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The A-Z of wine: D is for Dry

Blogs about wine get so dry don’t they. Sorry about that! We do try! But what does that even mean? What does it mean to be dry? Well when we’re talking about wine, we're literally referring to the amount of sugar that’s left in a wine after the fermentation.

It’s very easy to perceive a wine as being dry due to other factors. For example, lots of tannin in a red wine can make your mouth feel like there's no moisture left regardless of how much sugar is left in it. Also, when we recognise vibrant fruity flavours that we associate with sweet fruits, we can assume the wine is sweet, which isn’t always the case.

A dry wine is made when the fermenting yeasts have converted all of the available sugar in the grape must into alcohol. If the yeast stops before all the sugar is converted (either of its own accord or the winemaker’s decision), then the wine is said to be somewhere between off-dry and sweet, depending on the actual sugar levels that are left. This is why sweet wines often have a lower alcohol content.

For producers in cool climates the ability to produce a wine with a high sugar content has historically been more difficult, therefore demonstrating their success by leaving some residual sugar in the wine was desirable. For this reason, Germany is famed for its sweet Rieslings (though these are less fashionable these days), so much so in fact, that their entire grading system for quality wines is based around the sugar content.

Even dry wines could contain up to about 6g/l of sugar if the acidity level is high enough to balance it out and make it imperceptible, but in practice they contain below 4. Off-dry wines usually contain up to 12g/l, medium up to 45g/l, and dessert wines are anything over that limit.

Most of the wines we drink in the UK are at the lower end of the sugar scale, but regardless of sweetness content, the flavour profiles can range from crisp, citrussy to rich and buttery whites; or structured, savoury to full and fruity reds, so it's easy to find something to match your liking!

See, not a dry topic at all!