What You Should Know About Sweetening A Wine

Sugar Syrup For Back Sweetening Homemade WineI have a batch of peach wine and a batch of pear wine in 5 gallon glass jugs ready to bottle.  Both need to be sweetened at bottling time to bring out more of the fruit flavor.  Please explain to this rookie exactly how you back sweeten a homemade wine as you bottle it.  Do you add the sugar/water solutions to each bottle or do you add to the 5 gallon glass jugs, stir, and then bottle??  And, is plain sugar OK to sweeten with?
Thanks, ready to bottle in Missouri…
Hello Missouri,
The first thing that needs to happen before sweetening your homemade wine is to make sure that it has completed its fermentation. This takes more than just a visual inspections. This needs to be verified with a wine hydrometer. The specific gravity reading on the hydrometer should read .998 or less. If it is not, then your wine is not yet ready to be back sweetened.
Essentially, the sugar needs to be added to your wine while it is still in bulk. Adding the sugar per wine bottle is not practical nor is it necessary. It is also important to note that you will also want to have the wine siphoned out of the fermenter and off the sediment before adding the sugar – a process called racking – otherwise unwanted sediment could be stirred up into your homemade wine.
Almost everyone uses plain-ole cane sugar when back sweetening their homemade wine, but what you choose to use is open for experimentation: honey, grape concentrate, corn sugar can all be experimented with to add different subtle flavors to their fruit wines. Just remember that once the sugar is in the wine it won’t be coming back out. The sweetening process is not very forgiving in this respect. For this reason you may want to do a test batch before adding the sweetener to the rest of the wine. Maybe take a gallon of the wine off and back sweeten that first.
shop_potassium_sorbateAnytime you add a sugar to sweeten a homemade wine you will also want to add potassium sorbate to help eliminate the chance of the wine brewing again. And, anytime you bottle a wine you will want to add sodium metabisulfite to help keep the wine from turning color and/or spoiling.
When adding sugar to a homemade wine you will want to pre-dissolve the sugar first. This can easily be done by mixing half and half with water and heat it on the stove until it becomes completely clear. Be sure to stir continuously when heating so that the sugar does not burn on the bottom of the pan. Allow the sugar mixture to cool before adding to the wine.
The article, Making Sweet Wines, may be of some interest to you. It goes through all of in’s and out’s of sweetening homemade wine in more detail, so you might be worth taking a look.
Happy Wine Making,
Ed Kraus
Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

54 thoughts on “What You Should Know About Sweetening A Wine

  1. When making peach wine when finished fermenting should the wine have a peach color or is it
    because of pectic haze.
    Pete Brau

  2. If I use your Wine Conditioner to sweeten a wine at bottling time, how much additional potassiuam sorbate and sodium metabisulfite are needed?

  3. As long as you use 1/3 of the bottle (6 ounces) or more of Wine Conditioner to 5 or 6 gallons of wine, you do not need to add Potassium Sorbate to the batch. If you are using less than this amount, then you will need to add a normal dose of Potassium Sorbate along with it. You should always add a standard dose of Sodium Metabisulfite to the wine, regardless if you are adding Wine Conditioner or not.

  4. I made a 5 gallon batch of plum wine, it has a very strong alcohol flavor and absolutely no plum flavor. Do I need to add sugar to bring the fruit flavor back? Or should I use more juice and a smaller amount of water next time?

    • Give it 18 months to two years in the bottle. It’ll smooth out the strong flavours and the plum will start to shine through. Patience! Make more, it’ll distract you from the original!

  5. David, with the current batch you are dealing with you may want to sweeten it a little to help bring out the fruity impression. But the real issue sounds like your wine is out of balance. In this case, too much alcohol and not enough fruit. The more alcohol you have in a wine the more it numbs your senses, cutting of the flavors of the wine. You might want to take a look at the post on this blog titled, "Keeping Fruit Wines In Fruity Balance", for more information.

  6. I made a six gallon batch of valinat grape wine. When you drink a glass it makes your teeth turn purple. Is this something thats normal? It tastes great chilled. I don’t want my guests walking around with purple teeth! What did I do wrong?

  7. Wayne, all red wines will stain your teeth to some degree. With most it’s not an issue. The stain will wear off quickly or be so faint as not to matter. But with wines that are too acidic from excessive tannins, the staining can become troublsome and longer lasting. This is because the acid will actually etch into the enamel of your teeth. In the future it may be beneficial for you to track your wine pH level in the future. Take readings both before and after fermentation and then take any necessary actions to bring the pH into a normal range (3.4 to 3.6).

