Of all the styles and variations of wine, dry wine seems to be one of the most misunderstood. For the novice wine drinker, the jargon used in wine language can seem overwhelming, which is why defining the very characteristics and nuisances of each style of wine is important. Why? Because it allows you to know which bottles will appeal to your tastes and preferences, even before you take a sip.
Knowledge about how these wines are made will also help you appreciate the process more, tasting every sip of hard work and skill that went into every drop of wine you’re drinking.
So without further adieu, here is a brief guide on everything you need to know about dry wine, what makes it different than sweet wine, and what the most common varieties are.
What is Dry Wine?
Dry wine is any wine that has 0 to 1.3% residual sugar content. While many people think that dry wine is the dry sensation you get after drinking a glass, it’s not actually about that at all. Wine with a lot of tannins can make your tongue and mouth dry, but just because a bottle of wine has high levels of tannins, it doesn’t mean it’s a dry wine.
In wine lingo, dry wine is any wine that has very little sweetness, and by very little, this is about 4 grams of sugar in 1 liter of wine.
There is no legal regulation in terms of the level of sugar content appearing on the label of dry wine. But among winemakers, any wine with 0 to 1.3% residual sugar is considered dry wine.
There can be dry white wine, and dry red wine, depending on the grape that was used to produce the wine. Remember that white wine is made from grapes that are green, while red wine is made from red or purple grapes. The major difference between dry white wine and dry red wine is the fermentation process.
During fermentation, winemakers allow complete fermentation to create dry wine. This means that the yeast completely consumes the sugar that is made by the grape juice. The result is very little sugar or no sugar content at all. Novice wine drinkers won’t be able to detect any sweetness when the wine has 1.5% residual sugar. That means that all wine having this little residual sugar is deemed as dry.
The Alcohol Content of Dry Wine
The average alcohol content of dry wine is around 12-14%. However, there can be some variation depending on the type of grape used and the winemaking process. For example, red wines tend to have a higher alcohol content than white wines. And wines that have been aged for a longer period of time will also generally have a higher alcohol content.
How Alcohol Affects the Taste of Dry Wine
So what does all this alcohol actually do to the taste of dry wine? In general, it makes the wine taste fuller-bodied and more robust. You might also notice some sweetness in your glass of dry wine, even if the wine itself is not sweet. This is because alcohol acts as a natural sweetener.
Types of Dry White Wine
There are different types of dry white wine, all depending on the amount of residual sugar it contains and the grapes used. There are very dry white wines and medium dry white wines, which we will discuss:
Dry White Wine
These wines are very dry and contain less than 4 grams of residual sugar. These varieties are beloved for their crisp and dry notes.
- Sauvignon Blanc
This is one of the most popular dry white wines for cooking and loved for its high crisp flavor. These are usually produced in the Bordeaux region of France, New Zealand, South Africa, and on the US west coast.
Chardonnay features notes of apples and tropical fruits, and when aged in oak barrels, the wine offers notes of roasted taste and vanilla. These are produced mostly in Burgundy, France, and in the states of California and Washington in the US.
These are made from the Loire Valley in France, using Melon de Bourgogne grapes, and known for their sharp taste with notes of citrus.
Mostly produced in South America, its flavors feature citrus, peach, and floral notes.
This Spanish wine is known for its bright acidity and refreshing flavors.
Medium-Dry White Wines
These dry white wines have less than 1-3% residual sugar.
- Pinot Blanc
This wine is very similar to Chardonnay but has a slightly higher residual sugar content. They are mostly produced in Italy, Austria, and France, and feature notes of almonds and apples.
- Champagne and Sparkling Wine
Champagne is one of the most popular medium-dry white wines in the world, with different types depending on the sugar content. For those with 5% more residual sugar content, it’s called doux, while those that have lower residual sugar content are called extra but.
This variety is known for its fragrant aroma of honeysuckle and peaches.
Riesling can be sweet or dry. Those that are grown in warmer climates tend to be sweeter. Notes of apples and minerals are known of this variety.
- Gruner Veltliner
An Austrian product, it is noted for its unique flavors, which consist of peach, pepper, spice, and citrus.
Dry Red Wine
Except for port and dessert wines, all red wines are considered to be dry. Though they are sweeter than most white wines, dry red wines still contain very little residual sugar, which means you don’t have to worry about dry red wine is too sweet for your taste.
Here are the most popular dry red wine varieties:
- Cabernet Sauvignon
This is one of the most widely planted grape varieties in the world. They are dry with an earthy flavor, but in cooler climates, they tend to have notes of pepper, mint, and blackcurrant.
This variety is mostly found in South America, in Argentina to be exact. They are dry and luxurious, featuring a deep color, and are characterized by having ample tannins.
Two kinds of Merlot varieties are available: the “international style,” which is high in alcohol. full-bodied, and features notes of intense plum and blackberry fruit. The Bordeaux style is medium-bodied and features moderate alcohol levels.
- Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir grows best in cooler climates where young grapes offer a red fruit aroma characterized by flavors of cherries, raspberries, and strawberries. Older grapes have more complex and earthy flavors.
This variety features plenty of tannins with notes of black pepper, mind, and are full-bodied. Grapes that grow in moderate climates have mint, black pepper, and blackberry flavors, while those grown in hotter climates have a jammier fruity flavor, with notes of licorice, and earthy leather.
