Wine Sweetness Chart: Dry vs Sweet Wine

Wine Sweetness Chart: Dry vs Sweet Wine

Wine Sweetness

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Not all of us are wine experts. We may enjoy drinking it, but knowing the subtler nuances of its composition, flavour and compatibility with varied foods? Now those are things we leave to the pros, the connoisseurs.

But every now and then, you may find yourself in a situation where having known a little bit more about wines would have been a relief. Say, an important dinner with guests having more specific preferences than “the best Red you have”. Or a meeting with some fancy folk who are very clued up on their drinks and expect you to be too?

Well, having some basic knowledge about wines could not hurt. This is not to suggest that everyone needs to study extensively, the many features of different wines. This is only to say that knowing the basics will hold you in good stead in all kinds of social situations.

One of the most basic topics broached when it comes to preferences in wine is the comparison of dry and sweet wines. How many times have you been asked which you like better? A lot of people unthinkingly say sweet wine, because, well, it seems like the tastier one! But wouldn’t you rather have a more informed opinion? Read on to know the difference between sweet and dry wines.

The Technicality

As the nomenclature suggests, wines lift with a greater content of sugar residue after fermentation are deemed sweet and those left with negligible amounts are called dry wines. There is actually a standard parameter called the LCBO Sugar Code which determines whether a wine is sweet or dry. Mostly, the code has a range from 0 to 30, with 0 indicating extreme dryness and 30 indicating extreme sweetness. The various classifications within this scale are as follows:

  • 0: Very dry
  • 1 – 2: Dry
  • 3 – 6: Medium (may be referred to as “Semi-dry”, “Semi-sweet or “Off-dry” too.
  • 7 and above: Sweet
  • 20 and above: Often called “Dessert” Wines and used for making puddings.

While the scale is a standard code for typification of wines, it is not the absolute marker of the nature of a wine. The way a wine is finally perceived – whether it tastes sweet or dry – depends upon various other factors too, including acidity, alcohol content and presence of tannins.

The Fermentation Process

The essential difference between sweet and dry wines arises as a consequence of variance in their respective fermentation processes. While the method of producing dry wine is pretty much the same for all varieties, sweet wines may be made using one of four different processes. These are explained in detail here.

Dry Wine – Dry wines are made by fermenting the juice of grapes using yeast. The yeast eats all the sugar, creating alcohol in the process. When the fermentation process is allowed to continue till the ultimate moment, the sugar content in the wine produced is negligible. Wine is never absolutely devoid of sugar but in the wines clocking 0 on the LCBO, there is less than .5% of residual sugar.

The difference between the sugar content of dry wines – where the fermentation is allowed to finish completely – is contingent upon the natural sweetness of grapes used. Sweeter grapes are used to make dry and medium wines while the more tart ones are used for very dry varieties.

Sweet Wine – There are four popular processes used for making sweet wine. Depending upon the purpose, location and infrastructure available to the producer, the nature of process used is determined. The four processes are explained below.

  • The most common method of making sweet wine is using grapes that have been harvested late. Mature grapes tend to be sweeter with lower acidity such that even when the fermentation is complete, the sugar level in the wine is high. Also, since there is a lack of tartness, the sweet taste is more pronounced. This method is mostly used by producers who harvest their own grapes and purposely use mature ones for fermentation.
  • In areas with cooler climates, naturally grown grapes tend to be more acidic. When these grapes are used to produce wine, sugar is often added to the juice to off-set its extreme tartness, and make the wine sweeter. If the juice is allowed to ferment as is, the final wine produced will then probably fall within the Very Dry category.
  • Drying grapes that are not yet fully mature in the sun tends to increase their sweetness and produce a less acidic juice. Thus, some wine producers harvest their grapes early, dry them in the sun and then begin the fermentation process. This allows for the production of sweet wines that are fairly acidic as well.
  • In some cases, mature grapes are allowed to freeze while on the vine before being subjected to pressing. With such methodology, the frozen water is retained in the grapes and the juice becomes like condensed syrup that is highly sweet. After fermentation, the wine thus produced usually is very sweet. It is then not surprising that most Dessert Wines are made this way.


Food Pairings

Over the years, trends in the gourmet industry have undergone change with regard to food and wine pairings. However, keeping up with these trends is the job of sommeliers and not us ordinary folk. Unless you want to be very thorough and intend on following how the professionals are doing it, keep your food and wine pairings conventional. Here are some insights on what you can do.

Dry Wines – These are best suited for meals which are rich, fatty and wholesome. The acidity of dry wines cuts through the excess fat to provide relief and a lighter meal. Pairing it with meat-based dishes and sea food is thus a great idea.

Sweet Wines – These are usually paired with food that is hot and spicy. The sweetness of such wine balances the spice and some respite from the bold flavours. Food with curries, Asian or Mexican flavours or generally high spice content go well with sweet wines.

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