The age-old wine debate: sweet vs. dry. Some people love sweet, fruity wines, while others swear by dry ones. You’re probably well-acquainted with Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio if you’re a dry white wine fan. But what exactly makes a white wine dry? And how many different types are there?
Whether you want a dry white for cooking, drinking, or mixing into cocktails, you’re sure to find something you love here.
What makes a wine dry?
When you take a sip of a new wine for the first time, the first thing you’ll probably notice is the sensation it causes in your mouth. When you taste a white wine or a rosé, you’ll probably notice brisk acidity and light to moderate sweetness. These low levels of sugar may lead you to believe you’re tasting a dry wine.
Wines are also usually perceived as dry when their alcohol content is especially high, usually over 13% ABV. The ethanol leads to hot or burning sensations that can often cover up other characteristics, such as sweetness. Sometimes, the sugar in these wines can actually be quite high, but their ABV tricks your brain into thinking they’re dry.
Wines that are perceived as dry may not actually be dry at all. The term “dry” is often misused. To put it simply, a dry wine is a wine that isn’t sweet because it has no residual sugar left after the winemaking process. Wine is made by fermenting crushed grapes with yeast. The yeast eats the sugar from the grapes and produces alcohol. In dry wines, the yeast can eat all the sugar present, meaning there is no sweetness left in the final wine. Winemakers aiming to produce a sweeter wine stop the fermentation process early, leaving some residual sugar in the final product.
There is a range when it comes to the dryness of wines. Some wines taste dry due to the presence of other characteristics, like acidity or alcohol. These wines are on the sweeter end of the dry spectrum and usually have residual sugar present. Then there are truly bone-dry wines, in which the winemaker has let the yeast consume all of the sugar, and no residual sugar remains.
Which white wines are dry?
Judging sweetness and dryness based on a grape varietal is difficult. While some grapes are better suited for sweet wines, and some are better suited for dry, it really depends on the fermentation process and the winemaker’s personal choices.
For example, Chardonnay is often categorized as a dry white wine. However, there are all different types of Chardonnay. There are dry ones, slightly fizzy ones, sweet ones, and, while uncommon, there are even some dessert Chardonnays out there. Typically, when you’re looking at a still Chardonnay, you’ll see both oaked and unoaked, which refers to whether or not the wine has been aged in an oak barrel. Oaked Chardonnays are typically more oaky and full-bodied, while unoaked Chardonnays are more fruity and easy-drinking. But remember, fruity doesn’t always mean sweet.
Sauvignon Blanc is another popular white wine that is usually thought to be dry, and for a good reason: it’s one of the driest white wines out there. While not every Sauvignon Blanc you taste will be dry, most of them will be. Since Sauvignon Blanc grapes are typically grown in cooler climates. They tend to be drier, as warmer regions typically make sweet wines. Sauvignon Blanc also typically has herbal notes, such as cut grass and fresh herbs, which lend themselves well to a dry style of wine.
Even wines that have a reputation for being extremely sweet can be made in a dry style. Riesling is a great example of this. Riesling is usually thought of as cloyingly sweet, but there are some really lovely dry Rieslings out there.
Common white wine varieties that you’ll find in dry styles include, but are not limited to:
Are dry white wines good for cooking?
Yes. Typically, when a recipe calls for white wine, you’ll want to use a dry wine that allows you to control the sugar level. There’s a common misconception that you should use cheap wine when cooking, as it won’t really affect the final flavor. However, this isn’t true. You should never cook with any wine you wouldn’t drink. You’ll be able to notice the quality difference in your final dish.
Best dry white wines for cooking and drinking
With so many amazing dry white wines on the market today, it can be difficult to know which one to buy. Whether you’re drinking a bottle or tossing it into your next dish, you’re sure to find something that suits your tastes on the list below.
Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc
Oyster Bay’s Sauvignon Blanc is elegant, light to medium-bodied, and bursting with fruit flavors. It’s definitely a dry wine, but the dryness is balanced by flavors of red berry, gooseberry, and tropical fruit. You’ll also notice hints of oak and exotic spices. This wine is fresh, bright, acidic, and an absolute pleasure to sip.
La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
Produced in California, La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay is full-bodied and incredibly aromatic. Upon opening, you’ll instantly notice the aromas of lemon and apple, with subtle hints of vanilla and butterscotch. You’ll find notes of apricot, lemon, gala apple, oak, spice, yellow plum, melon, butterscotch, caramel, and honeydew on the palate. The bold flavors are beautifully balanced by the acidity, making for a wonderfully round bottle of wine.
Florio Dry Marsala
Florio Dry Marsala is an absolute staple when it comes to cooking wines. It is amber to light brown in color, with hints of raisin and vanilla. It’s a fortified wine, meaning the alcohol content is high, which is perfect for various cooking purposes. Dry Marsala is absolutely essential for classic dishes like Chicken and Veal Marsala. Florio Dry Marsala offers lingering tones of pinecone, walnut, and custard. While it’s mostly used for cooking, it can be sipped as an elegant aperitif.
Maso Canali Pinot Grigio
From Trentino, Italy, Maso Canali Pinot Grigio is a crisp, full-flavored dry white wine. It has a gorgeous, pale golden color and aromas of peach and honey. On the palate, you’ll notice flavors of lemon, fresh apple, nectarine, and citrus. This wine is incredibly well-balanced with crisp acidity and a long, persistent finish.
Black Box Sauvignon Blanc
Usually, boxed wines have a reputation for being fairly low-quality. However, the Black Box Sauvignon Blanc is amazing for cooking and is actually surprisingly sippable as well. It offers lovely floral aromas and flavors of bright fruit and tropical citrus. It’ll blend amazingly into a variety of dishes, from seafood to pasta. Plus, since it comes in a large box, you’ll be able to spare glass or two for sipping while you cook.
Trefethen Dry Riesling
Rieslings have a reputation for being overly sweet and cloying. Trefethen Riesling takes all those stereotypes and throws them out the window. This wine offers floral aromas of orange blossom and jasmine, as well as fresh, fruity notes of green apple and grapefruit. Upon tasting, you’ll notice bright, luscious flavors of nectarine, white peach, and Honeycrisp apple. This Riesling offers gorgeous minerality and acidity, which lead to a crisp, invigorating finish.
Paco & Lola Albarino
Albarino is a lesser-known yet incredibly delicious, dry Spanish white wine. The Paco & Lola Albarino is a perfect example of the style. Incredibly aromatic, the nose has citrus notes of grapefruit and lime and floral aromas of white flowers, acacia, and orange blossom. The palate is fresh, citrusy, and intensely fruity. This Albarino offers an elegant yet slightly bitter finish.
Yellow Tail Pinot Grigio
Hailing from Australia, Yellow Tail Pinot Grigio is an amazing wine for both cooking and sipping. It draws you in with the aromas of green apple and pear, and the palate is crisp, clean, and refreshing. It’s extremely affordable yet still very sippable. Pinot Grigio offers a wonderfully fruity, mineral character that is perfect for cooking seafood while remaining neutral and incredibly versatile.
Dry white wines are incredibly crisp and refreshing. Whether you’re using them for cooking or sipping, they’re almost always enjoyable. With so many wonderful varieties on the market today, it can be hard to pick just one bottle.
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