Sugar content in wine is not a constant; it varies from wine to wine depending on the winemaking process and regional regulations.
Winemakers employ a range of techniques to achieve the desired properties and flavor profiles in wine. Regarding sugar, it is the same thing; however, regulations vary worldwide. In some places such as California, winemakers may only rely on unfermented grape juice and nothing else to tweak the sweetness. Along with adding sugar for sweetening purposes, we find some other factors affecting sugar content in wine.
Factors Affecting Sugar Content in Wine
There are number of factors that plays an important role in the final amount of sugar ending up in wine. First and foremost is the type of grape; some grapes are naturally higher in sugar than others. For instance, Chardonnay grapes are naturally low sugar grapes in comparison with other white grapes.
Another factor impacting sugar content is harvest time and season. The longer the grapes stay on the vine, the more concentrated the sugars become. This is easily observable in the classification of German Riesling wines, which are harvested at different times during the season. Depending at what point they are harvested, they have a different classification according to sweetness. For example, the last harvest, after frost has set in, is destined for dessert wines.
In addition to harvest season and varying amounts of sugar, fermentation can change the sugar content in wine. Because grapes also have varying amounts of yeast and the latter feeds on the sugars in the grape juice, the resulting sugar content can be higher or lower. Sugar is converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide. Once the wine’s alcohol levels are high enough, the alcohol kills the yeast. Any remaining sugar that has not been converted into alcohol during fermentation becomes the wine’s residual sugar adding up to the final sugar content. It is worth mentioning that winemakers can stop the fermentation process earlier with cold shock, pasteurization or more alcohol.
Measuring Residual Sugar Content
In general, the residua sugar content after fermentation is inversely proportionate to the alcohol levels. In other words, higher alcohol wines have less sugar than lower alcohol wines. The exceptions to this rule are fortified wines. The measure of residual sugar in wine is often referred to as Brix.
Vintners measure residual sugar in wine in grams per liter. The abbreviation for this is g/L. Given that the sugar content in wine is usually the result of residual sugars left behind and not of added sugars, this measurement is very important. Even the driest of wines contains at least one gram per liter of residual sugars. Sweet wines generally have anywhere from 45 grams to 150 grams or more per liter.
Sweetness vs Sugar
Sweetness and sugar share correlation and are mostly the same; however, while a wine with a higher Brix normally tastes sweeter than a wine with lower sugar content, there are certain aspects to consider:
- Acidity of the wine
- Tannin amount
- Alcohol content
Acidity balances high sugar wine making them palatable. This is why some high sugar wines don’t necessarily taste as sweet as they should. Acidity lowers perceived sweetness. Tannins also mask sweetness by drying the mouth out, which in turn allows for a drier perception of the wine.
Last but not least we must consider alcohol content. Aside from personal preferences and in general, a wine that ferments to a high alcohol level will have low residual sugar content and be dry. On the other hand, high alcohol content is linked with body and oiliness which evoke sweetness on the palate.
Choose VenToSpain for Your Next Wine Experience
These are just a few of the principles that guide the wine’s sugar content. The wine that has the right amount of sweetness for your palate is out there, you only have to choose yours.
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