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Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

The question

I bought a prosecco labelled "extra dry." It was sweet. I feel ripped off. How do wineries get away with that kind of deception?

The answer

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They get away with it by relying on outdated technical jargon that is inherently misleading. Prosecco is a popular style of Italian bubbly, and in the parallel universe of sparkling wine, extra dry actually means – are you ready? – slightly sweet.

It's all relative. Back in the 19th century, Champagne brands generally were sweeter than most you'll find on shelves today. As tastes and styles evolved, terminology expanded. What you and I might consider sweet today could, back then, have legitimately been described as extra dry. Such wines, according to European regulations, can contain between 12 and 17 grams per litre of sugar, which is higher than for a typical dry still wine today. (Sugar is almost always added to sparkling wine before bottling to offset the naturally sharp acidity.)

To denote wines with less added sugar than extra dry, producers came up with the word brut, which essentially means "raw" in French. These wines contain less than 12 grams per litre of sugar.

It doesn't stop there. European regulations recognize two even drier styles: extra brut, with less than 6 grams per litre, and the newly popular, Death Valley-driest of all, brut nature or brut zero, which must contain no added sugar and possess less than 3 grams per litre of residual sugar from the primary fermentation.

Proseccos are often crafted in the extra-dry style. But you should note that regulations permit producers to work within a margin of error of up to 3 grams per litre. That means the "extra dry" bubbly you purchased (and found cloying) might in fact have contained 20 grams per litre of sugar (which is to say, three more than the extra-dry maximum of 17 grams). That would technically have placed it in the undeniably sweet category known as – you guessed it – "dry."

The Flavour Principle by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol (HarperCollins) won top prize for best general English cookbook at the 2014 Taste Canada Food Writing Awards.

E-mail your wine and spirits questions to Beppi Crosariol. Look for answers to select questions to appear in the Wine & Spirits newsletter and on The Globe and Mail website.

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