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How sweet is my Champagne?

Decoding sweetness levels from the sparkling wine label can be a little tricky, that’s why I created a small cheat sheet for you to buy the right one for the special occasion

Sweetness of the Champagne is measured by how much grams of sugar are there in one liter of wine (g/l) .

  • Brut Nature (Zero dosage) –  0-3 g/l
  • Extra brut – 0-6 g/l
  • Brut –  0-12 g/l
  • Extra Dry-  12-17g/l
  • Sec –  17-32 g/l
  • Demi-sec – 32-50 g/l
  • Doux – over 50 grams of sugar

Sweetnes of champagne isn’t determined by a fermentation itself as in almost every other wine. The base wine is dry and the solution of sugar dissolved in wine is added in a “Dosage” part of the Champagne winemaking. The same sweetness levels are on the labels of most sparkling wines like Prosecco or Franciacorta .

Check out my other entries about sparkling wines:

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Franciacorta – the unknown gem of Italy

When You think about Italian sparkling wine, the first thing that comes to Your mind is a Prosecco. Today, I’ll tell You about his lesser known but more serious cousin – Franciacorta.

Franciacorta is an Italian sparkling wine from Lombardy made by using traditional method of secondary fermentation in bottle same as in French Champagne.

Warm climate, strict regulations, great price to quality ratio and usage of both international and unique local grape Varieties make it an exotic but great alternative to Champagne.

Wine is made by the traditional method of secondary fermentation in the bottle which is called by the locals “Franciacorta method” . Mostly used grapes, apart from local ones are Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Wines made from local grapes tend to be more fruity and less acidic.

There is a quality graduation of Franciacorta, based on a time that wine spends on the “less”. Less is a sediment from dead yeast cells, that are responsible for secondary fermentation in the bottle that creates bubbles. The more time wine spends with them, the more nutty and yeasty aromas it develops.
Franciacorta – 18 months
Franciacorta Rosé – 24 months
Franciacorta Satèn – 24 months
Franciacorta millesimato – (declared vintage) 30 months
Franciacorta riserva – 60 months

As You can see, the minimal amount of time the wine spends on the less is higher than for Non Vintage Champagne (15 months) which results in less fruity but more full and elegant notes of almonds and marzipan. The dosage (adding sugar to the final wine) is typically used less often than in champagne region, because Italian winemakers prefer their sparkling wines dry. The driest types of Francciacorta are labelled as Pas Dosé, Dosage Zéro, Pas Opéré or Nature. Sweeter styles in order from the drier to the sweeter are Extra Brut, Brut, Sec and Demi-Sec.

Franciacorta acquired its DOC (special apelation protected by law) status in 1967

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How the Champagne is made ?

The best known bubbles in the world take their richness and price from the unique and old production technique. But how Champagne is made ?

  1. Base wine is obtained by leading normal fermentation.
  2. A solution of yeast and sugar is added to a bottle and after closing with a cap it is placed on special shelves.
  3. Secondary fermentation occurs. In this process the bubbles are made.
  4. After consuming all the sugar, the yeast dies. Now the aging on the “less” starts (on the dead yeast sediment). The more it ages that way, the less fresh and fruity the wine is. Instead it develops more bread and marzipan flavours.
  5. The bottles are flipped in a way that the sediment gathers in a neck of a bottle (Remouage).
  6. The sediment is thrown out a bottle by preassure after (Degorgement).
  7. Specific amount of sugar and wine solution is added to assure required level of sweetness (Dosage).

Why it matters ?

Methode champenoise (production method of Champagne wines in other wine regions known as metode traditionale) has about 300 years of history and tradition. Champagne wine is a sparkling white wine, that can be produced only in a Champagne wine growing region in France. There are only three grapes that are allowed to produce the base wine for the Champagne: Pinot Noir (red), Chardonnay (white), Pinot Meunier (red). Because of cool climate, the wines made from local grapes are very acidic. Natural acidity helps retain freshness and balance of final wine.

There are two types of Champagne: White and Rose. White Champagne made entirely from red grapes is called Blanc de Blanc and the one made with red grapes is called Blanc de Noirs. By law, the Champagne wines are required to spend specified minimum time while aging on the less. Non vintage – 13 months, Vintage – 3 years of aging. 

Vintage Champagne is often declared in special years, when the climate conditions and harvest resulted in special quality wines. Non vintage Champagne is a blend of wines from different vintages or a single vintage but can’t be labelled as such. These are the wines from other years, when the harvest was bad or average.

Method of producing a sparkling wine mentioned above is called the traditional (Champenoise) method. This process creates a inside gas pressure of 6-7 atmospheres under the cap. Bubbles made with traditional method are smaller and tend to endure much more time, than the ones present in other sparkling wines.
Check out my entry about sweetness in champagne for further informations.

All other wines with bubbles can’t be labeled as Champagne by law. When looking for a value bottle, check Spanish Cava or France Cremant wines. When searching for a great alternative, reach for Franciacorta.

Want to know more ?