Sugar In Wine: Which Wines Have the Most and the Least

Sugar In Wine: Which Wines Have the Most and the Least

McKenzie Hagan |

Does wine have sugar? This seems to be a hot topic these days. With the popularity of the keto diet in the last decade, wine lovers everywhere are wondering if they can lower their sugar intake and still enjoy wine.

We believe that the benefits of drinking wine outweigh the shortcomings. For one, enjoying a glass of wine in the sunshine with a loved one is good for the soul. Secondly, plenty of wines have incredible health boosting benefits and many are naturally low in sugar.

In this article we delve into the truth about sugar in wine. From where the sugar content comes from, to how much sugar is in an average glass, to the perfect varieties of wine for those who can’t consume much sugar, consider this article your guide to understanding wine sugar content.

The Origin of Sugar in Wine: Where Does It Come From?

Unlike the fructose syrup and artificial sweeteners found in soda, wine has natural sugars. This naturally occurring sweetness is derived from grapes and is what makes our favorite Pinot Noirs or Chardonnays alcoholic.

Here's an interesting fact. The grape variety and the climate in which it is grown can greatly affect the sugar content of the wine. In warm climates, grapes tend to produce more sugar, leading to higher alcohol wines. In contrast, in cooler climates, the grapes might not ripen as much, leading to lower sugar levels and consequently lower alcohol wines. This is one reason why the same grape variety can produce wines with different sugar and alcohol levels depending on where it is grown.

This process of sugar becoming alcohol happens during fermentation. To trigger this chemical reaction, yeast is sometimes added into the tanks with the grapes. As the wine ferments, the yeast converts the sugars from the grapes into carbon dioxide and ethanol, which in turn produces alcohol.

As you may have guessed, certain wines have more sugar than others. This is achieved in several different ways. Most commonly, winemakers simply stop the fermentation process before the yeast has converted all of the sugars into alcohol, resulting in a wine that is higher in residual sugar.

Winemakers also create high-sugar wines by leaving the grapes on the vine for longer before picking them. These are called late harvest wines and they can be very sweet, due to the grapes being extra ripe and extra sweet when picked. Fortified wines such as Port get their iconic sweetness from adding brandy just before the fermentation process.

During fermentation, many mass wine producers will mix in other additives, such as artificial colors, sweeteners, and preservatives like sulphur. Winemakers are usually legally permitted to add whatever natural ingredients they like.

On the other hand, brands such as Usual Wines have chosen not to do this. Instead of hidden additives and potentially harmful chemicals, you’ll find wines made the Old-World way, in small batches from sustainably farmed grapes without any added sugar.

How Much Sugar Is in a Glass of Wine?

sugar in wine: four Usual Wines bottles on a table

Because residual sugar (the sugar left in the wine after fermentation) varies wildly between different types and styles of wine, it’s hard to say how much sugar is in a glass of wine.

On average dry red wines or dry white wines have around 2 grams of sugar per standard glass. Off-dry wines (which means slightly sweet) have around 3-5 grams, and sweeter wines like Sauternes have 10 grams. Then, there’s late harvest wines which can contain a whopping 20 grams of sugar per glass.

It's also worth noting that not all sugars in wine are equally digestible. The main sugars in wine – glucose and fructose – have different sweetness levels and are metabolized differently in our bodies. Fructose, which is perceived as sweeter, can be harder to metabolize, especially for those with fructose malabsorption. However, in most wines, the levels of these sugars are quite low, especially compared to sweetened beverages like soda.

However, these are just averages and it can be hard to know what the best option is when sitting in front of an impatient sommelier. If you’re trying to limit your sugar intake, follow these wine selection guidelines.

Choose Dry Wines

Wines described as dry have little to no residual sugar. For example, a dry Cabernet Sauvignon has a lower sugar content than a Merlot or a Grenache.

Look for Wines With Low Alcohol Levels

Alcohol is made from sugar, so opt for wines lower on the alcohol scale. Alcohol levels in wine have a wide range, but anything under 12% ABV is considered a low alcohol wine.

