Champagne, in its early days, used to always be a fairly sweet beverage. Around the middle part of the 1800’s, that started changing and some Champagne makers started cutting the sugar a bit, creating dry styles of Champagne.
You probably already know that a dry wine is a wine that is not very sweet.
Well, a dry Champagne is labeled a brut.
The level of sweetness in a wine is determined by the amount of sugar in the liqueur d’expédition. This is a sweetened wine that is added to the Champagne after the yeast sediments have been removed at the end of the secondary fermentation. This process is known as dosage.
The more sugar that this added wine contains, the sweeter the resulting Champagne will be. When very little sugar is added, a dry or very dry Champagne is produced. There are basically six categories of Champagne that describe the level of dryness or sweetness.
- Extra brut: Very, very dry Champagne. It contains 0% to 0.6% sugar, which is about 0 to 6 grams of sugar per liter of wine.
- Brut: Very dry Champagne. It contains less than 1.5% sugar, which is about 15 grams of sugar per liter.
- Extra Dry: This is considered “off-dry” Champagne, containing 1.2 to 2% sugar, which is about 12 to 20 grams of sugar per liter. It would be easy to mistake an extra dry for being drier than brut, but they are not.
- Sec: Sec is actually French for “dry.” But a sec Champagne is actually lightly sweet, containing 1.7 to 3.5% sugar, which is about 17 to 35 grams of sugar per liter.
- Demi-Sec: Demi-sec means “half dry.” This is a sweet Champagne, containing 3.3 to 5% sugar, which is about 33 to 50 grams of sugar per liter.
- Doux: Doux means “sweet” but in terms of Champagne, a doux is very sweet, containing more than 5% sugar, which is more than 50 grams of sugar per liter.
Most Champagnes produced today are brut. Sec and demi-sec (dry and half dry) Champagnes are actually fairly rare. Categories can slightly overlap so that one Champagne house might call a 1.4% sugar wine an extra dry, while another might call it a brut. While an extra brut might be best served with caviar, the more common bruts are best as an aperitif or with a meal. An extra dry or sec is generally good after a meal. Demi-sec and doux are best with sweet desserts of fruit.
According to French law, true Champagne is a sparkling wine produced from grapes grown in the Champagne region. There are many sparkling wines produced elsewhere, such as the United States. These are generally labeled as sparkling wine. Some, however, may use the name Champagne on their sparkling wine. As a rule of thumb, do not assume that a wine labeled “sparkling wine” is of lower quality than a sparkling wine labeled champagne when the wine is not a true Champagne. Sparkling wine houses tend to follow the same category designations as French Champagne.