We Talk Dry, But Drink Sweet!

At the Wine Rack

with Christopher Reckord

Thursday, March 02, 2017    

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This past week, I found myself explaining the difference between dry, off-dry and sweet wines over and over again. Most wine consumers are challenged when it comes to describing the type of wine that they like. The time I spent on the floor a few years ago serving wine highlighted the dilemma repeatedly, especially when it came to sweet vs dry wines.

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of hosting an impromptu wine-tasting affair for a small group consisting of individuals who drank wine as their primary beverage of choice, and those who did not. Most indicated a preference for dry wines but were unable to directly pinpoint the reason why. Sweetness is related to the amount of residual sugar (RS) that exists in the finished wine. Remember that during the wine-making process fermentation converts sugar in grape juice into alcohol. The winemaker decides how sweet or dry he or she wants to make the wine, and 100% of the sugar is hardly ever converted. What can further confuse the issue is that alcohol also gives an impression of sweetness.

After approximately six to seven wines were tasted, it was clear that the group was happiest when those wines with higher residual sugar were poured. Most people can’t taste “sweetness” until they reach 5 or 6 grams of sugar per litre, which roughly equates to adding a teaspoon of sugar (or condensed milk) to a cup of coffee. Not many of us will readily admit how much we really like the added sweetness. The amount of RS is not listed on bottles, although some groups have lobbied for it, so it’s up to us in the profession to go searching for these numbers and translate for those we provide services for.

Fruit Sweet or Sugar sweet

I have found that many wine drinkers sometimes confuse fruit flavours in wine with the presence of sugar, so they will describe a wine as being sweet when there is no perceivable RS in that wine at all. What I do is to actually let tasters sip a truly sweet wine so they can experience the presence of sugar. I am trying to use different descriptions with new wine drinkers: describing a wine as fruit sweet vs sugar sweet seems to have had some success.

Wines can be extra-dry, dry, off-dry, medium-dry, medium- sweet or very sweet. Most wines available in Jamaica are dry — meaning they are lacking any sweetness at all. While red wines can sometimes be sweet, more than 90% of them are dry. A popular dry red wine like Meiomi Pinot Noir measures about 6 grams of sugar per litre. Some will argue that this wine’s RS has contributed to its huge success globally. Sweet is not a bad thing; it also goes best with spicy, peppery Jamaican foods.

In the end, simply drink what pleases YOU!

Christopher Reckord — Information Technology Entrepreneur & Wine Enthusiast. Send your questions and comments to You can also follow me on Facebook, Instagram @chrisreckord and on Twitter: @Reckord





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