Sparkling Wine Sweetness

Sparkling wines range from dry to sweet based on how much sugar is added after the second fermentation.

The most well known kind of sparkling wine is Champagne which coincidentally comes from the Champagne region of northern France. The word “Champagne” is a protected designation of origin (PDO) term which means only sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France may be legally called “Champagne.” As such other countries have their own regional names for sparkling wine. The Spanish call their sparkling wine Cava, the Germans and Austrians have Sekt, the Italians have Spumante but their better known protected designation of origin variety of sparkling wine is Prosecco, etc.

While there are a variety of methods to making sparkling wine, they all start with making wine. This is followed by adding a little sugar & yeast to each bottle to generate a second fermentation. This second fermentation, which takes place in the capped bottle, is what produces the CO2 bubbles sparkling wine is known for. Depending on the production method, wine makers then add a mixture known as “le dosage” at the end before the final corking. Dosage is a sweet mixture of still wine and sometimes sugar to balance out the flavor of the sparkling wine. How much dosage is added makes all the difference.

Sparkling Sweetness

The sweetness of a sparkling wine is determined by how much dosage is added – the more sugar, the sweeter the sparkling wine (makes sense). To know how sweet a sparkling wine is, wine makers label their bottles with a variety of terms. Unfortunately, different countries use different words to convey the same general idea. The following is an explanation of sparkling wine sweetness terms.

BRUT
Brut comes from the French for “dry” or “unrefined”. There is some overlap in Brut categories depending on the wine maker but they are all fairly unsweet sparkling wines.

0-3 grams of sugar per liter
Brut Nature / Naturherb
No added sugar, as unsweet as you can buy. 

0-6 grams of sugar per liter
Extra Brut / Extra Herb
Just a little sweet

0-12 grams of sugar per liter
Brut / Herb
A fairly unsweet common sparkling wine variety.


EXTRA DRY
12-17 grams of sugar per liter
Extra Dry / Extra Sec / Extra Seco / Extra Trocken
While it may be extra dry it is still sweeter than the brut category.

DRY
17-32 grams of sugar per liter
Dry / Sec / Seco / Trocken
These words all mean “dry”, but are dry in context of the range of possible sparkling wine sweetnesses. They’re midway between the driest and the sweetest options.

DEMI-SEC
32-50 grams of sugar per liter
Demi-Sec / Semi Seco / Halbtrocken
Only “partially dry” or “half dry”, these fairly sweet sparkling wines can still have a balanced taste.


DOUX
Doux comes from the French for “soft” or “sweet”. These bottles are the candy aisle of sparking wines.

50+ grams of sugar per liter
Doux / Dolce / Mild
The sweetest sparkling wines on the market. For comparison 1 liter of Coca-Cola has about 105 grams of sugar.
Sparkling wines range from brut to doux. Brut comes from the French for “dry” or “unrefined”. There is some overlap in Brut categories depending on the wine maker but they are all fairly unsweet sparkling wines. Doux comes from the French for “soft” or “sweet”. These bottles are the candy aisle of sparking wines.

Added info: the most famous early sparkling wine was by the 17th century monk Dom Pérignon, however sparkling wine originated in England. In typical wine bottles, sparkling wine has the tricky problem where the second fermentation inside the bottle builds up enough pressure that the bottle can explode. Because 17th century English glassmakers used coal in their glass production they could produce a stronger bottle which allowed them to reliably produce sparkling wine before the French.

Starkbierzeit (Strong Beer Season)

Munich’s strong beer season began as a work-around to Lenten fasting.

During the Lenten season leading up to Easter, the German monks of the Neudeck ob der Au Monastery would fast. While they were forbidden from eating solid food they were allowed to drink beer. “Liquid bread wouldn’t break the fast” was the idea – but they didn’t drink just any beer. The monks created the nutritionally-rich, and high in alcohol, doppelbock Salvator beer for the Lenten season. First brewed in 1629, the beer’s name of Salvator comes from “Sankt Vater”, or “Saint Father”, essentially meaning “Holy Father beer.” This beer was not only the start of the Paulaner Brewery but it was also the origin of Starkbierzeit, or “strong beer season.”

Strong Beer Season

Not as big or as well known as Oktoberfest, Starkbierzeit is the multi-week strong beer festival of Munich. While Oktoberfest beers have an alcohol content around 6%, all of the Starkbierzeit beers have a minimum alcohol volume of 7.5%. In the lead up to Easter, breweries around Munich release special high-alcohol beers for the season and host parties in beer halls. There’s music, dancing, people dressed in traditional tracht – it’s like a Lenten smaller-scale decentralized Oktoberfest … fueled by high-alcohol beer.

