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Acidity key in sweet wine’s palatability

Acidity key in sweet wine’s palatability

A common refrain from readers: “I really enjoy sweet wines, but not too sweet.”

It’s a statement I value because many wine drinkers enjoy wines with some detection of sweetness. Knowing what makes some wines sweeter than others and the levels of sweetness help in understanding why we enjoy some wines over others.

A wine’s sweetness is measured in terms of residual sugar. It’s the level of natural grape sugar left after fermentation. Once the grapes are crushed they feed on the grapes’ sugars to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. There is usually a small amount of sugar left in the fermentation process in all wines, regardless of yeast or varietal. The industry considers those having less than 2 grams of sugar per liter dry. (There are other methods of production to achieve sweet wines such as port, sauternes, ice wine.)

Many people confuse “dry” and “sweet” when trying to explain the characteristics. The most common misconception for a dry wine is that it will “dry” out your mouth when tasting. This sensation has nothing to do with sweetness. When wines create the dry sensation in the mouth, it is usually a detection of tannin levels and not caused by being dry. Dry refers to wines that are not sweet. Sweet wines are a little easier in descriptions; the wine will generally have a taste of sweetness on the tip of your tongue.

Technical sheets from your favorite wineries, often available online, will generally list the sugar levels in a wine. But in my years of tasting wines I have found there are many variables in your perceived tasting if a wine is sweet or dry. The most important to me is the acidity — the Granny Smith apple reaction you have on your palate. If the wine has high acidity it can still have a high sugar content, but you don’t notice the sugar and sweetness.

My best advice: When you find a wine with the sweetness level you enjoy, give the name and brand to your liquor retailer. He or she can guide you on similar sweetness levels in other wines.


  • 2016 Clean Slate Riesling, Germany (about $12 retail)


  • 2013 Bockstein Riesling, Germany (about $32 retail)
Travel conditions led to fortified wines

Travel conditions led to fortified wines

When we think of wine we usually think in terms of red or white, but there is another, almost forgotten, world of fortified and sweet wines.

Most fortified wines are a mixture of brandy and wine. As with most drinks in the wine world, there is historic reasoning behind this practice. Before modern transportation with its speed and controlled environment, wines had to be able to endure long journeys with extreme temperature fluctuations that threatened ruining the entire shipment in route. Knowing wines with high alcohol could survive this journey, producers began adding brandy to wines that would be traveling long distances.

The fortified wines most familiar are port and sherry. Port is fortified by adding the spirits before the wine has fully fermented, producing a sweet product. Sherry is fully fermented before the alcohol is added, resulting in a (comparatively) dry fortified wine.

Sherry can also be sweet. Sherry’s range stretches from bone dry Fino that is wonderful accompanied by a bowl of mixed nuts to intensely sweet Pedro Ximenez (PX) sherry that is delicious drizzled over ice cream.


  • NV Osborne Sherry, Spain (about $14 retail)


  • 2010 LBV Taylor Fladgate Port, Portugal (about $26 retail)

Buyers becoming sweet on muscat grape

Muscat GrapesFor years dry wines have been viewed as the “it” wines. But it seems Americans are sweetening their palates. Muscat is edging in as one of the most sought-after wines in the world. According to A.C. Nielsen data this sweet trend resulted in a 156.3 percent increase in sweet white wine volume in 2010.

That’s a lot of consumers going to the sweet side.

The muscat grape, unlike many other wine grapes, is also enjoyed as a table grape. It has a distinctive flavor. If you’ve enjoyed it as a table grape, you’ll most likely instantly recognize the flavor as a wine.

The grape color ranges from white to brown to almost black and can be made into numerous styles ranging from sparkling white to the rich, dark fortified wines of Australia.

The best known are muscat blanc a petits grains (muscat blanc for short) and muscat of Alexandria. The muscat blanc grape is the oldest variety and creates the most concentrated grape flavors. It produces wines both dry and sweet. Muscat of Alexandria is used for intense dessert-style sweet wines. Muscat’s light white styles are drawing the attention of wine drinkers not only for the delectable taste of honey, peach and almond but consumer-friendly price tags.


  • NV Yellowtail Moscato, Australia (about $10 retail)
  • 2011 Zonin Moscato, Italy (about $10 retail)
  • 2011 Cavit Moscato, Italy (about $11 retail)
  • 2011 Mezzacorona Moscato, Italy (about $11 retail)
  • 2011 Bella Sera Moscato, Italy (about $9 retail)


  • 2009 Hugel Muscat, France (about $26 retail)
  • 2011 Folonari Moscato, Italy (about $14 retail)
  • 2011 Voga Moscato, Italy (about $15 retail)