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Wine Review - Moscato - How Sweet it is

2011 Simply Naked Moscato

In this week's wine tasting review we take on one of the easiest aspects of tasting – the detection of sweetness, or more correctly residual sugar in a wine.  Sweet is one of the few sensory observations that we actually “taste” as opposed to “smell” when tasting a wine.  And, as we'll see, the two are often intertwined.

Sweetness in wine results from the naturally occurring sugar present in grapes.  There are several different types of sugar in grapes, the most common being fructose and glucose.  In the process of making wine, the sugars in the presence of yeast, are converted to alcohol.  If most all of the sugar is converted (some types of sugar cannot be fermented) the wine is said to be dry, or absent of sweetness.  This is reflected in the technical measure of sweetness – residual sugar.  If however, the winemaker stops the fermentation either by dropping the temperature of the fermentation or adding alcohol if the goal is to produce a fortified wine, the result is a sweet wine of varying levels. 

Residual sugar in wine is measured in grams per liter, which approximates percentage.  One gram of residual sugar is approximately 1% sugar (one measure is volume, the other weight, but work with me here).  Most adults can detect sugar between 0.8 g/l and 1.2 g/l.  Dry wines stay below these thresholds with most Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs for example in the 0.5 g/l – 0.7 g/l range.  Sweet wines such as Moscato, White Zinfandel and Rieslings, can have residual sugar levels from 40 g/l to as high as 85-90 g/l (compare to Coke at 108 g/l).  Despite these absolute measures, the human perception of sweetness often, and I do mean often, gets in the way.  Working part time in a wine store I can tell you how often people say they don't like a particular wine (which I know is very dry) because it's too sweet.  What's happening here is that sweet is being confused with fruity.  A wine's sweetness is perceived by the taste buds, generally on the tip of the tongue, fruitiness or fruit aromas are an aromatic perception.  Here's how to tell the difference.  If you think a wine is sweet, simply hold your nose while tasting.  If you can taste sugar on your tongue, the wine is indeed sweet.  If all of the sensory perception of sweet vanishes, the wine is fruity, loaded with peach, apple, pear, apricot, cherry, plum or any of thousands of fruit aromas.

2011 Simply Naked Moscato

We selected the 2011 Simply Naked Moscato from California as a good example of the presence of relatively high levels (65 g/l) of residual sugar, making it easier to identify in a tasting.   The winemaker describes this unoaked Moscato as “clean, fresh, and straightforward” with “crisp fruit flavor and true varietal characteristics” and as a “sweetly balanced wine with floral notes and flavors of orange marmalade, peach, and honey”. 

Open the Simply Naked Moscato and pour yourself a small, 2-3 ounce pour.  As always, make sure you begin your tasting with a clean palate so as to be able to detect all of the flavors and aromas.  Be ready for the sugar, focusing on the taste that appears on your tongue.  Swish the wine for a little in your mouth, and then swallow.  To test your sugar detection, try pinching your nose and re-taste, again concentrating on the sensations on the tongue and eliminating the influence of aromas. Be sure to be on the lookout for the sensations on your first sip, sugar is most prevalent at this point in the tasting process.

In our tasting we were immediately greeted with the 65 g/l of residual sugar – you can't miss it.  The unoaked nature of the wine does allow for a diversity of aromas – we detected the peach and honey referenced in the winemakers notes with ease.  The wine has a light to medium body, the bigger mouth feel provided by the sugar.  The finish lingers, mostly peach and sugar.  The wine is definitely easy drinking and would pair well with seafood, light cheeses and virtually any dessert (my recommendation).  Pairing like with like, in this case a sweet wine with a sweet dessert, is usually a safe bet.  But as always, remember the tastes and aromas observed are largely personal, so enjoy the wine, record your results and repeat as necessary!

With time and more tastings, the presence of residual sugar in wine will become one of the easiest taste sensations to recognize. Remember to separate sugar from fruitiness; don't let your brain trick you!



Technical Information

Grape Variety

100% Moscato

Total Acidity

6.8 g/liter


Stainless steel fermentation and bottled young.

Residual Sugar

65 g/liter





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·  Wine Review - Acidity at its best
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·  What is that taste? Part 2
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