Even if you are not a wine expert, many inexperienced palates can still tell the difference between the sweetness levels of wines. You know the instant it hits your tongue whether you are in for a sweet indulgence or a bitter swallow which is why it is important to know how much sugar is in different types of wine.
The majority of sugar in wine is from the natural sugar of the grapes. Grapes from warm climates tend to contain more sugar than cooler climates. Yeast is added to turn the grapes natural sugar into alcohol. Whatever sugar is left over after this process is called the “residual sugar.” Different wines contain different amounts of residual sugar which contribute to the variety of sweetness. Sugar in wine is measured on a scale from bone dry to very sweet.
Dry wines have the lowest sugar content because during the fermentation process the yeast changes almost all of the sugar into alcohol. Both dry red wines and white wines have residual sugar levels of about 0.1-0.3% which is about 1-3 grams of sugar per liter of wine.
Most common red and many white wines are considered dry. These dry choices taste more acidic, astringent, and leave your mouth feeling a little drier. They may give off the impression of sweetness even if there is no sugar due to the amount of alcohol, tannins, acids and glycerin present.
Most Common Dry Wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Italian Pinot Grigio, Viognier, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Syrah.
Off Dry Wines
Off-dry wines provide the happy medium between a dry and sweet wine. Some wine wines and most rose wines are semi-sweet or off dry. Off-dry Wines have a range of 1.0-5.0% residual sugar or 10-50 grams of sugar per liter. These wines are the perfect choice to mingle between the dry and sweet options.
Most Common Off Dry Wines: Rieslings, White Zinfandel, Chenin Blanc.
The sweet flavor that comes from these wines is the result of a high residual sugar content. The yeast is usually stopped by chilling the fermentation before it transforms all of the sugars. This leads to a drink that is higher in sugar content while lower in alcohol. Sweet Wines are often referred to as dessert wines as they are often paired with a sweet treat. Sweet wines have a residual sugar percentage between 5.0-15.0% so the serving size is often smaller.
Most Common Sweet Wines: Sweetest versions of Rieslings, Sweetest versions of Chenin Blan/Vouvray, Moscato, Sauternes, Port, Madeira.
The United States does not have any regulations regarding labeling the sugar content of a wine, so checking with the winery will help you find the exact information about the nutritional content of your wine. In general, stick with dry wines if you are going for a low calorie/low sugar night and order from the dessert menu if you are looking to indulge in a sweet treat.