Bringing Back the Sweetness to Champagne

21st November 2019

Sugar Levels in Champagne

It would appear that more and more Champagne producers are reducing the small amount of sugar (dosage) as trends still point to people preferring drier flavours from their glass of bubbly.

To clear up a small point yet one still so very confusing – Dry means sweeter in wine terms so if you prefer your wines to have more sweetness then this is the word you need to look out for and especially for Champagne. Here is a table of words to check when you are purchasing Champagne / Sparkling Wines starting with Brut Nature which will have near zero sugars up to Doux which will have more than 50 grams per litre.

  • Brut Nature (no added sugars)
  • Extra Brut (0-6 grams per litre)
  • Brut (less than 12 grams per litre)
  • Extra-Dry / Extra-Sec (12 – 17 grams per litre)
  • Dry / Sec (17 – 32 grams per litre)
  • Demi/ Sec (33 – 50 grams per litre)
  • Doux (more than 50 grams per litre)

The beauty of wine is that there is no real correct or wrong opinion to have, if the wine in your glass you enjoy then great! Preferences can be expressed and for sure debated, in Champagne there are many styles to enjoy and from a host of terroirs, wine makers and wine making methods. There are plenty of flavours and aromas to discover and you could spend an enjoyable lifetime exploring all the delights that this wine region has to offer.

The question is though is does Champagne taste better sweeter or better with less to no sugars added? Some will say, especially producers and connoisseurs, if a Champagne is well made then is there really a need to add any additional sugar at all? Sugar for some could be seen as merely a way to hide deficiencies, I remember once hearing a Champagne producer saying that ‘by adding sugar you are simply adding make-up’.

It is of course a good thing that we can enjoy Champagne with different levels of sugar to suit our taste and to suit the occasion for which we are enjoying the wine. For gastronomy a selection of sweetness levels in Champagne will mean that it becomes a lot more versatile in pairing with a wider array of foods from sweet dishes to spicy ones and beyond.

Will sweeter Champagne labels come back in to fashion?

Back in the 19th century Champagne was made sweet and this was a style that people preferred, a drink to enjoy and to run alongside sweeter foods such as pastries / cakes. In recent years the trend is more towards zero sugars and even the mention of a demi-sec or sweeter could be seen as an embarrassing admission by some Champagne houses.

A recent visit to Aÿ took me past the Champagne Roger Brun house and a mid-morning tasting with owner and wine maker Philippe Brun. The ever-engaging, entertaining and educational gentleman of Champagne, a chap who wears his heart on his sleeve and produces, for me, some of the best grower labels. A man who is not persuaded by the massive or the trends and in deed will seek to explore the opposite though still achieve remarkable results in aromas and flavours with successful recognition by way of gold medals, trophies and very recently in Westminster London, the title of The World’s Finest Glass of Bubbly 2019.

During my recent morning tasting Philippe brought out a selection of his Champagne to taste. We were soon joined in the tasting room by a regular purchaser of Champagne Roger Brun who had that minute just arrived in Aÿ having driven from Denmark to purchase a few cases.

To express the value and the how the flavours of his Champagne are enhanced with sugar we first tasted the Sec (20 grams per litre) then the Brut.

Champagne Roger Brun Sec

What this tasting did was highlight the wonderful flavours first of Champagne that I personally prefer in we had ripe yellow stone fruits, pastry, honey, oak with a crisp citrus undertone. The aromas too were equally appealing and engaging throwing rich pastry and yellow fruits. These rich flavours from the Sec were soon toned down when we went on to the Brut which although carried a similar nose and taste it did not jump out at you. Both wines are excellent and just as Philippe said that wines are made to suit different reasons and times, for me the sweeter Champagne really excelled the classic Champagne flavours I adore rather than in any way diminish the excellence of the wine making flavours that Philippe aims for. The sweeter the better for me in this tasting.

Having had the most wonderful tasting chez Champagne Roger Brun and a glimpse in to how sugar can genuinely improve the genuine flavours you get from the wine then I’m sure this will soon come back in to fashion as Champagne lovers seek to increase their tasting experiences.

I do suggest you taste the difference with Champagne Roger Brun!

Christopher Walkey

Co-founder of Glass of Bubbly. Journalist and author focused on Champagne & Sparkling Wines and pairing them with foods.