Understanding how much sugar is in your sparkling wine

I love sparkling wines, and the good news for those of us working on losing some of the extra pounds we picked up during COVID-19 lockdowns is that sparkling wines can be some of the lowest calorie and carb options. But you have to be careful and know what you’re drinking – because you can also end up with more than you bargained for.

Without turning this into a longer explanation of how different sparkling wines are made, the main thing you need to look out for is the dryness level of the wine. There are different terms used for these depending on the type of wine you’re drinking – Prosecco has different levels than Champagne, and once you get outside of wines from regulated GIs, all bets are off when it comes to knowing just what is meant by brut or sec on a label because it can mean almost anything at all.

European Union Sparkling Wine Terms

The European Union regulates these terms, and you’ll find them applied to Champagne, Prosecco, Cava, and English Sparkling Wine. Below you’ll find the classifications (and translations to Spanish/Italian/German as needed). The limits for residual sugars were slightly adjusted in 2009, so I’ve added the previous levels as well in case you’re looking at older/vintage bottles.

ClassificationSugar Levels (g/l)Pre-2009 Sugar Levels (g/l)
Doux (also Sweet, Dulce, Mild)50+50+
Demi-Sec (also Semi Seco, Halbtrocken)32-5033-50
Dry (also Sec, Seco, Trocken)17-3217-35
Extra Dry (also Extra Sec, Extra Seco, Extra Trocken)12-17 12-20
Brut (also Herb)Less than 12 0-15
Extra Brut (also Extra Herb)0-60-6
Brut Nature (also Brut Zero, Naturherb)0-30-3

The regulations allow variance of up to 3 g/l above/below what’s listed on the product label. Prosecco regulations don’t currently define Extra Brut and Brut Nature, though there are changes planned in the future that would add these. But for now, you won’t find them on Prosecco bottles in the store.

Some labels can be confusing, so take your time to carefully consider what the label actually says. For example, you can find the word “trocken” on the labels of some sweet wines – this is because it means “dry”, and is sometimes used to describe the dried botrytis-infected later harvest grapes.

Outside of the European Union

These wine terms are legally required and regulated for wines produced in the European Union and are often (voluntarily) used to represent the same sugar levels in non-EU wines. But it’s important to understand that this is voluntary. For example, in the United States, there is no legislation on sweetness classifications and there are no TTB requirements for listing them on sparkling wine labels. What you see listed is usually what you’ll get, but there’s no guarantee that will always be the case.

Why so confusing?

Traditionally, “Dry” was thought to be the driest sparkling wines could be made. Over time, winemakers became more skilled at making drier varieties, so the category of “Extra Dry” was created. Then Brut was created, and so on. This isn’t just a function of winemakers getting better at producing drier wines, it’s a function of their ability to make better and better wines over time. Sugar can hide some faults in wine and smooth over production mistakes while a drier wine gives winemakers less room to hide flaws.