Fans of Alsace wines have often been confused and frustrated by the reluctance of some producers to include information about the sweetness of their wines. From the 2021 harvest, there will be no choice in the matter, following the introduction of new laws in 2020. According to Raymond Lassablière of the Alsace Winegrowers Association (AVA), the label of every bottle will have to clearly reveal whether its contents are ‘sec’ (dry); ‘demi-sec’ (off-dry); ‘moelleux’ (medium-sweet) or ‘doux’ (sweet). Alternatively, a sweetness scale can be used.
The four sweetness categories are defined using an EU model that takes account of the tartaric acid content as well as the sugar. One simple definition of a wine labelled as ‘sec‘ is that it will have less than four grams per litre of residual sugar. However, wines with up to nine grams can also use this term provided that their tartaric acid content is never more than two grams lower than the sugar. So wines with nine, eight and seven grams per litre of sugar would have to have seven, six and five grams of acidity respectively.
A similar principle applies to demi-sec, wines that either have to have less than 12g/l or less than 18g/l and acid content per litre of not more than 10 g lower than the RS. (So a wine with 18g/l of RS would need to have at least eight grams of acid). From 18g/l to 45 a wine is defined as moelleux. Above that it’s doux.
This recognition of perceived sweetness as opposed to simply listing the levels of residual sugar may be very relevant to European wine labels beyond Alsace when new ingredient listing regulations are introduced within the next five years – though presumably new terms will be required for the increasingly popular sector of red wines with 10-15g/l of residual sugar.