De-Geeking Wine: What The Heck Is A Dry Wine?

Even a young child, drinking wine somewhere that it’s legal for children to drink wine, can quickly and readily identify the fact that despite its many variations, wine is always, always wet. That’s an easy one.

And yet, you’ve probably heard wine referred to as being “dry” before (and if not, you’re about to). So what does that mean?

chocolateIt’s actually pretty simple. Think about chocolate. Have you ever had rich, creamy milk chocolate? What about dark chocolate? You can get dark chocolate in various percentages, with the higher percentage referring to more cacao being present in the bar. That leads to the chocolate being more bitter, and less sweet. Some people prefer heavily sweetened chocolate, whereas others like it almost raw.

Wine works the same way. Sugar is the driving force of fermentation, where yeast converts the naturally occurring sugars from the source grapes into ethanol and carbon dioxide. The amount of sugar initially in the mixture is dependent on the type of wine, the surrounding soil, the length of time until harvested and processed, and a variety of other factors. When fermentation is complete, the amount of sugar remaining is called the residual sugar.

A wine with a great deal of residual sugar would be considered a very sweet wine. But a wine in which there is very little sugar left after fermentation is not very sweet – and the term the winemaking world uses for a wine with little residual sugar is dry.

So just like our chocolate example from earlier, wine comes in various levels of sweetness that are preferred by people with different tastes. Dry wines tend to be more bitter and more alcoholic; at the other end of the scale you’ll find sweeter, lighter tastes.

One important distinction to make: a fruity wine is not necessarily a sweet wine, and a sweet wine is not necessarily a fruity wine. It’s common to associate fruitiness with sweetness, but it’s perfectly possible to have a wine that’s richly fruity yet still very dry. Take a Riesling for example. A Riesling can have a very high residual sugar, or it could be bone dry. Despite that range, most people associate Rieslings with sweetness. However, it’s often simply that they are getting Rieslings with a full-bodied fruit flavor that are nonetheless quite dry.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is to find wine that you enjoy. By understanding what winemakers mean when they talk about dryness, I hope that will help you on your journey to discover your own personal favorite wine!


– Mary



(inset image credit: Shutterstock)