Residual sugar is something we talk a lot about in this business. It is the amount of unfermented sugar left in a wine once the fermentation process is complete. This is measured in grams of sugar per litre (g/l) and it is something worth considering if you’re sensitive to sweetness.
All wine, just like all fruit, consists of natural sugars. This is what gives wine its alcohol content, as sugar converts to alcohol with the help of natural or added yeast. In some cases, more so with the very cheap bulk wine, the winemaker may add sugar if the fruit is under ripe in order to reach the desired alcohol levels. This is known as chaptalization. Many wine regions have outlawed this practice.
Anything less than 2 g/l will go undetected by most people, so you would most likely find the wine to be very dry. Cool climate whites, for example Sauvignon Blanc from Loire Valley, tends to be at the drier end of the scale, and the sugar is made even less noticeable because of their high acidity. High acidity can help balance out a sweet wine and make them taste more cutting without being cloying or sickly sweet. Riesling is a grape variety that can handle high residual sugar without tasting too sweet thanks to its high acid level.
With suitable acidity, we might describe a wine as dry up to 5 or 6 g/l or even up to 10 g/l. Much more than this and it may be described as off-dry. A reading of 25 g/l and most would find that distinctly sweet. An interesting comparison are the two wines from New Zealand winemaker Brent Marris. The Ned Sauvignon Blanc is dry at 3 g/l and The Ned Pinot Grigio is sitting on the fence at a little over 5 g/l. Due to the soft, rounded acidity of the Pinot Grigio, I would describe it as leaning towards off-dry. There is a sweetness, but certainly not enough to off-set a good balance.
The inspiration for this post came from an article I found on thedrinksbusiness.com which you can view here. It is about a chocolate infused wine called Chocolate Shop, boasting 12.5% alcohol and a very sugary 70 g/l. No wonder people love it! I’m a real chocoholic, and although it probably goes against tradition and all that I would certainly be up for trying it if it ever came to Ireland. In fact, add chocolate to anything and I’ll eat it.
We have a Riesling at 73 g/l and despite its prominent acidity I couldn’t sit down to drink more than a couple of glasses. It’s amazing stuff, but you would nearly treat it like you would a dessert wine or a port – in small measures. The sweetest wine we have is a New Zealand dessert wine from the same winery at a staggering 300 g/l. Now there’s one for the sweet tooth.
Picture sourced from chocolateshopwine.com