What You Need to Know About Residual Sugar in Wine

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When you’re trying to cut back on sugar, there goes your wine too, right? Maybe not. What if I told you that wine doesn’t always have all the sugar you imagine it does? Now, I’m not a nutritionist, and I don’t do hardcore dieting myself, so I’m not here to tell anyone what they should or should not do. Rather, I hope to clear the air on some misconceptions about sugar in wine, and educate your way to an unexpected glass.

In my last post, I mentioned the fact that wine doesn’t have an ingredients or nutrition label. Bummer, right? Or maybe that’s a good thing…ignorance is bliss, after all! However, when it comes to sugar, people tend to think wine has a ton of it. And that can often be true! Conventional wines that you easily find at most grocery stores probably do have quite a bit of sugar per glass, due to the added sugars, stopping fermentation early, or the addition of Megapurple and corn syrup (yuck). But aside from that, let’s look at the science behind sugar in wine…

We know wine starts out as fruit- grapes, to be exact, and grapes have natural sugars. During the fermentation process, yeast is feasting on these sugars. The more sugar, the more the yeast has to eat, the more alcohol is produced. The amount of natural sugar from the grapes that remains after fermentation is called residual sugar, or RS for short. It’s typically measured in grams per liter (g/L), but remember, a standard bottle of wine is only 750 mL…which means your bottle only has 75% of the RS. Then, divide that by 5 (ok…4…3?) glasses per bottle, and you little math whizzes have earned your wine for the night! Just keep in mind that residual sugar only refers to the natural sugars, not any additions after fermentation that are intended to alter or mask flavor.

Residual sugar measurements aren’t something you’ll find on the bottle, unfortunately. There is more and more public awareness about this, and you may be able to find it on the producer’s website, if they are the type of winemaker to calculate and release that type of information. Typically, it’s more common to see smaller producers, who make organic and natural wines, with that type of transparency. In fact, if you go to my Scout & Cellar website, you’ll see the RS on the product page for every bottle we carry.

Most dry wines (both red and white) contain very little residual sugar. And even if some RS is there, there is often an important reason behind it! Residual sugar is necessary in some varietals to balance the high natural acidity, like a Riesling, for example. The winemaker can cool down the temperature to slow or stop fermentation, or use other methods, to control the RS. It’s also worth noting that RS and alcohol content are related (lower RS = higher alcohol), which makes sense considering that they both are products of how long fermentation went on. So it ain’t all bad, and I think it’s pretty damn cool that winemakers use residual sugar as a tool of their craft. Science and math, everybody…you can’t avoid it. Now open a bottle and enjoy the sweet (or not so sweet) product of your studies. Cheers!

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As a Scout & Cellar Wine Consultant and full time Sign Language Interpreter, Laura believes in truly loving what you do every day. After leaving the actress life in LA, she moved to Nashville four years ago, and continues to find more that she loves about the city. Community is key to Laura, so don’t be surprised if she cooks you a meal, pours you a glass, and dives into deep conversation; you'll be friends in no time.