How Much Sugar in Wine

How much sugar is actually found in wine?

It all depends upon the ripeness of the grapes and the process in which the wines are produced.

We all know that wine is not free of calories. We could only wish. How can one withdraw from the temptation and deliciousness of it from our diets though? The calories in wine are derived from the sugar content that varies from wine to wine.

Many of the wines on the market today tend to be dry in style. That does not mean that they are void from sugar altogether, but they will have lesser amounts than others. Immediately when folks think of sugar in wine they think of sweet, dessert wines. There are also many individuals that look down upon sweet wines, but there are amazing sweet style wines produced around the world. There are inexpensive wines that are void of quality, but those cannot be compared to the many others that are fantastic.

What exactly is a sweet wine?

Each individual perceives sweetness in different ways. The sugar that is contained within wine is called residual sugars, known as RS. The sugar comes naturally from within the grapes themselves. When a wine is produced and goes through fermentation the yeasts convert most of these sugars over to alcohol. This typically will result in a wine that is dry. Sometimes not all these sugars are converted over to alcohol resulting in wines with higher residual sugars.

The challenge of the perfect balance

Climate plays a big role in the sugar content of wines. In warmer climates the grapes ripen earlier and much more easily due to the sun. One of the challenging parts of a winemaker’s job is understand the optimal time to harvest these grapes. Then they must decide on how they are going to produce the final product. If the grapes aren’t picked at the most opportune time than the winemaker faces the chance of the wine lacking acidity. Grapes that are produced in cooler climates have more of a challenge to reach ripeness and may be harvested later. This is when some winemakers may choose to chaptalize the wines to boost both the sugar, therefore increasing the alcohol levels.

The chaptalization process

The process of chaptalization is when winemakers add sugar to the fermentation process. It is legal in some countries and prohibited in others such as Italy. One may say that it affects the true representation of terroir from a particular wine region. This is when it is important to seek the knowledge of a wine expert to understand the quality of a wine being sold.

For winemakers that are producing sweeter style wines it is important to balance out the sweetness with acidity. A wine that is overbearingly sweet or cloying will dominate the palette with sweetness. It takes away from the greatness of what the wine should be. There are grapes that many associate with sweeter style wines such as Riesling and Moscato. These grapes aren’t necessarily always produced in sweeter styles as there are plenty on the dry side.

Passito wines and other Italian sweet wines

There are also other wines including late harvest and passito wines that produce wines higher in sugar content. Late harvest wines are wines that are left to ripen well past the harvest of the other grapes. This allows the grapes to ripen fully and concentrate the sugars further. Passito wines, found in Italy but other wineries may follow a similar process, where the grapes are picked and left to dry out on crates on straw mats where they lose about 30-40% of their water content concentrating the sugars. In Tuscany we found also the Vinsanto wine, made with Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes, left to dry and then pressed, so that the wine is sweeter than a normal wine.

So where does one look to determine how much sugar is in a bottle of wine? Depending on the country where the wines are produced they may not legally be required by law to include it on their label. It most likely can be found by looking up the technical sheet on the wine. So get out there and try some of these wonderful sweet wines of the world.