Dry Versus Sweet Wine
The main difference between dry wine and sweet wine is the residual sugar content. Any wine that has less than 1.3% residual sugar is considered dry wine, and any wine that has more than 5% is considered sweet wine. Any wine that falls between these percentages is defined as being semi-dry or semi-sweet.
Let’s take a look at the way dry and sweet wine are made, which will give you an understanding of why dry wine has its characteristics, and why sweet wine is the way that it is.
- Time of Grape Harvest
When ripened grapes are harvested, they produce more sugar, and thus, ripened grapes are mostly used to make sweet wine. Immature grapes, on the other hand, have less sugar content and are more acidic. When making dry wine, winemakers harvest immature grapes, rather than ripened ones.
Grapes that are grown in warmer climates tend to be sweeter because exposure to direct sunlight makes the grapes’ sugar content more concentrated. Cooler climates tend to produce less sweet grapes because of a lack of direct sunlight exposure.
Winemakers who want to make sweeter wines will also dry the grapes in direct sunlight after harvesting for more sugar concentration. Some winemakers who live in cooler climates will also wait until the grapes are frozen while still on the vine before harvesting because this also makes the grapes sweeter. Winemakers who want to produce dry wine avoid these processes.
- Fermentation Process
When yeast is added, it consumes the sugar produced by the grape juice, making the wine more acidic. Sugar transitions into carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol during fermentation.
In making dry wine, winemakers complete the fermentation process until all sugar is consumed by the yeast. For a sweet wine, they don’t complete the fermentation process, and rather, they would stop the transition process so residual sugar from the grape juice is left. Some producers also add a substance, such as brandy or other compounds to stop the fermentation process, leaving behind residual sugar.
Factors that Affect Perception of Sweetness and Dryness
Wine is perceived as sweet or dry based on a number of factors. Many people confuse sweetness with being fruity but it’s not always the case. Fruity wines can be dry, and dry wines can be sweet, too
Most people also think that the more tannins a wine has, the dryer it is, but it isn’t the case. Let’s take a look at the factors that affect how wine is perceived:
Tannin is the chemical compound found in fruits and plants that is responsible for their bitter taste. It is found in fruits, seeds, leaves, and on the bark of fruit trees and plants.
It is a polyphenol and packed with antioxidants that bring about a multitude of health benefits. However, tannins give the mouth and tongue a rubbing and drying sensation. It features a sandy and gritty texture. In grapes, tannins are found in the grape skin, seeds, and stem. Wines aged in oak barrels also have a strong tanning taste.
Most people think that the sensation of tannins makes wine dry, but it’s actually not the indicator of dry wine. Yes, it may dry out your mouth and tongue, but that’s not the definition of what a dry wine is. Just because a certain wine makes your mouth dry due to the high levels of tannins, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a dry wine. Many sweet wines have high levels of tannins, too.
We mentioned earlier that winemakers harvest immature grapes to make dry wine. Immature grapes have more acidity and have less sugar. This means that dry wine is usually characterized by high levels of acidity or high levels of alcohol. The more acidic the wine is, the dryer its flavors are. Acidity is often confused with tannins, but it’s important to note that the more acidic wine is, the higher alcohol content it has.
3. Alcohol Levels
Wines that have 10% or fewer alcohol levels tend to be sweeter. A wine that has alcohol levels that are 11 to 12% and above, then to be drier.
4. Residual Sugar
Residual sugar is the greatest determinant of sweet or dry wine. Any residual sugar content of less than 1.3% is considered dry, while those that have above 3% residual sugar are considered to be semi-sweet or off-dry. Wines that have more than 5% residual sugar are considered to be sweet wines.
Best Dry Wines to Try Today
With so many varieties and brands to choose from, it can be overwhelming to find the best bottles of dry wine to try. To get you started, here are 3 of the most popular and bestselling dry wines to try today:
1. Kistler Vineyard Chardonnay 2017
The Kistler Vineyard Chardonnay 2017 is highly sought after and fairly expensive. It is an intense and powerful dry wine, with bright acidity, creamy, and satisfying flavors. It opens with notes of toasted hazelnuts, river stone, dried white flowers, citrus peel, and features a slow and subtle finish.
2. Domaine Weinbach Riesling 2018
From Alsace, France, Domaine Weinach’s Riesling 2018 is noted for its flavors of lime, atoms of white blossom, and having a long, lingering finish with its balance of crispness and acidity.
3. Geyser Peak Winery Sauvignon Blanc
This award-winning winery produces a Sauvignon Blanc that’s very acidic, with flavors of grapefruit and zesty lemon, It features aromas of lemon, lime, and citrus blossoms, offering a fruit-forward palate that’s bright and having a crispy acidity.
Dry wine is the opposite of sweet wine. Made from immature grapes, they are more acidic and have a higher acidity level, as well as having less or zero residual sugar. Tough dry wine is often confused with high tannin levels, the defining characteristic is the percentage of residual sugar, which is always between 0 to 1.3%. Any wine that has more than this percentage is considered to be semi-sweet or sweet, and therefore, not dry.
Dry wine is perfect to pair with salt, spicy, fatty, and spicy food, it all depends on the variety of the wine. The opposite of dessert wine, dry wine is best paired with main dishes, for cooking, and as a drink to share with family and friends.