Grapes are sweet, but most wines are not.
Wines are traditionally fermented “dry,” because this has been the easiest way to make wine for thousands of years. During fermentation, yeasts feed on sugar and convert it into alcohol and carbon dioxide, continuing until their food source is depleted. Once begun, the process is hard to stop. Besides, early winemakers wanted to increase alcohol and reduce sugar for practical reasons, since sugary, low-alcohol wines are susceptible to spoilage.
Sweet wines may be outnumbered, but they have historically been desirable because sweet-tart wine tastes delicious. Most European wine regions eventually developed methods for making sweet wines, each an adaptation to their environment, and modern technology now makes sugary wines more stable than ever before. Most follow one of three winemaking strategies, each of which can make wines that range from lightly sweet “off-dry” wines to candy-sweet “dessert wines.”
Formerly the director of wine studies for Manhattan’s French Culinary Institute, Marnie Old is best known for her books published by DK – the award-winning Wine: A Tasting Course and He Said Beer, She Said Wine. Read her piece The Real Difference Between Red and White Wine.