Brut vs Extra Dry Wine – What Are These Wines Best For?

When it comes to fine wines, brut and extra dry Italian varieties often make the top lists. That’s the case with Franciacorta, what is considered by some to be Italy’s premium sparkling wine.

It’s been likened to Champagne, but at a far more affordable cost than the highly popular French wine.

In a recent feature on Fosters.com, a local news website for a community in New Hampshire, journalist JoAnn Actis-Grande explained that the name itself shows how connected to Italian culture Franciacorta is. The original name was Franzacurta, which signifies free land.

It also refers to the land situated in Northern Italy, along the foothills of the Alps where the bubbly is produced.

In fact, the entire region of Northern Italy is especially prized for sparkling wines, many of which are dry or even brut, nurtured by the ideal climate that benefits from a balance of lake effect winds and regional mountains.

By many accounts, Franciatora is considered the main ‘rival’ to Champagne. Like Champagne, Franciatora is produced in fairly low yields at a time, with exceptional attention paid to the production process as a whole. Like Champagne, it is also made using the méthode champenoise, which involves a second fermentation inside a bottle.

Of course, Franciatora is not produced nearly as much as Champagne, but it shows that signature sparkling wines are highly revered around the world.

And Franciatora, like other wines, is classified by the levels of residual sugars, with offerings in everything from extra brut (among the driest) to semi dec (among the sweetest).

But when it comes to extra dry and brut wines, the disinclination is fine and unclear to many. So what are the differences between the best extra dry and best brut sparkling wines, and which is better in what case?

What does Dry mean?

Before we can even get into the differences between brut and extra dry wines, let’s take a look at what it means, first of all, to call a wine dry.

How dry a wine tells us about the level of sugars, or more specifically, residual sugars. Originally, of course, grapes have fairly high sugar levels, many of which are reduced during the fermentation process.

A dry wine is one that is lower on residual sugars and does not present much sweetness as you drink.

What impacts the level of sugars in wine and what makes wine dry? 

During the fermentation process, the yeast eats away at much of the sugars. The amount of sugars remaining in the wine depends to an extent when the fermentation process is stopped. The sooner the fermentation process is halted, the sweeter the wine and vise versa.

However, sometimes sugar is also added back into wine to make sweeter wines. How you experience dry wine does depend on flavors and other factors–which we will get to in a minute.

Of course, dry wines can still taste fruity, or have any number of flavor notes you might not associate with something that isn’t sweet.

Does anything impact how we experience dry wines? 

Yes. Aside from the actual sugar levels in wine, there are other factors which may lead us to experience wine as more dry or sweeter than it actually is.

Aging, fruity flavor notes, as well as acidity and alcohol levels all impact how we experience a dry wine. In general, dry wines that have the following features will taste sweeter than they actually are, and vise versa:

  • Lower levels of acidity make a dry wine taste sweeter
  • Aging in oak adds sweetness. Aging tends to add notes such as toasted oak, vanilla, and caramel, which we perceive as sweet,
  • High alcohol content actually will make wine taste sweeter.
  • Ripe, higher sugar fruit notes, especially tropical fruit will make a dry wine taste sweeter, while more bitter low sugar fruits like lemons will make it seem drier.
  • Carbonation lifts flavors and can take the edge off very dry notes, giving an illusion if a lighter touch.

How popular are dry wines?

How popular dry wines depend on where you’re from. Around the world, dry, extra dry and even brut wines are quite popular, but they are a bit less so in the United States, perhaps because the American diet tends to run a bit sweeter than other cuisines.

Nonetheless, some of the most prized, highly touted wines are quite dry. Consistently, the finest wines actually tend to run from dry to very dry.

What is a common misunderstanding when it comes to dry wines?

One of the most common misunderstandings when it comes to dry wines is that they will leave a drying sensation in your mouth.

In fact, drying sensations are more directly linked to tannins, not how dry a wine actually is. Tannins refer to naturally occurring compounds that produce structure and astringency in wines. Red wines, in general, have higher levels of tannins than white wines. Wines with high tannin levels will taste dry.

Dry wines, on the other hand, can be quite crisp and refreshing; they simply do not taste sweet and tend to have sharper flavor notes.

What are dry, extra dry, and brut wines best for?

All wines that fall into the categories of dry, extra dry or brut are what we like to call dinner wines. They are best paired with savory foods, unlike semi dec and sweet wines which are often served either with fruit, desserts, or occasionally cheese.

