You might have often heard one describe a wine as dry, off-dry, or sweet. We’re all aware that these words describe the sweetness levels in a wine. But what really does sweetness in wines mean? And how does one derive the sweetness in a wine?
What does sweetness in wine mean?
The sweetness of a wine is subjective, and is determined by various factors, some of which are the amount of sugar in the wine, levels of alcohol, acid, and tannins. Most of the time, the sweetness in a wine comes from the sugars in the grapes leftover after the fermentation process is brought to an end. In winemaker terms, this is known as residual sugar (RS).
In a grape, the sweetness is determined on when the grapes are harvested and how they are fermented. Grapes that stay on the vines longer tend to have a higher sugar content.
The winemaker is the one who gets to decide how sweet a wine is. In simpler words, when a winemaker decides to stop fermentation before all the sugars are eaten up by the yeast, it creates a sweet wine.
The sweetness levels in wine
Levels of sweetness in wine sit in a wide range, but are usually split up into five main parts, namely: bone dry, dry, off-dry, sweet, high level of sweetness.
Bone Dry - these are usually wines that have less than 1g/l of residual sugar.
Dry - these are wines that have 1-17g/l of residual sugar.
Off-dry - also commonly described as semi-sweet wines, these range between 17-35g/l of residual sugar.
Sweet - sweet wines have between 35-120g/l of residual sugar.
High level of sweetness - any wine with over 120g/l of residual sugar is considered to be a wine with a high level of sweetness.
These numbers are on a basic scale, and at times can vary according to the grape variety and the process of winemaking.
Why do we find some dry wines sweet?
At times, we might find a ‘dry wine’ sweet on the palate. The sweetness that you taste in a textbook dry wine is not the sugar in the wine, but is actually its fruit. A wine with a fruit forward nature will tend to taste sweeter on the palate - and is ideally known to be a more ‘fruity’ wine rather than a sweet one.
Some examples of sweet wines include Moscato (made with Muscat), Tokaji (made with Furmint), Sauternes (made with Semillon), and Recioto della Valpolicella (made with Corvina).
It’s important for one to know about the different sweetness levels in wine so we can understand what adjusts to our palates and taste buds.
Originally published September 6, 2022