Health Q&A: Do winemakers add sugar to wine?

Jun 25, 2009

Q: Is wine made with white sugar or are the sugars the naturally occurring grape sugars? -- Meredith

A: Sugar, in the form of glucose, sucrose or fructose, is an essential component in the process of alcoholic fermentation, in which yeast metabolizes sugar into ethanol (alcohol) and carbon dioxide. For beers and whiskys, the sugar comes from starchy cereal grains. For wine, the sugar comes from grapes. The riper the grape, the more sugar in the fruit there is to convert to alcohol. Sometimes when grapes are not as ripe as winemakers would like, they add cane or beet sugar before fermentation is complete to achieve a higher amount of alcohol, a process called chaptalization. This is more common in cooler areas, such as Oregon, Bordeaux, Burgundy or Long Island, where grapes tend to ripen less quickly. For dry wines, nearly all of the sugars (either naturally occurring or added) are converted to alcohol. (Members of WineSpectator.com: Learn more about chaptalization.) Other processes in which sugar may be added to wine is in during the production of sparkling wines. Sugar can be added to encourage the secondary fermentation, as well as in the "dosage" of bottle-fermented sparkling wines, when a mixture of sugar and wine is added to the bottle after the yeast sediment is removed. The amount of sugar added in the dosage will determine how sweet the final product is, which will be relayed to the consumer on the bottle's label.

Health Q & A

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