Wondering which white wines are dry or sweet? The vast majority of white wines are made in a dry style because dry wine is more popular. To answer the question correctly, it is helpful to understand the wine-making process and how that affects white wines.
Residual Sugar: The Key Factor In Sweet Wines vs. Dry Wines
Most wine drinkers know that wine grapes contain sugar. However, only serious wine drinkers (and wine snobs, alas) get specific and ask about grams of sugar in their wine bottle. If you want to understand dry wines for yourself, take a moment to understand how sweetness in wine levels is defined.
The following breakdown is required in the European Union, according to Decanter, to help people identify dry wines and sweet wines. It is helpful to keep this wine sweetness chart in mind to find the right dry white for your next wine tasting.
- Dry Wines. Up to 4 grams of residual sugar per liter.
- Medium Dry. These wines range between 4-12 grams of residual sugar per liter.
- Medium Sweet. This category includes wines with 12 to 45 grams of sugar.
- Sweet. Over 45 grams of residual sugar per liter. If you pick up sweet dessert wines, they will almost certainly have a high residual sugar level. The high sugar level per glass in dessert wines is a key reason why port wine and other dessert wines are usually served in small glasses. Anything more and the sugar might become overwhelming!
You may sometimes see the term “Off-dry” on wine labels. Think of “Off Dry” as slightly sweeter than a dry wine. Further, keep in mind that all wines contain some level of natural sweetness. That level of natural sweetness may be reduced to a hint of sweetness at the low end of the residual sugar spectrum.
The Six Driest White Wine Grapes
While the wine-making process can make almost any white grape into a sweet or dry style, the white wine grapes are considered the driest.
- Assyrtiko. This Greek white wine grape is grown widely on the island of Santorini. If you like a refreshing level of acidity, try this grape.
- Melon. Grown in the Loire Valley of France, this grape makes some of the driest white wines in France.
- Sauvignon Blanc. Pay attention to geography with this white wine grape. Sauvignon Blanc from France is usually dry, while the New Zealand version is made off dry. Typical fruity flavors in Sauvignon Blanc include lime, grapefruit, passion fruit, and other tropical fruit.
- Grüner Veltliner. Made almost exclusively in Austria, this white wine is dry and has a spicy style. Finding Grüner Veltliner by name might be difficult at the wine store. Ask for the Austrian wine section in your local wine shop as a starting point.
- Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio. In most places, Pinot Gris is a dry wine. However, you can find sweet wines made from Pinot Gris in the Alsace region of France.
- Riesling. Wine drinkers go crazy for Riesling because it is made in so many styles. Some people like an off-dry or sweet Riesling with spicy food, for example. However, you can easily find dry Riesling white wines in Alsace.
Food Pairing Tips For Your Next Bottle of Dry White Wine
Coming up with a food pairing with dry white wine (including the best white wine with Mediterranean food) is easy. Generally speaking, there are two ways to match food to wine: complement or contrast. To enhance your wine experience and become a wine expert, it is helpful to have a few specific food pairing tips in mind. Check out these white wine types to enjoy your next meal further.
- Asian Food. Many kinds of Asian food vary significantly in terms of acidity, spice levels, and more. As a starting point, try Chenin Blanc and Riesling with Asian food. Some adventurous wine drinkers want to experiment, though, by combining red wine with sushi.
- Seafood Dishes. Pick up your bottle of Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc for seafood dishes like cod and tilapia. For richer seafood dishes, you will need something richer like a Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio.
- Spanish Cuisine. Experienced wine drinkers know the rule “what grows together pairs well together.” Take a classic dish in Spanish cuisine like Seafood Paella. IT pairs well with a Spanish white wine like Albariño.
- Vegetarian and Vegan Dishes. Do you love salads, roasted vegetables, and other veggie-focused meals? In that case, pick up a bottle of Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc to go with your meal.
Keep in mind that food pairing is an intensely personal decision. You may be vegan and never have seafood dishes. In that case, you may want to experiment with other white grape varieties. Dry wine lovers – keep experimenting at each wine tasting to find food pairings that work for you.
Frequently Asked Questions From Wine Drinkers
Wine snobs might not answer questions like which white wines are dry, but that is not the approach of this website. We take pride in helping wine drinkers find their next memorable glass of wine.
Which White Wine Is Driest?
The short answer is “it depends!” There are common misconceptions that particular white wine grapes are always dry or always sweet. In reality, nearly every white wine grape is made in a wide range of styles.
White wine types can be made in different styles, some suited for dry wine lovers, and some are made into sweeter wine. As a quick rule of thumb, dry wine lovers should look for Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Blanc in their wine shop. Even better, pick a different region to explore each time you visit the wine shop (it’s easier than finding the answer to wine travel questions like when to visit wine country). For instance, pick up Spanish wine this week and then a different type of wine next week.
Tip: When available, look up the residual sugar level in the wine before drinking it. When you know the grams of sugar in your glass of wine, you can find the wines in the dry style every time.
Which Wine Is Driest: Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc?
To make this wine comparison simple for your taste buds, let’s assume you are comparing unoaked versions of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. In that case, Chardonnay is usually the drier style.
These popular types of wine grapes are made in many different styles. For fun, compare a French variety of Chardonnay like Chablis to their cousins in California. The difference in flavor profile is tough to miss. Traditionally, California Chardonnays are known for their buttery flavors (i.e., oaky flavors) and relatively high alcohol levels. In contrast, the French variety of Chardonnay usually lacks buttery flavors. Instead, the French variety of Chardonnay offers moderate alcohol content and mineral notes because it is made in a cooler climate. The other difference is that California Chardonnay is usually aged in oak barrels while other Chardonnay white wine is made in stainless steel. To be clear, a bottle of wine made with stainless steel is fine – it is a neutral container that does not add flavor.
What Dry White Wine Variety Should I Use In Cooking?
Choosing bottles of wine for cooking can be tricky. Some people encourage you to buy inexpensive wine for cooking. The expert advice is different. Whether cooking or drinking, always choose the best bottles of wine you can afford at the wine shop. Now, let’s look at a few specific suggestions.
- Do use acidic wines. Acidity in wine is your friend in cooking. Sometimes the wine label or wine review will say “crisp flavors” or “refreshing flavors” instead of acidity. Start your search at the wine shop by looking for a dry white wine variety like Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, or Pinot Gris (also make sure you know your white wine calories).
- Do not use sparkling wine. The cooking process usually does not play nicely with sparkling wines. That said, some people have good results by using dry sparkling wine in their cooking.
Which White Wines Have Nutty Flavors?
The usual dominant flavors in wine are fruit. However, there are exceptions. For example, a dry Sherry might have a different quality, including nutty flavors. You get nutty flavors in a glass of aged white wine. It is relatively rare in white wines.
Learn The Basics Of Wine In An Hour?
Now you know the answer to which white wines are dry, keep learning about wine! Would you like to deepen your knowledge of wines but you don’t have much time? I recommend Gary Vaynerchuk’s wine course on Skillshare. In less than an hour, you’ll learn wine fundamentals and enjoy three guided wine tastings (but not the taste of Chianti). To learn more about this course and whether it is right for you, check out my review: Getting Started with Wine: Buy Smarter, Taste More” Skillshare Course Review.