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 valuable tool that categorizes wines based on their sweetness level. Wines below 1% sweetness are deemed dry, while those above 5% are classified as sweet. Here are some noteworthy wines on the sweetness scale:

Red Wines:

  • Driest Red Wine: Sangiovese
  • Sweetest Red Wine: Tawny Port

White Wines:

  • Driest White Wine: Muscadet
  • Sweetest White Wine: Ice Wine

What Are Some Dry White Wines?

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

  • Sauvignon Blanc: Sauvignon Blanc is a captivating dry white wine celebrated for its herbaceous aroma and crisp, acidic profile. Immerse your palate in notes of lime, green apple, citrus, and peach as you sip this versatile wine. It effortlessly complements light meats, seafood, and green vegetables, making it a delightful addition to your dining experience. 
  • Chardonnay: Chardonnay, another remarkable dry white wine, offers a range of options to explore. Oaked Chardonnay, aged in oak barrels, boasts a creamy texture and a buttery flavor. In contrast, unoaked Chardonnay reveals refreshing notes of apple and citrus. Whether you opt for the rich and creamy or the crisp and fruity, Chardonnay enhances various culinary creations. 

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. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, the world of wine is as diverse as it is enchanting. Whether you lean towards the dry sophistication of a red wine or the sweet embrace of a white, there's a wine for every palate and occasion. Understanding the factors that determine wine sweetness, from grape harvest timing to terroir and fermentation, empowers you to make informed choices and savor the perfect bottle.

As you embark on your wine journey, consider expanding your collection with both red and white wines. These selections are not only versatile and delightful for the holidays, but they also offer endless opportunities for enjoyment throughout the year. Whether you're sharing a glass with loved ones during a festive feast or sipping it as a tranquil evening nightcap, wine has a special place in our hearts and on our tables.

So, raise your glass to the world of wine, where every bottle tells a unique story and every sip is an exploration of flavor. May your wine adventures be filled with discovery and your moments enriched by the perfect pour. Cheers to the art of choosing and savoring the best wines, whatever your preference may be.