What Makes a Wine ‘Dry’ vs. ‘Sweet’?

Feeling a little lost and confused is easy when it comes to choosing a bottle of wine. Terms like dry, off-dry, semi-sweet, and more can be spotted on any label, but what do they actually mean? 

Dry vs. Sweet Wine

The sweetness of a wine comes down to one thing: residual sugar. This refers to the natural sugars that form in the grapes while they’re on the vine — it does NOT mean that sugar is added to the wine! Grapevines like hot, sunny days, and the longer they’re allowed to ripen in these conditions, the higher the sugar content. 

When grapes are harvested and fermented, the sugars convert into alcohol over time. A wine becomes ‘dry’ when most or all of the residual sugars are converted. In general, the sweeter a wine tastes, more residual sugars it has.  ‘Semi-dry’ or ‘off-dry’ wines are somewhere in the middle. 

Other factors such as the types of barrels used during fermentation will also affect the overall flavor profile of the wine. Be sure to ask about how your wine was made during your next tasting, and see if you can taste the difference!

The “Sweet” Stigma

The word “sweet” tends to be thrown around lightly when it comes to wine, and plenty of people won’t admit to liking sweet wines in order to avoid sounding like a wine novice. The truth is, plenty of award-winning wines from all over the world come with a “sweet” label, and the different flavors and levels of sweet vs. dry are a part of what makes wine such a great experience!

Keep in mind: everyone’s taste buds are different. What you might think of as a super-dry wine might be too sweet for another person’s taste! What’s important is that you find a wine you enjoy. 


Book your tasting and tour online! Or, before your next trip to RayLen Vineyards and Winery, check out our free guide breaking down our wines and their flavor profiles. Find your next favorite!

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