Is There Such a Thing as 'Sugar Free' Wine?
Any number of personal or health reasons may drive a wine lover to seek out sugar free wine. The good news is that technically, yes, zero sugar wines exist. Understanding how sugar gets into wine and which wines may (or may not) be sugar free can help you select the perfect bottle for your lifestyle.
There’s no better way to learn about sugar-free wine than by first covering sugary wine! I know, it seems counterintuitive, but bear with us and you’ll see how sugar can ultimately be eliminated during the winemaking process, creating the sugar-free beverage that you’re looking for.
Why Would there Be Sugar in Wine?
Wine typically sits opposite the fruity cocktail category on the beverage menu, so why would anyone suspect sugar in wine? There are a couple of reasons wines may be sweet.
Sugar is a magical ingredient that can bring balance to wine. Yes, it gives the perception of sweetness, but sugar also adds weight, or body, to a wine’s structure. A thin wine or a wine with high acidity may need a little sugar for balance. Likewise, a wine with high alcohol may compensate with sweetness to cover bitterness. In both instances, sugar is a balancing component.
People Like Sweet Things
We all know someone with a sweet tooth. In fact, some consumer markets prefer sweeter wines generally, and a producer may make the conscious decision to craft a sweeter style for a particular market. Even within a market, certain consumer segments prefer off-dry wines over bone dry bottles. Most fledgling wine drinkers start out enjoying off-dry styles and then slowly, ever so slowly, expand to dry wines. White Zinfandel anyone?
Where Does the Sugar Come from in Wine?
Wine grapes are sweet, often much sweeter than regular table grapes. The sugar in wine comes from the grapes themselves, but via a couple of different methods:
The winemaker stopped fermentation early and there’s still residual sugar from the grape juice leftover after fermentation.
The winemaker set aside some of the grape juice before fermentation and added it back after fermentation at a precise ratio to give the wine a little sweetness. This juice goes by the term süssreserve (seus-reserve) in German, literally ‘sweet reserve’.
The winemaker added in commercial-grade concentrated grape must during blending. This technique is common for entry-level wines made to appeal to a wide range of palates.
An important takeaway here is that if you’re concerned about the source of sugar, then you can relax. Sweet wines are sweet thanks to the grapes!
What Traditional Wine Styles Have Sugar?
Some traditional wine styles are made sweet. Dessert wines like Sauternes and Port can be lusciously sweet and off-dry to sweet styles of Riesling balance out high acidity with residual sugar.
Are there Any Sugar Free Wines?
If the winemaker fermented all of the grape juice, then the wine is technically sugar free. The yeast did their thing and converted the sugar into alcohol. This is the same whether you’re looking for sugar free red wine, sugar free white wine, or even sugar free organic wine. It all comes down to fermentation.
Start your search by looking for dry wines.
Anything less than 2 grams of sugar per liter is considered a ‘dry’ wine. One gram is about the same weight as your average paperclip, so very little sugar. Many drinkers - but by no means all - can perceive some sweetness above this threshold.
The vast majority of dry table wines will be under 2 grams of sugar per liter. Wine with low sugar content is more microbially stable, meaning there’s less chance of spoilage in the bottle. Some producers even put dryness or style indicators on their labels. You’ll want to stay away from anything other than ‘dry’ or ‘bone dry’.
Careful! Sugar Free Wine Doesn’t Mean Calorie Free Wine...
Now that you know how the sugar may find its way into a bottle of wine, and the types of wine with low sugar, it’s good to keep in mind that sugar free doesn’t mean calorie free. Wine still has calories, between 100-160 in your average glass according to the USDA; and the Alcohol Tobacco and Tax Trade Bureau (TTB for short) strictly monitors any wine labels claiming nutritional benefits.
Take a close look at wine labels the next time you’re in your local beverage shop and see if you can spot clever marketing aimed at health-conscious consumers seeking ‘sugar free wine’. You’ll know you’re looking at a dry table wine!
As for the wines featured here at Gold Medal Wine Club, we exclusively feature dry wines, which are naturally low in sugar! So feel free to browse our extensive selection without worrying about breaking your sugar limit!
Still worried? Check the wine item pages for descriptive terms like 'Keto', 'Vegan', 'Low sugar' and more to get the information you need to make the best decision for your health!
Author Bio: Erin O’Reilly, Certified Specialist of Wine, is a wine writer and educator. She pens her work from Monterey wine country where she raises a glass to the growers and producers dedicated to crafting great wines.