What do “brut” and “demi sec” on a bottle of Champagne mean?

When I moved to the Big Apple a few weeks ago, I had a number of preconceptions about the city that have, much to my delight, largely proven to be baseless.

One of them was the assumption that “the subway sucks”. Sure, the New York subway definitely has fewer frills than the London Underground (ha – who would have thought the tube could be characterised as extravagant?) but it is air-conditioned and I have yet to see any evidence of the city descending into gory chaos from monthly union strikes.

Another one was that “the city is too crowded”. Granted, if you venture into Times Square you will likely experience alternating bouts of claustrophobia and utter contempt for humanity, but there are countless neighbourhoods in the city that carry an unapologetic sense of perpetual peace and local charm.

Not what I mean by “local charm”

Unfortunately, one fear I had that has manifested itself with more than a fiber of accuracy is that NYC is heinously expensive. I realise this on an almost hourly basis – most recently when I handed over $6.50 for a half gallon of milk. With such elevated dairy prices, it’s a wonder that the whole of Manhattan has not yet turned paleo.

Luckily, when Plutus (the ancient Greek god of wealth) closes a door, he opens a window.

I ran into some fortune while dining at a restaurant this week: the wonderful waitress decided to spoil us with a few extra drinks on the house (there is no such thing as a free lunch but there absolutely is a free digestif). One of the treats was amaro with a wedge of lemon; the other was a demi sec Champagne.

I found myself gravitating towards the bubbly, partly because it was demi-sec which is not altogether commonplace, but mostly because the amaro smelt like it packed enough of a punch to render me horizontal on the pavement (and no, I don’t mean “sidewalk”).

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said that “too much of anything is bad, but too much champagne is just right”. I’m not sure I am totally in accordance – have you ever suffered a champagne hangover that has made you want to die a thousand deaths? – but his sentiment is poetic.

Sparkling wine can be designated brut and demi sec. This essentially refers to the dryness/sweetness – a.k.a. the amount of residual sugar in the wine. A brut bubbly will typically have less than 12 grams of residual sugar; a demi sec will contain between 33-50 grams. In between these two sit extra sec (extra dry) and sec (dry).

Look at the sugar in each glass

Sugar? No thanks, I’m sweet enough!

The majority of the Champagne region is focused on producing drier styles of wine broadly because of market demand – the brut stuff usually flies off store shelves faster than demi sec. There has been a prejudice against demi sec in the last few years – the label has seemingly become antonymous with elegance and chic – which I think is somewhat unfortunate.

Though I’m not a huge fan of sweeter styles of wine, I do think there is a time and place for everything. Demi sec sparkling wine is often light, refreshing, and pairs very well with dessert. Almost all of the major Champagne brands have a demi sec in their portfolio, so next time you’re reaching for that apple crumble or chocolate fondant, consider opening a bottle.

Circling back to my point about New York being unashamedly unaffordable: if milk is so expensive, can you imagine how expensive wine is? I’m toying with the idea of starting a fund to support my oenophilia in the city – so if you fancy some tax deductible philanthropy please contact me directly. Thank you and goodnight.

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