What Is Brut Champagne?

A Guide to Buying, Drinking, and Pairing Brut Champagne

Brut Champagne
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Brut champagne, a dry sparkling wine, is the most popular type of champagne exported from France. With a small amount of natural sugars remaining in the wine, brut champagne is a balance of crisp fruit, buttery notes, and minerality. Naturally effervescent, brut champagne has high acidity that contrasts nicely with the bubbles and mellows during aging. Dry champagne tends to hover right at 12 ABV, making it moderately high alcohol.

Fast Facts

  • Regions: Champagne, France
  • Origin: Champagne, France
  • Sweetness: Dry
  • Color: Pale, translucent gold
  • ABV: 11–13% 

Brut Champagne vs. Extra Dry Champagne

Champagnes are classified according to their sweetness, which is determined by the residual sugar present in the wine. Champagne is made in a full spectrum of styles from incredibly dry to sweet dessert wine, labeled extra brut, brut, extra dry, sec, demi-sec, and doux (the sweetest).

Brut means "dry, raw, unrefined" in French, and specifies a style of champagne that is very low in sugar—less than 12 grams per liter, to be exact. This results in champagne that is not particularly sweet and tastes dry on the palate. While "extra dry" champagne seems like it would taste drier than brut champagne, this is not typically the case. Extra dry is usually slightly sweeter than brut, with sugar levels falling between 12 to 20 grams of sugar per liter.

Taste and Flavor Profile

Brut champagne is characteristically dry, with the trace amounts of sugar adding a hint of sweetness. A light-bodied white wine that is pale in color, champagne is low in tannins. It has bright acidity that contrasts well with the characteristic bubbles. Champagnes are always aged, which tends to round out the acidity of the grapes, and can be cellared successfully for years. You might notice fresh floral, nutty, or bready notes on the nose as well as bright fruit like apple and pear. A chalky, mineral smell is typical of this style of wine.

Brut champagne is not as fruity as some other sparkling wines such as prosecco, but can still exhibit flavors like juicy citrus, stone fruit, and quince. A lightly savory note can be noticed in some bottles, with a mineral finish. Brut champagne tends to be well-balanced and silky, making it a popular choice for toasts and celebratory sipping.

Grapes and Wine Regions

For wine to be called champagne, it must be produced east of Paris in the Champagne region of France. In addition, it must be made from pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot Meunier, pinot gris, pinot blanc, petit Meslier, and/or arbane grapes. Blanc de blancs are made using only white wine grapes, while blanc de noirs are made using only red wine grapes. More common are champagnes made using a mix of both, although strictly white wine is produced regardless (with a few rosé champagnes available). Many champagne houses blend different grapes from different vineyards and even different vintages to achieve the ideal balance.

In addition to restrictions on location and grape varietals, land management and pruning methods are also regulated for champagne. Different grapes are in each vintage, and the different vines enjoy different growing conditions. The hills and valleys of east France provide a variety of conditions to suit each grapevine. The harvest can also vary, although most wine in the region is grown in the spring and summer and harvested in the early to mid-fall.

During production, champagne must go through a secondary fermentation in the bottle for carbonation and meet minimum time frames for maturation using lees, or yeast. Non-vintage champagne ages for at least 15 months while vintages age for 3 years or more. Most champagne houses have caves where they age their wines, and they can be hand or machine rotated.

Food Pairings

Bringing exceptional food-pairing versatility to the table, brut champagne partners up with everything from traditional caviar to butter-drenched seafood dishes and salty fare. The high acidity and zippy carbonation cut through oils and fats with delicious precision. Try it with fried potatoes, ham and swiss quiche, oysters Rockefeller, and smoked salmon.

Brut sparkling wine is also commonly used in champagne cocktails, since the other ingredients will add sweetness, playing against the dryness of the brut nicely.

Contrary to popular belief, a champagne flute is not the ideal glass for experiencing champagne, since it greatly restricts the aroma. While pretty, most wine experts recommend a white wine glass instead for tasting and enjoying the sparkling wine. A coup glass, which has a wider opening than a flute, is also a good choice.

Key Producers, Brands, and Buying Tips

Brut champagne is widely available in wine shops, liquor stores, and restaurants. Look for "brut" and "champagne" on the label to ensure you're buying the correct sparkling wine. Quality tends to high across all brut champagnes since regulations are so stringent for this type of wine.

If you can't find brut champagne or are looking for a more affordable option, look for dry cava (a sparkling wine made in Spain) or a high-quality, dry prosecco. American sparkling wines from Northern California can also provide excellent, champagne-level quality.

The following champagne houses are well-known for their long history and high quality and produce brut champagne:

  • Pommery
  • Laurent-Perrier
  • Veuve Clicquot
  • Taittinger
  • Mumm
  • Perrier-Jouët
  • Moet & Chandon
  • Krug
  • Dom Perignon
  • Cristal