagne, winemakers generally need grapes of excellent quality. Grapes that have enough richness and roundness to them. Grapes that are naturally ripe enough to provide the roundness in the texture that is going to make the Champagne still enjoyable without any help from any added sugar.

A winemaker can only get this natural oily texture and body out of grapes grown with great care on some of the best soils.

Coincidentally, wineries like to highlight their best cuvées in special editions and blends. Wine enthusiasts like to taste these terroirs on their own. It happens that with these best grapes from the best vineyards, you can make the driest Champagnes with a harmonious balance.

For the numbers, Extra-Brut has less than 6 grams per liter of sugar added or say a quarter of a tablespoon in a bottle.

Extra-Brut an intermediary style between Brut and the zero-dosage also sometimes called Brut Nature that has no added sugar whatsoever. Zero dosage are even rarer than Extra-Brut.

Certainly, both are fascinating styles to explore that I recommend trying if you ever find one.

sweet champagne.jpgsweet champagne.jpg

The sweet Champagnes?

As we’ve seen, anything above Brut with more than 12 grams of sugar is going to taste identifiably sweet.

It might be just a little sweet like in an Extra-Sec which is the level just above Brut, an exceedingly rare style. You may find some Champagnes that are Sec or Demi-Sec.

What is very confusing and why no one ever remembers in which order those levels come in, is that the word Sec in French means Dry, while a sec Champagne is sweet!

Even worse is that a Demi-Sec, which would normally mean half-dry, is actually sweeter than Sec.

A Demi-Sec may contain up to 50 grams per liter of sugar. We are talking about 3 full tablespoons of sugar in a bottle. Definitely sweet!

Why would you want anything this sweet? It could be for some specific food pairings, like to go with a dessert without resorting to buy a Moscato or similar alternative sweet style of sparkling wine.

Some specific markets have a tradition of drinking sweet Champagne like in some parts of Russia or Asia. It’s very niche but it exists.

To finish, let’s mention the highest sweetness level called ‘Doux’ (French for sweet). A Champagne Doux contains more than 3 full tablespoons of sugar.


ALSO…

More featured stories for you:

Featured


Five useful apps for wine lovers anywhere in the world

It is easy to have quick options to manage your cellar; acquaint with oenophiles; compare prices and vintages; develop tasting profiles; meet new wine styles; buy bottles and find pairings.


Investing in fine wine remotely in times of Covid, tariffs and stuck cargo ships

Amidst lockdowns, disrupted supply chains and economic concerns, online investment with full safety opens new possibilities for investors and collectors


Alti Wine Exchange Indexes in 2020: despite it all, safe and strong returns for fine wine

Fine and rare wines have enjoyed robust performance and low volatility in comparison to markets during Covid, gaining further room in diversified portfolios


Read and watch our fine wine investment tips and analyses

Free contents, reports and overviews by our experts will help you make the best decisions for profit and protection – and also enjoy the best investment-grade wines


Introducing our internal index for fine wine investors

Given the reputation of fine wine as an investment asset, we track price performance and potential returns. Meet the Alti Wine Exchange Internal Index.


Outside the bottle | Prosperity is not automatic: a lesson from top wine producers

Longstanding winemaking families know how crucial it is to embrace foresight and invest in passion, diligence and uniqueness


Fine wine withstood a tough year. What's ahead for 2021?

Despite the pandemic, the industry came through in 2020. Challenges remain with Covid, economic scenario and tariffs. Here’s how to avoid volatility.


Why not give your loved ones a rare wine Christmas gift card?

 


What makes Seña a masterpiece of New World winemaking

 


Why people are turning their passion for wine into investment

 

Explore More from Our Blog

Ever heard of a wine cocktail?

DEAR READER, I hope some of you learned from the reader letter last week [hyperlink to Week Ten post] and checked your attics! You never know how much wine sits above you, waiting to be uncorked and decanted—on someone else’s dime! Dear Sommelier Ferdinand, I have a...

What on earth is a ‘Wine Decanter’?

DEAR READER, It’s come to my attention that many of you are ill-informed, misinformed, and frankly, uninformed about how wine is to be consumed. Were I only a wine enthusiast, it would be wholly dispiriting. But—wine is my profession, and I’m obligated to recognize...

“What’s My Next Question?” – Benjamin Kaplan

What’s My Next Question? On a random day like today 11 years ago, a legendary Harvard Law professor and lawyer, Benjamin Kaplan, died at 99 years of age. A rich, marked life that left an impact long after his last breathe. Apart from influencing the likes of Ruth...

Wine that Makes You Look Up

Wines that Make You Look Up Can you imagine having a device that magnifies your view and never thinking to look up, never pointing it toward the sky? Until August 25, 1609, nobody had. Enter Galileo Galilee, the man who changed the way we see and interpret all that is...

Should you be swirling your wine before consumption?

DEAR READER, Through all the melodrama of the past few weeks, I’ve neglected to educate the newcomers about the art of winetasting. So, I dug deep into my inbox for this query: Sommelier Ferdinand, I went to a ball last night and wasn’t aware of the proper pre-drink...

Sommelier Ferdinand answers “What’s the point of drinking wine from a hundred years ago?”.

DEAR READER, I’ve heard what you’ve all had to say, and I’ve decided to reach out to Jerry, once again, to bury the hatchet. Who’s to say if he would be open to making amends… but I made the effort, on behalf of all you insightful readers! I’ll keep you all updated on...

BOXED WINE AND AN ANGRY RECIPIENT – A FOLLOW UP

DEAR READER, Something unprecedented has happened. My assistant has received an additional letter from Jerry. Remember him—from last week [READ HERE] Well, our beloved wine purist wrote back after reading yesterweek’s column: Sommelier Ferdinand, I don’t care about...

Transcending Time through Wine

On August 11, 1888, The Scientific American published its 658th issue, replete with exciting findings. From “A Study on Whirlwinds,” to “The Distillation of Peppermint" and thoughts on the human conscious, this popular science magazine had already been around since...

Boxed Wine and an angry recipient.

What an experience, to receive all your criticisms. That would shake any normal individual. But I’ve spent years having my judgments under a microscope, so I’ve learned to shut my doors to it. You are all welcome to try—but I won’t be changing any time soon! Speaking...

Sommelier Ferdinand answers “What it takes to become a Sommelier”.

DEAR READER, As the grapes grow richer, so do the bottler and buyer! Wine is an investment, my dear readers. Never forget the long game! Now, for some advice you folks have solicited: Sommelier Ferdinand, I want to be a sommelier, like yourself. I have the respect for...

Harry Potter and the Magical Creation of Seña 2007

On July 21, 2007, J.K. Rowling released her seventh and final book of a most memorable series. In just 24 hours, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows sold more than 11 million copies! On that same day, in a land more fascinating than Hogwarts, Seña 2007 was getting...

This week Sommelier Ferdinand answers the difficult question “Which do you prefer: Red or White?

DEAR READER, Some wrote in after last week, wishing me happiness…? Sending me love…? What do you all think, I’m still in love with Matilde? Save your pity for someone who needs it, I beg you! Anyway: Sommelier Ferdinand, Which do you prefer: Red, or white? -Clarise...