Red Wine Sweetness Chart: Your Guide To the Perfect Glass

Red Wine Sweetness Chart: Your Guide To the Perfect Glass

While all wine contains sugar, not all wine is considered sweet. When you look at a red wine sweetness chart you will see that a wide range of wines are on the sweeter side, while others are so low in sugar they are considered “bone dry.”

In this article we take a look into what makes a wine sweet in the first place, as well as examine where your favorite red wines fall on the sweetness chart. 

Whether you’re a fan of wines that are sweeter than sweet, or love a wine so dry it’ll make your mouth pucker, this handy chart is the perfect tool for understanding your vino better.

Why Are Some Wines Sweeter Than Others?

While some wine is dry as a bone, other wines taste as sweet as a can of soda. But how can this be when all wine is made by the fermentation of grape juice?

The answer lies in the wine’s residual sugar. Residual sugar is a term in the wine world that refers to the amount of sugar present in a bottle of wine, once the wine is finished and ready for consumption.

As we know grapes have a high sugar content, meaning all wine, no matter how dry, contains some naturally occurring sugars. However, during fermentation, winemakers add yeast, which converts these natural sugars into ethanol, aka alcohol.

While the yeast will convert the majority of the grape sugar into alcohol, sometimes the sugar in the grapes is much higher, or winemakers choose to add additional sugar. This means the yeast cannot convert all of the sugar to alcohol, resulting in a wine that’s higher in residual sugar.

There are other ways to make a sweeter wine. Some of these include:

  • Purposefully halting the fermentation process early, so the yeast cannot convert so many sugars into alcohol. 
  • Selecting grapes with higher sugar levels.
  • Selecting “late harvest” grapes, which have been left to ripen on the vine (and in turn become sweeter).
  • Adding a sugar wine solution (called a dosage) between fermentations when producing sparkling wine.
  • Purposefully introducing noble rot to the grapes, a natural process which causes grapes to become sweeter.
  • Fermenting the wine with brandy, which creates the fortified wine Port.
  • Using grapes frozen on the vine, resulting in wine that has not had its natural sugars diluted.

Red Wine Sweetness Chart

red wine sweetness chart: Usual Wines being poured into a wine glass in bed

There is plenty of variation in a red wine sweetness chart. Some red wines have a teeth-aching 20% residual sugar, while others are as low as 1%.

Very Sweet

  • Tawny Port
  • Ruby Port
  • Vin Santo Rosso

Sweet

  • Lambrusco 
  • Rosso Dolce
  • Brachetto D'acqui
  • Beaujolais Nouveau

Medium Sweet

  • Zinfandel
  • Garnacha (Grenache)
  • Malbec
  • Shiraz (Syrah grapes grown in Australia)

Dry

Very Dry

Which Wines Top the Red Wine Sweetness Chart?

Those in the first category are dessert wines. These gorgeously sugar-heavy and decadent options — such as ruby Port, tawny Port, and Vin Santo Rosso from Italy — are perfect for those with a sweet tooth.

However, if you are on the hunt for a sweeter red wine to enjoy with your main meal, there are plenty that offer a more middle ground, like Lambrusco. Lambrusco is an Italian red wine that is considered semi-sweet. It boasts red fruit flavors, such as strawberry, blackberry, and rhubarb. It’s also high in acidity, meaning the wine’s residual sugars are well balanced.

Zinfandel is another sweet red wine option. This fruity, Croatian grape produces wines with fruit-forward qualities — think tinned peaches, strawberry, and sweet tobacco.

Though not considered a sweet wine by any stretch of the imagination, Malbec is high on the red wine sweetness chart. This full-bodied red is often produced in warm climates, using highly ripe grapes. Malbec boasts fruity flavors, such as plum, blackberry, and vanilla.

Which Red Wines Are the Least Sweet?

Let’s take a closer look at the drier end of the red wine sweetness chart. While popular favorites Merlot and Pinot Noir are considered dry red wines, they have higher levels of residual sugars than the very dry options.

Tempranillo is considered a very dry red wine. Hailing from Spain, this full-bodied red is high in tannins, high in acidity, and boasts delicious notes of dried figs, cherries, and tobacco.

Cabernet Sauvignon is another popular full-bodied wine with high tannins. Along with lovely fruit flavors like black cherry and black currant, Cabernet Sauvignon has gorgeous savory notes such as cedar.

Nebbiolo is an Italian powerhouse. This full-bodied, highly tannic red wine is considered bone dry, giving it the bottom spot on our red wine sweetness chart. This heavy red has great savory notes such as leather balanced with fruity, floral notes such as rose and cherry.

When To Drink Sweet Red Wine

Very sweet red wines such as tawny and ruby Ports are the perfect addition to a decadent dessert. While the indulgent syrupy flavors of Port are too much for some, these sweet wines are heavenly when paired with a rich chocolate torte or a traditional Portugese custard tart.

Medium sweet red wines such as Zinfandel and Malbec are the perfect food pairing for meaty feasts. They also age particularly well due to their high sugar content, which means you could leave a good bottle of Malbec or Zinfandel in your cellar for up to 10 years! Both of these full-bodied red wines have a very high alcohol content (some are over 15% ABV) so you might want to monitor how many glasses you have. They’ll affect your body differently than the average glass of vino.

When To Drink Dry Red Wine

Dry red wines such as Merlot and Pinot Noir are very popular in the wine world. Picking a nice bottle of Merlot for your dinner party is a safe bet, as it pairs well with a range of dishes and most people tend to like it.

Bone dry red wines, like Nebbiolo, are intense and sophisticated. The dryness of this Italian wine helps it to tear through fatty dishes, such as rich cheese and other Mediterrean treats.

These dry wines are popular within the wine community. In addition to offering wine lovers some extraordinary flavors, the exquisite dryness offers the drinker a wonderful sensory experience.

Why We Love Dry and Sweet Red Wine

three Usual Wines bottles on a table

While we definitely have our favorites for different occasions, when it comes to red wine, we love them all. Sweet red wines are the perfect addition to sweeter dishes, and often boast some of the fruitiest flavors in the wine world. Those on the other end of the scale pair beautifully with a range of fatty dishes, balance dark fruit flavors with savory notes, and offer the drinker a mouth-puckering experience like none other. 

Whether they’re decadently sweet, straddling the dry-to-sweet border, or bone dry, each of these wines have a special place at our table.

For a taste of the dry side, try our Usual Red, a red blend with notes of cherry, raspberry, and savory flavors like fennel.