Reading a sparkling wine label is like trying to learn a foreign language (or more specifically, French). All the fancy terms and elegant phrases tend to go way over our heads, so we’re here to dumb down the lingo so that we’re all able to knowledgeably enjoy our bubbly together.
While you’ve read that fermentation is a crucial part of the winemaking process, sparkling wine is actually fermented twice to create those bubbles we all know and love. Two of the most common methods used to re-ferment wine are the Traditional Method and the Tank Method, each used for Champagne and Prosecco, respectively. With the Traditional Method, the still wine ferments in its individual bottle, so that when you pop it open, it’s bubbles galore. The Tank Method involves transferring the fermented wine into a large, pressurized tank, where it’s left to ferment a second time.
So now your wine is all bubbly and ready to be bought. But how do you know which bottle to grab based on its description? Sparkling wine has a lot of lingo, and in terms of determining a wine’s sweetness, it can be pretty tricky. The amount of sugar the winemaker adds in depends on if your Champagne is Brut Nature or Demi-Sec. If that makes absolutely no sense to you, we’re in the same boat. These fancy terms are usually written in French, but just to make it extra confusing to anyone who speaks one language, these labels are sometimes also written in the country’s language where the wine originates. Luckily for us, Wine Spectator’s June issue broke down all terms most commonly seen on a bottle of bubbly:
Brut Nature, Brut Non-Dosé, Brut Zero - completely dry; no residual sugar Extra Brut - very dry
Brut - dry
Extra dry - off-dry
Dry (Secco) - lightly to moderately sweet
Demi-Sec - sweet
Doux (Dolce) - frankly sweet
But the lingo doesn’t stop there. The style of your bubbly is also indicated on its label to describe the types of grapes used or a certain production method. Just like the sweetness level, these terms typically are written out in French, too:
Blanc de Blancs - this phrase means that your bubbly is made only from white-skinned grapes, hence the “blanc” in the title. If you’re splurging on a bottle of Champagne, then your grapes are only made from Chardonnay grapes.
Blanc de Noirs - in case the “noir” didn’t tip you off, these types of sparkling wine are made only from red-skinned grapes.
Rosé - who doesn’t love Rosé sparkling wine?! This title on your bottle means that the bubbly inside was produced by mixing some red wine in with the fermented wine before the second fermentation.
Rosé saignée - oooh, you might be thinking even fancier Rosé since it has the added French word at the end. It’s not necessarily any fancier than the plain “Rosé” title we just went over. Essentially the added “saignée” just means that the juice from the red-skinned grapes bled off into the white wine, giving the Rosé its pink color before either fermentation occurred.
Transforming still wine into sparkling wine is no small task, but someone’s gotta drink it! And now when you’re at the store, you won’t be standing dumbfounded trying to comprehend the label of your favorite sparkling wine. So let’s raise our glasses to our bubbly. Cheers!
Sources: June 2018 print issue of Wine Spectator, Wine Folly