Since 4100BC, we have been enjoying the beautiful blends of grapes in the form of wine. Still embedded in everyday culture, a glass of wine at dinner is the glue between classes. However, in today’s era we are rightly a lot more suspicious of our nutritional intake, which leaves the questions around wine lingering. In this article we decipher the truth behind the classic question – is wine bad for you?
When we drink a wine, our taste buds are tasked with perceiving the taste. We only detect 4 elemental flavors:
The rest of the sensations that accompany tasting are mainly tactile and thermal perception. In which our palate notices the sensation, but they do not intervene in the detection of flavours. After wine enters your mouth, the four tastes are not appreciated in one go. This is due to the specific pupils for each taste, which are located in distinct regions of the tongue. Sweet on the tip, acid and salty in the centre and sides of the tongue, and bitter in the background. Sweet and acidic tastes are the fastest to be recognise when tasting the wine.
The sweetness that appears in wine originates in the residual sugar that it contains. But not only sugar responsible for the sweet sensation, the alcohols, glycerin or monoproteins also accompany this taste.
If you are worried about the health complications in wine, SkinnyBooze might be the thing for you. They have carefully and successfully made wine with an exceptionally low number of calories, but still tastes great. I would recommend the Chianti in particular.
What is residual sugar?
The main sugars present in the grape are in the form of hexoses (glucose and fructose) which represent almost 95%. However, there are other sugars: the pentoses (present in smaller quantities) that during the alcoholic fermentation are not consumed by yeast and are the residual sugars present in wine after fermentation. These sugars, when fermented, are residual in the wine, with its normal content between 1 and 2g/litre in a dry wine.
The residual sugar therefore refers to the quantity of sugars that remain in the wine once the alcoholic fermentation has passed. It is something that can be easily handled by the winemaker from harvest, by choosing the date of harvest according to the concentration of sugars of the grape. Or by controlling and monitoring the fermentation process, interrupting it or slowing down as needed and thus controlling the final sugar count in wine. Yeasts require between 16.5 and 18 grams of sugar per litre to obtain 1% volume of alcohol per litre. This range is related to the capacity that the yeast metabolises the sugar in alcohol, and with the climatic conditions during the fermentation.
The resulted wine is drier, the less sugar it contains. But after fermentation, sugar residues are always present, which can vary widely from one wine to another. This is why it can be classified as dry, semi-sweet, semi-sweet and sweet. In dry wines it is rare to exceed 2 grams of sugar. Although regulations in different countries are very similar, there are classification nuances, as in the case of Brazil, where three levels are used. Brazilian legislation classifies wines in relation to their sugar content in three groups:
- Dry Wine is one that has no more than 4.0 grams of sugar per litre
- Half Dry or Demi-Sec wine has 4.1 to 25 grams of sugar per litre
- Sweet or Soft has 25.1 to 80 grams of sugar per litre
But sugar in wine does not always have a natural origin. During the preparation of some wines, it is customary to add exogenous sugars, such as sucrose. These practices are usual in sparkling wines and quiet wines with low natural alcoholic strength, through a process called ‘chaptalization’.
Chapitalization is known as the procedure to increase the alcoholic strength of a wine by adding sugars to the musts. The process is carried out in latitudes where the grapes do not get enough natural sugars, so it is supplemented with concentrated must from grape must or with sucrose.
This video is useful if you want to learn more about chapitalization and why it is needed in winemaking.
The drawing liquor
Foaming wine is carried out after a second fermentation. This second fermentation takes place once a base wine has completed its alcoholic fermentation, and yeasts and sugars are added again to carry out the second fermentation. This prepares a syrup of high sugar concentration. The liquor is added to the base wine, along with yeasts, and this is poured into the crystal bottle, where the second fermentation of the sparkling wine is to be produced. The yeast will transform into sugar, but the gas escapes from the fermentation tank in the bottle and will be retained by a stopper.
The expedition liqueur
After the second fermentation in the bottle, the ‘sticking’ is carried out. This is when the residues of the second fermentation, which are in the mouth of the bottle, are eliminated. At this point, wine is found with virtually no sugar concentration. To recover the little liquid lost during the ‘sticking’, you can add the shipping liquor. This is adding a mixture (wine, brandy, sugar etc.) that is elaborated in a particular way by each winemaker. The mixture is added to the sparkling wine to balance it and mask possible defects.
Therefore, sparkling wines have the greatest addition of sugar. Sparkling wines are classified in different types according to the grams of residual sugar per litre. This does not mark any other difference between the sparkling wines in addition to the sugar content – this is a fact that can be of great interest when choosing a wine, depending on whether you prefer dry or sweet wines.
When we talk about sparkling wine, the sugar content in the classifications is complicated. Up to 7 categories could be specified depending on the sugar contained and the origin of the wine.
Prosecco can have only 1 g/l of sugar and therefore be completely dry. But Prosecco in Argentina can contain 15g/l of sugar – which we could consider extra-dry in Cava or Champagne if it had the same grams of sugar. A common confusion, which is complicated even more when we introduce the variable of acidity.
We might perceive it as sweeter when a sparkling wine that is actually drier than another. This occurs with the acidity of the wine. If the sparkling wine has low acidity, its sweetness will be perceived. The acidity gives the sensation of freshness and must be balanced with the sugar content to be pleasant and integrated with the product.
It seems that choosing a sparkling wine is a challenge. But it is a blessed challenge.
If you enjoyed this blog, check out our other articles on wine and how to stay as healthy as possible when drinking the classic grape juice.