When it comes to describing champagne – or other similar sparkling wines such as cava – then ‘brut’ is a word that describes one end of the sweetness scale. Champagne, in similarity with other wines, comes in different levels of sweetness. The word brut refers to the amount of sugar contained in the champagne, and describes the drier end of the scale. Brut champagne is the most popular amongst champagne drinkers today.

The history of brut champagne
However, this wasn’t always the case. During the 19th century most champagne was deliberately made very sweet. This was for a couple of reasons; the first being to satisfy the sweet tooth of most wine drinkers, and the second being to cover up any flaws in the quality of the grapes used. Different nationalities preferred different levels of sweetness, and the champagne producers tailored their wares to each individual market.
Over the years the fashion for drier champagnes became greater, and the public demand for higher quality also increased. It was in 1846 that the champagne house Perrier-Jouet brought out a wine with no added sugar whatsoever. At first this received a very cool reception – and was described by many as having a taste that was too ‘brute-like.’ And it was from this that the word brut was derived.

Different levels of sweetness
The method of producing champagne involves two different fermentations. Sugar is added during the aging process and after the second fermentation – and the amount added will determine how sweet (or dry) the drink will be.
There are different levels of sweetness – and these are described as follows:

  • Brut Naturel (sometimes called Brut Zero) – this is the driest of all champagnes with less than 3 grams of sugar per litre.
  • Extra Brut – less than 6 grams of sugar per litre
  • Brut – less than 12 grams of sugar per litre

By law the sweetness of a champagne needs to be stated on the label. So, for instance, you’ll see labels such as ‘Piper Heidsieck Brut’ or ‘Taittinger Brut Reserve.’ Different people enjoy different levels of sweetness in a champagne, cava or other sparkling wine. And there are different levels of sweetness even within each individual rating.

Trying different ‘brut’ levels is half the fun of enjoying champagne. You’ll soon come to find which pleases your palate the most. And, of course, different levels of sweetness go with different types of food. So whether you prefer Brut Naturel, Extra Brut or Brut often depends on the occasion and if you’re enjoying your champagne as a drink on its own, or as an accompaniment to a meal.

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