So far in this bubbly series, I’ve covered what bubbles are made where as well as the different methods winemakers use to get those fancy little sparkles in their wines. If you need to catch up, click here to read the first article, then read this link, and finally this third post (you’re reading it now), where I explain the different levels of sweetness found in bubbly wines… because they do need quite the explanation.
I’m not sure why, but bubbly winemakers made up their own set of terms that are really counter-intuitive and the opposite of those used for still wines. The European Union (EU) created categories that specify just how much sugar can be in each and now most of the world follows these same guidelines.
Let’s dive into the often confusing world of sweetness levels in bubbly wines before you go and buy something WAY different than what you were expecting.
Often winemakers add a little sugar back into the wine at the time they disgorge it. However, with zero dosage wines, no sugar is added during the disgorgement process. The allowed sugar amount is 0-3 grams per liter since wine can naturally have a very small amount of sugar after secondary fermentation. Wines labeled zero dosage are dry, dry, dry! Especially when you factor in that the grapes were harvested before they were fully ripe so as to retain as much acidity as possible.
Any wine with bubbles in it that’s labeled extra brut will be very dry with just 0-6 grams of sugar per liter. These wines will pair very well with savory and salty dishes. For some people, extra brut is just too dry so if you’re not sure you like very dry wines, you can try easing into this category by first trying a few bottles of brut. These may acclimate your palate to drier wines.
These are slightly more sweet than extra brut wines but not by much. In order for a winemaker to label a wine as brut, it must contain less than 12 grams of sugar per liter. Brut sparkling wines are still in the dry—as in not sweet— category.
Here’s where things start to get even more confusing… like you’ve entered opposite land! You’d think that dry means not sweet, but as I alluded to already, the categories are truly perplexing. Extra dry bubbles can have a range of sugar levels between 12-17 grams per liter. Even more confusing is that extra dry isn’t even the sweetest bubbles available. Just remember that these wines are generally more fruity and their acidity is less pronounced.
While dry or sec sparkling wines are squarely in the sweet category, the acidity in the wines tends to balance out their sweetness. With 17-32 grams of sugar per liter, these wines are beautiful with creamy Alfredo dishes since the sweetness and acidity are tempered by the cream in the cheese.
Demi-sec bubbles are almost as sweet as you can find. You can expect 32-50 grams of sugar per liter. Just to put this amount of sugar into prospective, a liter of coca-cola contains 39 grams! If you want to pair a bottle of bubbly Demi-sec with dessert, don’t forget the rule of thumb that the wine should be sweeter than the dish— otherwise, the alcohol in the wine is accentuated— leaving a harsh finish in your mouth.
OK, this is the granddaddy of sweet sparkling wines and will have more than 50 grams of sugar per liter! This is dessert in liquid form so enjoy it without any food at all.
Never played with food pairings while drinking a glass of bubbles? Let me tell you that the world is your oyster! Because the grapes that go into a bottle of bubbly are picked before full ripeness, those acid levels really complement anything salty or fatty. Think potato chips, French fries and popcorn! Plus cheese, meats, seafood, caviar, oysters and so much more!
I’m not sure where the idea came from that bubbles are for only for celebrations but let me bust this myth. Maybe it’s because these wines can cost a bit more than still wines? Maybe it’s a case of elitist brainwashing? No matter how it got started, I’m here to tell you that bubbles are great any time! Really, any ol’ time!
Michele Francisco, a founder and regular contributor to Winerabble, a blog primarily about Pacific Northwest wines, is living the dream in Portland, Oregon. Her passion leads some to believe she's got wine running through her veins. Contact Michele at email@example.com & be sure to visit her online portfolio at www.michelefrancisco.com.