Irish “Pub In A Box”

As part of a Guinness marketing effort in the early 1990s, thousands of Irish pubs around the world have been built using standardized design templates.

Recognized around the world, the Irish pub is one of the most well-known Irish cultural exports – and where there’s an Irish pub there’s usually Guinness. In the 1980s Guinness began to track the causal relationship between new Irish pubs and regional increases in Guinness beer sales. As new pubs opened, Guinness sales went up. If Guinness could help create more Irish pubs then they could also increase their own revenue.

Ahead of the 1990 World Cup in Italy, Guinness sales representatives traveled around Italy meeting with potential Italian business partners with the goal of opening Irish pubs. Their pitch was built around revenue generation and how Irish pubs have a more profitable beverage-to-food ratio than most other bars. From January to June of 1990 Italy opened 58 Irish pubs, welcoming Irish soccer fans and drinkers of all kinds. However, the critical factor to revenue generation was that these pubs needed to appear authentic – enter the “pub in a box”. 

Pub in a Box

Successful Irish pubs outside of Ireland have the look & feel of the real thing. As part of their expansion effort Guinness assembled a team to analyze, quantify, & document the seemingly ineffable essence of the Irish pub. The Irish Pub Concept helped determine the critical success factors to operating an Irish pub. Chief among these factors is visual authenticity.

Founded in 1990, the Irish Pub Company of Dublin was one of the first companies to offer “authentic” Irish pubs for export. Instead of doing all of the work yourself they’ll take your dimensions and design, manufacture, and ship all of the necessary materials to you. Do you want the rural Irish pub style or the Victorian? Maybe you want the general “Celtic” style. They offer a variety of prepackaged pub types that come complete with all the knickknacks for the walls. To date they have designed & shipped over 2,000 pubs to more than 50 countries.

Fadó in Chicago, designed by the Irish Pub Company in their “Celtic” style.
Mandy’s Apothecary in Moscow, designed by the Irish Pub Company in their “Shop” style.

The Irish Pub Co. isn’t alone. Ól Irish Pubs and GGD Global also offer to design & ship you a “pub in a box”. This Disney-ized packaging of Irish culture is not without criticism. For one it raises questions of authenticity. It’s true these are pubs that have been designed & manufactured in Ireland. However, it’s difficult to claim authenticity when your pub has a fake Irish country store as part of the decor. Instead of organically collecting meaningful mementos for your bar, these superficial design packages ship all the rusty farm equipment, dusty old bottles, and framed photos of strangers you need to give the illusion of authenticity. Why take years cultivating a unique local flavor when you can just throw up a portrait of Michael Collins or the Molly Maguires?

An additional criticism is of Guinness for helping to bring these “pub in a box” bars into existence. Established Irish bars were expected to keep serving Guinness beer while the Guinness company was busy creating additional local competition. Beginning in the early ‘90s some bars boycotted and stopped serving Guinness. McGillin’s Olde Ale House of Philadelphia still does not serve Guinness as a result of the “pub in a box” fallout with Guinness.

The Wild Rover in Barcelona features framed photos of random Irish people, used purely as decoration.

Better than nothing

To many customers the ambiance that these cookie-cutter bars generate is all that matters – the question of authenticity never crosses their minds. The theatrical set dressing used by these bars creates a fun environment. Even for those who recognize the dubious credibility of these establishments, some feel to have a “pub in a box” Irish bar is better than having none at all.

As America has helped transform St. Patrick’s Day into an all-out extravaganza, Irish pubs (authentic or otherwise) are increasingly patronized not only by the diaspora but by people of all backgrounds. The pub offers people of all stripes an environment that is hard to find anywhere else. The long tradition of the pub serving as a gathering place for the local community can still be carried out by these “pub in a box” bars … just don’t scrutinize the bric-à-brac too closely.

Added info: If you’re interested in standardized / templated restaurant experiences, you may also be interested in learning about how the Thai government’s culinary diplomacy has successfully spread Thai restaurants around the world.

Syrah or Shiraz?

Starting in France and making its way to Australia, Syrah and Shiraz are the same thing.

When the French dark grape varietal Syrah arrived in Australia from France, the local Australians began to change its name through their accent calling it “Shi – RAZ” and eventually through actually spelling it Shiraz.

Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape. Today which name a winemaker uses is based on where in the world they are making their wine.