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Earlier this morning a colleague asked me for a wine recommendation to take to a family gathering this weekend – The easy answer… a good sparkling wine since they tend to pair well with a broad selection of bland foods cooked by in-laws.

In trying to explain the differences in Champagne/sparkling wine terms I realized that I needed a refresher on all of the different terms used to describe the various sweetness levels of Champagne/sparkling wines.  After exhaustive research (about 5 minutes) I have produced an amazing piece of invaluable information below as a quick primer on Champagne/Sparkling Wine label terms:

  • Ultra Brut/Extra Brut/Brut Zero/Brut Nature/Brut Sauvage: Totally dry – No added sugar
  • Brut:  Should taste dry with no perception of sweetness. (Contains no more than 1.5% sugar.)
  • Extra Dry/Extra Sec:  Off dry – tastes slightly sweet. (Can contain up to 2% sugar.)
  • Sec:  Translates in to ‘dry’ – Noticeably sweet. (Can contain up to 3.5% sugar.)
  • Demi-Sec:  Sweet. (Can contain up to 3.3% – 5% sugar.)
  • Doux:  Sugary Sweet. (Can contain up to 10% sugar.)

Although the residual sugar levels noted above are the common market standards, adherence is voluntary.  And, the residual sugar amounts for each of the classifications above seem to vary slightly among multiple sources.

Below are a few more basic items to note:

  • Champagne is always sparkling wine, but sparkling wine isn’t always Champagne. Only sparkling wines from the Champagne region of northern France are entitled to be called “Champagne.”
  • Champagne is almost always produced using one (or more) of three permitted grape varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
  • In Italy, the term Spumante is used for sparkling wines. In Spain, Cava is used for sparkling wines and in Germany they use the term Sekt.

Wikipedia has a useful page on the Champagne/Sparkling Wine process:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Méthode_Traditionnelle