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What is Dry Red Wine?

Dry red wine is red wine that contains little or no sugar. Dry wines are the opposite of sweet wines.

No laws in the United States dictate how much sugar a dry red wine may have, however, in the EU, a dry wine may have up to nine grams of sugar per liter. In practice, however, most dry wines contain much less.

Wine professionals define dry wine even more specifically. To them, dry wines have no more than one gram per liter of sugar. They would refer to wine that has more than one gram, but less than nine, as “off-dry.” Wines that have no sugar at all are often referred to as being “bone dry.”

Dry wine contains much less sugar than many popular beverages.

  • Dry wine less than 9 grams per liter
  • Whole milk 50 grams per liter
  • Orange juice 90 grams per liter
  • Cola 100 grams per liter

Note that a generous, restaurant pour of wine is 187ml, one quarter of a standard bottle. So, a glass of dry white wine will contain no more than two grams of sugar.

What makes red wine "dry"?

Wine is fermented grape juice. During fermentation, yeast consume the juice’s sugar and produce alcohol. Normally, wine “ferments until dry,” meaning all the sugar has been consumed. Any sugar that isn’t fermented into alcohol is called “residual sugar” or RS.

How do I know if a red wine is dry or sweet?

Almost all red wines are dry. The primary exception is dessert wines such as Port, Vin Doux Naturel, or Ice Wine. Other notable exceptions include some low priced red blends with proprietary names and no distinct origin. Many of those have some crowd-pleasing sweetness.

Best dry red wines for cooking

For recipes that call for dry red wine, but don’t name a particular variety or region of wine, you can use most anything. Here are some general guidelines though:

  • Use young wine, not aged wine.
  • Avoid using wine with strong aromas and flavors of oak.
  • Use wine you would enjoy drinking.
  • The wine doesn’t have to be expensive or complex. Nuances will disappear when the wine is heated.
  • Don’t worry about the wine’s alcohol percentage. The alcohol will evaporate during cooking. Consider matching the personality of the wine to that of the food.
  • For rich dishes, such as braised short ribs or lamb shank, a bold and fruity Zinfandel works nicely.
  • For delicate dishes, use a more delicate wine, such as Pinot Noir.
  • For foods that include cooked tomato or tomato sauce, consider a wine with similar notes and acidity, such as Chianti Classico (Sangiovese).

Dry red wine food pairings

Wine and food pairings can get very specific. But here are general guidelines that will make good pairings easy.

  • If there’s wine in the dish, pour the same wine or one that’s very similar.
  • Pair full-bodied wines with full-bodied foods.
  • Match the intensities of the wine and food—delicate with delicate, strong with strong.
  • Pair the wine based on the preparation style and sauces, rather than the type of protein. For example, Zinfandel with grilled chicken and Pinot Noir or Gamay with roast chicken.
  • Pair tannic red wines with meat.

Classic food pairings for dry red wines:

  • Sangiovese with pasta in a red sauce
  • Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with grilled steak
  • Pinot Noir with seared salmon
  • Bordeaux with lamb
  • Northern Rhone wines with duck

Types of dry red wines

Alost all red wines are dry, though specific producers may choose to include some residual sugar to please a particular customer base.

Cabernet Franc - The genetic father of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc is lighter in body and tannins with brighter, more red-fruit and herbal flavors.

Cabernet Sauvignon - The world’s most celebrated red wine offers rich berry and cedar flavors, as well as robust tannins.

Gamay - A light-bodied and fruity wine with minimal tannins, it’s a bistro favorite.

Grenache - Originally from Spain, where it’s known as Garnacha, this thin-skinned variety makes supple wines with red cherry aromas and flavors.

Nebbiolo - The king of Italian red wines, Nebbiolo is unusual in that it has both high acidity and high tannins. It’s an excellent candidate for aging.

Pinot Noir – The star of Burgundy, France, as well as so many modern wine regions today, Pinot Noir produces a variety of earthy styles from plush and fruity to ethereal, spiced and layered.

Sangiovese - Italy’s most-famous and widely-planted, noble red grape makes medium-bodied wines with notable acidity and moderate tannins. Often rich in umami and tomato-paste flavors, it’s a natural match for much of Italy’s cuisine.

Syrah - This deeply colored wine varies dramatically with climate, from lean and savory to full-bodied and boldly fruity.

Tempranillo - Spain’s answer to Cabernet Sauvignon makes medium- to full-bodied wines with robust tannins and flavors that range from red cherry or plum to black fruit, depending on the climate.

Zinfandel - Originally from Croatia, Zinfandel found it’s happy place in California nearly two hundred years ago. The wines can range from light and spicy to bold and intense; either way, they are loaded with fruit and can prove to be the ultimate choice for grilled meats.

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