A Guide on How to Sweeten Wine - Wine Turtle
This post was updated on: September 1, 2019

A Guide on How to Sweeten Wine

How To Sweeten Wine

The most popular wines are probably the sweet ones. In the past, they were reserved for the nobles and kings because of their ability to preserve the spirit of the fruit, expressed in its sweetness and in its fascinating aromas.

But making sweet wine requires more effort and dedication. Because it is rather difficult to achieve an impressive result during the fermentation, one of the most common questions among the winemakers is how to sweeten wine.

Differences between Dry Wine and Sweet Wine

Best Dry White Wines for Cooking
best dessert wine

The main difference between dry wine and sweet wine is the amount of sugar that is dissolved into the wine but not transformed into alcohol during the fermentation. This sugar is called “residual sugar”. The amount of residual sugar will determine the sweetness of the wine.

In dry wines the quantity of residual sugar is minimal, and you will not be able to percept it when tasting the wine. On the other hand, you should also know that in very fresh wines the sweetness is balanced by the acidity, therefore it is hard to notice.

Typically, sweet wines have lower alcohol concentrations than dry wines.

Making Sweet Wine: Challenges

The alcohol in wine is produced by the fermentation of the sugars by the yeast. The amount of sugar determines the quantity of alcohol produced during the fermentation process. 

To determine how sweet or dry is your wine, you should measure the specific gravity during the fermentation process. Wines with a specific gravity lower than 1.000 are considered dry, while sweet wines generally have a specific gravity between 1.010 – 1.025.

However, even if it’s easy to measure the specific gravity, thus know when you have the desired sweetness, interrupting the fermentation process is not exactly simple. Yeast usually stops fermenting when the wine reaches a certain alcohol concentration, or when the sugar is completely consumed. Therefore, if you don’t start making the wine with enough sugar, you will probably end up with a dry wine.

If you’re not an expert winemaker, determining the right quantity of sugar to start with is rather difficult. So it is very likely that you will end up asking yourself how to sweeten your wine.

How to Sweeten Wine

There are various methods to sweeten homemade wines. The easiest and the one used by most winemakers is adding sugar to the already made wine. However, you should know that this method is also the less noble and it is generally used for low-quality products.

In fact, the most renowned wine manufacturers never sweeten dry wine with sugar, because the result is a poor quality wine and this “trick” is easily recognizable.

In practice, this how to sweeten wine with sugar:

  • Make a simple syrup from one cup of water and two cups of sugar. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook it until all the sugar is dissolved.
  • Cool the syrup to 70F.
  • Take one cup of wine and add cool syrup to it, measuring the quantity of syrup added to the wine.
  • Taste and see if you reached the desired sweetness.
  • Based on the ratio measured earlier, add the right quantity of syrup into your wine. Read the specific gravity.
  • Add a¼ tablespoon of potassium sorbate and 1/8 tablespoon of potassium metabisulphite to each gallon of wine to prevent further fermentation.
  • Pour the wine into a demijohn, seal it with an airlock and let the wine sit for at least one week.
  • Read the specific gravity again. If it has dropped, then the wine is fermenting again. In this case, you should let the fermentation stop before proceeding to bottle the wine.

Another simple method is adding a certain amount of sweet grape juice to the wine. This, however, might alter the taste of wines made from fruits other than grapes. If you choose this method, pay attention to properly sterilize, filter, clarify and store the wine at low temperature in stainless steel tanks to prevent further fermentation.

However, sugar is never added to the finest sweet wines. To obtain a high-quality sweet wine, you should probably stop the fermentation when the desired level of sweetness is reached. The voluntary interruption of the fermentation is made by adding a certain amount of alcohol or brandy to the wine. This will inhibit the action of the yeast and your wine will remain sweet.

Have you ever sweetened homemade wine? What method did you use? If you have any questions or tips, please leave a comment below.

About the Author

Although not having any formal training in wine, Tim has developed an irrefutable love of wine and interest in anything related to it ever since he was a little kid. Coming from a family of wine lovers, it was from a young age that he got exposed to wine and the culture that goes with it and has been addicted ever since. Having traveled to dozens of wine regions across the world including those in France, Italy, California, Australia, and South Africa and tasted a large selection of their wines, it is with great joy that he hopes to share those experiences here and take you along on the journey.

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