Betty's Wine Musings

Did you know that one of the most common challenges in the wine world is the distinction between sweet and fruity wine? In this article, I’ll explain some of that confusion.

Are Sweet and Fruity Wine Not One and the Same?

A lot of people assume that a fruity wine is a sweet wine and a sweet wine is a fruity wine. But low and behold, this is not the case. You can have a very fruity wine that is bone dry. You can also have a wine that isn’t very fruity that is quite sweet.

What Makes a Wine Sweet?

When grape juice is fermented, yeast is added to the vat of grape juice, converting the sugar in the grape juice to alcohol. If all of the sugar is fermented, you have bone dry wine. If most of the sugar is fermented, you have wine that is quite dry. If a lot of the sugar is left unfermented, you have sweet wine.

What Makes a Wine Fruity?

According to Wine Folly, the fruity flavors come from aroma compounds, which fall into three main groups: Fruit/floral/herbal, spice and earth. Esters provide the foundation for the fruit flavors.

Why the Confusion?

  • Tannin: Most people associate dry wine with red wine, and with the tannins in red wine. The tannins are the stuff that causes the astringent flavor that makes your mouth pucker. But tannins have very little to do with how dry the wine is. Dryness is the absence of sweetness, not the presence of tannins. A wine can be tannic and sweet. And white wines, which typically don’t have tannins, can be dry.
  • Fruit flavors: Since fruit is sweet, when people taste fruit in a wine, they assume the wine is sweet. But fruit flavors and sweetness are distinct. A jammy zinfandel is a good example of a wine that is bursting with fruit flavors, even though it has almost no sugar in it.

Looking at the Alcohol Content

A good way to tell whether a wine is sweet is to look at its alcohol content. As mentioned earlier, during wine making, the sugar in the grape juice is converted to alcohol, making the alcohol level inversely related to the sugar level: High alcohol equals low sugar; low alcohol equals high sugar. If you see a wine that has high alcohol (over 13%), even if it tastes sweet, it’s not.

Fruit-forward Wine vs. Sweet Wine

If you like a wine that has prominent fruit flavors but not a strong sugary sensation, you really want a wine that is fruit forward.

A Good Test

A good way to differentiate sugar from fruit is to eliminate the sense of smell from the equation. Sugar is a taste you experience in your mouth, while fruit is more aromatic. So if a wine smells and tastes sweet, plug your nose and taste it again. A wine that is actually will still taste sweet, while a fruity dry wine will lose most of those sweet characteristics.

I hope this helps explain the complexity of distinguishing between sweet and fruity wine. If you have other methods you use to help make the distinction, please share them with us. Thanks.

As an independent wine consultant with WineShop At Home, I absolutely enjoy bringing a taste of the Napa wine country home to you one sip at a time. Whether you simply love to drink wine, seek a special personalized wine gift, or are in search of a new wine jobs opportunity as a wine consultant, feel free to contact me for a truly unique wine tasting experience!

Cheers, Betty Kaufman
WineShop At Home

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