Low-Sugar Wine: How To Choose Your Next Glass Wisely
Whether you're following a low-carb diet or simply want to learn more about what types of wine you can enjoy without sending your sugar levels soaring, you've come to the right place. In this guide, we'll get to the bottom of sugar in wine, including what determines how much sugar actually ends up in your favorite glass. We'll also help you understand why it's important to consider low-sugar wine and how it can impact your health. You'll also pick up plenty of helpful tips for choosing low-sugar vino, be it red wine, white wine, rosé wine, or sparkling wine.
The Bitter Truth About Sugar
As you may know, sugar is a type of sweet-tasting carbohydrate that your body uses as fuel. Natural sugar occurs in all foods with carbohydrates, such as fruits, grains, dairy, and veggies. Consuming these types of foods is part of a healthy diet as they also provide essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. However, the problem is that there is far too much added sugar in many processed foods today — even foods that you don't necessarily think of as sweet or sugary, like bread, soups, bread, cured meats, salad dressings, and condiments.
Even if you're careful and try to monitor your sugar intake, these hidden sugars can make their way into your daily diet. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the average American consumes 77 grams of sugar every single day, which amounts to about 60 pounds per person, per year. (For reference, that's about the same weight as the average nine-year-old child!)
The AHA recommends that women should consume no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams or 100 calories) of sugar per day while men shouldn't surpass more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams or 150 calories) of added sugar per day. (For reference, that's around the same amount of sugar in a 12-ounce can of soda.)
Consuming too much sugar is linked to a variety of health problems, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic inflammation, and some cancers. Be sure to read food and drink ingredient lists so you know what you're getting — we like Harvard Medical School's list of added sugars, which reveals the many names that sugar goes by these days.
Good To Know: You can learn more about how sugar and alcohol content directly impact calories in our guide to calories in wine.
Understanding Sugar Levels in Wine
Now that you know the bad news about consuming too much sugar, we have some good news: You don't have to take wine off the table. While there is technically no such thing as sugar-free wine since all alcohol is derived from sugar, there are wines that exist without any added sugars. Case in point: Usual Wines, which have zero added sugars, additives, chemicals, or sulfites.
There are several factors that affect the sugar content in wine, including when the grapes are harvested and how long they're allowed to ferment. For example, varietals like Riesling, Chenin Blanc, and Sémillon are often left on the vine longer (aka late-harvest), which results in a riper, sweeter, and raisinated wine grape with more concentrated sugar levels.
The fermentation process is another factor that directly affects the sugar content in wine. As you may have learned in our guide to winemaking, fermentation is the most critical part of wine production. (Without it, you have no booze!)
During this process, naturally occurring sugars are converted into carbon dioxide (CO2) and ethyl alcohol. If fermentation is halted before all the sugars are converted into alcohol, the result is a sweeter wine with more residual sugar. If the fermentation process is allowed to run its course, there will be less sugar, resulting in a drier wine.
It's also during the fermentation process that many winemakers mix in other additives, such as sweeteners and preservatives (like sulfites). The process of adding sugar to wine before or during fermentation is called chaptalization, which is illegal in many winemaking regions. While you might think this added sugar would make the wine sweeter, it's actually intended to increase its alcohol content. Still, it can affect sugar levels in wine, thus underscoring the importance of knowing how your wine is made and what practices the wine producer uses. In general, the lower the alcohol by volume (ABV), the lower the sugar levels. Look for wine around 10-12% ABV — you can find more details in our guide to alcohol content in wine.
Good To Know: Usual Wines are made the Old-World way, in small batches from sustainably farmed grapes with minimal intervention and absolutely no added sugars or other additives.
8 Helpful Tips for Choosing Low-Sugar Wine
Not all winemakers are transparent about their production practices and most wine labels don't have nutrition facts or ingredient lists like other food and drink products, but there are some ways to get around this lack of information. Here are some top tips you can use to help you shop smart and choose low-sugar vino:
- Steer clear of cheap, mass-produced wine as these typically contain added sugar, not to mention other additives
- Forgo any dessert wines, which have the highest sugar content
- Skip fortified wines like Tawny Port or Madeira, which have higher sugar levels
- Avoid anything with "late harvest" on the label (such as late-harvest Riesling) as these often indicate a sweet wine
- Look for the term "dry wine" in the wine description, whether it's red wine or white wine
- Avoid wines with "dolce," "demi-sec," or "semi-sec" on the label as these indicate more residual sugar
- For Champagne, opt for Zero Brut or Brut Nature (the driest) or Extra Brut
- When selecting Champagne or sparkling wine, avoid "Doux," which is the sweetest
Best Low-Sugar Wine Options
Along with the aforementioned tips, it helps to know which types of wine are naturally lower in sugar. Keep in mind that these are general guidelines — it's up to you to research the winemaker and get as much information as possible about their wine production methods. Here's a quick rundown of low-sugar wines:
- Brut Nature Champagne
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Pinot Noir
- Pinot Grigio
- Cabernet Sauvignon
It would be remiss not to mention the low-sugar options from Usual Wines, all of which have 0 grams of sugar:
Good To Know: When in doubt, opt for dry white wines as these tend to have the lowest amount of sugars (and calories). Also, biodynamic wines don't use any additives or added sugars, so those are good options to consider as well.
There's No Need To Skimp on Flavor With Low-Sugar Wine
With all the information about the health dangers of consuming too much sugar, it's no surprise that opting for low-sugar wine is the way to go. Fortunately, you don't have to give up your favorite glass of wine because you're watching your sugar intake — you simply need to be mindful about where your wine comes from and how it's made. (Much like you do with everything else you consume.)
Whether you prefer red, white, or rosé wine, you have options that can align with your low-carb lifestyle and help you maintain your health goals every sip of the way.