Dry vs Sweet Wine: What’s the Difference?

Photo credit: Ashley Foreman Productions

Do you know the difference between dry and sweet wine? If not, don’t worry! You’re not alone. Many people are confused about the two types of wine. In this blog post, we will discuss the differences and provide some tips on how to choose the right type of wine for you. So, whether you are a wine lover or just looking to expand your knowledge, this blog post is for you!

Dry vs Sweet Wine: Key Differences

Sugar Content

The main difference between dry and sweet wine is the sugar content. The residual sugar content of a wine must be less than one percent to qualify as dry. A wine that has less than 0.5% residual sugar is called ‘bone dry,’ which means it has been stripped of its residual sugar. With a ‘bone dry’ wine, you can hardly detect any sugar with your taste buds. Sweet wine, on the other hand, has a significantly greater residual sugar content of around 3%.


As you can expect, dry and sweet wines also differ in their taste. Dry wines are usually tart and acidic, while sweet wines are, well, sweet! Dry wines can also have a tannic taste, which is caused by the presence of tannins in the grape skin. Tannins give dry wine its bitter taste and astringent mouthfeel.

The Fermentation Process

Fermentation: Sweet and Dry Wines

What determines whether a wine is sweet or dry typically comes down to the length of time that goes into the fermentation process. The process of fermentation in winemaking turns grape juice into an alcoholic beverage. During fermentation, yeasts transform sugars present in the juice into ethanol and carbon dioxide (as a by-product).

Length of Fermentation

The length of the fermentation process has a direct impact on wine sweetness. When the fermentation process is cut short, the sugar level remains high. When winemakers want to make a dry wine, the fermentation process will take a longer time.

Impact of Sugar Content

Natural Sugar

Beyond the length of the fermentation process impacting whether a wine is dry or sweet, the natural sugars in the grape also play an impact. Sugar content increases towards grape maturity, while grape acidity decreases over the same period. To put it simply, ripe grapes produce sweet wines.

What About Sun-Dried Grapes?

Sun-drying grapes is a process in which grapes are dried by the sun or in an oven. This process can last for weeks, and it concentrates the sugars in the grape, resulting in a sweeter wine. This produces sweet wine popular for producing dessert wines.

Adding Sugar Before Fermentation

Sweet wine is also made sweet by adding sugar into the grape juice before fermentation. This is typically done with unfermented grape juice, or must. “Must” is the term for freshly crushed fruit juice (in this case, grape juice) that contains the skins, seeds, and stems of the fruit. The sugar is added to the must until it reaches the desired sweetness level.

How to Choose Dry or Sweet Wine

Now that you know the key differences between dry and sweet wine, you might be wondering how to choose the right type of wine. The answer really depends on your personal preference. If you like tart and acidic wines, then a dry wine is probably for you. If you prefer sweeter drinks, then a sweet wine might be more up your alley. Ultimately, it’s all about finding what YOU like! So, don’t be afraid to experiment with different types of wines until you find your perfect match.

What About Choosing a Wine for a Certain Occasion?

If you are planning a celebration or hosting friends, you’ll want to choose the type of wine you serve based on the type of food you will be serving.

General Rules of Thumb

If you’re looking for a wine to pair with a particular dish, then there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind. Generally speaking, you’ll want to match the sweetness of the wine with the sweetness of the dish. So, if you’re serving a sweet dessert, then you might want to opt for a sweet wine. On the other hand, if you’re serving a savory dish, then dry wine is usually the way to go. There are exceptions to every rule though, so don’t be afraid to experiment! When in doubt, ask your trusted wine merchant or sommelier for help in choosing the perfect wine for your needs.

Hopefully, this article has helped clear up any confusion about dry vs sweet wine. The main difference between the two is the length of fermentation and the sugar content. Dry wines have been fermented for a longer period of time and have less sugar. Sweet wines, on the other hand, have undergone a shorter fermentation process and contain more sugar. Ultimately, it’s all about finding what YOU like! So, don’t be afraid to experiment with different types of wines until you find your perfect match. From acclaimed reds and refreshing whites to sweet sparkling wines and our award-winning Rosé, you’re sure to find something you’ll love at RayLen Vineyards & Winery. Stop by our NC winery for a tasting or order our wines online to see what sets RayLen wines apart.

Come back later.

You are not yet old enough to visit our website. Thanks!

Welcome to RayLenVineyards.com

By clicking “yes” below, you confirm that
you’re at least 21 years of age and agree to
our Privacy Policy and the Terms of Use for this site.