How Do You Tell if a White
Wine is Dry?

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How do you tell if a white wine is dry? Most people with a minimum experience with wine will be able to answer this question quite simply. If a person is drinking a “table” wine with a meal it is probably dry. A wine is dry in comparison to its opposite, a sweet wine. Wines that are truly sweet may be reserved for a dessert drink or as a standalone drink.

However, it is still important to be able to tell a dry wine from a sweet wine if there are plans to become more experienced in wine tasting and drinking. Some Rieslings from Germany are truly dry, yet have a slightly sweet feel or taste because of the unique character of the grape.

So, how do you tell if a white wine is dry?

Individual taste is part of the answer to determining whether a white wine is dry. On the tongue, a dry wine may seem somewhat bitter, especially if the individual is used to sweet drinks or sweet wines.

Woman tasting white wine.

Zip of white wine

Consider as well that a sweet wine will not give as strong a sensation of flowers, fruit, even earthiness, as a dry wine. Sweetness will mask much of the grape’s character. According to documents that record the science and art of wine-making, the sweetness of wine depends on the amount of sugar remaining after fermentation (consider this in relation to acidity).

Dry wines have little residual sugar, though some dry wines may seem sweet because of a strong fruit taste. All wines have some acids, but good wines have acids in balance with other factors. A bit of acidity is necessary for a wine to be crisp and for wine to age properly.

Sweet vs. dry wine. The simple answer then is that the amount of sugar remaining determines where a wine falls on the dry/sweet scale.

Keep in mind, however, that acid content and the tannins from grapes also affect how a person perceives a particular wine. Tannins, of course, affect red wines and will give some dark wines a definite puckering factor. This should not be mistaken for true dryness. Even the alcohol content (by percentage) can change how the wine is experienced.

Important Wine Taster Terms

There are a number of “wine taster” terms that should be considered alone and are not to be confused with the dry/sweet scale. These characteristics include:

  • watery, which means thin and lacking flavor

  • vigorous, which means lively, with assertive flavor

  • tart or sharp; strong, which is powerful but does not equal dry

  • sour, which means acidic and not pleasant

  • mellow – a mellow wine is smooth; light, this usually refers to alcohol content

  • harsh, like sour, is unpleasant; flinty, which gives wines a dry taste, but this is not the same as lack of sweetness

  • crisp and clean – not the same as dry.

So, how do you tell if a white wine is dry?

The final word on the sweet/dry scale for white wine might be this:

Decide for yourself and see if a number of others agree.

Quality wines that are produced and presented as dry generally are just that. They don’t overwhelm the fruit and earth tones with excess sugar.


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