The religion against residual sugar in wine is in full swing around the wine world. Too much residual sugar here, too much residual sugar there… But what exactly are we talking about ?
Thanks to pressure from the public and certain wine columnists, the level of residual sugar has been displayed on some wine labels. The upside is that it has made it possible to “unmask” the big sugar sellers including mass industrial wines such as Ménage à trois and other Apothic Red type of wine (between 11 and 16 g/L) and other “treats”. But…
Where does this residual sugar come from?
No, it’s not about adding a few tablespoons of sugar to raise the sugar level. As its name suggests, it is residual sugar that remains in wine after the fermentation of the grape must which transforms the sugar into alcohol. But during this process, sometimes not all sugar is converted into alcohol. The winemaker must then try (or not, according to his style) to balance the wine with the acidity. A wine is considered dry if the residual sugar content does not exceed 4 grams per litre. You will agree, it’s not a lot. By the way, a 355ml can of Coke contains 35 grams of sugar, or 7 sugar cubes.
The sugar hunt
The problem is that now the consumer often asks, “I want to drink wine without residual sugar.” Alright, so no more Sauternes and sweet wines. And farewell to Champagnes which have an average of 10 grams per liter… Oh Horrid ! , say some, arms in the air. Quick, let’s get zero dosage… and banish all the others… And the delicious amarone then? What ? 8 grams per litre! Vade Retro Satanas! Heresy, right? And, believe it or not, those who seek this “sugar-free” wine are sometimes the same ones who take the opportunity to buy “coolers” and other liquid sweets.
What about acidity?
In general, sugar should be balanced with acidity. You should know that wine contains between 2 and 7 grams of acids per litre. This acidity comes from the grape first and then from the fermentation process. We are talking here about citric acid (lemon), lactic acid, malic acid or tartaric acid to take the best known. This acidity content is also measured in terms of pH. If the pH is 7, it is called neutral pH (like water). For wine, in general, we speak of a pH of 3 to 4. In summary, the lower the pH, the more acidic the product. In summary, a wine that lacks acidity is soft, while a very acidic wine will be perceived as not ripe enough and not very pleasant. Thus, a wine will be, according to the perceived acidity, flat, hollow, lean, balanced, fresh, nervous, lively, tangy or even aggressive.
The measurement of acidity is very interesting but is very rarely mentioned by the producer or the retailer since everyone is obsessed with sugar. Would the tree hide the forest? In fact, the data is theoretical since everyone perceives acidity differently, because of several factors such as the production of saliva for example and the difference between the taste buds of each and every one.
Acidity as important as sugar
If the pH is low, therefore more acidic, it will thus be able to temper a higher than normal residual sugar in a wine. And vice versa, since sugar reduces the acid sensation that we perceive. The fact remains that acidity is of major importance for the conservation of wines in the medium and long term since it protects the wine against oxidation. Thus, superb Sauternes, Ports and other sweets can age so beautifully.
It’s all about balance
So let’s stop making residual sugar a threat. Let’s not forget the acidity which is also there, to “get in touch” with sugar and manage to get a good compromise in the glass ! In conclusion, when enjoying a white wine, we must find this balance if possible between acidity (which makes you salivate when you taste it), sugar and alcohol. For red wine, it’s the same, but we also add the tannic dimension. In short, the alcohol, tannins, acidity and sugar must play a good part in unison to guarantee the balance of the wine… So there is no need to ban champagne, port, Sauternes and other amarone since the acidity is there to stand up to residual sugar… Let’s stop sacrificing wine on the altar of sweetness…
By the way, and your coffee, with or without sugar? Cheers !