100 percent natural sugar

One of the things that a lot of people don’t realize about sparkling wine and wine in general, for that matter, is that all wine contains sugar.

Grapes are fruit. And they are sweet, like all fruit, because they contain naturally occurring sugar.

And one of the things that a lot of people are very surprised to learn — even people with experience in and knowledge of fine wine — is that the effervescence in sparkling wine is created by adding refined sugar to the wine. Yes, refined sugar: Something that doesn’t occur in nature.

When it comes to classic method wines like Champagne, Franciacorta, and Cava, for example, no less than 24 grams of refined sugar are added per liter. Yes, 24 grams! And more is added in the dosage, depending on the style of the wine. A wine labeled “brut,” for example, can have up to 12 grams per liter of residual sugar. See this Wikipedia entry on sweetness of wine for an index of European Union sparkling wine terms and labeling rules.
Surprised? Let’s do a quick refresher on how classic method and tank method sparkling wines are made.

A base (still) wine is produced.

  • Yeast and a sweetener (nearly always refined sugar) are added to the base wine to provoke a second fermentation.
  • The second fermentation is carried out in a pressured environment: In pressurized tanks for tank method wines; in bottle for classic method wines.
  • Once the second fermentation is complete, sediment is removed from the wines (for classic method wines, this is done through disgorgement; for tank method, the wines are clarified through temperature control).
  • At this point, the winemaker can add (and often does add) a sweetener to achieve the desired balance of sweetness and acidity.

The process for making sparkling wine is much more complex than the description above. But these are the basics.

And here’s where it gets interesting for Moscato d’Asti lovers.

Moscato d’Asti is one of the world’s rare sparkling wines for which no refined sugar is ever added… ever. Not only does that make Moscato d’Asti one of the world’s most unique sparkling wines but it also means that when you consume Moscato d’Asti, the sugar you ingest is 100 percent natural. The only source of sweetness in these wines comes from the grapes themselves.
In next week’s post, we’ll look at the technical aspects of how Moscato d’Asti is made. I bet that many of you will be surprised.

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Jeremy Parzen
After obtaining his Ph.D. in Italian literature at U.C.L.A. in 1997, Jeremy Parzen moved to New York City where he shifted his focus to food and wine. By 1998, he was the chief wine writer for the English-language edition of La Cucina Italiana. In 2005, he published his annotated translation of Maestro Martino's 15th century cookery book, The Art of Cooking (University of California Press). In 2007, he launched his blog DoBianchi.com (named after the Venetian expression for two glasses of white wine). Since that time, he has published countless articles on Italian food and wine, including bylines for publications like Decanter and Wine and Spirits, which named him a "Master of Place" in 2017. Known for his humanist perspective onto the world of Italian enogastronomy, he works as wine and restaurant industry consultant from his home office in Houston, where he and his wife Tracie (a native Texan) are raising their two daughters. A former rock musician and songwriter, Jeremy continues to compose and record music with and for his family. He was honored to be named an Italian Association of Wine Merchants ambassador in 2018 for his "profound scholarship in the humanities, his great knowledge of winemaking, and his excellence in communications."

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