Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tasting for Sweetness: Sweet or Fruity?


Wine beginners are often confused by the concept of a “sweet” wine versus a “fruity” wine.  Dry wines (meaning non-sweet wines) are fruity without being sweet.  The confusion comes because all wines are “fruity” to some degree, since wine is made from grapes.  We are used to fruit being sweet, so we sometimes assume that a fruity taste indicates a sweet wine.  However, this is not the case.

As wine is being made, the fermentation process converts sugar that occurs naturally in the grapes into alcohol.  If all the sugars are converted to alcohol, the wine is dry.  If the fermentation process is stopped before all the sugars are converted to alcohol, some sugar remains in the wine, giving it a degree of sweetness.  This is called “residual sugar.”

Further complicating this issue is that all of us have different palates and perceive sweetness to different degrees.  If you drink black coffee and unsweetened tea, you’re probably sensitive to sweet flavors, and perceive a wine with very little sugar in it as “sweet.”  If you drink sodas regularly, you’re used to drinks tasting sweet, so it might take a lot of sugar in a wine for you to perceive it as a sweet wine.

The sweetness of wine is usually described as dry, off-dry, medium-sweet, or sweet.  The chart below provides general guidelines for how much residual sugar (by percent) is present at each level, as well as some comparisons to non-alcoholic beverages.

If you’re still confused, just remember – most wine is dry!


Copyright © 2012 by Joanna Opaskar
All rights reserved.

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