If you want to taste signature vintage wines, dry wines are normally the best option. That said, exceptionally dry wines tend to be less welcoming for anyone not accustomed to drinking wine. For wine lovers, dry, very dry, and brut wines offer some of the best characteristics of wine and offer robust flavors perfect for enjoying alone or paired with food.

What are the differences between dry, extra dry, and brut wines? And how do they compare? 

The main difference between extra dry and brut wines has to do with levels of residual sugars, as you might have guessed. To best understand how dry extra dry wines are compared to brut wines, take a look at this scale. All of these terms refer to sparkling wines:

  • Doux wines: These wines are what we refer to as sweet sparkling wines or champagnes and contain over fifty grams of sugar per liter. French sparkling wines and champagnes are called Doux wines, while sparkling wines from Italy in this category take on the name Dulce. These are dessert wines and will have the highest levels of sugars for any sparkling wines. Moscato is a sweet dessert wine.
  • Demi-Sec wines: Demi-sec wines are are a bit less sweet and have around thirty-five up to forty-nine grams of sugar per liter. Popular for desserts and also cheese trays, these still sweet sparkling wines are often blends, with locations varying from South Africa to California to France. A number of   Rosés are in this category, though you will also find them as brut wines.
  • Dry wines: Dry wines are the first wines that do not have that noticeable sweetness. Seventeen to thirty-two grams of sugar, however, are still present per liter, meaning that dry wines are not without sweet notes at all.
  • Extra dry wines have twelve to seventeen grams of sugar per liter and include also nonsparkling favorites such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Blanc. Many white wines fall under this category.
  • Brut wines are even drier than extra dry wines, with just up to six grams of sugar per liter. Brut wines are in reference to sparkling wines that have very little sweetness. Many Champagnes and some Rosés are common in this category.

But how do Brut vs Extra Dry wines compare in terms of other factors, and when would you want an  Extra Dry vs Brut wine?

What should I consider when deciding between Extra Dry and Brut wine? 

Deciding between Extra Dry and Brut wine can be tricky. First of all, it’s common for consumers that don’t normally drink wine to mistake Brut as being sweeter than Extra Dry wine, when in reality it’s actually the other way around.

Champagne and sparkling wines, as a whole, are quite popular, especially for holiday, festivities and general celebrations, but social gatherings in general. Other sparkling wines tend to be much more affordable than true Champagne.

