There is a rise in mindful living, along with more focus on health and wellness (particularly among young consumers). That trend combined with our culture’s obsession with (low carb/low sugar) dieting, has resulted in an interest in exploring “healthier” wine options. But what exactly is a “healthier” wine? Some people are seeking wines with lower sugar, while others want lower alcohol. Our perspective is that a “healthier” wine is one that offers lower alcohol, lower sugar and still delivers a great taste experience.
As always, our staff is endeavoring to make it seamless for our wine-savvy and curious customers to stay abreast of current trends, and to procure the best wines in the style they seek. Our Online Store is a hub of information and is organized by a myriad of categories, countries and styles. We have labeled all our Low Alcohol Wines and you can search on this phrase to see the complete offering. We are also in the process of obtaining the sugar content for each wine we carry, which is not a small feat since this information is not readily available.
How Can You Tell if a Wine is Low in Alcohol and Sugar?
Alcohol content in wine ranges wildly, from as low as 8% to 15% ABV (alcohol by volume), while carb/sugar content runs between 1 and 30 grams per 5 ounce serving. For perspective, a 12 ounce beer delivers between 4% ABV (reduced-alcohol beer) and 6%-8% for a regular beer. Regular beer has about 13g of carbohydrates/sugars per serving. Spiked seltzers tend to have 5% ABV, and 0-4 grams of carbs/sugars per 12 ounce serving.
If you are looking to reduce your sugar or alcohol intake, and still enjoy a great glass of wine, choosing the right wine can satisfy your needs. But to find those wines, you will need a bit of guidance.
Low Alcohol Wine
There are several factors that affect the alcohol content of wine, including the style of wine, quality level, and climate where the grapes grow. Alcohol levels are printed on most bottles of wine (usually in tiny print). With so many choices of wine, it is helpful to know where to start. If a wine is labeled as “Table Wine” the ABV doesn’t have to be listed, but the wine must have an ABV between 8-14%. If the ABV is on the label, it must be within 1.5% of the amount stated on the label, unless the ABV is above 14%. In that case, the variance for domestic wines is 1% and for European wines, the variance is .5%. To ease your search for low alcohol wine, we have outlined the types of wine that tend to be lower in alcohol.
Low Alcohol Wines = 10% ABV or Under
Wines under the 10% ABV level, tend to be light in body and most can be on the sweeter side. German Kabinett Riesling (at 8% ABV) and Italian Moscato d’Asti (at 5.5% ABV) are typical examples of light-alcohol wines. Why do sweeter wines tend to have lower alcohol? Simply stated, fermentation is the addition of yeast to the crushed grape juice, which converts the sugars present in the juice into alcohol. The fermentation process generally stops on its own when there is no sugar left, resulting in a really dry, high alcohol wine (between 14-18% ABV). The reason why most low alcohol wines tend to be sweet is from the leftover grape sugar in the wine after the desired alcohol-level is reached.
Moscato d’Asti – 5.5% ABV (lightly sparkling sweet white from Italy)
Brachetto d’Acqui – 6.5% ABV (lightly sparkling sweet red from Italy)
Kabinett Riesling – 8% ABV (lightly sweet German Riesling)
Spätlese Riesling – 8.5% ABV (rich sweet German Riesling)
Vinho Verde – 9% ABV (very dry white wine from Portugal)
Medium-Low Alcohol Wines = 10–11.5% ABV
Wines ranging from 10–11.5% ABV are usually produced when less-sweet grapes are used to make wine. It’s pretty common to see white wines with medium-low alcohol from cooler climate regions like France, Northern Italy and Germany.
Touraine and Cheverny (Sauvignon Blanc from Loire, France)
Pinot Grigio (Italy)
Grüner Veltliner (Austria)
Medium Alcohol Wines = 11.5%–13.5% ABV
If you live in the US, you might believe that these numbers seem a little low, but for the rest of the world 11.5%–13.5% ABV is the average.
