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Sugar vs. Fruit

Choose your words carefully and you'll have an easier time finding the right wine.

Sugar is such a commonly misunderstood component of wine here in the United States that I thought it best to be the first thing I tackle. As someone who works in a restaurant in NYC selling wine to customers from all over the U.S. and the world, I am astonished how far behind we are in understanding the basics of wine lingo. After all, as of last year we are now the #1 wine-consuming nation in the world. It is about time we talk like it!

Let me start by informing you that the vast majority of table wine available in the states is, by definition, dry. Dry wines contain such a small amount actual sugar that the average palate cannot detect it. Off dry or demi-sec (“half dry” in French) and sweet wines are really the only time we as consumers should be talking about sugar. To generalize, the majority of these ‘off dry’ style of wines hail from either Alsace or the Loire Valley in France or Germany.

To keep things simple, if you are requesting a “dry Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc” either at your local restaurant or retailer, you need to adjust your vocab!

Most of you who make a request like this are in fact talking about fruit. The flavor profile in fruit varies dramatically from grape to grape, region to region and winemaker to winemaker. It can range from a very tart Granny Smith apple to overripe, stewed pineapple. Many confuse these flavor profiles with dry and sweet, the apple being tart and “dry” and the pineapple being ripe and “sweet.” This does not make you a criminal nor is this intended to call you out. Everyone must learn sometime.

Moral of the story: If you are into drinking wine at any price point, it is good to get familiar with a vocabulary that will help you get what you want to drink in your glass. In this case, making a distinction between underripe, ripe and overripe fruit flavors will help you navigate to something you will enjoy. And you’ll spare yourself the embarrassment of talking about sugar when none is present.

In the coming posts we will discuss other sensitive components of wine like alcohol, acid, body and tannins.