Just as a spoonful of sugar can take the bitter edge off a cup of coffee, a bit of sweetness can smooth a wine, making it palatable by one and all.
As a wine newbie, I was hooked on sweet, spritzy Johannisberg Riesling and Green Hungarian. But when I heard that I could be more cool if I drank full-bodied reds, I spent the time and lots of money to brainwash myself into liking handlebar-steely Cabernet tannins.
One thing I learned at a "component" tasting at Napa's Merryvale Vineyards is that a wine can be completely dry of sugar, yet taste sweet because of the fruit alone. There are some Lodi Zins that you'd swear have a bit of residual sugar still in them, though you're really getting a mouthful of pure jammy berries.
Most people can detect a sugary sweetness at 1% residual sugar, which is the level of many popular Chardonnays or Rieslings, and labeled "off-dry" or "extra dry" on sparkling wines. Your average White Zin may be up around 3% sugar.
Sugar under 1% will boost the perception of the wine's fruit. For sparkling, you'd see bottles labeled "Brut," or if the wine is dry or completely dry, you'd see "Extra Brut."
This just in...
McCay Cellars 2007 Jupiter Lodi Zin ($24) just made the S.F. Chronicle's Top 100 wines of 2010, and the Woodbridge 2008 California Sauvignon blanc ($8) was voted Best Buy 87 points by Wine Enthusiast Magazine.