Dry Wine: What It Is and Your Guide to the Best Types
The experience of drinking wine should be lively, fun, and delicious. With hundreds of different varieties and flavors, there’s something for everyone in the wine world. From full-bodied reds to crisp rosés, tasting notes range from sweet and floral to citrusy and earthy.
While wine is fun, sometimes it can also be confusing, especially when it comes to deciphering the terminology when trying to select your next bottle. “Dry wine” is one of those industry terms that can be particularly confusing. How can a liquid be described as dry? You’re not the first person to be vexed by the label of dry wine on a restaurant menu or at a wine tasting.
In this article, we’ll break down what the term “dry” really means when it comes to wine and go over the different types of dry wine to try.
What Is Dry Wine?
Dry wine as a descriptor is confusing because most of us use the wrong context when thinking about the term. We tend to frame the concept as one of a sensory nature, associating dry wines with wines that create a dry feeling with each sip. While that feeling is a prominent feature of wine-drinking, it’s actually attributed to wines that are high in tannins, not wines that are characterized as dry.
The true meaning of the term “dry wine” is actually focused on the makeup of the wine. Dry wines have little to no residual sugar content. This means that dry wines are generally not sweet wines. That doesn’t mean these wines can’t have a touch of sweetness. Other components in the makeup of wine including tannins and alcohol levels play an important role in the overall flavor profile of wine.
When winemakers create wine, grape juice undergoes a fermentation process where powerful yeast eats the cloying sugars found naturally in grapes. This creates carbon dioxide, which aids in the creation of alcohol content. To create sweet wines like Gewürztraminer or Riesling, winemakers will end the fermentation process while there is still some residual sugar left. Winemakers that develop dry wines allow the yeast to consume all of the sweet stuff so there is no residual sugar left.
Thinking of picking up a few bottles of dry wine? Here are some of the most popular types of dry wine.
Types of Dry Wine
Based on the winemaking process, wines can have different levels of naturally occurring sugars. Dry wines contain less than 1% sugar — typically 4 grams of sugar for every liter of wine. Within dry wines, there are also sub-categories including medium-dry wines and off-dry wines. Medium dry wines contain less than 12 grams of sugar per liter of volume while semi-dry or off-dry wines contain 10-30 grams of sugar.
Before we dive into the most popular types of dry wine, let’s clear up a few common misconceptions. First, fruity wines do not equal sweet wines. Many wine drinkers associate fruity notes with sweetness in wine, but fruit hints can be found in even bone-dry wines.
Second, dry wines are often associated with having a higher alcohol content. Remember that dry wines simply have little to no residual sugar levels, the term “dry” doesn’t have anything to do with alcohol content. High alcohol wines are not always dry. In fact, there are several dessert wines from Hungary and France including Sauternes and Tokaji that are high in alcohol and also intensely sweet thanks to residual sugar.
Very Dry White Wine
Very dry white wines contain less than 4 grams of residual sugar and are popular among wine drinkers who like crisp and dry notes. Aside from the options below, Albariño and Torrontés are also very dry white wines.
These types of dry white wine are notable for their high crisp flavors and are popular for cooking as well as sipping with friends and family. Sauvignon Blanc often includes acidic flavors or fruity notes like gooseberry as well as vegetal. This type of dry wine is mainly produced in Bordeaux, New Zealand, Chile, South Africa, and along the west coast of the United States. Share a few bottles of Sauvignon Blanc at Friendsgiving or peruse Better Homes and Gardens while sipping this delicious dry wine and dreaming of your next room remodel.
Chardonnay is another popular dry white wine. Variations can be found from Burgundy as well as from California and Washington. This wine has low sugar content and is bursting with fruit flavors including apples and tropical fruits. When aged in oak barrels, this white wine offers vanilla and roasted tasting notes. Chardonnay makes a great food pairing with buttery and creamy sauces and risotto.
Muscadet (say it: musk-uh-day), not to be confused with Muscat or Moscato, is made using Melon de Bourgogne grapes. This dry wine from the Loire Valley offers sharp, tart flavors with notes of citrus. Have a few bottles of Muscadet with buttery oysters, sweet mussels, or grilled scallops.
Medium-Dry White Wines
Semi-dry white wines contain 1-3% residual sugar. These include dry versions of Pinot Blanc, Viognier, Gewürztraminer, and Riesling in addition to the dry wines below.
Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris
Dry Pinot Grigio wines come from Italy, France, Germany, and the United States. Italian Pinot Grigio has mineral undertones while the French varieties from Alsace are fruitier. Pair it with an antipasti topped with seafood and marinated fish or sip it alongside a buffalo burger with melted mozzarella cheese.
This Austrian wine is noted for its unique flavor profile that blends contrasting notes of peach, pepper, and spice. It’s a dry wine with citrus notes that’s perfect for sunning on a summery day.
Champagne and Sparkling Wines
Champagne (known as sparkling wine when it’s produced outside the Champagne region of France) is a popular dry white wine. There are several different types of champagne, classified by their sugar content. The sweetest is doux, which contains 5% or more residual sugar while the driest is extra brut, which has less than 0.6% residual sugar. Brut wine has 1.5% residual sugar and extra sec has 1.2-2% residual sugar, making them medium-dry wines.
If you have a sweet tooth, go for the doux. For a middle-of-the-road approach, try a medium-dry brut or extra sec, which has more sugar than brut wine, but is less sweet compared to doux. Looking for really dry sparkling wine or champagne? Try the extra brut.
Dry Red Wines
Dry red wines are produced across the globe from France to South America and the United States. In addition to the options below, other dry red wines include Black Muscat, Malbec, Touriga Nacional, and Grenache.
This tannic red wine is hearty and bold with tasting notes including green olives, cherries, and herbs. Cabernet Sauvignon is made with a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes. Serve this dry wine at your next dinner party and dress up the menu with hearty dishes and red meats.
Merlot is a dry red wine that can have semi-sweet flavors since it has significantly fewer tannins compared to Cabernet Sauvignon. In this dry red wine, you’ll relish notes of watermelon, cherry, and strawberry. Best of all, it pairs well with just about any meal so you can indulge in a few bottles with your next bleu cheese and gorgonzola platter or a hearty dish of lamb and mushrooms.
Syrah, or Shiraz, is a dry red wine made using grapes from the Rhône region in France. The wine can have hints of dark berries and plums as well as dense and spicy notes. It’s a versatile dry wine that is right at home when paired with a platter of high-quality hard cheese or alongside a burger with BBQ sauce.
This dry Burgundy-style wine has notes of tobacco and dark cherries as well as earthy undertones. California and Oregon make exceptional New World varieties in addition to the classic offerings from France. Pack a picnic with a few bottles of Pinot Noir that go perfectly with a lox bagel and avocado toast.
Ditch the Sugar With Dry Wines
Understanding the world of good wine can be confusing and overwhelming. With terms and descriptors that only the experts can understand, it’s no surprise that some people find the wine industry intimidating. Hopefully we’ve made the wine world a little easier to understand with this breakdown on what it means for a wine to be dry.
While we may associate dry wines with the dry feeling we get when sipping certain varieties, dry wines are actually a type of wine with little to no residual sugar. These types of wines can range from semi-sweet to spicy depending on the varietal. They’re a great choice for people who want to indulge in wine without added sugars.
Best of all, you can find dry options whether you prefer red, white, or rosé. Flavor and texture play a huge role in the joy of wine-drinking. Discover the beauty of dry wines and pick up a few bottles to delight your taste buds with a new experience.