"Champagne comes from a colder climate than many wines, so you get wines that are lower in ripeness but higher in acid and minerals," Jeremy Allen, general manager of MiniBar Hollywood, says. "Even champagnes of higher sweetness levels generally have less sugar and carbs than other wines, beer, and mixed drinks."
Allen is discussing the benefits of champagne, which may appear obvious to those who enjoy it for traditional celebrations. The bubbles are fun. The taste is great. And put simply, it just feels like champagne makes a gathering special. But if you're considering popping a bottle for an everyday occasion, consider this: Champagne is often a healthier alternative than other alcoholic options, especially if you pick out ones that Allen deems as "low carb."
"Winemakers are allowed by French wine law to 'dose' the champagnes, which means adding a tiny amount of a sugar or wine solution to the bottle before corking. Doing so lends a bit of weight to the body and adds another hint of complexity if dosing with an exceptional reserve wine," Allen says. "There are different styles of champagne depending on the sugar level of the dose, which must be listed on the label. In today's wine shops, Brut is the most common, but we are starting to see more of the drier styles like Extra Brut and Brut Nature become available. They range from zero grams of sugar up to 50 or more grams of sugar per bottle."
We asked Allen to chat more about low-carb champagnes, including which foods to consider pairing them with and got his six recommendations for bottles to stock up on. Once you get his tips, you'll see why champagne has even more benefits than you thought.
What makes a champagne "low carb?"
"The most common champagne style on shelves is Brut, which usually has a little sugar added at the end," Allen says. But the two driest styles of champagne—Brut Nature and Extra Brut—have little to no residual sugar, so they are mineral in profile. They can come across as lean and mean at first, but once you get inside the tartness, you taste all the other stuff. It's similar to tasting mezcal, which only tastes like smoke at first, but once you get past that first sip, all the other flavors start to show up, and you no longer taste smoke."
"With some of these sharp and dry champagnes, the first sip is all tart and can tie up the tongue, but once you're past that, you can taste the minerals, the fruit, and the creaminess from the bubbles," he notes.
What are the benefits of low-carb champagne? What are the downsides?
"While all alcohols are made from sugar, champagne is a bit lower calorie and less unhealthy than beer or mixed drinks," Allen adds. "Bigger labels aimed at mass appeal often make a sweeter style of champagne to please a wider range of palates. These wines can still be high quality, but they can contain blends of different wines from all over a region."
"The drier Extra Brut and Zero Dosage styles are less common, so they often have more personality," he continues. "They require a little hunting down, and as such, they are aimed at experts and people seeking a unique experience. They're referred to as "Frank," and they can be an acquired taste. But if you try it, you will be rewarded."
Which foods go best with low-carb champagnes?
"These bone-dry beverages can scream out for foods that are heavy in fat and sugar, such as ripe fruit or cheese," Allen says. "They are great when paired with anything high in cholesterol, such as oysters, caviar, nuts, and raw fish, as well as French food with mushrooms and butter. These foods can be prepared as guilty pleasures, like fried oysters, or as healthy alternatives, such as oysters on the half shell," he notes. "At MiniBar, we serve them with air popcorn and pickles."
What are some of your favorite low-carb champagnes to try?
"This biodynamic champagne is the closest of the bunch to regular brut champagne and has my favorite nose: It's complex with a burnt popcorn note alongside apricots and sesame," Allen says. "It also has an oak note that's integrated, like a great Burgundy. The real fun is this is 50% Pinot Meunier, with the other 50% split evenly between Pinot Noir and Chardonnay."
"Extra Brut and mostly pinot, this one is the fruitiest of the bunch, and the last you would identify as an extra brut," he says. "It's a deep and rich cider wine, and has the full spectrum of fruit but is still dry and round. This one is also the most versatile with food pairings and offers a mouth-filling, balanced palate."
"Another way to soften a wine is to age it, as is done with this champagne picked 10-and-a-half years ago," Allen continues. "The maturity means softness and elegance. It's a great wine at a great price, imported directly by my go-to guys down the street at K&L Wines, who rightly claim to have the best website for online wine and booze shopping."
"I love Gruet and am trying to create a MiniBar exclusive with them," Allen says. "This one has superfine bubbles with a champagne yeasty nose. It's pale but mouth-filling with lots of flavors and a red tannic finish, making it neither crazy tart nor crazy dry."
"This is made with all chardonnay grapes from a family that has been growing in their village for 1,000 years," he adds. "The nose is nothing if not classic champagne, but the first sip is all mineral, and the acidity ties up the tongue. It's an experience. Another sip or two, once the top of your tongue is acclimated, and you will find the rest of its personality."
This one has tiny bubbles that are still creamy with big flavor," Allen says. "It's mostly Pinot Noir with a little Chardonnay, and it's acidic and tart because of apple and citrus notes. It's made by the first biodynamic producer in Champagne, going back to the early 90s."