ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

If you want to sweeten your wine as a finishing touch, should you use a regular store-bought sugar?

—Alex, Reykjavik, Iceland

Dear Alex,

I couldn’t tell by your question if you’re asking as a home winemaker or as a wine consumer who’s found yourself staring down a tart glass of wine. I don’t know much about home winemaking, but if that’s the question you’re asking, you should look into chaptalization, which is the process of adding sugar or a sweet concentrate to grapes before or during fermentation.

If instead you’ve poured a glass of wine that you don’t like very much and think it could use some sugar, I guess you could try adding some, but I doubt it will dissolve very well. I’ve never tried it, but perhaps instead add simple sugar, which is essentially sugar dissolved in water already, so it will be a bit more soluble in wine. I also can recommend turning wine into sangria, which I’ve done many times. By adding some fresh fruit, some fruit juice and a splash of brandy, perhaps you’ll turn that bottle around into something more appealing.

I wonder—if it’s a red wine that you’re drinking—if perhaps you’re serving it too cold. (After all, you live in Iceland.) When a red wine is overly chilled, the flavors become muted, but if it warms up a bit in your hands, you might find that the wine’s inherent fruit flavors become more expressive.

Moving forward, if you find that you like wines on the sweeter, riper side, next time you go into a wine shop, just say so. Nothing wrong with that—simply say, “I found that last bottle of wine wasn’t sweet enough for me, so can you recommend something else?”

—Dr. Vinny


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