Where does the Sugar in Wine Come From?
Wine is made from the process of converting the grape's innate sugar to alcohol via fermentation. Simply stated, if a wine's fermentation is stopped well before all of the sugar is converted to alcohol, the wine will contain more residual sugar and taste sweeter on the palate. Many sweet dessert wines, late harvest wines, fortified wines, and many regional Rieslings with lower alcohol levels (under 11% abv) contain elevated sugar levels.
Which Wines have the Lowest Levels of Residual Sugar?
Dry Reds and Dry Whites: Both dry red wines and dry white wines will tend to be lower in residual sugar levels weighing in at 0.1-0.3% sugar per liter (or 1 to 3 grams of sugar per liter of wine).
Champagne: Looking to lower sugar intake on bubblies? Then opt for extra dry, brut, or extra brut sparkling wine and Champagne as the residual sugar levels will be in the 0.6 - 2.0% sugar per liter range (or 6 to 20 grams of sugar per liter of wine), with extra brut being the driest wine and lowest in sugar content.
Off-Dry Wines: Typically bringing the residual sugar range up to 1-3% sugar (or 10 to 30 grams of sugar per liter), off-dry wines feature a little more sweet on the palate.
Fortified Wines: The sweeter side of fortified wines (like port, sherry and marsala) can weigh in as high as 15% residual sugar (or 150 grams of sugar per liter) but often runs a little lower in the 5% range.
Late Harvest Wines: While certainly known for being a sweet treat, and often served as dessert itself, late harvest wines can run as high as 20+% residual sugar with a whopping 200 grams (or more) of sugar per liter.