‘Low sugar’ wines are all the rage right now, but this internet phenomenon has us scratching our heads. We get the idea of being judicious about what you’re putting into your body and trying to be as health-conscious as possible. But the truth about low sugar wines? Most wines are fairly low in sugar - often free of sugar period!
Maybe you’re looking to cut down on sugar to reduce health problems. That doesn’t necessarily mean giving up your beloved vino, and here’s why.
Why are we so concerned about sugar?
When we hear the word ‘sugar,’ we panic. We get it - sugar has been linked to diabetes, obesity, tooth decay, and cardiovascular diseases. But oftentimes, we should be more worried about processed or synthetic sugar, rather than the naturally occurring sugar we find in wine.
How much sugar is actually in wine?
In order to determine how much sugar is in your wine, look to sweetness. People often mistake fruitiness for sweetness, but these two tasting characteristics are very different. Even though you might smell fruity aromas, the wine would still be dry based on its residual sugar content.
Let’s get one thing established - without sugar, there is no wine. Seriously. Grapes contain naturally occurring sugars which are consumed by yeast and converted to alcohol during the fermentation process. Fermentation is complete once the desired sugar level is reached - which, for many wines, is when they get to fully "dry" at 0° Brix. But you may have heard the term residual sugar. This is any leftover sugar that remains post fermentation and is measured in grams per liter. So if you consider that most dry wines have very few grams of “RS” per the entire liter then it might be a shocker to see other beverages and foods reaching 25 grams or more per serving!
For sweeter dessert wines, winemakers stop the fermentation process earlier, leaving more residual sugar that the yeast hasn’t yet converted to alcohol. This leaves a sweeter style wine with lower alcohol content.
On the flip side, dry wines ferment much longer, leaving little residual sugar and higher alcohol content.
A ‘dry’ wine typically has less than 10 grams of residual sugar per liter - often 3 grams or under. A ‘sweet’ or ‘dessert wine’ has more than 30 grams per liter. Most wines in between would be characterized as ‘off-dry.’
Does sugar content differ from red wines to white wines?
You may be wondering, “do red wines have less sugar than white wines?” Not necessarily.
While red wines and white wines are made differently, there’s no hard-and-fast rule for sugar content. Sugar content of a wine is determined by the fermentation process alone. If you notice a red wine is dryer than a white wine, that means the red wine was fermented longer. Rather than look at red or white, look at the label.
What should I look for?
If you’re on a low-sugar diet or simply trying to keep your sugar consumption low, the good news is, wine isn’t completely off the table for you. Our advice is to look for dry wines with low residual sugar. Drinking in moderation is also a great way to reduce your sugar intake.
Unfortunately, wineries are not legally required to list sugar content on their bottles, so you have to rely on wine knowledge (and your good friends at Bright Cellars!) to steer you in the right, less sugary direction.
Dry, Low-Sugar Wines
Brut Sparkling Wine
Italian Pinot Grigio
Sweeter Rieslings (Kabinett level)
Sweeter Chenin Blanc (Vouvray)
Sweet, High-Sugar Wines
Sweeter styles of Rieslings
Sweeter styles of Chenin Blanc
Any dessert wine (Sauternes, Port, Madeira)
In Vino Finito
Did you learn something new about ‘low-sugar’ wines? Let us know in the comments!