Unpolished Grape 101: How Much Sugar is in Wine?

The answer is: it depends!

Quick review: a grape vine requires sunlight, heat, water and nutrients in order to undergo photosynthesis and ripen its berries. Healthy, ripe grapes contain a balanced amount of water, sugar and acid at the time of harvest.

When grapes come into the winery, they undergo a process called fermentation, whereby yeasts convert the juice sugars into alcohol.

Most wines have an ABV (Alcohol By Volume) percentage between 11% and 13.9%. In some cases the rate can be higher. However, the majority of grapes do not have enough natural sugar to exceed an ABV above 15.5%.

Now that we understand the relationship between sugar and alcohol, we can focus on wines that are purposely made sweet. Although most wines are fermented dry, there are several ways to either keep wines sweet or increase a grape’s sugar level. Here are some techniques:

Ending Fermentation Early: Yeasts are removed from the juice before they consume all the sugar

Sweetener: Sweet juices are added to the wine after fermentation, making them sweet

Dried Grapes: Grapes are left to dry on the vine or in the winery, which concentrates the sugar

Rotted Grapes: Some grapes are purposely allowed to rot, which concentrates the sugar

Ice Grapes: Some grapes are left to freeze on the vine, which concentrates the sugar

The amount of sugar present in the final wine will determine the sugar level. Some producers indicate the level on the wine label to help consumers understand how sweet the wine is. Most wines are dry and won’t have a sugar indication. But if you want to go sweet, look for these label terms:

  • Off-dry
  • Demi-Sec
  • Medium Dry
  • Semi-Secco
  • Abboccato
  • Halbtrocken
  • Doux
  • Dulce
  • Mild
  • Sweet
  • Luscious

If you don’t see any of these terms, simply look at the ABV percentage. Generally speaking, anything under 11% is going to make your sweet tooth happy!


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