In part 1 of the series we discovered why you need to know which grapes have been used.
Part 2 was all about the quality of the grapes and in part 3 we talked about how the length of time the champagne has been aged also has a major impact on the taste
Armed with those pieces of information which your retailer should be able to give you, you'll have a pretty good idea, before you buy the bottle, of whether you are going to like what's in the bottle. The last piece of the jigsaw is how sweet or dry is the champagne.
You may or may not know this, but by the time a bottle of champagne has got to the end of the production process there is no sugar left in it at all – whatever sugar there was in the wine has all been used up during the fermentation leaving the champagne bone dry
Conventional wisdom has always said that this would be too dry for most wine drinkers, so to make the champagne more appealing to a wider range of drinkers, champagne makers simply add some cane sugar, in liquid form, to the bottle before it is labelled up and sent off to be sold. I am sure you can easily understand that the decision about how much sugar to add is going to make a big difference to how the champagne tastes.
This practice of adding sugar is called 'dosage' in French and is measured in grams of sugar per litre of champagne ( gr/litre). There are several categories of sweetness which you can choose from according to whether you prefer a very dry style or a sweeter style. Here are the main ones:
Extra Brut 0 – 6 gr/litre ( As dry as you can get)
Brut Nature Less than 3gr/litre
Brut Less than 12 gr/litre ( Brut accounts for 90% or more of all champagne made)
Extra Dry 12 – 17 gr/litre
Sec 17 – 32 gr/litre
Demi-Sec 32 – 50 gr/litre
Doux Over 50 gr/litre
The category of sweetness must, by law, be shown on the label, so you'll always have this guideline to help you in your choice, but as you can see, there are several categories that overlap each other especially at the dry end of the scale and that's not very helpful, to say the least. To make things even more confusing some champagne houses have come up with their own name to describe their very driest champagne: Ultra Brut, Brut Zero, Brut Sauvage are just a few of them.
So what do you do now?
Well, the more enlightened and customer-focussed champagne makers have started to put the exact dosage in terms of grams per litre on the back label so look out for this because it will give you a precise idea of the dryness or sweetness of the champagne and you'll be able to compare one champagne with another.
Can't find anything about the dosage on the back label? Not to worry, ask your retailer because he or she should know – this is crucial information.
One last thought before we finish. It really isn't worth spending too much time listening to marketing people who tell you that there are fewer calories in drier champagne and that the really dry stuff is better for your figure. Sure, you can taste the difference when you drink the champagne, but for there to be any real impact on your weight you'd have to be drinking gallons of the stuff daily and if you were, then you'd have other things to worry about rather than a few calories saved.