Ever wondered what the words Brut or Dry, Extra Dry, Demi-Sec or Ultra-Brut meant in relation to sparkling wines? Well, it’s all about sugar levels in the wine and it’s a little counterintuitive, so bear with me.
When a sparkling wine is ‘bottle fermented’ (secondary ferment happens inside the bottle to add the fizz), it ends up nearly bone dry, with no sugar left in the wine as it has all been turned into alcohol and carbon dioxide, providing the fizz inside the bottle. Now, some wines are released like that (bone dry) and labelled ‘Brut Natural’ or ‘Zero Dosage’ meaning that the winemaker has not added any sugar – AKA the ‘Dosage’ – after the disgorging process, when the yeast is removed from the bottle, before the cork is applied. Still with me?
In a way, the better term is ‘Zero Dosage’ because most sparkling wines have a little bit of sugar added, after the yeast is removed and before the cork is applied, labelled and made ready for sale. The reason is those small amounts of sugar help round the wine off. At Rathfinny we think of sugar, or the ‘dosage’ (the dose of sugar added) like seasoning – it helps bring out some of the flavours in the wine and balance out the acidity. We generally don’t want to add new flavours or textures, and we don’t want customers to be able to detect the sugar; too much and it ‘coats’ your teeth but you want just enough to make the wine come alive, like adding salt to food.
‘Brut’ is the most common term used in Champagne and most English Sparlings are ‘Brut’. This means that they have less than 12 grams per litre of sugar added. Sparkling wines can also be labelled as ‘Extra Brut’ which means that they have less than 6 grams per litre of sugar added.
However, it now gets a little counterintuitive because ‘Extra Dry’ sparkling wine are sweeter than ‘Brut’ as they have less than 17 grams per litre of sugar and then ‘Dry’ sparkling is even sweeter with less than 32 grams per litre of sugar – that’s approximately one teaspoon of sugar per 125ml glass of ‘Dry’ sparkling!
Then it gets sweeter again – ‘Demi-Sec’ has up to 50 grams per litre of sugar added or 9 teaspoons per bottle (1.5 per glass)!
When it comes to still wines, there’s no formal categorization (except in Germany) for the amount of ‘residual sugar’, left over after fermentation, but in general a ‘dry’ still wine will have less than 10 grams per litre of residual sugar.
So the message is that if you like ‘Dry’ wines then you should be looking for ‘Brut’ not ‘Dry’ on a sparkling wine label. Told you it was slightly counterintuitive.
For the record – most Rathfinny sparkling wines have less than 6 grams per litre and are labelled ‘Brut’. They are dry, but have a lick of sugar to round them off and enhance flavours, pulling the whole wine together. We’ve just completed our dosage trials for our 2018 Rosé sparkling to be released later this summer and I can tell you it will have 5 grams per litre. We hope you enjoy our Brut wines.