Ever since Champagne was first made to sparkle, the trend has gone in one direction- from sweeter to drier. This trend has caused a strange progression of names for the styles, since every time the Champenois brought a drier category of Champagne to market they thought that it would be the last and the driest. Starting in 2011, we may have indeed reached the end of the road for dry styles with the addition of Brut Nature to the list of officially regulated styles.
The first Champagnes were very, very sweet, and it was only the will of the export market, and mostly the English, that pushed the Champenois to make drier and drier wines. That is why the names of the styles are so confusing… When the market first asked for drier wines, the Champenois responded with Demi-Sec (translation- half dry), when they asked for drier than that, they offered sec (dry) which was still quite sweet, when the market asked for drier still they responded with Extra Dry… This occurred slowly over 150 years, and the Champenoise almost ran out of words, but the market did not run out of passion for even drier Champagne. When they asked for drier than extra dry, the Champenois created Brut. That last name has stuck quite well, and only recently has the trend pushed further forward, and extra brut was born. Here are the current legal definitions of the styles:
Extra Brut: 0-6 grams of sugar per liter. (all of the non dosage Champagnes are currently legally extra bruts)
Brut: 0 to15 grams per liter of sugar
Extra-Sec (extra dry): 12 to 20 grams per liter of sugar
Sec (dry): 17 to 35 grams per liter of sugar
Demi-Sec (half dry): 35 to 50 grams per liter of sugar
Doux (sweet): over 50 grams per liter of sugar
The trend is now pushing even further, and starting on the first of January 2011, the regulations will change for the drier for Brut Champagne. This is mostly the law conforming to existing reality, as very few Champagnes are labeled Brut with over 13 grams of sugar- but the new regulation has formalized the trend. There is also a new official category, Brut Nature, which has been around for quite a while in practice but is also now formal. Here are the ranges as of January 1st 2011:
Brut Nature: No added Dosage and less than 3 grams per liter of natural residual sugar.
Extra Brut: 0 to 6 grams per liter sugar
Brut: Less than 12 grams per liter sugar
Extra Sec (Extra Dry): 12 to 17 grams per liter sugar
Sec (Dry): 17 to 32 grams per liter sugar
Demi Sec (Half Dry): 32 to 50 grams per liter sugar
Doux (sweet): more than 50 grams per liter sugar
I hope that you will join me in finding many reasons to raise a glass of Brut, Extra Brut, Demi-Sec and Extra dry this holiday season!