Ever wonder what makes a wine taste sweet, or why a wine that’s described as sweet doesn’t taste sweet to you at all? Wonder no more! Let’s sweet-talk the sweetness of wine!

Way back when, winemakers discovered how to stop the fermentation process of wine, leaving sugars from the grapes called residual sugar. Today, we’re able to add sugar (this is called chaptalization), but this is very frowned upon and only really happens in cheap wines. (Note: Added sugar is totally normal and acceptable in sparkling wines!) Regardless of how the sugar occurs in a wine, the bitterness that comes from the tannins along with the acidity of the bottle makes it quite difficult to detect sweetness at all. Most people can’t detect sweetness levels below about 1.5%! Fun fact–trained wine tasters can guess sweetness levels within 0.2%!

So what even is a sweetness level? A 1% sweetness level is about 10 g/L of residual sugar (just under 2 carbs per each 5 oz serving, or about 150 ml). Any wine can be dry or sweet (as the maker of the wine determines the sweetness), however popular varietal wines and styles typically share the same level of sweetness. Wine with a sweetness level below 1% is considered dry, 1-3% is considered semi-sweet or “off-dry”, 5-7% is a noticeably sweet wine, and dessert wines are anything above a 7% sweetness level.

If you want to get really technical and impress your friends with your wine-related vocabulary, here’s how the pros describe the sweetness levels in wine:

Bone-Dry: Less than 1 sugar calorie per glass

Dry: 0-6 sugar calories per glass

Off-Dry (or Semi-Sweet): 6-21 sugar calories per glass

Sweet: 21-72 sugar calories per glass

Very Sweet: 72-130 sugar calories per glass

Here’s a simple breakdown of sweetness levels of some of your favorite wines, listed in order from dryest to sweetest:

White Wines


  • Muscadet
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Pinot Gris
  • Chardonnay
  • Chenin Blanc


  • Viognier
  • Torrontès
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Riesling


  • Riesling
  • Moscato
  • White Port
  • Ice Wine

Red Wines


  • Sangiovese
  • Tempranillo
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Pinot Noir
  • Syrah

Dry, but with sweet characters

  • Merlot
  • Malbec
  • Garnacha
  • Zinfandel


  • Port
  • Tawny Port

If this scratched your itch to learn more about the nitty gritty details of wine, check back for our next post about how to read a Wine Tech Sheet to learn all the technical data of your favorite wines!