A Spoonful of Sugar
How do you choose one brand of champagne over another?
Some people would choose the most expensive on the basis that ‘it must be the best’.
Not necessarily true by the way, and in any case, ‘Best’ is a personal opinion.
Other people choose a brand name they know because they don’t want to risk buying something different in case it turns out not to be quite what they expected.
So what would it be like if you could tell, before you bought it, what a bottle of champagne would be like?
Well the bad news is that you can never be entirely sure what any wine will taste like until you drink it, but the good news is that there are a few very useful pointers that every one can use.
One thing you need to know is how sweet the champagne is.
As champagne nears the end of the production process it is bone dry. All the sugar that was once in the wine has been used up during fermentation to make alcohol and CO2 ( that’s where the the bubbles come from).
Champagne is so dry at this stage that many people wouldn’t enjoy it, so a little extra sugar, in liquid form, is added. The more sugar added, the sweeter the champagne.
This process of adding sugar is called dosage in French. It’s measured in grams per litre (gr/l) and knowing what the dosage is will give you a clear indication of the style of champagne.
Here are the main categories in increasing order of sweetness with some comment about the most common ones. By law, the category of sweetness must be mentioned on the label.
Zero Dosage ( sometimes called brut sauvage, ultra brut etc)
No added sugar at all, so it’s very dry and crisp. Fans of this style will say that it’s the most authentic reflection of the natural taste of the fruit, but it’s not everyone’s choice.
Brut Nature less than 3g/l
Extra-brut between 0 and 6 g/l
Brut less than 15 g/l
By far the most popular style accounting for over 90% of all champagne. The classic combination of flavour and smoothness in the mouth but still with a touch of acidity typical of all champagne.
Extra dry: between 12 and 20 g/l
Sec (or dry): between 17 and 35 g/l
Demi-sec: between 33 and 50 g/l
The days of adding sugar just to mask poor quality have gone. Now sec and demi-sec champagne offers a luscious alternative to brut without any of the heavy syrupiness of full-on pudding wines.
If you haven’t tried this style of champagne I certainly recommend it. Enjoy with a sweet dessert. You’ll find the two are a perfect match.
Doux: more than 50 g/l
Sweetest of the lot, but not very common at all these days