Words by Simon Difford
The amount of cane sugar (liqueur d'expédition) added to a champagne during dosage will affect how sweet (or dry) a champagne tastes. Unless the label specifically says 'zéro' or 'non' dosage then even the driest of champagnes will contain some unfermented 'residual' sugar.
The amount of sugar in a champagne and so its perceived sweetness is recorded as the total sugar content in the finished wine rather than the quantity of sugar added during dosage.
Confusingly the grades applied to champagne according to their sugar content overlap. For example, what one house may label as 'brut' may contradict the same amount or even less sugar than in another houses 'extra sec'. This is to allow the marketers some flexibility as to how they label the various champagnes in their range.
Brut Nature (bone dry)
Literally 'naturally raw' is a champagne where no sugar was added during dosage. Despite this they may have up to 2 grams per litre of residual sugar. Also known as Extra Brut, Brut Zéro, Brut Sauvage or Non Dosage.
Ultra Brut (very dry)
Literally 'extra raw', like Brut Nature' is a champagne where no sugar was added during dosage but may have up to 6 grams per litre of residual sugar. Ultra Brut champagnes do not tend to be as austere as Brut Nature. Also known as Extra Brut, Brut Zéro, Brut Sauvage or Non Dosage.
Brut (very dry)
Champagnes with 0-15 grams of sugar per litre.
Champagnes with 12-20 grams of sugar per litre.
Sec (medium dry)
Champagnes with 17-35 grams of sugar per litre.
Champagnes with 33-50 grams of sugar per litre.
Doux (very sweet)
Champagnes with over 50 grams of sugar per litre.
More on Champagne
Champagne definition and intro
Champagne styles and classifications
How to open a bottle of champagne and sabrage
Cellaring/storing and when to drink champagne
Busting champagne myths
The Champagne region
How is champagne made?
The grape varieties of Champagne