According to the wine experts from Ackers Wines, many (or even the majority) of wine lovers and professional tasters begin their journey with sweet wines, as sweeter alcohols are less demanding (or shocking) for unaccustomed palates. And this is the right move if you want to start exploring. You can begin with sweeter whites and rosés to get used to tannin that’s higher in reds.
What makes wine sweet?
Most often, it’s not sugar. In fact, in some wine-making regions (e.g., California), it is illegal to add sugar to wine. In general, the sweetness of a specific wine type depends on the time of the grape harvest and the length of the period of fermentation; also, the chosen wine-making process, the vineyard location, and the type of grapes. The more mellow the grapes, the sweeter the wine, but then, when you add yeast to grape juice or grapes, it starts fermenting – it means that sugar is being converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide. It usually happens to around 55% of sugar. If the fermentation lasts longer, the wine will start to become more dry than sweet (and also more alcoholic).
In some wine-making regions, winemakers allow a particular mold to develop on the grapes. It concentrates the sugar, which intensifies their taste. The same result can be achieved if a winemaker allows the grapes to freeze on the vine.
In Italy, for example, winemakers harvest the grapes and leave them on straw mats for about four months.
Wine sweetness point system
Also known as wine sweetness chart or a dryness scale, it helps winemakers determine how sweet their wine is and how it should be labeled. The chart ranges from dry to sweet, and it looks like this:
- 00/0 – dry
- 1-2 – off-dry
- 3-4 – medium-dry or semi-sweet
- 5-6 – sweet
- 7+ – very sweet
The final number of points depends on a couple of things: residual sugar (sugar not converted into alcohol during fermentation) and how much acid there is in the wine.
However, there are some exceptions. There are kinds of champagne that taste slightly sweet but are classified as dry. Also, most red wines are labeled as dry, despite the differences in sweetness.
The guide to sweet wines
Not all sweet wines taste the same; in fact, it’s impossible to find two wines that would taste exactly the same. Here are some narrower categories to help you explore:
Here you can find the broadest range of sweet wines. White wines, while they are not all sweet, are generally sweeter than their red counterparts. For example, Moscato wines are usually bubbly white wines made of a variety of grapes from Piedmont, Italy. It’s fresh, light, and delicate with the subtle taste of fruit flavors like pineapple, pear or orange. It’s widely-known and popular, especially that it’s low in alcohol so that it can be safely drunk with all kinds of meals.
Pink wines are, in general, sweeter and more fresh than red and white ones. The choice is not that wide, but it’s a great category to start with. For example, Pink Moscato is a sweet dessert wine, a little bit bubbly (but still not champagne), very often with the touch of peaches, berries, pomegranates or cherries. Light and delicate, it’s perfect for summer, fruits, tarts and fruity cakes.
Not all red wines are dry and full of tannin, and you really can find some fantastic sweet red wines to try. For example, Red Muscat is a one-of-a-kind medium-bodied red wine mixed with some Moscato. What’s more, it pairs well with dishes commonly recommended to red wines and with desserts, even those heavy ones, like dark chocolate cake or chocolate mousse.
These are wines that are impossible to be classified as either white, red or pink. They are the closest to red wines, a bit more alcoholic, and widely drunk with various desserts. As the name suggests, it comes from Portugal, where they even add a little bit of brandy to it. For example, Tawny ports are very often compared to Scotches and Cognacs but appreciated for not being as highly-alcoholic. They are very often mixed with flavors of figs, dates or prunes. They are best when consumed with desserts or cheese. On the other hand, we have Ruby ports, the youngest, yet the most popular type combined of various kinds of wines along with the flavors of berries, as well as nuts and caramel. Usually, ruby ports are being drunk after meals.
Taste, taste, taste
Each person is different. Some people are more sensitive to tannin than others, while others may be less into sweetness. Wines are so versatile that it’s almost impossible not to find something perfect for your taste. But no matter your taste and preferences, everyone can become a wine expert.