What does demi-sec tell you on a bottle of French wine?
I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve had someone come into a shop or restaurant where I’ve been working over the years and ordered a bottle of extra dry bubbly with the assumption that it was going to, in fact, be more dry than a bottle labeled ‘brut.’ It’s such a common misconception and understandably so.
Taking the words at face value, what else could you really expect? Nothing about it implies that it will have anywhere from 12 – 17 grams per liter of residual sugar. Not to mention all the many other obscure terms you find on bottles of sparkling wine; brut, brut nature, secco. What does it all mean?!
How sweet is your wine?
It’s only natural that we start with Champagne. In Champagne the ratings for sweetness range from Brut Nature, the driest, to Doux, the sweetest. Each rating is determined based on the grams of residual sugar (sugar in the wine) present per liter of wine. While all of the sugar naturally present in the grape juice is converted into alcohol and other bi-products, during fermentation champagne producers will add a step called ‘dosage’ where sugar or leftover grape must (pressed juice) is added back to the wine before it is corked.
Cava and Prosecco
Cava and Prosecco play by the same rules though Prosecco typically is only seen as Brut, Extra Dry, and Dry.
German Sekts fall into a similar set of rules that is also occasionally used for their Rieslings to help consumers have a better idea what they’re signing up for. (Keep in mind that for Riesling this isn’t the same as the Kabinett, Auslese,Spätlese, etc labeling which is determined using the Oechsle Scale which measures the density of the grape must at harvest.)
If you find German wine terminology confusing use Wine Picker, a wine app for Android and iOS that help to choose the best wine.
Zero sugar dosage
In recent years some producers have even added another category so to speak by labeling their wines ‘zero dosage’ or ‘non-dosage,’ meaning there is literally no dosage. Because more or less all the sugar is converted into alcohol and CO2 during fermentation and none is added back in, the resulting wines are bracingly dry!
For some people that’s just the ticket, though most tend to land somewhere in the Brut category with just a little bit of sugar to balance out the acidity of the wine. The residual sugars present in these wines are almost always unnoticeable and merely serve to balance out the wine. While the perceptible sugars can be a little varied, even with these useful guidelines, they are a great place to start.