June 28, 2021
What Is Low-Sugar Wine and What Are Its Benefits?
Many people think that if they’re watching their sugar intake, they have to avoid wine altogether. While there are plenty of wines that are high in sugar, the good news is that there are also lots of wines that you can drink even if you’re on a low-sugar or low-carb diet.
The key is paying attention to what type of wine and the quality of wine that you’re drinking. The fact that there are no labeling requirements in the United States can make this a little tricky, but knowing what to look for can ensure that you’re able to enjoy great wine that’s low in sugar.
Sugar and the Winemaking Process
Sugar is an essential ingredient in the winemaking process. In the fermentation process, natural sugars are converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide. Any remaining sugar after the fermentation process is complete is residual, which is what really matters to consumers.
There are a number of factors impacting the amount of residual sugar in wines, including:
- When the grapes are harvested. The riper the grape, the higher the sugar content. This means that late-harvest wines, like Chenin Blanc and Riesling, are generally higher in sugar.
- Whether noble rot exists. The presence of noble rot, a vegetation eating spore, can increase the sugar level. This might sound inherently unappealing, but there are some winemakers that use noble rot for the unique flavor it adds in sweet wines.
- How long the wine is fermented. Some winemakers stop the fermentation process early, which leads to wines that are higher in sugar. As Maryann Walsh, MFN, RD, a dietician and certified diabetes educator, explains, “the sweetness of wine is determined by how long it is fermented.”
- Chaptalization. While it’s often a controversial topic in the wine industry, some winemakers add sugar to wine through a process called chaptalization. Illegal in many regions, this practice increases the alcohol level more than the sugar level.
The key is that even though sugar is required for the winemaking process, all wine is not high in sugar. There are a number of factors that impact the level of sugar, so it’s important to focus on the winemaking process and the type of wine you’re drinking.
Benefits of Low-Sugar Wine
There are lots of health benefits that come from reducing your sugar intake, including reducing your risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Consuming less sugar also can help with balancing your moods, increasing your energy levels, and improving your sleep.
Beyond the well-documented health benefits of reducing overall sugar intake, consuming alcohol with less sugar can reduce your risk of feeling hungover or having a headache after drinking wine.
As many people have anecdotally realized, alcoholic drinks with higher sugar levels lead to worse hangovers. There are a few reasons that this might be the case. First, both sugar and alcohol lead to dehydration, which can cause headaches. Second, both sugar and alcohol are processed through the liver. Consuming beverages that are high in sugar and contain alcohol means that your liver is working harder, not able to process it all. This makes you feel tipsy sooner, often leading to a more severe hangover.
The bottom line is that drinking low-sugar wines is a way to enjoy wine while also achieving your nutrition goals, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and feeling your best.
How to Select Low-Sugar Wines
One of the great things about wine is that each winemaker produces wine a little differently. However, this means that there’s no perfect rule for selecting low-sugar wines. That said, there are a few things you can keep in mind that will make the decision process easier.
Here are a few things to consider when selecting wine:
- Dry white wines are the best option for low sugar wines
- Wines from France, Italy, and Greece are usually dryer than wines from other regions
- Cheap, mass-produced wines often mean added sugar and other additives
- Look for winemakers focused on traditional winemaking techniques
- Look for wines described as: dry, extra dry, bone dry or brut
- Avoid wines described as: dessert, late harvest, ice wine, dolce, demi sec, or semi sec
While each winemaker is different, there are some wines that are generally lower in sugar, with around 1-3 grams of sugar per 5-ounce serving. Red wines that fall into this category are:
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Pinot Noir
White wines that have lower sugar content include:
- Pinot Grigio
- Sauvignon Blanc
In contrast, there are some types of wines that are known for being high in sugar and should be avoided. For example, Riesling, Cabernet, Zinfandel, Chenin Blanc, and Port.
At Gratsi, when we began working with winemakers and structuring our blends, we focused on creating a great product that is low in sugar. As a result, we make the best low-sugar wines available. Our Gratsi white has 0.035 grams of sugar per serving and our Gratsi Red has 0.2 grams of sugar per serving.