  8. For Missouri, I would put each batch back into the 5 gal bucket then add the sweetener and other stuff, its easier to stir and then get a shot glass after sweetening and taste it. add sweetener in very small doses after the first 2 cups then slowly add small amts of sweetener, when you hit the right sweet spot it will jump out at you and be your favorite wine. gud luck

  9. I am having trouble the last 2 wine seasons with thin wine. To add body, I have been giving advise to add Tannin or Glycerin. Is Glycerin also considered a sweetner? And if so, would I make sure to add potassium sorbate? Do you have rationale for me as to why I am not getting the body?

  10. Michelle, you do not need to add potassium sorbate because of any glycerin you are adding. Glycerin does have a slight sweetness to it, but it is very subtle and will not ferment. As to your body issue, the number one reason for lack of body is lack of time on the pulp during fermentation. I am assuming that we are talking about a red wine. You should have the skin and pulp in the fermentation for 3 to 7 days, depending on the wine. If you are already doing this, then be sure to use a pectic enzyme as well.

  11. I also need help with enhancing the fruit flavor of my wines. I have always followed your recipes very carefully, and end up with wines that are good but need to be better. Please help.

  12. I have question about adding fruit flavor to a wine. My batch is a royal zinfandel, I’m deciding if I want to add a strawberry hint to it or not. Does anyone have any suggestions? I’m not apposed to other flavors. I just want the wife, who’s not a huge wine fan to enjoy more

  13. Thanks for the sugar tip you just offered to sweeten wine before bottling it. I have always used your conditioner to sweeten my wines but I think I may try the sugar next time as it seems less expensive not to mention giving my wines a more fruity taste.

  14. I use one step to sanitize my bottles before bot telling Can I use this over and over if l add a small amount in original mixture.

    • Fred, this method is not recommended. The strength of the solution is important. Not strong enough, the bottles don’t get sanitized; too strong and the bottles will develop a residue. By replenishing you are giving up knowledge of how strong the solution is at any given point.

  15. I generally do not drink or like sweet wines, but several family members prefer sweeter wines. Because I do not personally care for sweet wines it is very difficult for me to judge how much sugar or sweetener to add. Is it possible to measure the sweetness with a hydrometer, and if so what would a “normal” reading be for a sweeter fruit wine?

    • John, unfortunately since everyone perception of a sweet wine is different, we cant really tell you how much sugar to add. Using a hydrometer is not a practical way to do so. This is explained in the article posted below. When actually sweetening your wine it is best to sweeten a portion of the batch, first. For example, take a measured sample of the wine — say, one gallon — and add measured amounts of sweetener to it to establish a dosage to your liking. Once the dosage is determined you can then do the same thing to the rest of the wine. This insures that you do not get the entire batch too sweet. If you do accidentally add too much sugar to the measured sample, just blend it back into the rest of the batch and start all over with a new gallon sample.
      Using A Hydrometer To Sweeten Wine

  16. Backsweetening question. I have a plum wine that has a very tart and dry flavor. I want to sweeten a bit and also give it some more flavor. After stabilization, do you think I could juice a few plums and then dissolve some sugar to sweeten? I was thinking after I did this, I could re-rack and see if any sediment falls from the new juice before I bottle. I also use a steamer juicer to juice the fruit. Thank you!!!!

    • Sam, it is perfectly fine to use fresh fruit juice to sweeten your wine. Fresh fruit juice is quite often the best choice when sweetening harsher wines. The article posted below will also provide other suggestions for sweetening your wine.
      Making Sweet Wine

  17. I have already added the potassium sorbate to my wine, am i able to sweeten it still and then bottle it right away? Or should i have sweetened it BEFORE stabalizing it?

    • Kelsey, once you add the potassium sorbate it stays in the wine, so you can sweeten it at any time.

  18. after the second rack and three months later the fruit wine is still at 1.010 . It is in a cool cellar and wonder if with time it will get down to 9.90 ?

    • Walter, If the temperature is too cool it may not ever complete. Wine yeast needs to ferment between 70-75 degrees, anything cooler than that can result in a stuck fermentation. I would take a look at the following article for more reasons that can cause a stuck fermentation.
      Top Reason For Fermentation Failure

  19. I am making a mildly sweet concord grape wine.For the last couple years I have used only wine conditioner. I am ready to start experimenting! If I were to use grape juice concentrate, is there specifics for this as in any do’s and donts.

    • Tony, Using a grape concentrate to sweeten you wine is really no different. You will still need to add potassium sorbate. The only thing I would caution is to treat a measured amount, keep track of how much juice it took to get to the flavor you desire and then multiply that amount by the remainder of the batch. Doing it this way will prevent you from adding too much.

