Ever wondered what the words on labels of Champagne bottles mean? Whether it’s ‘Brut’, ‘Extra Brut’, ‘Brut Nature’ or anything else, at one point or another, you might have wondered what these actually mean.
Well, the world of Champagne has a language of its own, and labels can sometimes appear like secret codes to the layman’s eye. But don’t worry, because today we’re here to decode some of the terms that you most often see on Champagne labels - so the next time you pick up a bottle, you know what it’s all about.
For a start, the word Brut is written on Champagne. Very often, a vast majority of the Champagnes around the world carry the word Brut. Brut in French means dry, but again, dry means the lack of sweetness.
By rule, the word Brut on the label indicates that it could contain less than 12 grams of sugar per litre. The dosage that is added to Champagne just before bottling is a mixture of a little bit of wine and sugar mixed together and added to the Champagne to give the drink a lovely, sweet, brown soft edge.
Another term on the label of Champagne bottles is Extra Brut, which means that the wine carries less than six grams of sugar per litre.
And if you read the word Zero Dosage or Brut Nature on a Champagne label, it means it may have absolutely no dosage, no sweetness or maximum up to three grams per litre of sugar added. Generally, Zero Dosage Champagnes are very crisp, very dry as they have no sugar. At times there is very less calories as well, but the truth is that dosage added to the wine just before bottling gives it a lovely soft edge, which is needed, because Champagne is a very cool region and one does not want it to be too tart and too austere.
In the words of Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, the former President of the Taittinger Champagne house, “Dosage is like a lipstick on a really beautiful woman, the beautiful woman which is Champagne doesn't really need to make up, but a little bit of lipstick really uplifts her beauty and takes it to the next level.”
So, that's exactly what the role of dosage is in a Champagne.
These words on a label means it could have anywhere between 12 to 17 grams of sugar per litre.
Sec on a label means 17 to 32 grams of sugar per litre.
This is quite common, and is a Champagne like a Moet & Chandon Ice Imperial that can be enjoyed on ice. Demisec means semi-sweet in French and this particular Champagne has between 32 to 50 grams of sugar per litre.
Doux on a label means more than 50 grams of sugar per litre.
So, the best way to enjoy Champagne would be to pour it in a glass, add ice cubes as it makes the wine more refreshing. To conclude, Champagne styles are available in varying levels of sweetness, depending on the palate, whether drier or sweeter.
Now let’s dive into a little more detail about the grape varieties that make Champagne the magnificent vino that it is.
We are well aware that sparkling wine bottles of Champagnes are made in the north east part of France. Speaking of labels on Champagne bottles, the mention of grape varieties can provide knowledge on the style and expression of the sparkling wine.
Champagne is made from only three grape varieties. These are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.
CHARDONNAY: The role of Chardonnay grapes in the making of Champagne is all so important. It is the grape variety that gives freshness, the aromatics, the talc-like perfume, which is so signature in a Champagne, and all of this comes from the use of Chardonnay grapes.
PINOT NOIR: The Pinot Noir grape variety, gives the body, the depth, the fruity backbone, a little bit of a textural sort of a component to the blend. So, Pinot Noir again is very, very important in the blend.
PINOT MEUNIER: The Meunier acts as a great blending partner to both Chardonnay as well as Pinot Noir to add a bit more of the fruity intensity and aromatics to the blend in a Champagne.
Now, whilst these three grape varieties are used in differing proportions in the making of a Champagne and stylistically, they differ depending upon whether there’s more Chardonnay in the blend or there’s more Pinot Noir in the blend and so on and so forth. Sometimes Champagne can also be made with the use of one or two of these grape varieties. For example, let’s look at the word Blanc de Blancs on a bottle of Champagne. The Comtes de Champagne from the Taittinger Champagne house has the word Blanc de Blancs printed on it. Blanc de Blancs means white from whites, signifying that the Champagne has been made with the use of only the Chardonnay grapes because only the Chardonnay grapes are white in colour.
Both Pinot Noir and Meunier are black grape varieties. Now, when the Champagne is made with a hundred percent Chardonnay, it has a very different and unique expression. The Blanc de Blancs are normally livelier, crisper, ’often much drier, very lifted, aromatic, containing the distinctive talc-like perfume, and most importantly, they are extremely age-worthy.
Now, just as Blanc de Blancs means white from whites, the word Blanc de Noir means a white Champagne made with the use black skinned grape varieties, because Noir stands for black. So, Blanc de Noir, which is white from blacks, is generally a blend of Champagne made either 100 percent from a Pinot Noir or a Meunier or maybe a blend of both these black grape varieties.
The style of Blanc de Noir is very different as compared to Blanc de Blancs. For one, Blanc de Noir is fuller, has more body, and also more depth. It has a fruity backbone, and also at times aromatics of strawberries or cherries coming through vis-a-vis a Blanc de Blancs, which would be more lemon, apple, tart-like and sometimes even stone fruit, but nice white fleshy fruit. In a Blanc de Noir, it would have more cherries, strawberries, raspberries. But what is distinctive about Blanc de Noir is that it would turn smokier as it ages. It tends to develop mushroom-like flavours as opposed to buttery and toasty sort of flavours. So stylistically, Blanc de Noirs are heavier, fuller, more textured, and therefore, there are some who prefer Blanc de Noir to Blanc de Blancs.
ROSÉS: That leaves us with some middle ground, which is what is a Rosé. Now Rosé, as the name suggests is a pink wine also made from the use of black grape varieties. In the world of Champagnes, a Rosé is made in a very unique way. It is made by blending at the base wine a Rose with a white wine, and that's how a Rosé is created. It's also made through another technique called the maceration technique, where the skins of the black grapes are kept in contact with the juice for a relatively short period of time, and as soon as there is some leaching of colours, and if the winemaker is satisfied with the desired level of colour in the Rosé, he will bleed off the juice and that leaves a lovely pink Rosé Champagne. Now, a Rosé Champagne is invariably always priced a little higher than just a brut or white Champagne, and that is because it is considered more romantic, more celebratory.
In the making process, there's no difference in the production methods of Rosé, but it's just from an imagery point of view the Rosé Champagne enjoys a place of romanticism and sophistication and elegance, which results in it being priced higher.
Having said that, all Champagnes are wonderful because Champagne is the wine for the kings and the king of all wines. So, whether it is stylistically a Blanc de Blancs or a Blanc de Noir or a Rosé Champagne, Champagne is a wine for all seasons.
Originally published April 15, 2022