Breweries, Wine, and Cheese Lifestyle

The Grapevine: Pour Some Sugar on Me

By Elspeth Brown

One of my favorite things in the world is sugar. One January, I gave up sugar for a month and proceeded to get migraines. I figured I might be consuming too much sugar in my daily diet. A large majority of the population has a sweet tooth. I even had a customer once put Splenda in her Riesling because it was not sweet enough. That was a first for me. As much as I love sugar, I know that it is one of the unhealthier aspects of my diet that I need to cut back on. I guess others feel the same way since I have had an uptake in the number of customers interested in sugar-free wines or wines with significantly less sugar.

Possibly a trend, but sugar-free wines are on the rise. Producers are focused on the health-conscious consumer, but the wines offer benefits for those looking to consume less sugar, carbohydrates and alcohol—and fewer calories. But how is sugar-free wine made? Without sugar there would be no wine. Yeast is added to grape juice to make wine. Native yeasts feed on sugar, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. Natural winemakers allow all the native yeast to eat as much sugar as it can until the yeast dies, creating a sugar-free wine. Almost every “dry” wine is low in residual sugar until the winemaker adds sugar to increase the alcoholic strength, a process called chaptalization. This process is illegal in California, but allowed in cooler regions such as Oregon, Bordeaux and Burgundy.

When I was in Sonoma on a tour at Frog’s Leap Winery, I learned that it is illegal to add sugar to wine because then the wine falls into the category of fortified wine. Of course, there are always sneaky ways to get around that. For instance, winemakers will spray the grapes while still on the vine with sugar water. This will promote the grapes still on the vine to ripen faster, producing a higher sugar content and resulting in more juice and a more fruit-forward style of wine. Instead of adding sugar, Frog’s Leap Winery takes a different approach to wine making and uses the dry farming method. Dry farming is farming without irrigation. Wine grape quality benefits from water stress. Lower yields will produce a much more structured wine with concentrated flavors, lower alcohol, intensity and balance.

If sugar-free wines and those lower in sugar are on your radar, I would suggest dry farmed wines, dry whites and dry reds which tend to have an alcohol by volume, or ABV, of 12 percent or less. One of the driest white wines is a French Muscadet made from Melon de Bourgogne grapes, not to be confused with the extremely sweet Muscadine or Moscato wine. Cabernet Sauvignon is a very dry red with substantial tannins, but you must be aware of the alcohol levels as Cabernets tend to run around 13.5 percent and over.

You can still stay healthy while drinking amazing wines. Enjoy!

Elspeth Brown is the owner of Maggie B’s Wine & Specialty Store, 10 C South Main Street in Weaverville. For information, visit or call 828.645.1111.

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