Guide : savoir reconnaître un vin blanc sucré ou sec

Guide: knowing how to recognize a sweet or dry white wine

Just like red wines, white wines come in several types of wine. Some may be sweeter, and others drier. It is then interesting to be able to distinguish them to put feelings into words, to define your personal tastes, but also to ensure the best food and wine pairings. So let's find out how to distinguish a sweet white wine from a dry white wine .

Dry or sweet white wine: what makes the difference?

The sugar content is not the same for all wines. This can be explained in different ways, and several elements come into play to define the quality of the wine.

The different grape varieties

The first element that directly influences the sugar level of a white wine is the grape variety chosen for winemaking. Indeed, each variety of grape has its unique characteristics which make it possible to produce wines with a different color, aromas, or even sugar content.

It seems logical that a sweet grape produces sweet wines . This is particularly the case for Gewurztraminer, Muscat, and Riesling. Conversely, grape varieties with low sugar content generally produce dry wines, such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris.

However, the sugar in white wines does not depend solely on the grape variety. In fact, the sugar level also essentially depends on the degree of maturity of the grapes . Depending on the sunshine, the terroir, the rain and the viticulture method, the grapes are more or less full of sugar. This is also why the wine regions of the south of France produce sweet white wines, while the north of the country is more devoted to dry wines. As you will have understood, climatic conditions play a very important role in the taste of wine.

Harvest time

As we have seen, the maturity of the grape plays a crucial role in the sugar level of a wine. Logically, the longer the winemaker lets it reach its full maturation, the more likely it is to be sweet. This is also the primary goal of late harvests . Conversely, early harvests often produce less sweet and more acidic grapes, and therefore dry white wines.

The harvest date is therefore of great importance, and the winegrower is not the only decision-maker at this crucial moment. Each grape variety has a ripening schedule, which requires an in-depth analysis of the grape to know its optimal sugar level . Furthermore, the start of the harvest is also regulated by the prefecture. Once the prefectural decree authorizing harvests is formalized, winegrowers are free to pick their grapes whenever they want.

Alcoholic fermentation

The last element to take into account to determine the quantity of sugar in a white wine is the fermentation technique chosen by the winemaker. After harvesting and pressing the grapes, the juice is placed in vats for fermentation. During this process, the sugars naturally present in the juice will transform into alcohol, under the action of the yeasts.

Logically, the longer the alcoholic fermentation , the more the sugars will disappear, in favor of the alcohol. Wines with a high alcohol content are therefore generally dry wines that have undergone long fermentation. Sweet wines are wines resulting from a shortened fermentation process.

The sweetness of a wine can also depend on the container in which the wine will mature. For example, in an oak barrel, the wine will develop aromas which will amplify the sweetness of the wine. Finally, sweet wines can also be subject to the addition of grape must during fermentation, in order to sweeten it further.

Of course, other elements come into play, such as noble rot , which increases the sugar content, the vintage, or the blend of different grape varieties.

Sweet or dry white wine, how do you know?

In the mouth, it is very easy to distinguish sweet wines from dry wines, or even sweet wines. But faced with the dozens of bottles of wine in your wine merchant or in your supermarket wine section, the distinction is not so simple. Several elements can then help you choose.

Wine bottle label

It is very rare to find the residual sugar content of a white wine on the bottle label. On the other hand, more and more winegrowers are choosing to inform wine lovers about the qualities of their wines, in particular to make the best food and wine pairings. Thus, certain mentions give you a precise indication of the sugar concentration of a wine:

  • dry white wine ”: 4 grams of sugar per liter maximum;
  • semi-dry white wine ”: between 4 and 12 grams per liter of white wine;
  • sweet white wine ”: 12 to 45 grams of sugar per liter;
  • sweet wine ”: more than 45 grams per liter of wine.

The color of wine

Of course, it is not always easy to distinguish the color of a wine through a bottle. However, this information can guide you in choosing your white wines. In fact, sweet white wines, with a high sugar content, have a very yellow and very dark color compared to dry white wines. The latter are pale yellow with green highlights .

Examples of dry and sweet white wines

If you can't trust the color of the coat , or you can't remember the different sugar levels, there are some safe values ​​to know.

Among the most famous sweet white wines , you can therefore turn to different vintages:

  • Sauternes (Bordeaux);
  • Riesling (Germany or Alsace);
  • Moscato d’Asti (Italy);
  • Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise (Rhône);
  • Coteaux du Layon (Loire)...

When it comes to dry white wines , certain sure values ​​will never fail you:

  • Chablis (Burgundy);
  • Pinot gris (Alsace);
  • Pouilly-Fumé (Loire);
  • Chardonnay (Burgundy);
  • Sancerre (Loire);
  • Vermentino (Italy)...

You'll notice, as we've explained, that sweet wines generally come from sunny wine regions , while sweet, dry wines tend to come from cooler regions . Above all, we notice that France stands out for its wide variety of white wines, as is also the case with red wines and rosé wines.

White wine does not have a single character and it comes in several types of wine. You now know how to distinguish a sweet white wine from a dry white wine , all you have to do is practice and taste to find out what your preferences are.


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