Bottles of wine on a barrel

Learn the Difference: Dry Wine vs. Sweet Wine

Do you prefer sweet red wine to enhance your dinner? Or, when you’re choosing a bottle, do you always reach for a dry white wine? We all have personal preferences, of course, but do you know what makes wine either sweet or dry? Discover the factors that impact a wine’s sweetness along with some great examples of both sweet and dry wines we love. 

What Makes Wine Dry or Sweet?

Following fermentation, wines that retain a high amount of residual sugar are considered sweet. While this appears to be a simple enough explanation, there are many factors that impact how sweet or dry a wine really is, including:

  • Timing of the grape harvest. Winemakers who want to create a dry wine will pick their grapes before they are fully mature. This is because immature grapes have lower sugar content than mature grapes. Conversely, mature wine grapes possess lower levels of acidity, and acidity leads to a dryer wine. 
  • Natural environment. The soil, topography, and climate—also known as terroir—affect a wine’s sweetness. Grapes grown in warmer climates tend to have higher levels of sugar than those grown in cooler climates. 
  • Length of fermentation. A winemaker wishing to make a dry wine will allow a wine to ferment longer so that it contains less residual sugar. 

What Is the Wine Sweetness Scale?

The wine sweetness scale is a chart that lists wines from dry to sweet. Those wines that are below 1% sweetness are considered dry, while wines above 5% on the chart are considered sweet. On the red wine sweetness scale, the driest red wine is Sangiovese and the sweetest is Tawny Port. The driest white wine on the sweetness chart is Muscadet while the sweetest is Ice Wine.

What Are Some Dry White Wines?

There are many fine dry white wines. Two of our favorites include:

  • Sauvignon Blanc. With its herbaceous aroma and crisp, acidic flavors of lime, green apple, citrus, and peach, Sauvignon Blanc is a dry white wine that pairs well with light meats, seafood, and green vegetables. 
  • Chardonnay. Featuring tropical fruit flavors, Chardonnay is a dry white wine. Oaked Chardonnay —wine that’s been aged in oak barrels—has a creamy texture and buttery flavor, while unoaked Chardonnay contains flavors of apple and citrus.

What Are Some Sweet White Wines?

If you are in search of a sweet white wine, we recommend:

  • Riesling. Not all Riesling is sweet, but those that are contain a lower level of alcohol by volume (ABV), typically under 12.5%. A sweet bottle of Riesling offers up tropical aromas and flavors of green apple, citrus, pineapple, and melon.
  • Moscato. Increasingly popular in the past few years, Moscato is a wonderfully sweet white wine to sip chilled or serve with dessert. It’s slightly fizzy and delightfully fruity with flavors of nectarine, peach, and orange.

What Are Some Dry Red Wines?

When you want to serve a dry red wine, we suggest:

  • Sangiovese. A savory, dry red wine, Sangiovese originally hails from Italy. With flavors of dark cherry and hints of tomato, this medium-bodied wine is high in tannins and complements the flavors of rare steak, game birds, mushroom dishes, or any pasta dish with a tomato-based sauce.
  • Tempranillo. Serve Tempranillo with grilled meats and vegetables, smoked foods, tacos, burritos, and chili. A complex, dry red wine, Tempranillo is full-bodied and rich with flavors of blackberry and dried fig. 

What Are Some Sweet Red Wines?

Finally, you’ll want to add these sweet red wines to your collection:

  • Zinfandel. Juicy and sweet, Zinfandel tastes of plum, black cherry, blackberry, and spice. Often described as “jammy,” Zinfandel enhances the flavors of barbecued meat, turkey, stew, pizza, and portobello mushrooms.
  • Lambrusco Dolce. A lightly sparkling, sweet red wine, Lambrusco Dolce is the perfect wine for celebrations. It is a fruit-forward wine that should be served chilled and goes well with pork, cold meats, Italian sausage, pizza, and lasagna.