Throughout the entire sparkling wine production process, the winemaker has a lot of choices to make that will affect the flavor of the final product.
The amount of sugar added to sparkling wine determines the sweetness or dryness of that particular bottle. It’s mandatory that a label shows the designation of a sparkling wine.
But do you know by heart what is a “brut” sparkling wine and how does it taste?
Extra dry sounds drier than brut, doesn’t it?
The graph below will answer this questions. It shows the residential sugar in sparkling wine and furthermore its designation for Sekt, sparkling wine and Champagne.
Conclusion: brut is drier than extra dry
There is bubbly for every taste
Sparkling wine has a dosage that yields from 0 to 50+ g/l of residual sugar.
The driest sparkling wine has 0-3 g/l of residual sugar and is labeled depending in what country you are with : brut zero, brut nature, pas dosé, zéro dosage or naturherb.
Without a doubt the most misleading term in my opinion is the designation “dry”.
Don’t compare dry sparkling wine to dry wine. The values of residual sugar are higher in sparkling wine because the carbon dioxide in the sparkling wine counterbalance the sweetness.
“Dry” sparkling wine means 17-32 g/l of residual sugar and that is relatively sweet.
Yeah that were a lot of numbers and you might still have no clue how sweet your bubbly is. Here are some examples to get a better idea what those numbers mean in everyday life:
Gin & Tonic has 14 g/l sugar, Fruit juice has almost 100 g/l of sugar and Coke 120 g/l.
Taste over the Last Centuries
Over the last two centuries, there has been a tendency to drink sparkling wine with less and less added sugar.
In the 19th century, Champagne was drunk very heavily sweetened, with residual sugar levels between 50 and 100 g/l or even more. Sugar was rare and expensive and therefore considered a luxury item.
Sweet french Champagne was the drink of choice of high society and nobility throughout Europe. In the mid-1800s the Russian market had a penchant for very sweet wine, sometimes containing 300 g/l of sugar, and it was common for diners to add spoonfuls of sugar to wine at the dining table.
Today sparkling wines are not “doux” (sweet) and “demi-sec” (medium dry) sparkling wines. They are a dying breed. Sweet sparkling wine is often associated with cheap drinks, which can be sickly sweet. “Rotkäppchen mild” comes to mind. Sugar should add to the smell and taste of a sparkling wine and not dominate it.
I remember a Artemovsk Krim Sekt, medium dry, 2008. It tastes like a grape soda and is perfect to start the day. The Krim Sekt added up nicely to breakfast with jam, cheese and pancakes. If you have a sweet tooth check the Russian supermarket around the corner. They have something for a reasonable price there. And it was not brewed in a tank but fermented nicely over time in a bottle.
Or visit Weingut Schales and if you are lucky there is a Kerner halbtrocken (medium dry), 2004 left. This is a sparkling wine that tastes just good without any side dishes. Very flavorsome, fruity and light and sweet. There is a little bit of muscat, a little bit of apple and also some berries.
Sweet Sparkling wines are a great match for sweets and pastry, while being a counterpoint for rich, salty foods like dried meat or cheeses.
The experiment with residual sugar in sparkling wine
Last week we had an interesting debate at Weingut Lichti in Laumersheim about the interaction of sugar, acidity and alcohol in sparkling wine and its taste.
We convinced them to make a brut nature version of their Lichti, Heroldrebe, trocken for us. No sugar instead of the usual 17+ g/l. Same vintage 2015.
Their point of view was Heroldrebe Sekt has more aroma with a dosage. We just thought it’s a completely different aroma with no dosage. Both bubbles can’t be compared.
Heroldrebe, trocken tastes sweeter and the fruit notes are stronger than in the brut nature. Heroldrebe, brut nature has more acidity, that is very well balanced and not aggressive. It has the same fruit notes as the dry version but they are not as dominant. What is remarkable is that the brut nature has a lot of flavor without an extra dosage. Both sparkling wines are very refreshing with a full aftertaste.
There is by the way no scientific proof that flavor gets more intensive with sugar.
So if you ask me what taste I would recommend for a sparkling wine, my answer would be it depends on YOUR taste. But test different styles to find out more about your taste.