Wedding season—Champagne 101 time.
Champagne and sparkling wines made using méthode champenoise get their fizz from second fermentation in the bottle.
Each bottle holds a secret that makes it distinctive. After a year in bottle—three or more years for premiums—yeast of the second fermentation is frozen in the bottle’s neck and removed (a process called “disgorgement”). Then “dosage”—a mix of sugar, wine, sometimes brandy—is added and the bottle corked.
Dosage is a closely-held secret for each maker. Ingredients influence wine’s color and taste; the amount of sugar determines sweetness, described by specific names:
• Brut Natural or Brut Zéro (less than 2.25 grams sugar per 750 ml bottle; least sweet, driest wine)
• Extra Brut (less than 4.5 grams sugar)
• Brut (less than 11.25 grams sugar)
• Extra Sec or Extra Dry (9 to 15 grams sugar)
• Sec (12.75 to 26.25 grams sugar)
• Demi-Sec (24.75 to 37.5 grams sugar)
• Doux (more than 37.5 grams sugar; sweetest wines)
Brut is most common sweetness today; 19th and early 20th century tipplers favored sweeter.
Not all sparking wines are made using in-the-bottle fermentation. Less expensive wines get their second fermentation in stainless steel tanks (Charmat process). Cheapest sparkling wines are made by injecting carbon dioxide into white wine. Wines made these ways are gentler on your wallet, rougher on your palate.
• Veuve Clicquot Demi Sec Champagne. Grapefruit, ginger, honey; generous nose, modest acidity, sweetness galore. True French Champagne. $58.
• Laetitia Brut Cuvee. Tiny bubbles, peach, melon, lemon. California sparkling. $26
• Korbel Natural. Delicate, very dry, fruit forward. California sparkling. $18