sweet versus dry wine

Sweet Versus Dry Wine – Day 9

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How can you tell a sweet wine vs. a dry wine?

For instance, is Chardonnay a sweet wine? Well, that depends on its made. In today’s episode we will taste a Russian River Chardonnay that smells like butterscotch and caramel and talk about why is NOT a sweet wine.

Wine of the Day

Raeburn Russian River Chardonnay 2017.
Find it on Wine.Com!



Any or all of these: Butterscotch, caramel, toasted nuts, banana, pineapple, lemon + a can of Sprite or other sugary beverage.

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Drink wine along with me, Annie, and learn to engage all of your senses in a powerful new way. SUBSCRIBE to the channel to follow along.

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Video Transcript


EP9_Difference between sweet wine and dry wine (file name)

Wine: California Chardonnay (oaked)

Scent: Butterscotch, caramel, pineapple, lemon

TITLE/SCREEN: DiVino Wine School (Animated Logo)

Hi everyone!

(HOOK) (Crack the sprite) Today’s lesson is short and sweet. Like me.  Most of the time. Stay here for some sugar! Today is all about sweet versus dry wine.

TITLE/SCREEN: 21 Days to Wine

TITLE/SCREEN: Day 9 – Sweet Wine Vs Dry Wine

Welcome back to DiVino Wine School.   I’m Annie, certified sommelier and honored to be your guide on this introduction to wine tasting. Today is Day 9. Sweet vs Dry wine.

We have covered quite a bit in 9 days. If aren’t caught up, check out days 1-8. And remember to subscribe and enroll to get a head’s up on what we will be tasting and smelling in each episode. The links are right down there.


Today is packed with flavor. We’re drinking a California Chardonnay from (TBD)

And I brought several things to smell, including caramel candy, banana,  lemon, a pineapple, which are all notes in this style of oak-aged California Chardonnay.

I also brought a can of Sprite.

Feel free to pour yourself a glass of wine at any time and let me know in the comments what you are drinking!

TITLE/SCREEN: What are you drinking?

 So we talked first about the color and consistency of wine, and what your eyes can tell you. We also talked about aroma. How intense are the scent notes? Is it a complex nose or more straightforward?

It’s about time we actually taste the wine, right? YES. But before we do (or while we do) I want to talk about sugar.


My students ask me all the time, what makes a wine sweet versus dry? For example, this Chardonnay smells really sweet.

TITLE/SCREEN: This Chardonnay smells sweet.

I can even identify specific notes of caramel or butterscotch in the nose.

The key word here is “SMELL.”   But what do you actually taste?

TITLE/SCREEN: What do you actually taste?

I have a [TBD] CHARDONNAY, what you might call the typical, new-world, California Chardonnay.

That means: ripe grapes, that are fermented or aged in new oak barrels.  “California Chardonnay” is a huge generalization. Plenty of winemakers do it differently, and they are producing gorgeous, clean, unoaked wine too.

 This style is simply the most predominant on the market.  Some people love it, some people hate it. But one thing is for sure. It is NOT a sweet wine.

TITLE/SCREEN: It is NOT a sweet wine.

When we describe wine as sweet or dry, or somewhere in between, we are talking about sugar. How much sugar is left-over after alcoholic fermentation? 

TITLE/SCREEN: The more sugar, the sweeter the wine it will taste.

 Dry is simply the opposite of sweet on the sugar spectrum.

Quick science lesson for those who missed it.  

*Graphic or title screen about alcoholic fermentation.

During fermentation yeast eats sugar and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. If the yeast eats all of the sugar, the wine comes out very dry and potentially very bubbly, like Champagne, if you trap the CO2 inside.

Yeast likes it hot (also like me).  So if the temperature drops in the wine cellar, fermentation stops. The winemaker is usually in charge of that.  It’s not random unless you’re making “natural wine,” in which case you cross your fingers and hope for the best!

TITLE/SCREEN: Residual Sugar = Sugar remaining after fermentation.

When fermentation stops there is usually still some sugar left, which makes the wine taste sweeter.  This is called residual sugar, or RS for the wine nerds.


The only other way to make wine taste sweeter after fermentation is to add sugar back in, until you get the desired level of sweetness.  This happens in Champagne and champagne-style wines.  There are regulations for the amount of residual sugar in order to call your wine Brut, or Extra Dry or Demi-Sec for example. 

**Graphic  or TITLE /SCREEN: Sugar in Champagne:

Doux  = more than 50 grams of sugar per litre

Demi-Sec 32-50 grams of sugar per litre

Sec 17-32 grams of sugar per litre

Extra Dry 12-17 grams of sugar per litre

Brut less than 12 grams of sugar per litre

Extra Brut 0-6 grams of sugar per litre

And then there is my personal favorite: Brut Nature, which has almost no sugar at all.

TITLE/SCREEN: Brut Nature, Pa Dosé, and Dosage Zéro have less than 3 grams of sugar per liter.

But what does all this mean when we taste wine?  We know that our sense of smell affects our ability to taste, but the perception of sweetness on your tongue is actually a physio-chemical reaction.  It’s not a flavor. Taste buds pick up on sugar, our noses pick-up on sweet aromas.

TITLE/SCREEN: Taste buds pick up on sugar.  Not our noses.

That means you might smell intense notes of blackberry jam, or in the case of this Chardonnay, caramel candy or sweet roasted hazelnuts. These aromas are a combination of very ripe grapes and young, new oak barrels, which can impart sweet aromas like butterscotch.

But on the literal sugar spectrum, this wine doesn’t even come close to Sprite or Grape Juice!

*Graphic: Sprite (107g/liter). Grape Juice (140g/liter). White wine bottle (TBDG/l. With Sugar amounts.

Ok, you get it, but this wine still seems sweet to you when you drink it.  

That is because you smell all the tropical fruit and candy and associate that with sweetness.

TITLE/SCREEN: Sweetness is an association.

Here is my suggestion. Open a can of Sprite or a grape juice box.  

Or try some apple or grape juice. These are unquestionably sweet and sugary. Compare that taste – not smell – to your wine.  

TITLE/SCREEN: How does it feel on your tongue?

Remember, you can still describe a wine as having intense fruity notes.

Sauvignon Blanc is a perfect example. New Zealand is famous for producing big, tropical-fruit scented Sauvignon Blanc bursting with aromas of pineapple.  But on the palate these are still classified as a dry wine.

TITLE/SCREEN:  Sugar is a spectrum. And wines fall all over the place. This Chardonnay is definitely sweeter than other types of Chardonnay,

Still wondering? Don’t worry.  Like everything else, practice make perfect.

 And some wines are sweeter than others, even if they are technically dry. There is a whole category for sweet wines and dessert wines (like Moscato).

Just remember, fruity aromas do not equal sweet tastes.

TITLE/SCREEN:  Just remember, fruity aromas do not equal sweet tastes.

 And then compare it to a sprite.

See you next time! I will release a new video every Thursday, so don’t forget to subscribe & enroll to get a head’s up what’s next!

TITLE/SCREEN:  Subscribe & Enroll! (arrow down)


END TITLE/SCREEN: Wine is a language. Learn how to speak it.

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