  20. I have 6 gallons of a berry wine. I had checked the SG and had it below 1.000 for 3 days before racking. Racked again and back sweetened and added potassium sorbate. The wine is beautiful and very tasty and was ready to bottle but SG is now 1.030…is that from the sugar? Should I wait to bottle for it to drop back? Do you think it is fermenting again? ? Any info would be appreciated

    • Brian, since the hydrometer scales are based on the weight of the liquid, when you add sugar the liquid will become thicker and the specific gravity reading will go up. If you added potassium sorbate when you back-sweeten the wine, it is stabilized from re-fermenting the added sugar.

  21. I have mixed 14 pounds of peach purée with 7 pounds of sugar and 1 1/2 gallons of water.
    I heated the mixed to 140f cooled to 95f and added 7 teaspoons of brewing yeast.
    It is now working in my 70 f basement.
    What will it turn into?

    • Jake, it will turn out to be similar to a peach wine. However, since all of the additives we suggest in are recipe were not added, it could be out of balance.
      For any future wine you would like to make, below is an article that will discuss how to create your own recipe.
      Creating Your Own Recipe

  22. If you were to back sweeten a dry wine with unfermented grape or berry juice instead of sugar, would or could you develope a pectin haze at this late stage?

    • Bruce, adding juice to the wine to sweeten it should not make it any more susceptible to a pectin haze. Just make sure that you add potassium sorbate.

  23. Do you have to add a small amount of sugar to finished wine when you are ready to bottle it to keep it from turning to vinegar?

  24. I attended a home wine makers seminar recently. We tasted the same wine sweetened with cane sugar and another sweetened with fruit sugar. The unanimous verdict was the wine sweetened with fruit sugar was noticeably smoother. Not sure why this should be but interesting to try out for yourself.

  25. There is a bunch of things one can add beside liquid sugar or honey . Wine taste is a personal thing .One can add apple juice , peach/white grape juice & elderberry tea to white wines ; to red the appropriate amount of cranberry/cherry , bit of coffee/mocca c/w bit vanila .If the flavour pleases you ; go for nit !

  26. In back sweeting wine I take a small portion of wine from the Carboy, add sugar and heat on the stove to dissolve the sugar. Then I return to the sweetened wine to the Carboy. Will heating the small portion of wine have any harmful effects on the quality of the wine?

    • Marvin, because heat can cause oxidation in wine, the method that we recommend is dissolving the sugar in warm water, let it cool and then add it to the wine.

  27. Hello, this is my first time wine making. I am trying a blueberry/apple. I want to back sweeten it. Since I am looking for more of an apple taste, can I just use the same apple juice to sweeten it, that I used to first make it? Thanks.

    • Rusty, the answer is yes, you can back-sweeten the wine with any type of juice you like. Just remember to add potassium sorbate to prevent re-fermentation.

  28. I have back sweetened my wine too much. I made a concord wine from fresh grapes. When it fermented out it was a bit dry. I added two cans of grape juice concentrate to 6 gallons of wine. Now it is too sweet. Am I stuck with wine that is too sweet or can I fix it somehow? I am half temted to add another packet of yeast and let it go again. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you

    • Tim, if you have already added potassium sorbate to prevent re-fermentation, adding yeast will not help. About the only things you can do is blend it with a dry water or dilute it with water.

      • Thank you. I might make a batch of frozen concentrate wine and let it ferment all the way out, stabilize and mix the two batches. Always wanted 12 gallons of wine. Ha.
        Thanks again

  29. I have had limited success backsweeting my wines, simply because of lack of knowledge. Thank you very much for your time answering what must be simple questions. I’ve read many questions and your replies regarding sweetening a wine, and think I’m ready to try it again. My question is, after adding the potassium sorbate then sweetening, will there be any more dead yeast to clear out after the residual yeast reacts to the sugar? Or can I add the pot. sorbate, sugar, sulfites, and bottle right away?

    • There shouldn’t be any more yeast cells dropping out. In reality, it’s up to you to make sure all the visible yeast cell have dropped out first before sweetening and adding potassium sorbate. That’s one of the reasons we recommend sweetening after the wine is ready to bottle.

  30. I make muscadine wine. I like my wine on a sweeter side. I know to add potassium sorbate and sodium metabisulfite to it before bottling. But do I filter the wine before or after sweetening?

    • Harold, you want to filter the wine before you sweeten it. Try to filter a wine that contains sugar will just clog the filter pads or cause the filter to leak.

  31. When I back sweeten my wine I draw off a couple of pints of the finished wine, add sugar to make a syrup and pour it back into the wine. This way I don’t dilute the wine.

  32. I am 12 days into making 5 gallons of cherry wine and I realized I missed a gallon of the cherries. Can I still drain the juice and add it to my carbon?

    • Joseph, yes, you can press the juice from the cherries and add to the fermentation process.

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