The wine world is full of terminology that is bandied about by the pros. We have all heard terms that can sometimes seem a little out of the layperson’s league (if you want an introduction to wine terms, we have some great articles on them here). What are tears on the side of a glass? How can we tell what the tertiary tastes are when we’re not ever 100% sure of the primary and second ones? How do we tell if our wine is full, light or medium bodied? While some terms are kept in the realm of the professional, some terms are very much used everyday. I can’t think of the amount of times that I’ve ordered a glass of white at a bar and been greeted with, “sweet or dry?”.
At this question, I usually panic. What do I like? Do I want a Chardonnay or a Pinot Noir? A Riesling or Moscato? Let’s assume that you are less indecisive than I and know your personal tastes well enough not to be seized with terror when asked what you want to drink by a barman. My preferred personal taste usually errs on the side of dry. But that’s me, and that’s for a pre or post dinner tipple. For my wine investment portfolio, it’s another matter – I want to know what I’m buying, how long it will keep and what are the labels I should be aware of. Maybe you’ve come across some dry wines when browsing through your wine investing app – but basically, are they worth it?
What Is Dry Wine?
Let’s get one thing straight – wine is fun. It’s fun to learn about, it’s fun to buy and goodness is it fun to drink (in moderation, of course). But it can also be confusing. The industry terms make the subject prohibitive when that’s simply not true. Just because the liquid in your glass is wet, it doesn’t mean it can’t be dry (ok, perhaps the subject is a little confusing then…)
Wines are described as being dry when they have little or no residual sugar content. This means that dry wines are generally not sweet wines – think Chardonnay or Pinot Noir rather than Sauternes or rosé. 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 flavour profile of wine.
A wine’s alcohol level is determined when the grape is pressed and the juice is converted to wine. Yeast eats the sugar in the juice, thereby making it less sweet as time goes on. In some cases, the process is stopped almost before it has begun – thus creating a sweeter wine. If the winemaker leaves sugar behind, this is termed as residual sugar. To make a dry wine, the winemaker will wait for the yeast to consume all the natural sugars.
The term dry wine is confusing as most of us think of the feeling the wine leaves on our palette after that first sip. However, it is not the sugar levels that are doing that to your mouth. The reason we have that dry feeling after drinking wine, notably full bodied wine, is to do with tannin levels, a subject we go into in great detail here. And yes, high tannin wines can be sweet as well as dry.
Alcohol Content in Dry Wine
According to EU regulations the following terms may be used on the labels of table wines and quality wines:
|up to 4 g/L
|up to 12 g/L
|up to 45 g/L
|more than 45 g/L
|If balanced with suitable acidity
|up to 9 g/L
|up to 18 g/L
|suitable acidity as g/L tartaric
|less than 2 g/L below sugar content
|less than 10 g/L below sugar content
7 Types of Dry Wine
Prior to us deep diving into the seven most popular dry wines, let’s get the most common misconception out of the way. Fruity wines are not necessarily sweet wines. Many amateur wine drinkers equate fruity wine with sweet wine and yes their taste profile leans towards a more sugary mouthfeel, but fruit tastes are very common in many wines, even those that are bone dry.
Red Dry Wine
If there was one grape that could sum up the Italian dry wine, it would be the Sangiovese grape. It is the best known and probably most-loved of all the Italian grapes. Blue-black in skin, it is synonymous with wines from Tuscany but is also found in other Italian wine regions such as Umbria, Campania in Southern Italy and Romagna, where the grape is known as Sangiovese di Romagna. Sangiovese accounts for about 10% of Italian wine production. The grape is far subtler than say Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir, but is always fruit forward in taste, with notes of cherry flavour and tertiary tates of tomato.
Cabernet Sauvignon – or Cab Sav as it is sometimes known – has the taste profile that is adored the world over. It is by far the world’s most popular wine, so much so that it even has its own festival on the 30th August. Medium to full body with black fruit notes of black cherry, tertiary notes of green pepper, and spice notes of vanilla it’s by far our favourite fruity, dry red wine. Added to that, the thick skin proves that it is hardy in most climates and the high tannin factor is ideal for fine wines that are made for ageing. Cabernet Sauvignon is truly everyone’s favourite – producers, amateurs and investors alike.
Pinot Noir is the hallmark of Burgundy. It is by far one of the most prized red varieties in the world and ticks all the boxes whether you are a drinker or an investor. The thin skinned grape is delicate, making it one of the hardest and fussiest grapes to grow. But when the conditions are right … goodness, it is like hearing angels sing in your glass. Good Pinot Noir is easy to find. Great Pinot Noir however is like gold dust. The dry red wine’s taste profile is light to medium bodied with silky tannins that improve with age. If you’re looking for the perfect Pinot then look for a wine that has complex flavors that include cherry, raspberry, mushroom and forest floor, plus vanilla and baking spice when aged in French oak. You should also know that Pinot Noirs produced in cooler climates (such as north eastern France) will be more delicate and light bodied than those produced in somewhere like California.
Malbec and Argentina have become inseparable in the minds of many. The new world may have today appropriated the grape but its origins are of course French, hailing from southwest France, where it is also known as Côt. Malbec wines are dry, full-bodied, and display fruity flavours including blackberry and red plum. High-quality Argentinian Malbecs – such as the excellent Bodega Catena Zapata range – reflect effectively their terroir, with high altitude wine (such as BCZ’s Adrianna label) boasting red fruit flavours like cherry and raspberry and more floral notes. French Malbecs, typically from Cahors, are on the earthier side.
White Dry Wine
Sauvignon Blanc has one of the easiest wine taste profiles to recognise. The crisp acidity is a crowd pleaser, and grapes that are grown in cooler climates (or harvested early) tend to give off a herbaceous, “green” taste that is so very indicative. The grape is expressive of its terroir – Loire valley Sauvignon Blancs take on the character of the soil, giving a flinty, smoky, and mineral-like quality to the wine (the region’s excellent soil provides first class natural drainage with the wet weather). It is unusual to age Sauvignon Blanc in oak, thus ageing primarily takes place in stainless steel keeping all the grape’s flavours as pure as possible. Sweet styles of Sauvignon Blanc are rare but prized.
Pinot Gris is the Arsene Lupin of the wine world. If you are unfamiliar with the fictional gentleman thief created in 1905 by French writer Maurice Leblanc, all you really need to know is that Lupin was a master of disguise. Depending on where it’s grown, Pinot Gris can be called Tokay-Pinot Gris, Pinot Beurot, Auvernat Gris (France); Pinot Grigio (Italy); Ruländer, Grauburgunder (Germany and Austria); Szürkebarát (Hungary); or Malvoisie (Switzerland). Pinot Gris is itself a mutation of another grape: Pinot Noir, but expresses a taste profile that is halfway between Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc. Pinot Gris tends to be crafted toward a slightly rounder, barrel-aged, food-friendly flavour profile.
Well, it isn’t the world’s favourite white wine for nothing. Chardonnay is, with no exceptions, the go to vin blanc when all else fails. Something to celebrate? Chardonnay. Had a bad day? Chardonnay. Feel like a crisp, clean wine to go with your meal? Yes, you’ve guessed it, Chardonnay. The grape is beloved by producers and thus enthusiasts and investors as it is so adaptable. Depending on where it’s grown it will taste different. Typically however, the dry white wine grape displays medium to full body characteristics with flavours ranging from apple and lemon to papaya and pineapple. It is also known for its notes of vanilla when it’s aged with oak.
Before trying a bottle of dry wine, check out these wine tasting terms & tips for wine tasting!