The Basics About Sweet Wine

What is Sweet Wine?

Sweet wine is wine that has sugar in it. When grapes come into the winery, the grape juice is fermented into alcohol and turned into wine. For this to happen, winemakers add yeast to the grape juice. The yeast eat the sugar and convert it to alcohol. A dry wine is created when yeast eat all the sugar, leaving the wine almost completely dry with an average ABV (Alcohol By Volume) of 12%. A sweet wine results when yeast don’t eat all the sugar, making a sweet and low-alcohol wine.

Dry wines: all sugar converted, ABV 11% – 13.9%
Sweet wines: some sugar converted, ABV < 11%

Inexpensive vs premium sweet wines

Inexpensive sweet wine may be sweetened by ending the fermentation process early (removing the yeast before they eat all the sugar), or by adding a sweetener.

Premium sweet wine is commonly made from dried, rotted or ice grapes that require special processes. In these cases, the grape juice is so sweet that the yeast die before they can convert all the sugar into alcohol. The result is a decadently sweet dessert wine with low alcohol. These wines are usually more expensive, some being very famous like Sauternes or Tokaji Essencia.

How is sweet wine made?

Ending Fermentation Early: Yeasts are removed from the juice before they eat all the sugar, which makes the wine sweet

Sweetener: Sweet juices are added to the dry wine after fermentation, which makes the wine sweet

Dried Grapes: Grapes are left to dry on the vine or in the winery, which makes the grape juice super sweet

Rotted Grapes: Some grapes are purposely allowed to rot, which makes the grape juice super sweet

Ice Grapes: Some grapes are left to freeze on the vine, which makes the grape juice super sweet

How much sugar is in wine?

Dry wines have very little sugar, only about 0-9 grams. Anything over that will taste on the sweeter side. Dessert wines are considered very sweet or “luscious,” and have 220-550 grams of sugar. Some wines are so sweet and premium, they are served by the spoonful!

How to know if a wine is sweet

There are a couple ways to know whether or not the wine you’re buying is sweet. You can look for specific terms that will give it away. Or you can look at the ABV listed on the wine. If it says 10%, 8%, or 6%, for example, that’s a dead giveaway you’re getting a sweet bottle!

Look for these terms:

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


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