Bordeaux (Cabernet-Merlot blend from France)
Bourgogne (Pinot Noir or Chardonnay from France)
Côte du Rhône (France)
Sauvignon Blanc (California)
Value Reds (California)
Red Wines (Chile)
Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir (Oregon)
Medium-High Alcohol Wines = 13.5%–15% ABV
This is the average range of dry American wines and other warm climate growing regions including Argentina, Australia, Spain and Southern Italy. Regions with warmer climates will produce riper/sweeter grapes which in turn increases the potential alcohol content of the wine.
Chardonnay (California and Washington)
Petite Sirah (California)
Pinot Noir (California)
Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (California and Washington)
Grenache aka Garnacha (Spain and Australia)
Pinotage (South Africa)
Amarone della Valpolicella (Italy)
Brunello di Montalcino (Italy)
Nero d’Avola (Italy)
High Alcohol Wines = Over 15% ABV
High alcohol wines are made one of two possible ways: naturally or with fortification. Fortified wine is when a neutral spirit (usually a distilled grape brandy) is added to wine to increase the alcohol content. The original purpose for fortifying wine was to preserve the flavor of wines during the age of exploration. High alcohol dessert wines like Port, Marsala, Madeira and Sherry are commonly fortified and so are aromatized wines (aka vermouth).
Shiraz – 15.5% ABV (Australia)
Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre – 15.5% ABV (California and Australia)
Zinfandel – up to 16% ABV (California)
Late Harvest Dessert Wine – 15–17% ABV
Sherry – 15–20% ABV (Spain)
Port and Tawny Port – 20% ABV (Portugal)
Banyuls and Maury – 20% ABV (France)
Madeira – 20% ABV (Portugal)
Marsala – 20% ABV (Sicily)
Aromatized Wine (Vermouth) – 20% ABV
Low Sugar Wine
Without sugar, there is no wine. Ripe grapes naturally contain sugars, and in the process of turning grape juice into wine, most of the sugars are converted into alcohol via fermentation.
Any sugar that remains after the fermentation process is called residual sugar. This is the primary source of a wine’s sugar content.
Whether you prefer red, white or bubbly, there are certain types of wine that have lower levels of residual sugar. Naturally low-sugar wines will be dry, low-alcohol wines hovering around 10% ABV. The winemaker controls the amount of sugar in a wine in various ways, including stopping the fermentation process prematurely so that the yeast converts less sugar into alcohol. The amount of “residual sugar” left in wines varies depending on the desired sweetness. Unfortunately, sugar levels are not printed on wine bottles, and can be difficult to ascertain from winemakers. At Park Place, we are asking winemakers for the sugar content of their wines, and when we can get it, listing that information on our website.
Dry white: 1-2 grams per 5-ounce pour
Dry red: 2-3 grams per 5-ounce pour
Off-dry: 10-30 grams per 5-ounce pour
Sweet: Greater than 30 grams per 5-ounce pour
Champagne (Brut/Extra Dry): .6 – 2 grams per 5-ounce pour
Port and sherry: 50-150 grams per 5-ounce pour
Dessert wine: 100-200 grams per 5-ounce pour
The Holy Grail: Low Sugar and Low Alcohol Wines
The simplest rule for finding wines with low sugar and low alcohol is to stick with dry, low-alcohol wines. To find low sugar, low alcohol wines, first become familiar with the types of varietals that typically offer lower sugar (see below). Then, check out the alcohol level printed on the bottle. This should cut down greatly on your search time. Remember, you can also use our website to find lower alcohol wines, which we define 12% ABV or lower. For some of our wines, we also list the sugar levels, and will continue adding that information as winemakers fulfill our requests for sugar content.
Here’s a quick go-to guide:
Reds – With dryer reds, you can expect 1 to 3 g sugar per 5-ounce pour for the following varietals.
Whites – With dryer whites you can expect 1 to 3 g sugar per 5-ounce pour for the following varietals.
Sparkling – With dryer sparkling wines you can expect 1 to 3 g sugar per 3- to 5-ounce pour for the following options.
Always avoid wines with the following words, which typically imply a higher sugar content:
~ Lisa Schock