Budget wine breakdown

Hello Prince Albert! When it comes to sweetness in wine, where do your preferences lie? When trying their first wines, many people tend to be more comfortable with sweeter wines like Riesling or Moscato due to their easy-drinking, fruity styles. These wines usually don’t contain bitter or challenging flavors and for some, this is exactly the experience they are looking for. What is a “dry” or “sweet” wine and why does it matter?

It may seem like a strange thing to not understand sweetness in wine but my philosophy when learning about wine is that there are no stupid questions or concerns. I’ve had several customers over the years hear the term “dry wine” and ask me, “Are some wines dry and some wet? I don’t understand!”. Simply put, dry wines contain little to no sugar while the opposite side of the spectrum is sweet wines which have a large quantity of residual sugar. The sugar content of a wine is most often measured by grams per liter; for example, a dry or “brut” sparkling wine will usually contain 6 to 12 grams of sugar, off-dry sparkling wine will have 12 to 16 grams and sweeter or demi-sec sparkling wines will contain between 16 to 32 grams of sugar per liter.

Understanding the amount of sugar you personally enjoy in a wine can help guide you to the appropriate options while having a grasp on overall varietal styles and their sweetness can help you transition into the world of drier wines. My advice is to start where you’re comfortable and make small steps towards dry wines. For instance, those that enjoy Moscato could easily drink a medium-dry to medium-sweet Riesling and still enjoy it, but moving from a Moscato to a bone-dry Sauvignon Blanc would be a larger, more difficult leap to take. How can you possibly know which wines have a higher sugar content than most? This is where learning about varietals can be extremely beneficial. Another excellent aid can be found on store shelf labels which often state the sweetness level either by printed text or colored stickers which work with a color guide or key.

The levels of sweetness in wine range from “dry” (low sugar), “off-dry” (a small amount of sugar), medium-dry (sugar is becoming noticeable), medium-sweet (sugar is very noticeable and is a major component of the flavor) and finally, sweet (high level of sugar). Moscato usually falls into the medium-sweet category where as wines like Riesling and Pinot Grigio can be found in a variety of sweetness levels (Riesling comes in every level from dry to sweet while Pinot Grigio falls between dry and medium-dry). I have excluded “very dry” and “very sweet” as these terms can be subjective.  

Is the sugar found in wine natural or is sugar sometimes added to wine? In most wine-producing countries, the addition of sugar to wine is strictly prohibited as it can cause consumer mistrust due to fraud and mislabeled wines. There are some exceptions to this rule however, as some cold climate growing regions like Germany sometimes require an addition of wine due to a poor growing season or a lack of fruit development which results in lowered levels of sugar. When sugar is added to wine it is usually for conversion into alcohol which can bump a wine from 11.5% to 12 or 12.5%. Often a couple of percentage points are all that is necessary. This addition of sugar is know as “chaptalization”, named after its French inventor Jean-Antoine Chaptal.

Sugar may be added to Champagne as well in a mixture known as “liquer de dosage”, which contains nutrients, sugar, wine and water. In this instance, the addition of a “dosage” allows the wine to referment, trapping CO2 and creating bubbles in the wine. In other areas of the world like Portugal, a Brandy-like liquor AKA aguardente is added to Port which not only slows the yeast to a standstill and stops fermentation but it also bumps the alcohol level up several points to around 17 or 20% ABV. When the final product is complete, a bottle of Port can technically contain up to 20 or 30% Brandy spirit (aguardente). This was initially done to preserve the wine for long voyages around the equator.

The budget wines tasted this week were both surprisingly good. I expected the Jackson Triggs Pinot to be sweeter and flabbier (out of balance with sugar) but to my surprise, it is crisp and clean with light citrus flavors. The Moscato was also very enjoyable and while I usually don’t enjoy sweet wines as much, it was easy to drink and the intensity was pleasantly high. Don’t be wary of these cheaper budget wines, they both deliver a tasty, fruity experience and are both BBQ friendly. The wine you’ll pick will depend on how sweet you like it! Here are my wine picks of the week!     

Barefoot Moscato: (California, USA). Medium-sweet white, pale lemon color. The aromas of this wine jump out of the glass with juicy peaches, pears and apples and make the mouth water with anticipation. On the palate, this high-intensity Moscato delivers a plentitude of ripe, juicy stone/orchard fruits with fresh peaches, pink lady apples, apricots, nectarines, apple juice, pear candies and a slightly effervescent quality which makes the tongue tingle and buzz. The acidity is medium-plus which balances the medium-bodied, fruity style of the wine. The effervescence and acidity combine to create a light numbing sensation in the mouth (something I typically experience with most Moscato) and the finish is quite quick and simple, however, the delicate buzz of acidity keeps the flavors fresh and I found myself wanting just one more taste several times. I really enjoyed the tangy, fruity style of this wine despite the higher sugar level. The flavors are simple and not complex but this is a good bottle to share with a friend on a hot day. No need to think too deeply about this Californian white, just drink it and enjoy it while pairing it with fresh fruits, soft cheeses or desserts. Good! $14, 9% ABV 

Jackson Triggs Pinot Grigio: (Product of Canada). Dry to off-dry white, pale lemon color. The nose is light and simple with fruity green pear, apples and citrus (lemon). To the taste, this Pinot is surprisingly intense with flavorful concentration. Medium-plus intense notes of green apples, pears, citrus zest and peels (lemon/lime) with zippy, medium-plus acidity. The acidity tingles nicely on quick finish while lemon/lime peel bitterness creates a pleasant mouthfeel. The citrus character of the wine really pops with its crisp, bright flavors and light body. The acidic component of the wine provides an excellent lift which elevates this simple Pinot Grigio and makes me come back for sip after sip. I’m impressed by this entry-level wine and it would pair well with citrus-oriented foods like lemon potatoes, Greek riblets, chicken piccata or grilled porkchops with herbs de Provence seasoning and lemon juice. Good! $14, 12% ABVCheers and thanks for reading!