Check Out Sparkling Wines

Dry sparkling wines can be a safe option for wine lovers trying to limit their sugar intake. While the majority of sparkling wines have some sugar added to them, there are dry, low-sugar options on the market. Look for bottles with the words Brut Natural or Brut Zero on the labels to try the driest of the dry.

Which Wine Has the Most Sugar? A Quick Overview

It may seem obvious, but it’s worth repeating, dessert wine is very high in sugar. For example, a nice snifter of Port has 100 grams of residual sugar. Port and other dessert wines should be avoided by anyone trying to limit their sugar intake.

While Port being high in sugar may not come as much of a surprise (after all, it tastes sweet), sometimes a wine’s sugar level does not match its sweetness. All wine contains naturally occurring acids. These acids help to balance the sweetness of the wine, meaning the sugars are not often detectable on the palate. In fact, even the most practiced wine tasters would struggle to tell you how much residual sugar is in a glass on a blind test.

It's also worth noting that the perception of sweetness in wine is not only determined by the amount of residual sugar but also by other components of the wine such as acidity, tannins, and alcohol content. A wine with high acidity may seem less sweet than it really is, while a wine with high alcohol content may seem sweeter. This is why balance is so crucial in winemaking.

So what this means is wines that don’t taste sweet in the slightest can still be considered high-sugar wines. For instance, certain bottles of Australian Shiraz, a generally dry wine, have over 12 grams of sugar per glass.

Cheaper, mass-produced wines are known to be higher in residual sugars. These cheaper wineries often utilize tricks such as adding artificial acids to help balance overly sweet wines, or adding in artificial sugars to add balance to overly sour grapes.

If you are wanting to lower your sugar intake, opt for wines made in small, high-quality wineries that don’t intervene with the natural process of the grapes. Make sure they focus on traditional winemaking techniques. (We've got you covered — Usual Wines does all of the above!)

Choosing Low-Sugar Wine: Your Guide

There are many companies offering sugar-free wines, let’s say first and for all, if these wines have any alcohol in them, they cannot be sugar free. Since sugar is essential in the production of alcohol when winemaking, there must always be some sugar present.

While no wine is entirely sugar free, there are plenty of low-sugar options.

If you favor white wine, opt for a nice glass of dry Riesling, or an Italian Pinot Grigio. If red wines are more your thing, look out for cool-climate Pinot Noirs.

Sparkling wines such as Champagne and Prosecco come in a range of sweetness levels. While there is a market for very sweet sparkling wines, with plenty of residual sugar, they are most commonly on the dry side. This means that sparkling wines are often a good option for those wary of sugar.
If you fancy trying a delicious, naturally low in sugar sparkling wine, check out our Brut. With notes of lemon, elderflower, and bergamot, Usual Wine Brut is light, refreshing, and perfect for special occasions.

Celebrating Sugar In Wine

two Usual Wines bottles on the floor

When it comes to wine, sugar is a fact of life. Sugar is essential in wine production, it's what creates alcohol in all of our favorite tipples. But you shouldn’t be afraid of it — unlike soda, these sugars are naturally occurring, and are simply extracted from grape juice.

While certain wines have high sugar levels, there are plenty of wines on the market that don’t. Cool climate Pinot Noirs, bone dry Rieslings, and lovely sparkling Bruts can stay on the menu, even if you’re trying to avoid sweet treats.

In terms of the sugar content of red wine, it varies greatly depending on the type of wine and the winemaking process. For instance, a dry red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon typically contains less than 2 grams of residual sugar per glass. On the other hand, a sweet red wine like Port can contain up to 100 grams of residual sugar per glass. Remember, the label "dry" indicates that the wine has minimal residual sugar.

Whether you’re trying the keto diet, hosting a diabetic wine lover, or simply want to try something new, check out our shop, where you’ll find a range of naturally low-sugar wines.