Wine labels don’t contain information about sugar levels or a nutritional facts label like other beverages. Because of that it’s hard to know exactly how much sweetness is in the bottle you’ve just bought.
Keep in mind your fermentation equation when assessing the sweetness in wine:
Yeast + Sugar = Alcohol
If the yeast has eaten up all the sugar and turned it into alcohol, there won’t be any leftover sugar (residual sugar) in the wine. A winemaker can choose to stop fermentation at any point and leave behind a little or a lot of residual sugar to sweeten the wine. If this is the case, you’ll likely see a lower alcohol percentage on the label.
For example, Moscato d’Asti is a sweet wine with a little bit of spritz or bubbles. Typical the alcohol by volume (abv) is around 5 to 7 % for Moscato. There is obvious sweetness because not all of the sugar has turned into alcohol, leaving the alcohol level lower than most other table wines.
What is the difference between Sweet Wine & Dry Wine?
To put it simply, in the world of wine, we say the absence of sugar is dry and the presence of sugar is sweet. To put it simply, in the world of wine, we say the absence of sugar is dry and the presence of sugar is sweet.To put it simply, in the world of wine, we say the absence of sugar is dry and the presence of sugar is sweet. Of course, in between dry and sweet there are other terms used to describe the absence or presence of residual sugar in a wine.
Other characteristics of wine like acidity level and the presence of bubbles can reduce the perception of sweetness in wine. Some of the sweetest wines in the world finish clean rather than cloying because the high acidity balances the high amount of sugar. Similarly, sparkling wines can allow for a little more sugar than still wines and still come off as quite dry because the effervescence balances wine.
What is the difference between sweet wine & fruity wine?
It’s easy to confuse sweetness in a wine with the ripe, fruity characteristics of some wines. Because everyone’s palate varies and we all pick up on different flavours, what tastes “sweet” to one person, may not be perceived that way at all to another. For example, you might think that pink grapefruit is sweet, but to someone else it may taste bitter and tart.
Wines have various flavour characteristics that are determined by the grape variety, where it’s grown and the winery practices. For example, Syrah typically has red and black fruit flavours. If that Syrah grape is grown in a hot climate, you may get ripe, jammy black fruit blackberry and black cherry flavours. If the winemaker makes a wine at 14% alcohol by volume then ages that wine in new oak barrels it may impart vanilla, chocolate and coconut notes. This full-bodied, rich Syrah with notes of blackberry jam and chocolate may come across as sweet, but because it doesn’t have any residual sugar so it’s actually a dry red wine with fruit-driven flavours.
When you’re tasting wine, try to separate the flavour characteristics from the perception of sugar on the palate. Think: is it sugary sweet, or is it fruity?
So, how much sugar is really in wine?
The way fermentation works is yeast eats sugar and creates alcohol. When grapes are fully ripened, they have high enough sugar levels for yeast to eat up and create alcohol. If all the natural sugar is converted to alcohol, there will be no sugar leftover in the wine. If not all of the sugar is converted, what is leftover is called residual sugar (RS) and gives the wine a sweeter taste. Most fully fermented wines will have an alcohol by volume (abv) of between 11% and 15% so if you see a wine that has less than 11% abv, there is a good chance there is residual sugar. For example, Moscato d’Asti is a sweeter tasting wine that typically falls between 5 to 9% abv. This means there can be around 20 to 40 grams per litre (one bottle is 750mL) of natural, residual sugar. Compare that to a 330 mL can of cola at about 40+ grams of sugar, usually from high-fructose corn syrup.
Does wine only contain residual sugar? Is sugar added to wine?
It may surprise you that there’s more than just grapes involved in making wine. In fact, there may even be additives in your wine that you’re not aware of. For the most part, you can bank on only grapes, yeast, sulphites (a by-product of fermentation) and a fining agent being used in wine production, but not 100% of the time. Depending on the winery practices and volume of wine produced, there are companies that choose to add different components to their wines for various reasons. One of those wine additives is sugar.
Mass produced wines tend to have a bunch of additives to preserve the product, give it consistency, or attain a certain flavour profile. Adding sugar to a wine without a lot of character can enhance flavours and give it a “smoother” impression. Producers that are rapidly churning out a product without much thought for the romance, passion or integrity of wine, don’t think twice about additives. Much like processed foods, there’s a market for it and large wine corporations happily supply consumers with cheap wine. The real cost is the not at the checkout counter, it’s consumers not knowing what they’re getting. Buyer beware: not all wines are produced with the same care. You might be getting more than you bargained for in the form of sugar and other additives when you pick up that $6 bottle of wine from the grocery store.
Okay, bottom line — how do I know how much sugar is in my wine?
You can’t tell exactly how much sugar is in a wine by looking at the label. The alcohol by volume might give you a clue, but it’s not always definitive. Residual sugar (RS) levels for individual wines can often be found on the winery website or right here on JustWine. The information is not always available, however more and more winemakers are understanding how important this is to consumers both for flavour profile and dietary needs.
If you want to dig deeper into the sugar levels of wines and explore calories, carbs and the Keto Diet, check out this article: Can You Drink Wine on a Diet? Are There Low Calorie, Keto Friendly Wines?
For more about wine basics: