What's The Deal: Sugar and Wine
It's one of the more commonly asked questions at any kind of tasting event that we're involved in - at least outside an industry tasting: "is this wine dry?" or "how much sugar is in this wine?". Is it a tiresome question? When we're talking about our Off-Dry Fiano, Panda Panda, definitely not, but we can totally understand why it's so often asked - the relationship between sugar and wine is complicated! Unless you're really in the know, what happens to the sugar in the fermentation process, how that translates to the sugar levels of your final wine is somewhat complicated! Sometimes wines can appear bone dry but have a decent chunk of residual sugar, and to the untrained palate, it can be quite hard to pick up! So we're gonna lay it out straight: how much sugar is in your wine?
Not to get too technical here but: All wine has sugar in it. In fact, sugar is the only reason we have wine. The way alcohol is produced - if you can remember some basics from the repressed memories of high school biology - is by yeast converting sugar into ethanol to create alcohol. When the grapes come off the vine every vintage, they don't have booze in them yet. But when we introduce the wild yeasts that are all over the grapes themselves to the sugary juicy insides, they get to work and create the wine that we enjoy. It's pretty cool to see, but does that mean the resultant wine is completely sugar-free?
If we're talking still wines, short answer: yes, long answer: not quite. For the most part, a still wine will never truly reach absolute 0 in terms of sugar, in fact, your average glass of still wine will have about 1 gram of sugar in it - shock horror! But imagine you've picked up a bottle of a high acid white, for example, Riesling, and the texture on it is silky smooth and the crackling acidity makes it finish by all appearances, dry. Quite a lot of wines that aren't labelled sweet at all can sometimes have up to 7.5 grams of sugar in it without you even noticing - gasp! It's very hard to pick up the taste sweetness when the wine itself has less than 1% sugar (10gms per litre, so 7.5gms per bottle), especially when the wine has lots of natural acidity. Basically this happens as there are more forms of sugar in wine than just fructose and glucose - there are few strains of 'unfermentable sugars' that leave sugar in the wine, the champion sugar eating fungi in most ferments Saccharomyces (fancy terms!) cannot consume it. It can be fermented out though by strains like Brettanomyces, but that will often time leave quite a stinky barnyard character to the wine - if you've had some hardcore natural wines from the old world you may know what I'm talking about.
Good news is if you're watching your sugar intake, if you're buying from a smaller producer this will be mostly fructose rather than glucose, which doesn't have as much an effect on your blood sugar. But there are a few styles of wine to watch out for if you're trying to stay as dry as possible - if you're just staunchly anti sweet wines for example - namely, sparkling wine. Sparkling wine is deceptively sweet, as again, our old pal acidity tricks us! Your average Brut sparkling will have about 6-15gms of residual sugar in them after dosage for their secondary ferment - the reason why your champagne is bubbly! Alongside bubbles, it's pretty straight forward from there: dessert wines, most fortifieds and off-drys are sweet wines. But if you ask us, all of them have their time and place and are delicious styles of wine - that go incredibly with food - that should absolutely be enjoyed responsibly in their appropriate setting.