What Does Dry Wine Mean?

Dry wine is an often-misunderstood term. People can get a little confused as to what it means, and therefore tend to use it in terms of how a wine feels in the mouth, even though that’s not accurate. To help you, in this article, we’ll discuss the correct definition of ‘dry wine’, what it’s not, and describe some of the best dry wines on the market.


A dry wine is a wine which has no sugar left in it. Specifically, this refers to not having ‘residual’ sugar. This means that any sweetness that was present has gone from the wine.

When wine forms, the yeast feeds on the sugar in the grapes and converts it to alcohol. If the vintner decides to stop the fermentation process, then some sweetness is left in the wine. However, if the wine maker waits until all the sugar is used by the yeast for fermentation, then you get dry wine. The sugar is gone. This means that the wine is dry.

The wine may still taste fruity, just not sweet.

Interesting note: In America, wine is seldom completely dry. The American tooth is adapted to sweetness, so slightly sweet wines are preferred. This is called semi-dry.

Alcohol Content

One misconception is that dry wines are higher in alcohol. This isn’t the case. When you have high alcohol levels in wine, you taste the alcohol’s flavors, and this can leave a sensation of an absence of moisture in the mouth. However, this does not make the wine a dry wine.

Dry Mouth

Some people think that dry wine means that you get a dry mouth, but this is an inaccurate assumption. Instead, a wine that causes a dry sensation in the mouth has a high content of tannins.

Tannins are polyphenol compounds that exist in grape seeds, stems and skins. They’re released when they soak in the grape-juice after the grapes have been pressed. This is what dries your mouth out. Winemakers prefer it because it protects the wine, and helps it age.

How Human Beings Taste Sweetness

We taste sweetness if sugar levels are 1.5% of the end-product. When it comes to wine, the following applies:

  • Dry wines are classified as more than 1% sweetness
  • Semi-sweet wines have less than 3% sweetness
  • Dessert wines have 6—9% sweetness

So, it’s clear that you won’t always be able to detect that there is any sugar at all in a wine, because the concentration is too low. Between 1% and 1.5% sweetness, it’ll seem like there’s no sugar at all. Higher than that, and you’ll immediately taste it.

Making Dry Wines

Sweetness in wine is measured using the Brix scale. Now, when wine is made, the majority of grapes are harvested between 21 and 25 Brix. If picked at too low a Brix, they’re under-ripe and the resultant wine won’t taste nice at all. If picked at a very high Brix, and all the sugar is converted to alcohol, the wine will have a very high ABV (Alcohol by Volume).

So, if grapes are harvested between 21 and 25 Brix, and the vintner doesn’t stop the fermentation process, the sugars are all converted to alcohol. But the wine doesn’t have a high ABV. This is then classified as a dry wine.

Classification: Which Wines are Dry?

If you want to find out which wines are dry, it’s a little complicated. Yes, most reds are dry. But the label doesn’t show the residual sugar. So, you have to look at the technical sheet. The tech sheet has information such as elevation of the vineyard, soil type, maturation vessel, days of skin contact and more.

Not every wine producer puts these sheets out, but it’s certainly becoming more popular to do so as people want a deeper understanding of their wine. Often, the only way of finding out is to go to the producer’s website, and look there. Otherwise, you can assume that it’s likely to be a dry wine, unless it’s made to be a dessert wine.

Note that certain Old-World wines have differing rules on what constitutes a dry, semi or sweet wine. In Germany, wine containing Riesling, the most widely grown grape, has something on the label called a Prädikats, which will tell you the dryness or otherwise of a wine.

Lastly, there’s always the shopkeeper. They’re usually experts on wines, so just ask them to make sure about a wine’s specifications.

Now let’s list a few dry wines before discussing wine pairings.

Dry Wines List

There are several wines that make the list of dry wines.

In terms of reds, you can look for:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Pinot Noir
  • Syrah
  • Merlot
  • Malbec

In terms of white wines, you can try the following:

  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Pinot Gris
  • Chardonnay

If you’re looking for something with just a touch of sweetness, a Riesling will be your best bet.

Dry Wine Pairings

Food and alcohol are best eaten together in certain pairs. For example, a fish dish with dry white wine. Below is a summary of what to enjoy with dry wines.

Light Dry Wine

Crisp, light, dry white wines like Sauvignon Blanc and Pino Gris are best paired with lighter foods. Fish, vegetables, salad, and oil-based sauces go exceptionally well with these wines.

Dry Red Wine

Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and the others mentioned above are paired well with many of the food items that you’ll often serve with other reds:

  • Cheeses
  • Meats

In addition, dry reds go very well with puddings or desserts.

In fact, if you use a good Cabernet Sauvignon, it can go with an entire meal—meats and cheeses, and, to finish off, a chocolate dessert.


So, if you want to invite friends over for dinner, you can be confident that you can now discuss dry wine, and give them a meal that is expertly paired. Go ahead and try!

Also Read: Dry White Wine: Comprehensive Guide for Beginners


Sharing is caring!

Leave a Comment