If you drink wine regularly, you’ve most likely already tried very sweet and very dry wines. What you might not know is that your brain might be lying to you. Read our tips to find your way through the different styles, whether it’s for personal taste or calorie counting.
Where does the sugar come from?
The sweetness in wine comes from the sugar in grapes and is called residual sugar (RS). A wine would be dry if all or most of its natural sugar has been used up during the fermentation process when yeast turns grapes’ sugar into alcohol. Usually sweetness is intentional in most wines. For a good wine it's all about the concentration of residual sugar and acidity balancing. The best sweet wines have this balance.
What affects the sweetness of wine?
The amount of natural sugar from the grape absorbed in the manufacturing process is largely controlled by the winemaker. Stopping the fermentation process (using temperature, filtering or fining) at earlier or later affects the amount of sugar that is left. On the other side, winemakers can also add a small amount of sugar during the last step of the winemaking process as it can be the case for sparkling wines. That’s why some of them are very high in sugar content. Read more
What type of wine is considered dry or sweet?
A wine below 1% sweetness (10 g/L residual sugar) is considered bone-dry - which means very dry. This includes grapes such as Melon de Bourgogne, Cortese (Gavi), Assyrtiko or Verdejo. A wine above 1% sweetness is considered dry. This includes red grapes such as Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon or a white grape like Sauvignon Blanc. Wines above 3% sweetness are somewhere in the middle and often called off-dry. These include Syrah for red or Chardonnay for white. Wines that have over 5% sweetness are more easily recognisable on the taste buds but the truly sweet, or dessert wines as they are commonly called, usually have a sweetness level over 7%. Whites include Moscato d'Asti, Gewurztraminer and Riesling. Ice wines and ports have generally much higher levels of residual sugar which makes them particularly sweet.
How can you tell if a wine is sweet or dry?
Telling how much residual sugar content in a wine is tricky to the untrained palate as the brain often tricks our perception. For example, the brain associates fruit aromas with a sweet sensory experience, so you could wrongly label a wine as sweet but it is in fact dry. Other factors, such as acidity and level of tannins also affect our senses - a wine with a higher sugar content can appear dryer than one with a lower sugar level. Moreover many grapes can be found in both dry and sweet styles. Think Riesling, Gewurztraminer or Furmint. To know what to expect, look for hints like Trocken, Sec or Secco which means dry or "latest harvest wines" for sweet wines. Checking the characteristics of the grape, the winemaking process or the vineyard's location will also help. As a rule of thumb, old world wines tend to be dryer than new world ones.
What are the best dry wines?
You have plenty of great dry wines to choose from - it all comes down to personal taste and the type of food you are serving your wine with. Great grapes for dry red wines include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo. Match the intensity of the wine with your meat. Full-bodied Cabernet pair brilliantly with rich red meats and hearty meals whereas a light-bodied and dry Pinot Noir should be serve with duck or chicken. For dry whites, try Muscadet from the Loire Valley, Assyrtiko and the Spanish grapes Albariño or Verdejo. They work well with seafood, shellfish, salads and lighter dishes. Basil and herb-driven with herbaceous whites (they bring out green notes).
What are the best sweet wines?
Sweet or dessert wines are becoming increasingly popular in both red and white varieties. Here’s our top four list of wines you might want to try. Sauternes: This is a wine region of Bordeaux, based around the Garonne River, where the conditions give rise to grapes with intense flavours and lots of sweetness. Sweet Riesling: Originating from the Rhine region, these strong, fruity grapes are used to create wine across the entire dry/sweet spectrum. Ice wine: Deliciously sweet and decadent, if you’re looking for something to wow your guests, this is definitely a bottle you should have in the fridge. Tokaji Aszú: Head to Hungary if you want to try something different. This region is currently producing some fabulous wines that are well worth a try. From dry to sweet, we cater for every taste at Winebuyers.com. Explore our fantastic collection and find the right wine for you.