Sugar in Wine Chart

Many red and white wines taste dry (as in “not sweet”) but do contain small to moderate amounts of sugar. The question is, how much? And, is there some way to identify wines with or without residual sugar?

This article is a followup response to Sugar in Wine, The Great Misunderstanding. Many readers asked for a more detailed explanation in terms of calories and tips!

How Much Sugar in Wine?

sugar-in-wine-in-teaspoons

Wines range from 0–220 grams per liter sugar (g/L), depending on the style. In case you didn’t know, dry-tasting wines contain up to 10 grams of sugar per bottle.

  • Bone-Dry <1 sugar calories per glass
  • Dry 0-6 sugar calories per glass
  • Off-Dry 6–21 sugar calories per glass
  • Sweet 21–72 sugar calories per glass
  • Very Sweet 72–130 sugar calories per glass

The terms above are unofficial but do show common ranges. Currently, most countries (including the US) aren’t required to label actual sweetness levels in wine.

RELATED: Sweetness in sparkling wine is measure differently. Read more

Basic characteristics - traits of wine by Wine Folly

Where Does Sugar in Wine Come From?

The sugar in wine is called residual sugar or RS.

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RS doesn’t come from corn syrup or granulated sugar like you might think. It primarily comes from the fruit sugars in the grapes (fructose and glucose). Of course, there are a few instances where cheap wine producers use sugar or grape concentrate to sweeten a wine–all the more reason to seek out quality!

How come some wines are dry and some are sweet? Basically, when winemaking happens, yeast eats sugar and makes ethanol (alcohol) as a by-product.

A dry wine happens when the yeast eats all the sugars. A sweet wine is when the yeast is stopped (usually through rapid chilling) before it eats all the sugars.

This is why many sweet wines have less alcohol that dry wines! A great example of this is German Riesling, which has about 8–9% alcohol by volume (ABV) if it’s sweet and 10–11% ABV when it’s dry.

Carbs and Calories in wine from residual sugar - rs - chart by Wine Folly
Carbs in wine from residual sugar (RS).

Where is sugar listed on a wine bottle?

Since wineries aren’t required legally to list sugar levels in wine (as is the case with all alcoholic beverages), they usually don’t!

Fortunately, the good wineries out there make tech sheets available. You can find out important information including residual sugar level each vintage!

Residual Sugar is usually displayed in 1 of three ways: in grams/Liter, in grams/100ml, or as a percentage. For example, 10 grams per liter of residual sugar is equal to 1 percent sweetness.

Humans aren’t good at tasting sugar in wine

Exact levels of residual sugar are actually quite difficult to taste with our “naked tongue.” Even highly trained wine tasters often have trouble identifying residual sugar in wine–but you can learn with practice.

The main reason we can’t taste sweetness is because other traits in the wine, including the acidity and tannin, distort the perception of sweetness.

You can test this oddity yourself by tasting plain sugar and then tasting the same portion of sugar while biting into a lemon. The acidity will cancel out most of the sweetness on your tongue!

sweet-red-wines-cheap

Real-World Examples

Several people requested a few real-world examples of red wines that contain residual sugar as examples. (The data on these wines was polled in 2015)

  • Alta Vista Classic Malbec (2013): 2.8 g/L RS
  • Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel: 3.4 g/L RS
  • Menage a Trois California Red: 12 g/L RS
  • Yellow Tail Shiraz: 12 g/L RS
  • Apothic Red: 15 g/L RS
  • Jam Jar A sweet Shiraz at 57 g/L RS

What if I can’t find a tech sheet?

If you can’t find a technical sheet, or if the residual sugar is not listed, here are a few tips:

  1. Cheap wine usually has residual sugar. It’s safe to assume that most affordable (sub-$15) wines from the US contain some residual sugar, perhaps anywhere from 2–15 g/L. There are, of course, excellent exceptions to this rule so look for more information first.
  2. Drink slightly better wine. If you spend a little more on a bottle of wine, say around $15–25, producers tend to feature less residual sugar (if any at all). Grapes are higher quality so the wines don’t need sweetness to taste fruity.
  3. Drink slightly less. Even at 15 g/L RS, a wine will only add about 7.5 sugar calories which isn’t much! Like with all things, moderation is key!

Conclusion

  1. It’s reassuring to know that many premium wines (that taste dry) generally feature less sugar.
  2. A little sugar in wine isn’t a bad thing, so don’t go on a sugar witch hunt before tasting the difference! Many wine drinkers actually prefer a little residual sugar in their red wine because of the richness, complexity and body sugar adds to wine… but just a touch!

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About Madeline Puckette

James Beard Award-winning author and Wine Communicator of the Year. I co-founded Wine Folly to help people learn about wine. @WineFolly