A recent column in a prominent wine magazine touted wines with “zero” sugar or sweeteners from grapes or wine additives like honey, agave nectar, or even artificial maple syrup. With the help of the grape-to-glass calculator at winetasting.com, I tested the theory on six glasses of red wine.
The answer to both of these questions is “No, but…”, but there is a lot of confusion out there. Residual sugar is the sugar that remains in wine after fermentation and aging. While you may not know this, residual sugar is an important part of making wine. The answer to the question is “Yes, but…”, but there are some things you should know.
Sweetness refers to the addition of sweetening agents such as sugar, honey, molasses, and glycerin. These sweeteners are used to balance the acidity of the wine. Residual sugar refers to the sugar content of a wine after fermentation has been completed.Residual sugar is a hot topic in wine, but it is also often confused with the perception of sweetness. Winemaker Scott Harvey of Scott Harvey Wines explains the difference in today’s Ask the Expert!
It’s time again for another episode of Ask the Expert and today it’s the turn of winemaker Scott Harvey of Scott Harvey Wines, who you may know from his amazing haircut in our Insider Deals! Scott uses his years of experience making wine in Germany and California to explain the difference between sweetness and residual sugar.
Are the sweetness and residual sugar of the wine equal?
I have been making dry and sweet wines with residual sugar for 47 years. I studied at a wine school in Germany and did an internship there. I have made many sweet wines, from the drier varieties of Trocken, Halbtrocken Kabinett and Spätlese to the sweeter versions of Spätlese, Auslesse, Eiswein and Trokenbeerenauslese.
The answer is simple: sweetness and residual sugar are not the same thing, but they do have a lot in common. Sweetness is the perception you have of the wine. Residual sugar is a measure of the amount of sugar remaining in the wine. All wines contain some residual sugar, whether dry or sweet.
The elements that create a recipe for sweetness in wine are not only residual sugar, but also alcohol, oak, low acidity/high pH, and saturated compounds. We produce dry Riesling under the brand Jana de Mendocino. Thanks to California’s warm climate, the Riesling grown here achieves optimal varietal flavor with low Brix/sugar and high acidity/low pH. Our Riesling has 1.2% residual sugar with an acidity of 1.0%/3.1pH.
Most California winemakers would be scared to death if they made wine with a pH of 3.1. They don’t have the experience with wines with high acidity and low pH that the German-trained winemakers do. This allows the grapes to ripen to a more pleasant point with higher sugar content and lower acidity. At this stage all the characteristics of the variety have disappeared.
Your Riesling will have a higher alcohol content, lower acidity and higher pH. The same wine with 1.2% residual sugar will be noticeably sweet and lack the character of the grape variety, while our Jana Riesling with the same residual sugar will appear dry and taste like a Riesling.
The factors that make a wine feel dry are not only low residual sugar, but also high acidity/low pH, tannins and bitterness. The difference between New World and Old World wines is a good example.
Old World is the traditional way of making wine from ripe, but not overripe, grapes to produce a wine that can be drunk with food. A wine that tells its own story of variety, place and harvest. It has enough acid to cleanse your palate and maintain the first bite experience throughout the meal. The dryness of such a wine is due not only to the lower residual sugars, but also to the higher acidity/lower pH and tannin.
Our Scott Harvey Old World Style Zinfandel is garnet colored and resembles a Bordeaux. This wine goes well with food, it doesn’t suppress it.
Since Americans are lovers of cold drinks with a high extract content, my winemaking friends have developed a New World style tailored to American tastes. 7 Deadly Zins and Klinker Brick are good examples.
The grapes are harvested riper to express more plums, prunes and raisins, and a sweet concentrate with strong coloring is added. The result is a wine with a much higher alcohol content, lower acidity/higher pH and a black color.
It is the perfect wine to drink cold at a social gathering, but it completely overpowers the meal and destroys the ability to feel the sensation of the first bite throughout the meal. Both wines have their place and are well made for their respective New or Old World styles.
According to German wine law, the residual sugar measurement of a wine must be within 2 acid points to be considered a dry wine. A wine with an acidity of 9 g/l or 0.9% may contain up to 11 g/l or 1.1% residual sugar and be called dry. Semi-dry – 14 points.
Another good example is the sweetness scale of the International Riesling Foundation. This bowl was developed by Riesling producers from around the world, including myself. In addition to residual sugar and acidity, the pH value is also taken into account. (Next time we will talk about the difference between pH and acidity). You can visit their website for a full explanation of the matrix.
Thanks again to winemaker Scott Harvey of Scott Harvey Wines for his answer to the question: Are the sweetness and residual sugar of the wine the same?
Are you looking for answers to your burning questions? You can read the entire Ask the Expert series here!As you’ve probably noticed, wines can be very sweet. Some wines are much sweeter than others, and in some regions even the driest wines are extremely sweet. The levels of sweetness in wines vary significantly depending on the grape variety, how long the wine was aged in oak and the winery practices used to produce the wine. But what exactly is “sweetness” and how does it differ from the sweetness in a caramel brownie?. Read more about residual sugar in wine chart and let us know what you think.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does residual sugar mean in wine?
Residual sugar is the amount of sugar left in a wine after fermentation.
How much residual sugar is in wine?
The amount of residual sugar in wine is usually between 0.5 and 1.5 grams per liter.
How do I know if my wine has residual sugar?
The residual sugar is listed on the label.
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