First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.’  ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

‘Tis the season…  for spending time with friends, family, and in laws, exchanging gifts (and regifting socks, ties and sweaters), eating, drinking, relaxing and preparing to turn the page on another year.

It’s also a time when American consumers stock up on Champagne and other sparkling wines for New Year’s Eve celebrations. Many American wine consumers still reserve consumption of bubbles for end-of-year celebrations (though this appears to be slowly changing).  About 25% of all Champagne bottles sold in the U.S. are purchased in the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

Around this time of year a number of my casual wine consuming friends and work colleagues ask for recommendations for holiday fizz. Since many writers flood the wine interwebs with lists of ‘Must Drink Bubbly for New Year’s Eve’ I usually point my friends to those articles.

My friends and colleagues also ask, ‘what does Brut mean?’  

To help clear up some of the label confusion, I email them a cheat sheet to decipher Champagne and other sparkling wine styles…

Making sense of labels — a simple guide to sparkling wine styles (defined by level of sweetness):*

  • Ultra Brut / Brut Nature / Extra Brut / Brut Zero: The driest sparkling wines — No dosage, no added sugar.  (0-6 grams per liter residual sugar)
  • Brut:  Should taste dry with no perception of sweetness.  This is the most common style of sparkling wine you’ll find in local stores.  (Contains no more than 12 grams/liter residual sugar)
  • Extra Dry / Extra Sec:  Off dry — tastes slightly sweet. (contains 12-17 grams/liter residual sugar)
  • Sec:  Translates in to ‘dry’ — Noticeably sweet.    (contains 17-32 grams/liter residual sugar)
  • Demi-Sec:  Sweet. (32-50 grams/liter residual sugar)
  • Doux:  Sweetest. (contains 50+ grams/liter residual sugar)

* The sweetness levels noted for each of the classifications above may vary slightly.

Below are a few more bubbly label basics that readers may find helpful:

  • Champagne is always sparkling wine but sparkling wine isn’t always Champagne.  Only sparkling wines made from grapes grown in the Champagne region of northeastern France that adhere to rules requiring secondary fermentation in the bottle can be labeled ‘Champagne.’

  • Champagne is almost always produced using one (or more) of three permitted grape varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (along with Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Petit Meslier and Arbane.)
  • In Italy, the term Spumante (which means ‘foaming’) is used for sparkling wines, as is Prosecco and Franciacorta depending on region and/or grape varieties used.
  • Cava is Spanish sparkling wine made in the same way as Champagne.  Arguably some of the best values in sparkling wine today.

  • In Germany the term Sekt is used for sparkling wine.
  • Blanc de Blanc — French for white from white. Made entirely from Chardonnay grapes.
  • Blanc de Noir — French for white from black.  Made from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier or a blend of the two.
  • NV — Non-Vintage.  Meaning the bottle of sparkling wine is a blend of juice from more than one vintage (year).

 

  • Pét-Nat (Short for pétillant-naturel) — lightly sparkling wine made via the ‘ancestral method’ (or ‘méthode ancestrale‘), which is thought to predate the better known traditional method used to make Champagne.   Sugar levels can vary but Pet-Nats are usually dry.

For a more thorough treatment of Champagne, sparkling wine, et.al., Wikipedia has an informative entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Méthode_Traditionnelle or,  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sparkling_wine

Wishing you and yours a very happy and prosperous 2019!

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