“Prisse de Mousse” = Capturing the Sparkle

As a lover of sparkling wine, I’m so excited for the next part of my WSET study program, which is sparkling wines. I’m learning a ton and it’s so much fun!

A question I’ve often gotten about sparkling wine is, ‘how do I know if it’s sweet or not?’ so I thought a blog about the sugar level in bubbles and what the labels mean might be valuable.

First, a brief explanation of how traditional method sparkling wine is made…

To make sparkling wine it goes through two fermentations. The first fermentation process is very similar to making a still wine and produces what is often referred to as a base wine. It is during the second fermentation when the carbon dioxide (CO2) is captured in the bottle creating sparkling wine. In fact, I recently learned the second fermentation is called prisse de mousse which literally translates to “capturing the sparkle”.

To initiate the second fermentation, a small amount of yeast and sugar are added to the base wine. This is referred to as the liqueur de tirage. The sugar is required as food for the yeast and as the yeast feeds on it, it produces alcohol and CO2. I think it’s important to mention that since this sugar is consumed by the yeast, this is not what determines the sugar content of the final sparkling wine.

Once the second fermentation has been completed, the wine is often left to “age on the lees.” This means that the lees, which are the dead yeast cells, remain in the wine for a certain period of time. This process is what creates notes of bread, biscuit, brioche and/or yogurt in the final wine. The longer the lees aging, the more pronounced these characteristics will be.

Following this aging is when the wine will be disgorged, which is the process of removing the dead yeast cells from the bottle, hopefully, without losing too much wine. But the small amount of wine that is lost, is replaced with a combination of wine and sugar, called the liqueur d’expédition, which will determine the wines final sweetness level. The sugar is often called the dosage and thus, some winemakers choose no dosage, which means no sugar is added at this stage and it can be labeled Brut Nature.

The United States follows the same labelling guidelines as most European wine regions to denote the amount of sugar in sparkling wines, which looks like this…

Brut Nature                            0-3g/L sugar

Extra Brut                               0-6g/L sugar

Brut                                          0-12g/L sugar

Extra-Sec/Extra-Dry          12-17g/L sugar

Sec/Dry                                  17-32g/L sugar

Demi-Sec                               32-50g/L sugar

Doux/Sweet                           50+g/L sugar

For comparison, the average soda has over 100g/L of sugar, so not even the sweetest sparkling is as sweet as soda.

But you’re probably asking, how much sugar is in my glass of bubbles? A glass of Brut Nature will have less than one gram of sugar, whereas a glass of doux/sweet sparkling will have 9 or more grams.

I hope this little bit of info helps you choose your next bottle or glass of sparkling wisely.