Have you ever said or heard someone say the term “dry” wine? I hear it quite often and can attest that is commonly misused..typically resulting in someone receiving a wine packed full of sweetness. Most of the time, it’s something they certainly did not want. So what’s a wine lover to do? Sit back and relax while I educate your mind and palate on the true meaning of “dry wine.”
What is this ‘dryness’?
For the purpose of wine, ‘dry’ is actually a technical term used when the wine has been fermented to ‘dryness’, meaning there is no sugar left in the wine for the yeast to ferment. Therefore, a ‘dry’ wine is one without sugar, or at least a very minute amount of it.
What most people may be incorrectly referring to as “dry” is the sense of dryness their mouth experiences when they drink wine. The dryness these people notice come from tannins. Tannins add structure to a wine, occur naturally or may be added to a wine. They dry out your palate and actually prevent one from salivating. They also allow the wine to age as tannins are natural antioxidants.
Tannins come from a few different things: grape skin, grape seeds, stems and oak. Not too much tannin should come from the seeds of grapes and it typically doesn’t. It may come from stems if there are whole bunch press juices or whole bunch fermentations. Of course, if oak is used to age and elaborate a wine, it will have oak tannins. This is what I was referring to when I mentioned that tannins can be added.
As wines age in the bottle, tannins ‘fall out’ and the wine is softer, perhaps even fruit flavors and aromas evolve as well; from fresh fruit to more herbal and savory notes. Here is something a bit interesting to educate your palate just a bit more. The tannins which come from fruit and those of oak are noted on different parts of the palate. Fruit tannin is perceived at the front half and oak on the back. A well-made wine will be seamless from front to back and even. If a wine is out of balance from the beginning, this wine will not evolve with age. The tannins will never really soften or balance out in the wine. This imbalance may occur when the wrong style or type of barrels were used for the wine, or it may occur if different, less-expensive manners of adding oak to the wine were used. This can come in the form of liquid and chips. Though a little tip, most cheap wines will have imbalanced tannin. They are not going to use a $1000 barrel on a 2-buck-chuck.
Alright friends, you are now officially armed with the technical definition of “dry’ wine. So the next time you hear a friend mistakenly steer your sommelier towards something sweet ….you know what to do.
About The Author
Christie Kiley, International Sommelier and Chef, has over a decade of experience in both restaurants and wineries. She began working kitchens under talented chefs. Nights off from the kitchen, she would work at the same restaurant as a server. Her passion for food grew into the wine industry. She has worked wine harvests in Napa, learning the nature of the product from soil to bottling. Working the back- and front-of-the-house in restaurants and wineries in sales, and as a food and wine educator, has given Christie an in-depth knowledge in both food and wine throughout many aspects. She currently lives in Buenos Aires, where she has just received her International Sommelier Certificate from the Escuela de Argentina Sommeliers (EAS) after two years of study. She works as a wine and food writer and Sommelier at a boutique hotel in Palermo where you can catch her most nights of the week entertaining guests with her unique wine tastings.