What is Dry Wine?
When it comes to wine, it’s a phrase that’s often misunderstood. Sometimes people hear dry and think it’s referring to the way wine feels in your mouth – that dry sensation you get from tannin while drinking red wines. While you can describe the taste and feel of a wine as dry, the term dry wine has a completely different definition.
“Dry wine could be considered subjective; however, the technical definition is that a wine is fermented to anything at our below .4% residual sugars,” said Rob Stuart, our owner and winemaker here at R. Stuart Winery. To further understand the term, you should first understand alcoholic fermentation and the process:
“All wine begins with sugar which is then converted into alcohol,” said Rob. The natural sugar in the grapes is a primary ingredient to create wine, but at R. Stuart, we ferment almost all of our wines to dryness.
It all begins in the vineyard. We make the decision to pick grapes during harvest based on their ripeness. Ripeness is measured by a combination of factors, but it starts with the level of sugar in the fruit. The measurement of the sugar is called brix. As we get close to harvest, we measure the brix regularly and when it gets to 22-24.5 brix (for Pinot noir the ideal is about 23.5 brix) we pick the grapes and bring them in to the winery. As they grapes go through the fermentation process to become wine, that sugar (the brix level) converts to alcohol.
Here’s how the process goes (in broad terms): when the grapes arrive at the winery during harvest they’re gently pressed into juice. Then yeast is added to the juice. The yeast eats the natural sugars from the juice and converts the sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Residual sugars are the sugars that are naturally left after alcoholic fermentation is complete. For a wine to be considered dry, there can only be 0 to .4% residual sugars left in the solution. At R. Stuart, “our goal is to get our wines to .2% residual sugar or less, but most of the time, our red wines end up with less than .1% residual sugar,” said Rob. That last little bit of residual sugar is actually unfermentable.
Is There A Lot of Sugar in Wine?
There are reasons winemakers might add sugar throughout the winemaking process, mostly if the grapes aren’t able to fully ripen in the vineyard for one reason or another. For example, if the grapes are harvested with sugar levels that are below 22 brix, the juice likely won’t have enough sugar to get to the desired level of alcohol in the wine. At R. Stuart, we intentionally pick our grapes later in the harvest season for several reasons, but it’s also a helpful in getting our fruit to the desired brix level. “Based on how we ferment, if we didn’t have 22 brix, we wouldn’t have enough time with the yeast and we wouldn’t get the intended alcohol level or extraction of aromas and colors that we want,” said Rob.
“If you’re looking for low sugar wine, I recommend you look for wines with lower alcohol levels and wines that are technically dry,” said Rob. “These two things will ensure the wines you are drinking are low in sugar. At R. Stuart, we do our best to ferment our wines to dryness and make wines with relatively low alcohol levels, all while creating the best wines we can.”