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Let’s be real: many find themselves cringing at the mention of sweet as a sparkling wine descriptor, especially as society’s attention of late has been laser-focused on the dry end of the spectrum, where Brut Nature, Extra Brut, and Brut live in ascending level of sugar content. From there, we begin to venture into the sweet side of things: Extra-Dry, Sec (or Dry), Demi-Sec, and Doux, with Doux being the sweetest of them all (we’ll get into the specifics of sugar content for each category a bit later).
If you don’t already know, sugar is actually a normal component of Champagne and has been for centuries––in fact, most of the Champagnes throughout the 1800s were made on the sweeter side in order to cater to the palate preferences and winemaking trends of the times. Again, we’ve grown to favor drier sparkling wines between then and now, but there’s always a time and a place for a sweeter style, whether as a nod to history, a great pairing tool, or a simple matter of taste. To help sort through all the options available we tapped some top wine experts.
Here are our picks for the best sweet Champagnes to drink.
Understanding the relationship between dosage and Champagne is a bit easier once you’ve got a general idea of how the wine is made. Daniel Pires, Head Sommelier at the Royal Champagne Hotel and Spa, shares his insight: “To make Champagne, we add two things––the first being the ‘liqueur de tirage’ (a mix of yeast, wine, and sugar) to create the effervescence in the bottle, and the second one being the ‘liqueur d'expédition’ (a white wine that may or may not include sugar and/or brandy) to determine the style of Champagne.” Demi-Sec, which translates literally to “semi-dry,” is second to last on the sweetness scale with a range of sugar content between 32 and 50 grams per liter. The sweetest category, for reference, is Doux, which contains 50 grams of sugar per liter or above.
Atlanta-based wine consultant and Cork Camp founder Kyla Cox explains how to pair a Demi-Sec wine: “My favorite way to enjoy these wines is with a salty or savory match for balance. A Demi-Sec pairs perfectly with Roquefort cheese, seafood gumbo, and spicy curries.”
According to Cox, a Doux wine could work well in place of a Demi-Sec with any of these dishes, but one of her personal favorite sweet Champagnes is Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Sublime, an exquisite Demi-Sec with notes of caramel, vanilla, brioche, roasted tropical fruits, spiced pear, and praline. As Cox puts it, “The name says it all.”
Though somewhat confusing, the term “Extra-Dry”––also referred to as “Extra-Sec”––is used to describe off-dry Champagnes. These wines are sweeter (not drier) than Brut Champagne, though they are the least sweet of the four sweet Champagnes. Off-dry Champagnes contain between 12 and 17 grams of residual sugar per liter and are in the middle of the sweetness scale as a whole.
While Demi-Sec Champagnes tend to be the most common of the sweet Champagnes found in stores, if you’re looking to dip your toes into the sweet Champagne category, an Extra-Dry Champagne would be the perfect jumping-off point, making it worth the search. One of our favorite wines in this category is Heidsieck & Co Monopole Extra Dry, a bold and crisp Champagne with a subtly soft sweetness and sharp fruit layered in spice.
The Sec (or Dry) category of sparkling wines represents medium sweetness, broadly speaking, and contains between 17 and 32 grams of sugar per liter. Champagne Lanson’s White Label Sec, a non-vintage Sec champagne at a rather affordable price point, is quite possibly the best bang for your buck within the category. The house has been around since 1760, so they know what they’re doing. With this wine, you can expect dynamic, sharp citrus notes on the palate along with just-ripe black fruits, subdued spice, a hint of umami, and a creamy mouthfeel. Like many sweet sparkling wines, it’s recommended that you let this age in the bottle for some time before enjoying.
Billecart-Salmon, one of our favorite Champagne houses in general, is behind this elegant, nuanced Demi-Sec expression. This wine is actually the exact blend used in their Brut Reserve, the only difference being the dosage (the Demi-Sec contains 40 grams of sugar per liter). The Billecart-Salmon Demi-Sec is a soft, pale yellow with honeyed pear, white flowers, and buttery brioche on the nose and a round, juicy palate of robust fruit.
This is an excellent and beautifully balanced Demi-Sec that pairs extraordinarily well with food––Pastry Chef Gilles Marchal recommends something bright and sweet (but not cloying) like shortbread, strawberry tartelette, or lemon meringue tart with citrus zest (ideally lime). If you’re not a fan of sweet desserts, go for a cheese plate with some creaminess and funk. You won’t regret it.
Doux is the sweetest designation of all Champagnes and is defined by containing 50 or more grams of sugar per liter. You won’t find too many of these wines on the U.S. market, but the Veuve Clicquot Rich Blanc is a reliable go-to and it’s made to be sipped in more ways than one.
This wine was actually designed to be played around with––it’s recommended that you dress it up a bit, serving it over ice and a fresh ingredient or two (think cucumber, fresh herbs, berries, or a slice of pineapple) to bring out qualities in the wine that you might not otherwise pick up on. On its own, Veuve Clicquot Rich Blanc, which contains 60 grams of sugar per liter, offers plenty of fruit and florality on the nose and palate cushioned by a soft, creamy finish.
Sip this one outside with your favorite cheeses and preserves, and note how the sweetness of the preserves specifically impacts the taste of the wine as you pair.
Mionetto, a household name for anyone who enjoys Prosecco, is perhaps best known for its classic orange-labeled Brut expression. But for those who want to explore the world of sweet sparkling wines outside of Champagne, Mionetto’s Luxury collection offers two impressive (and affordably priced) bottles to choose from: Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Dry, which teeters on the precipice of Dry (or Sec) with 17 to 19 grams of sugar per liter, and Cartizze DOCG, a true Dry with 24 to 26 grams of sugar per liter.
Both are delicious and supremely balanced, so it comes down to your palate. If you like just a touch of sweetness, go for the Valdobbiadene Extra Dry, or if you want to experience a higher dosage, the Cartizze is the way to go.
If we had to choose, we’d opt for Cartizze. This wine is golden in color and features bold fruit on the nose with a bright, creamy palate rife with notes of candied nuts. Pair the Cartizze with seafood or a light, fruit-forward dessert.
According to Pires, the way dosage translates to the palate isn’t as straightforward as one might think. “The dosage is chosen by the winemaker or the cellar master in a blind tasting,” he notes. “To a professional, a Champagne that might seem sweet to the palate is not necessarily the one that on paper is the most dosed.” Instead of being weighed down by any possible implications of dosage on paper, Pires instead focuses on how any given wine works with food. “I especially like sweet and savory dishes or hot foie gras––these go well with medium-dry Champagnes.” Lastly, if you have a bottle that you’d like to cellar, keep at it. Pires points out that age refines the sugars in a wine, thus bringing more complexity to the table.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Sparkling wine is journalist Céline Bossart’s desert island drink. Although she generally prefers something on the Brut side, she’s tasted quite a few sweeter styles and is a fan of the broader food pairing possibilities that come with them.