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Friday, March 6, 2020

Bones in Wine?

                                Bone dry means there is a miniscule amount of sugar in the wine

Most everyone has probably heard the expression bone dry in reference to wine.  There are no bones in wine, right?    That would be wrong:  China has a wine called “Tiger Wine,” which actually is made with real tiger bones.  OK, now back to bone dry.   This descriptor, along with dry, and off-dry are all three terms used to identify the amount of sugar in a wine.  

So how does sugar get into wine?  Let’s start at the beginning.  In alcoholic fermentation yeasts eat the naturally occurring sugar in grapes and through a process of chemical reactions this sugar is converted to alcohol.  Therefore, the amount of residual sugar (RS) in wine depends upon when the fermentation is stopped. 

In dessert wines (aka sweet wines) fermentation is artificially stopped before all of the yeasts can turn the sugar into alcohol.  This means that these wines have higher sugar levels and lower alcohol.  Conversely, in bone dry wines all of the sugar has been eaten by the yeasts, which in turn means that the wine has a higher alcohol level than dessert wine.   Bone dry means there is very little, if any, remaining sugar. 

Below shows the amounts of RS in the different categories of wines:

                     Bone dry:  0.5% or less RS
                     Dry:  1% RS
                     Off-dry:  2-3% RS
                     Sweet:  3.5-12% RS
                     Dessert:  12-22% RS

An experienced wine drinker can often taste the nuances in a wine’s sugar level, but there are factors that prevent even experts from recognizing the differences between bone dry, dry, and off-dry.   Both tannin and a wine’s acid levels can distort one’s ability to discern RS.   For the novice, even a wine’s ripe fruit aromas or sweet florals can also trick one into thinking the wine has some sugar.

In closing, any grape varietal can be made into a wine that is bone-dry or a dessert wine.  So, how does one know if a wine is bone dry or if there is RS?   Since wineries are not required to put this on the label, most do not.  A good wine store will know.  Many of the better wineries also have “Technical Sheets” available online in which RS amounts are stated.

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