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Sugar remaining in a wine after its fermentation. Residual sugar never be added to wines after fermentation. It may remain naturally in a wine because the yeast is not active anymore or fermentation has been stopped artificially. Depending on the proportion of residual sugar, a wine is considered to be dry, medium dry, medium sweet or sweet. In sparkling wines there is also a classification of the sweetness but it differs from the one used for wine.

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Limits for residual sugar in wines

The following limits and terms are standard definitions of the European Union.

  • Dry wine: Residual sugar below 9 g/l, provided that the total acidity content is not more than 2 g/l below the residual sugar content.
  • Medium dry wine: Residual sugar below 18 g/l, provided that the total acidity content is not more than 10 g/l below the residual sugar content.
  • Medium sweet wine: Residual sugar below 45 g/l.
  • Sweet wine: Residual sugar above 45 g/l.

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Limits for residual sugar in sparkling wines

Since carbon dioxide balances the impression of sweetness in sparkling wines, limits for residual sugar are higher here than they are in still wines. In sparkling wine the different sweetness grades overlap.

  • Extra Brut or Brut Nature: below 6 g/l
  • Brut: below 15 g/l
  • Extra Dry: 12  20 g/l
  • Sec: 17  35 g/l
  • Dry or Demi-Sec: 33  50 g/l
  • Doux: above 50 g/l

Residual sugar should not be confused with sugar that is added before or during fermentation (chaptalisation). In Germany this is allowed for wines for quality levels below Qualitätsweine mit Prädikat. In France it is even accepted for high-quality wines. Through chaptalisation fermentation is prolonged and the alcohol content increased, the finished wine does not on the other hand necessarily have a higher residual sugar content. When too much sugar is added during fermentation, wines may have an inharmonious high alcohol content and a spirity taste that reminds of schnaps.

To help wines getting sweeter, another possibility is the so-called Süßreserve as it is practised in Germany. It may be used in wines below the category of Prädikatsweine. Grape must of the same sort and quality are added to QbA wines. For Landwein, the second-lowest category in German wine qualification, and Tafelwein, the lowest category, other grape must, grape juice concentrate, or re-constituted grape juice concentrate (that is diluted with water to its original state) may be added. The addition of sugar after fermentation is then not allowed.

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