Residual Sugar in Wine Chart

If you’re interested in a residual sugar in wine chart, you’ve come to the right place. Still, it helps to understand what we are talking about in terms of residual sugar in wine, how we get there, and how we measure it. So, let’s run through the basics.

How Winemaking Works

To begin with, wine is only wine because of sugar and yeast. You see, wine is perhaps the easiest alcoholic beverage to make, as nature can essentially make it without any human interaction at all.

For millions of years, fruit has ripened on the vine, fallen to the forest or jungle floor, and yeast has settled in.

Yeast, a living organism whose sole function is to find sugar and consume it, consumes the sugar in the fruit for energy and expels carbon dioxide and alcohol as waste products.

We now know that animals in the wild, particularly monkeys, chimps, apes, and gorillas, will wait until the fruit has turned alcoholic to consume it.

So you see, winemaking is a simple matter of converting the fruit in the grapes to alcohol and carbon dioxide.

Grapes are grown for their sweetness (wine grapes are much sweeter than table grapes). They are picked at peak ripeness, crushed, and strained for their sweet grape juice.

Then yeast is either added or allowed to settle in.

Now fermentation takes place.

After a couple of weeks, you have wine.

What Is Residual Sugar in Wine?

The residual sugar in wine is the sugar that is leftover after fermentation.

As yeast consumes natural sugars, those sugars become alcohol. Wines that have more alcohol have less sugar, and wines with more sugar typically have less alcohol. One of the ways to measure how much alcohol you have in your wine is to measure for residual sugar.

It is also good to know how much residual sugar you have so you don’t allow fermentation to continue and end up with exploding wine bottles.

How to Control Residual Sugar in Wine

To control the levels of residual sugar in wine, you can simply allow fermentation to complete. In an ideal situation, healthy yeast will consume all the sugar in your must and convert it to alcohol, so you end up with the full ABV expected for your yeast and grapes.

If you want that full ABV, then you must allow the yeast in your must to ferment fully.

Fermentation also typically includes a secondary process wherein you rack the wine, harvesting the yeast that has flocculated either to the top or bottom of the vessel, and then allowing any remaining yeast to continue to ferment and “mop up” any off flavors.

If you want sweeter wine, in the most natural terms, you will stop fermentation before it has completed. You can stop fermentation relatively early and end up with a sweeter wine with less alcohol.

If you stop fermentation just a few days shy of completion, you can have a medium sweet wine with a higher ABV.

The easiest way to check on fermentation is to look at the wine.

If you still see bubbles, the yeast is still busy consuming those sugars and producing alcohol and carbon dioxide.

The second-best way to check fermentation is to measure the gravity of your wine regularly.

When you begin fermenting, your wine will have an OG, or original gravity. Your original gravity is going to be much higher than your terminal gravity because sugar is heavier than alcohol.

Measure the must at the start, and then measure every few days to once a week to see how the gravity is dropping.

Over time, you’ll know which gravity readings to expect from which wines. A lot of the winemaking process becomes intuitive over time and requires you to be flexible and learn on the job as you go.

How to Measure Residual Sugar in Wine

There are several ways to measure residual sugar in wine, but the most obvious way is to base your residual wine count on your gravity reading.

The lower the final gravity reading you get, the fewer residual sugars you will have. This is, again, because sugar is heavier than alcohol, so as the sugars convert to alcohol, the gravity reading will get lower.

Note that no wine will have zero residual sugars. Yeast is never going to consume every single sugar in the must. But you can get down to as low as 0.2 grams per liter, which is the driest wine on the market.

Other methods for measuring residual sugars include using a Clinitest and following the Rebelein method. Both of these methods are imperfect, as is the gravity reading, for getting exact measurements. The truth is that no perfect test exists.

The Clinitest is nice because it is quick, easy, and cheap.

It calls for placing several droplets of wine in a test tube and then dropping in a reagent tablet. If the color changes rapidly, then the wine likely contains more than one percent residual sugar. From there, you can follow a color charge to see which one most closely aligns with color of your wine, which will give you an indication as to the percentage of residual sugar in your wine. It is a very inexact science.

The Rebelein method is one more frequently used in commercial wineries and calls for mixing commercial chemicals with your wine that will give you a more prices readout. If you are producing wine on a mass market commercial level, this process is worth looking into.

Residual Sugar in Wine Chart

Here are some ranges to help you get a sense of how much residual sugar to expect from differing levels of sweetness in wine:

Dry Red Wine:

  • Residual Sugar: Typically very low, ranging from 0-4 g/L.
  • Examples: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir.

Dry White Wine:

  • Residual Sugar: Usually low, ranging from 0-6 g/L.
  • Examples: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño.

Off-Dry or Semi-Dry Wine:

  • Residual Sugar: Moderate sweetness, typically 6-25 g/L.
  • Examples: Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Gewürztraminer.

Sweet White Wine:

  • Residual Sugar: Noticeable sweetness, often 25-150 g/L or higher.
  • Examples: Late Harvest Riesling, Sauternes, Ice Wine.

Sweet Red Wine:

  • Residual Sugar: The level of sweetness in sweet red wines can vary considerably, but they are typically in the range of 30 to 150 grams per liter (g/L) or even higher.

Sparkling Wine:

  • Residual Sugar: The sweetness of sparkling wines can vary widely depending on the style.
  • Brut: Extra dry or very dry, with around 0-12 g/L residual sugar.
  • Extra Dry: Slightly sweet, with approximately 12-17 g/L residual sugar.
  • Sec: Medium sweet, with roughly 17-32 g/L residual sugar.
  • Demi-Sec: Moderately sweet, with about 32-50 g/L residual sugar.
  • Doux: Sweet, with higher residual sugar, often over 50 g/L.

Fortified Wine:

  • Residual Sugar: Residual sugar in fortified wines can vary significantly depending on the type and style.
  • Sherry: Can range from very dry (Fino and Manzanilla) to sweet (Cream Sherry), with residual sugar levels from 0 to 115 g/L or more.
  • Port Wine: Tawny Ports are generally drier, with around 0-90 g/L residual sugar, while Ruby Ports can be sweeter, with 100-150 g/L or more for Vintage Ports.
  • Madeira: Varies widely, from dry (Sercial) with around 0-15 g/L residual sugar to sweet (Malmsey) with 85-120 g/L or more.

Please note that these are only general ranges, and specific wines within these categories may fall outside these ranges.

Summing It All Up

In the end, residual sugar in wine can tell us how much or little alcohol we may have in wine, and measuring it is a good indicator of how far along we may be in fermentation. It also gives us a sense of what to expect.

Learning to understand residual sugar in wine is just another step in the process of mastering your winemaking craft.




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