ET TU, BRUT?
Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, in case you were wondering. However, it’s the Brut part of the quote to which I refer in this, the Costa News Wine Column, Cork Talk which, in September, will have chalked up its 20th year!
However, at the time of writing, I’m a considerable distance from the Costas of Spain. It’s not quite raining, though it’s been forecast for later, and we’ve certainly seen enough of the wet stuff since our arrival in the UK two weeks ago! Whilst we’ve been wet often, indeed drenched twice, it hasn’t dampened our spirits, nor those of the friends and family whom we’ve visited thus far – the wine, often sparkling, has been flowing!
Knowing my antipathy towards the P-word (Prosecco, that imposter and would-be usurper!), we’ve not yet been served any of the ubiquitous, almost invariably too-sweet Italian fizz! Instead, we’ve been served a variety of Sparkling Wines, Cava, of course, French (though not yet Champagne) and, very interestingly, English Sparkling Wine. I’ve enjoyed them all, but I have noticed that, to a bubble, they’ve all been catering for what producers seem to believe is the Great British predilection for sweeter styles – a sweeter shade of Brut, to paraphrase Procol Harem!
Frankly, it’s not for me – there’s Brut and there’s Brut, but it seems that not many stockists are aware that there is also Extra Brut, and Brut Nature.
In order for a sparkling wine to be eligible for the dry Brut Category it has to contain between 4 – 12 grams of sugar per litre. When one considers that for a Brut Nature, the far drier style, these figures are reduced to between 0 – 4 grans per sugar, it’s clear that there is a large margin for Brut sparklers. They can have 4 grams of sugar, and they can have three times as much sugar, and still be called Brut.
Usually these figures are not mentioned on the label – it will state simply ‘Brut’ and it’s you palate which, with training, determines the actual level of sweetness. Mine told me that all, so far, of the sparklers we’ve tasted had to have been on the higher end of the scale. A little further investigation (that’s what I do!) revealed that that most were over 10 grams of sugar per litre. For me, it’s way too much, and I suspect that there are many fizz drinkers who are unaware that they can enjoy their sparkling wines, without so much sweetness.
In fact in the UK, there was a short-lived spike in sales of the drier Extra Brut and Brut Nature (my favourite) styles fairly recently. Risibly (for me, anyway) this was because such sparklers were marketed as ‘Skinny Fizz’, targeting those who calorie count as part of their diets. A glass of But Nature will have about 60 calories whereas a Brut will have 100+. However, also surely for most of us, I don’t ever consider how many calories I’m taking in when I’m toasting a celebration! Perhaps this is the reason for that spike to have waned.
Reading around the subject in preparation for this article I discovered some interviews with Champagne producers who were, erroneously in my view, explaining that there is far less Brut Nature than Brut because the wine-making is more difficult and more precise, which puts off most producers. It’s a fallacy.
It’s also incorrect, in my view, to suggest that should these wine-makers be not quite up to the mark, the result will be searingly sharp and acidic, almost undrinkable fizz, with one commentator using the description paint-stripper! This is another fallacy, and one I’d like to quash straight away.
It’s simple, though perhaps ironic. Pick the fruit when it is riper than that which is picked, destined for the sweeter of the Brut styles. This will ensure that there is sufficient fruit-sweetness in the wine following its second fermentation when the zero dosage (or very small dosage) is added before the, now sparkling, wine is bottled and ready to rest before being sold. This will be the driest style of sparkling wine, but it will be perfectly palatable!
I believe that the admittedly huge success of Prosecco in the UK is partly due to the fact that over a long time the British palate has been subjected to Brut styles that have continuously been just on, or only fractionally under, the maximum 12 grams of sugar per litre. Prosecco, almost always of a sweet style, had an ideal opening – plus, it’s cheaper