Understanding the Champagne Sweetness Scale
By Marie Gorbenko Published February 2022
Have you ever looked at a bottle of Champagne and wondered, “What's the difference between brut and extra dry? Doux and demi-sec?” Both the alliteration and the options can make it a bit overwhelming. Let us take a dive into those golden bubbles and explore the Champagne sweetness scale with the help from ABC wine experts, Nathan Dale and Paul Quaglini.
What Is Champagne?
First, let us differentiate the region from the wine varietal. Champagne is a place in France where the likes of chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot meunier, to name a few, grow. Bottled Champagne is a sparkling wine that is made in the region following strict growing, pressing, vinification and fermentation methods.
To create Champagne, you first make regular wine (still wine) and then do a second fermentation in the bottle that creates all the carbonation and beautiful bubbles that we crave and admire. Once this process is almost complete, the winemaker makes the decision to add a little bit of sugar at the end of fermentation to achieve the final sweetness level of the Champagne.
There is a strategic reason that sweetener is added to Champagne. That is because the Champagne region is quite cold, and grapes have a harder time ripening. It is the hanging and the ripening of the grapes that increase the sugar levels of the bunches. If you taste what winemakers call the “base Champagne”—the still wine that has been made before they create the sparkle—you will find that Champagne is high in acidity. So, adding a little bit of sugar at the end of the process helps to balance that out.
So, when it comes to labelling and classifying Champagne, it is quite easy to be confused about the difference between brut and extra dry or demi-sec and extra brut. The simplest way to look at it; however, is that it is a measurement of grams of sugar per liter. Which is made into the finished Champagne or sparkling wine.
What Does Brut and Extra Dry Mean?
On the Champagne sweetness scale, 0-3 grams of sugar per liter is brut nature, 0-6 grams of sugar is extra brut, and 0-12 grams of sugar is brut. Moving up the scale, 12-17 grams of sugar per liter is extra dry, 17-32 grams of sugar is sec, 32-50 grams of sugar is demi-sec, and 50 and above is called doux. You will most likely never see doux, but it is a sweet Champagne that is pushing into the dessert wine category.
A demi-sec can have up to 50 grams of residual sugar. This is usually the sweetest style of Champagne that you are going to find in our stores. If you are really a fan of something sweeter, you might want to look towards something other than Champagne—perhaps a moscato d’asti. There, you are going to have close to 100 grams of residual sugar making for some extra sweet bubbles.
If you are interested in trying any of these bubbly creations, stop by one of our local ABC Fine Wine & Spirits locations or shop Champagne online at abcfws.com. We have something in virtually every sweetness category, including Haton Pure Extra Brut Champagne and Moutard Demi-Sec Grande Cuvee.