Hey, sweet thang…
Let’s get one thing straight, the sugar level in wine is a winemaking choice. Another important matter to get straight is that it’s not actually something that is attached to specific grapes. The sugar level in wine is a winemaking choice as mentioned above and when we make wine, we start with sweet grape juice 🍇 The yeast eats the sugar in the grapes and turns that into alcohol 🍷 The winemaker who is making a sweet wine will stop that process will halt the fermentation in order keeps the sugar levels where they want them. This is all a choice.
What is Dry Wine?
Dry wine, which is most wine, is when the yeast eats all or most of the sugar, and we can’t detect it anymore. Straight up, most wine is dry wine, if you want to understand dry wine a little bit more, head to my YouTube video on dry wine.
What is Off-Dry Wine?
An off-dry wine, or sometimes it’s called demi-sec in french, is when there is noticeable sugar but it’s not super sweet. It’ll be a little bit sweet, but often it’s really refreshing and will be really nice. Often times you find Rieslings like this, demi-sec Vouvray will be off-dry.
What is Medium Sweet?
Next, we have medium sweet or medium-dry (don’t ask), those two things are pretty interchangeable. And that will be noticeably sweet, so there you’ll have a level similar to apple juice.
Last, but not least…
Finally, we have sweet wine, dessert wine. These are really sweet. These are wines that you need to have with dessert 100% 🍰
What should I look for when shopping for each type of wine?
In terms of off-dry wines, expect to find some Rieslings in this style especially from the Mosel, a Cabernet or a Spatlese Riesling might also be in this style. As for Medium-dry medium-sweet wines you can get demi-sec Vouvray or Moscato d’Asti. Again, there is a big range, some Vouvrays might be totally dry, while others might be medium-sweet, we also have Vouvrays that is fully sweet. Do your research and be sure to ask your local wine merchant if you’re unsure!
When we’re talking about actual dessert wine, there’s actually a lot of different ways to make it. We have fortified wine such as Port where when the winemaker wants to halt the fermentation they add Brandy. Adding Brandy to the Port making process increases the alcohol which kills the yeast, as a result, you’re left with a wine that still has a lot of sugar.
Moldy Grape Wine 😉
Did you know there’s a wine made from moldy grapes? This is called Botrytis. It’s very common in parts of the Loire but you’ll see it in Sauternes most famously. Botrytis wines are basically nectar of the Gods. Golden, sweet, and wonderful!
Late Harvest Grapes
We also have late harvest grapes, common in Alsace, and in Germany. This is a process of leaving the grapes on the vine where they essentially start to dry and concentrate. Often there is some Botrytis there as well.
Next up, we have Apassimento where they dry grapes on mats in the sun. The purpose here and in all of the above is to allow the grapes to concentrate, so they’re losing water and they’re getting sweeter, get it?
And then we have Ice Wine. Ice Wine is wild. 🧊 Ice wine is super late harvest wine that is left on the vine until the first frost. They then pick the grapes in the middle of the night when they’re frozen and press them. What comes out is this super-concentrated liquor and then the water, and the ice, is left behind. Overall sweet wine is usually really expensive. Because it’s labor-intensive, it takes longer to make, and it’s made in smaller quantities.
The sweet sweet ending 🍬
If you just want a daily drinking type of bottle and you would like it to be a little bit sweet, definitely check out the Rieslings from the Mosel in Germany, they’re unbelievably delicious. You may also enjoy Moscato d’Asti, which is basically fizzy yummy unicorn juice 🦄🧃.
If you want to really dive into dessert wines, the finer dessert wines, then that is a whole wide world that’s super fun! Next time you’re out at a restaurant with a sommelier, I really encourage you to order a dessert wine by the glass! I especially encourage you to try dessert wine paired with a delicious dessert because that’s what it’s all about.
But if you’re not up for dessert, you can enjoy sweet wines with cheese or small bites. Choose a really salty cheese, that will hit that spot for sure!
If you thought this was useful and you learned something new about sweet wine, you can get my free PDF guide of sweet wine at the top of the blog!
And don’t forget to drop “sweet” in the comments if you’re excited to explore the world of sweet wine 🍬