Brut Champagne is dry to the taste, with very low levels of sugar left in the bottle. Though this has not always been the case. Champagne used to be made with considerable amounts of additional sugar added after the second fermentation to adjust the levels of sweetness to suit the day's sweet tooth. It wasn't until the mid-1800s that Epernay-based producer Perrier-Jouët decided to craft a Champagne without additional sugar. However, this "new" dry style was not quick to catch on given the crisp, tongue drying character. Another three decades went by, before Reims producer, Pommery would give the brut-style of Champagne a try with greater consumer success. Today Champagne is made in a full spectrum of styles from super sweet to incredibly dry, with label indicators often giving clues to what's inside with references to "extra brut," "brut," "sec" and so on.
6 Champagne Styles to Know: Bone Dry to Super Sweet
- Extra Brut - Extra Brut Champagne is made with extremely low levels of sugar, resulting in a bone-dry style with only 0-6 grams of sugar per liter (.6% sugar).
- Brut - Meaning "dry, raw, unrefined" in French, the Brut style of Champagne tastes quite dry on the palate with sugar levels running in the less than 15 grams per liter range (1.5% sugar).
- Extra Dry - While the name seems to communicate that this style of Champagne would taste drier than a Brut Champagne, this is not typically the case. Extra Dry is usually slightly sweeter than Brut Champagne with sugar levels falling between 12-20 grams of sugar per liter (1.2-2% sugar).
- Sec - French for "dry or lean" though the sec styles of Champagne often highlight a slightly sweet taste with sugar staying in the 17-35 gram per liter range (1.7-3.5% sugar).
- Demi-sec - Literally "half-dry" or semi-sweet in tasting nature, the demi-sec Champagne styles bring 33-50 grams of sugar per liter (3.3-5% sugar).
- Doux - "Sweet" in French, this Champagne style is quite sweet (and quite rare) spotlighting a whopping 50 grams or more sugar per liter (over 5% sugar). With sugar levels higher than a favorite can of soda, Doux definitely qualifies as dessert.
Brut Champagne Flavor and Food Pairing
Brut Champagne is dry on the palate, yet the aromas and flavors lean towards apple, pear, and citrus, and can move towards peach and apricot in warmer vintages. Classic fresh-baked bread aromas, creamy textures, and fuller-bodied styles are the direct influence of the spent yeast used in the second fermentation. Bringing exceptional food-pairing versatility to the table, brut Champagne partners up with everything from traditional caviar to butter-drenched seafood delights and salty flavored fare. The high acidity and zippy carbonation cut through oils and fats with delicious palate precision, making everything from fried potatoes and savory quiche to Oysters Rockefeller and smoked salmon an absolute treat.
Price of Brut Champagne and Sparkling Wine
Keep in mind that everything made outside of France, labeled as "Brut" is considered sparkling wine, not Champagne. Most wine-producing countries make a sparkling wine, some with greater success than others.
Spain: Spain Some of the best bets for budget-friendly brut sparkling wine comes from Spain in the form of Cava (typically $9-15 a bottle).
United States: In the U.S. sparkling wine producers like Mumm Napa, Chandon, Roederer Estate, and Gloria Ferrer all carry bottles starting at the $20 mark and move steadily up from there.
Elsewhere in France: Whenever sparkling wine is made in France outside of Champagne, it is called a "cremant." For instance, Cremant d'Alsace is simply a "cremant" or bubbly from the French region of Alsace. Prices run the gamut ranging from $18 for a basic bottle of brut to hundreds of dollars for the best bruts.
True Champagne: Authentic French Champagne tends to be the most expensive of the sparkling wines. With some entry-level bottles starting at $30 for a non-vintage option, Chardonnay dominant Champagne typically offers crisp apple and pear flavors, often with a yeasty, fresh-baked bread character. A mid-level bottle of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label will set you back $40-50. The factors that influence the final price of a brut Champagne are where the grapes were grown (high end vs. humble vineyards), which estate made the wine, if the Champagne grapes are all from a single vintage (more expensive) or multiple vintages (most common), and what kind of reputation precedes the bottle (Dom Perignon, Cristal, Krug, Perrier-Jouët and the like can make some pretty pricey bottles).
How Brut Champagne Is Made
Technically Champagne is only Champagne when it's made in Champagne, France, using only Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Pinot Meunier grapes. It is a blend of grapes, vineyards, and often vintages (unless it's dated as "vintage" Champagne). An average of 45 different still wines come together to make a final bottling blend of Champagne with each Champagne house going for a unique, albeit consistent "house style" year in and year out. The grapes are harvested, fermented, and then aged a bit before bottling as per the normal winemaking process, but to get the bubbles Champagne must go through a second fermentation process to make the bubbles and capture them in the bottle.
This second fermentation is jump-started by the addition of sugar and yeast (called the liqueur de tirage) to the bottles of blended still wine, which will initiate round two of fermentation. Once the spent yeast has run its course it begins to collect as sediment. This yeast sediment is called the "lees" and Champagne that rests on the lees, also called "sur lies" (literally "on lees" in French) is forever influenced by the lees with a final flavor that offers a classic yeasty, fresh-baked bread character. When it's time to remove the spent yeast, the bottles are turned at an upside-down angle so that the sediment collects in the bottleneck and may be removed prior to corking. It's at this point that the Champagne's sugar levels are determined and adjusted. If a producer would like to make a Brut Champagne or Extra Brut Champagne, then typically nothing will be added. However, if the goal is a sweeter-styled Champagne, then a dosage (rhymes with "massage") is added. The dosage is essentially a blend of base wine with sugar that can be more concentrated or less concentrated depending on the expected level of sweetness that's desired.
Recommended Brut Champagne Producers to Try
- Pol Roger
- Charles Heidsieck
- Veuve Clicquot
- Louis Roederer
- Nicolas Feuillatte
- Moet & Chandon
- Dom Perignon