  1. We’re discussing champagne and sparkling wine. While the term dry and extra dry can apply to all wines, Brut is almost always referring to either a Champagne or sparkling wine. As a reminder, Champagne, to be called Champagne, must come from the Champagne region of France. All sparkling wines have a wide range of sugar levels, from quite sweet to quite dry.
  2. Is Brut or Extra Dry wine more common? For sparkling wines, many of the options at celebrations actually tend to be Brut. Of course, sparkling wines can vary quite a bit in terms of sweetness. A dry Champagne you’ll actually perceive as a bit sweet, for the reasons we mentioned before. Extra dry will have such a hint of sweetness, and Brut barely if at all.
  3. What is the overall experience with a brut vs extra dry wine? Besides the level of sweetness itself, brut and extra dry wines will leave you with a different impression.
    1. Extra dry actually tastes a bit sweet to those who’ve ever had Champagne before. It tends to also taste a bit fuller and richer, the way you might experience a full vs light body wine. Overall, it’s a bit smoother, though still has a signature fizz you get from sparkling wines.
    2. Brut, on the other hand, features crisp acidity. In fact, it’s not only a perception that brut wines are crisper than dry or extra dry wines–they tend to have higher levels of acidity because levels of sugar and acidity tend to have an inverse relationship.
  4. What about the level of carbonation? Levels of sweetness and acidity impact the bubbles you’ll experience. While both extra dry and brut sparkling wines will have fairly distinct bubbles and carbonation, the less residual sugars, the more pronounced those bubbles will be.
    1. For sharper, more defined carbonation, choose brut over extra dry wines. Brut wines will provide that crisp, statement array of bubbles. While extra sparkling wines will as well, the bubbles may be a bit more soft and subtle.
  5. What are the best food pairings for brut vs extra dry wine? Compared, there are actually some noticeable differences when it comes to the best food with wine pairings, so what you’re serving, or vise versa, could make a difference in choice for you.
    1. Brut wines pair best with savory foods. Brut wines also hold up to heavier foods, so you can pair brut with anything from battered fish to smoked salmon, chicken, and meat and vegetable kebabs. They also work with dishes featuring higher acidity levels, such as an entree salad with a zippy vinaigrette. Less creamy hard or aged cheeses can be paired as well.
    2. Extra dry wines have a touch of sweetness, so in some ways, they are a little more versatile, though not quite as satisfying when it comes to pairing with savory entrees. The tint of sweetness and the smoother finish makes extra dry more suited to pairing with Italian dishes, especially pasta and cheese or cream-based sauces and accompaniments. While extra dry wines can pair with more delicate white seafood, they can also be used for in-between appetizers, such as cheese and fruit trays.
  6. What are some common flavors in extra dry vs brut wines? While specific flavors will differ depending on the variety, typically extra dry wines tend to exhibit more fruity flavors with a bit of softness to them. While brut wines tend to feature fruity flavors as well, these tend to have a bit of sourness to them. As a way to conceptualize this, think, for instance, of the difference between a highly acidic, lower sugar fruit such as lemons and limes as opposed to a still modest sugar but less acidic fruit such as strawberries.
    1. The main difference can be experienced in the level of tartness, and mildly sour vs mildly sweet notes. Extra dry wines exhibit more pronounced fruity notes overall, whereas as with a brut wine or Champagne, the focus is more on a dry finish and crisp acidity it is none for.
  7. What other factors should I consider when deciding between brut vs extra dry wine? When deciding between the two, there are just a few more factors you’ll want to compare.
    1. What kind of sparkling wine do you want? For the very best of fine Champagne, most recommend you with Brut. Champagne is at its best when the bubbles are defined, crisp and acidic. For a fruitier sparkling wine, such as Prosecco, extra dry is going to be your option. In fact, most fruitier sparkling wines will be available in extra dry vs brut. That will complement and lift the sweeter notes, will still providing a nice fizz
    2. Think about flavor notes. This is more or less along the same line, but a wine with a profile of distinctly fruity notes, especially stone fruits or berries, is more suited to extra dry versions, while a wine with citrus notes may be best experiences as brut.
    3. What’s the occasion? The occasion may make a difference between brut vs extra dry as well. For a festive, appetizer gathering, an extra dry sparkling wine might work, but a more formal event calls for brut. Think about your guests as well if they are mostly accustomed to more dry wines, you can go with brut, but if they almost always prefer a bit of sweetness, extra dry might be the preferred option.
    4. What’s your budget? This is a generalization, but many of the best brut wines, which tend to be Champagne, tend to run more expensive than extra dry sparkling wines. So if you want to save a little but still have a quality option, sometimes extra dry will make more sense as an option vs brut.

Do you have any extra dry and brut wines to recommend? 

To get you started on your search for either extra dry or brut wine, take a look at our list below to see what your options are.

  • For extra dry wine, try:
    • Prosecco, such as La Marca Luminore Prosecco Superiore. This wine presents a nice balance of acidity and softness for a variety of occasions and for a pickier crowd. Distinct bubbles complement white flowers, stone fruit, and a bit of citrus. Pears and nectarines are prominent, with crisp with a softer touch that pairs well both with appetizers and pork, chicken or fish.
    • Cava, such as Freixenet Extra Dry Cava Cordon Negro. Cava, a Spanish sparkling wine, can also be found in brut but is a nice option for extra dry. For one it’s highly affordable, and for another, you’ll be greeted with more delicate flavors, perfect for appetizers of nearly all kinds.
  • For brut wine, try:
    • Champagne, such as Taittinger Brut La Francaise. Though Champagne can be more expensive, the good news is that you can find a reasonable brut option for a range of thirty to fifty dollars a bottle. This brut features bright but balanced citrus with some minerality, and a certain elegance surprising in a nonvintage.
    •  Rosé, such as Schramsberg Brut Rosé 2016. If Champagne isn’t so much your style but you still want signature bubbles, suited for savory dishes, consider a Rosé. This one features warmer notes of hazelnut, vanilla, and cinnamon but with classic citrus notes, such as grapefruit, and a touch of watermelon.

Erin Jamieson

Erin Jamieson brings the latest information to you on wine flavors and types so you can enjoy your next glass to the fullest. In the past, she covered wine selections for weddings and engagement parties. She also previously worked with a private chef company to suggest the perfect wine pairings and believes there is a flavor for every occasion. Erin Jamieson holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Miami University of Ohio.

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