Submitted by Amy Sercel MS RD CD
Edited by Marcia Bristow MS RDN CSSD CD
Have you ever wondered what makes some wines so sweet? “Dry” wines, like Pinot Grigio or Cabernet Sauvignon, could have as little as 1 gram of sugar per 5 ounce glass, whereas a glass of Reisling could have as many as 14 grams of sugar.1 The amount of sugar in wine can vary quite a bit and depends on the type of wine you’re drinking and the method used by individual producers to make the wine.
Sugar naturally occurs in grape juice in the form of sucrose, glucose, and fructose.2 In order for wine to be made from grape juice, yeast has to convert this sugar into alcohol through a process called fermentation. If the grapes aren’t very ripe before fermentation, however, they may not contain enough sugar to produce the necessary amount of alcohol. In cases like this, before fermentation begins the wine maker may add cane sugar, beet sugar, or grape juice concentrate to provide the yeast with more sugar to convert into alcohol. This practice is called “chaptalization,” and it’s common in colder areas of Oregon, France, Germany, and Austria where grapes take a long time to ripen. Most of the sugar added during chaptalization will be converted to alcohol by yeast and won’t be present in the final product.3,4
Wine makers might also add sugar after fermentation to alter the wine’s taste. Adding cane sugar to wine is illegal in California, so wine makers there usually add grape juice or grape juice concentrate to produce a sweeter wine.5 In another process known as “dosage,” sugar, grape juice, or wine is added to Champagne or other sparkling wines to balance their acidity. The rationale behind this process is similar to chaptalization; the grapes used to make sparkling wines ripen more slowly than other grapes, so the resulting wine tends to be acidic after fermentation is finished and adding sugar makes it taste better.6
Regardless of how it got into your wine, any sugar left over after fermentation is called “residual sugar.” You will need to visit a tasting room, check a vineyard’s website, or contact a wine producer directly and ask for the “tech sheet” with detailed information about your wine to learn how much residual sugar it contains.7 If you don’t have a chance to search for the tech sheet, choosing a dry wine will help you limit the sugar in your glass. Remember to drink in moderation. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that men have no more than two drinks per day, and women have no more than one drink. They define a drink as 12 oz of beer, 1.5 oz of 80-proof liquor, or 5 oz of wine. The graphic above shows the amount of sugar in 6 oz glasses of wine, but still provides a nice comparison of the sugar content of different types of wine. If you’re drinking wine, consider making a wine spritzer to bring your sugar and alcohol intake down even farther.
- Watching your sugar intake? Toast to dry wine. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/watching-your-sugar-intake-toast-to-dry-wine/2014/04/22/b0ebf500-ba73-11e3-a397-6debf9e66e65_story.html. Accessed July 10, 2017.
- Creasy E. The Sugar Content of Red Seedless Grapes. LIVESTRONG.COM. http://www.livestrong.com/article/399685-the-sugar-content-of-red-seedless-grapes/. Accessed July 11, 2017.
- Health Q&A: Do winemakers add sugar to wine? | Wine & Health Q&A | News & Features | Wine Spectator. WineSpectator.com. http://www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/Health-QA-Do-winemakers-add-sugar-to-wine_4885. Accessed July 10, 2017.
- Bell E. What Is Chaptalization? VinePair. April 2016. https://vinepair.com/wine-blog/what-is-chaptalization/. Accessed July 10, 2017.
- Egan S. How Much Sugar Is in a Glass of Wine? The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/26/well/eat/how-much-sugar-is-in-a-glass-of-wine.html. Published May 26, 2017. Accessed July 10, 2017.
- Bell E. What Is “Dosage” And What Is It Doing In My Champagne? VinePair. November 2015. https://vinepair.com/wine-blog/what-is-dosage-and-what-is-it-doing-in-my-champagne/. Accessed July 10, 2017.
- Sugar in Wine Chart (Calories and Carbs). Wine Folly. http://winefolly.com/review/sugar-in-wine-chart/. Published May 22, 2015. Accessed July 11, 2017.