Skinny champagne: is sugar-free fizz half the calories but all the fun?

For a properly dry sparkler, look for the words 'extra brut', 'brut nature', 'pas dose' or 'dosage zero' instead of plain 'brut' on a label Credit: Alamy

Champagnes and most sparkling wines are very dry, right? As in palate-cleansing, taste bud-tingling aperitifs. But many are not nearly as dry as they might seem on first sip. The most popular style of fizz by far, made and sold across the globe, is 'brut'. Bubblies labelled brut should indeed taste crisp and fresh with a lip-smacking whoosh of acidity. However that acid is balanced out with a surprising amount of sweetness. Brut champagnes can contain up to 12 grams of sugar per litre. It's hardly cola (which has more like 10g per 100ml) but most brut is decidedly not bone dry.

For a properly dry sparkler instead, look for the words 'extra brut', 'brut nature', 'pas dose' or 'dosage zero' instead of plain 'brut' on a label. Dosage is the name for a stage towards the end of the champagne method (methode traditionnelle, used for cava and other quality sparklers too) when a little sugar is added to the bottle to correct the style and alleviate the sourness.

In the case of these 'extra bruts' etc, very little, if any, sweetness goes in. The drier styles have become fashionable lately, partly due to hype over their low calorie content. A small 100-125ml glass of brut champagne typically contains around 100 calories, but a properly dry version has nearer 60, hence its nickname 'diet champagne'.

Now, calorie counting is the last thing on my mind when I'm celebrating with a glass or two of fizz. But the idea of a 'healthy' sparkler has captured the imagination of many. Laurent-Perrier's Ultra Brut (a dosage zero Champagne) is the best known of the modern dry sparklers, although Pommery released an unusually dry Champagne as long ago as the 1870s. Today there are many champagnes, cavas, even proseccos (made in tank but often with a sweet edge) which deliver a stern dryness.

That isn't necessarily good news. Very dry fizz can be unremittingly tart, even a shade sappy or grassy, green and peppery. Not fun (and fizz should always be fun). Without recourse to that populist plug of sugar, these are difficult sparklers to craft.

"They are hard to get right," admits James Simpson, UK managing director of Champagne Pol Roger, which makes a delicious dry wine, Pol Roger Pure Extra Brut. "The best and ripest fruit must be selected for the very dry cuvées, and the quality of the winemaking must be spot on," he says.

Michael Drappier of Champagne Drappier agrees that the grapes for these special champagnes have to be "selected very carefully indeed, from the right vineyards for perfect ripeness, as we don't have the option to correct them with sugar in the bottle". Drappier has made brut nature wines since the mid-1990s, but Michel readily agrees they are not for everyone. "The style is quite extreme, the opposite of a crowd-pleaser, which is more the purpose of a brut. But when they are good, they are so clean and sharply focused, tasting purely of the raw material, the grapes themselves."

Naturally, he chills Drappier Brut Nature Zero Dosage for an aperitif, but matches it with fresh goat's cheese too and with "simple, perfect Japanese food". James Simpson also suggests pairing very dry champagne with sushi and sashimi, as well as with oysters.

So if you find your sparkler tastes a little on the sweet side (or you're really desperate to shed a few pounds before your summer holiday), switch it. Below are some recommended dry buys.

Skinny champagnes to try

Champagne Drappier Brut Nature Zero Dosage NV, France (, Oakham Wines, Vagabond, Handford Wines, £38.99)

100 per cent pinot noir and super-fresh, with crunchy, tangy yellow apples, a whisper of red berries and a long, refreshing citrus streak with toasted hazelnut hints.

Champagne Pol Roger Pure Extra Brut NV, France (Waitrose, The Wine Society, Berry Bros & Rudd, Hedonism, Amazon, £42)

Expensive but exquisite upmarket dry champagne, refreshing without any sourness, leaving a clean but soft impression of yellow plums and pears.

Vilarnau Cava Brut Nature 2011, Spain (, £13.49)

A lean and mineral-laced super-dry cava with just 3g sugar per litre, savoury and toasty with green apple fruit.

Juve y Camps Reserva de la Familia Cava 2011, Brut Nature, Spain (Majestic, £14.99 or £11.99 on mixed six bottles until 30 May)

Zero dosage cava from a top producer, elegant and refined with notes of ground ginger and yellow pears.

Skinny Prosecco Brut NV, Veneto, Italy (Selfridges,, £17.99)

Former BBC arts correspondent Amanda Thomson now sells a range of 'skinny' low sugar international sparklers. The prosecco is nervy and fresh and palate- cleansing (and just 67cals/ 100ml). There's also decent champagne in her range.