This is the third post in the Introduction to Wine series.
Basic Style Part 1
This post we will explore wine's sweetness. Do you remember your first impression of wine or beer when you were young? "Yuck!" was my impression of my father's Hennessy XO Cognac at 12 years old. My impression of alcoholic beverages was pungent, sour, and smelly. I didn't understand how people liked that stuff. Then, there was the super fruity punch and Mike's hard lemonade in high school, you know, when drinking was "cool". Then, it was the white Zinfandel and sweet wines in university. Other wine drinks used to mock me for liking sweeter wines, but the same people are now buying expensive German Auslese. Wine is like clothing. Different styles of wines become popular over time. Nothing wrong with sweet wines.
Grape juice is naturally sweet, but, as it ferments (to make wine), the yeast feed on the grape sugars during fermentation. The juice becomes less sweet. Yeast will die once he alcohol reaches 15% or when all the sugar have been used. Any sugar remaining in the wine once in yeast are dead will determine how sweet the wine is. Often, the fermentation is halted artificially to ensure certain sweetness level.
The majority of the wine out there will be dry, because the yeast will have turned all the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Most red wine and the majority of white are dry, although some are drier than others. When you cannot taste any sugar at all in the wine, it is referred to as bone dry. If there is a subtle hint of sweetness, it is off-dry.
Medium sweet wine will usually be white or rosé. To make a medium wine, the winemaker will either remove the yeast from the juice before all the sugar has been consumed or add unfermented sweet grape juice to dry wine. A medium wine should have sweetness but not be cloying or sickly. Many popular wines from Germany and as well as Blue/White Zinfandel Zinfandel from California.
Sweet wine is very sweet. Often the sugar will make the wine feel thicker and richer. The best sweet wines are made from grapes so rich in sugar the yeast dies before all the sugar is consumed. Often sweet wines will be balanced in flavour due to refreshing acidity in the wine. Sauternes, Asti, and Port would be some examples.