Sweet vs. Dry vs. Fruity

1292176_687052edef11While working as a sommelier, I have noticed a huge misconception regarding the individual terms sweet, dry, and fruity when it comes to wine.  Guests say they like "wines that are sweet like Reisling (can be dry or sweet) and Pinot Grigio (wrong- always dry)".  Or they like "reds that are sweet like Pinot Noir (wrong- always dry)".  We are now about to dealve into the realm of sugar content and fruitiness in wine.

When looking for a wine, it is important to know about Residual Sugar (RS).  RS is natural grape juice sugars either left over after fermentation, or can be added later (liqueur de tirage) when producing sparkling wine.  RS gives wine a sweetness level.  Any wine, even a bone dry one, will have some amount of RS. 

There are many different levels of sweetness, judged upon where the wine is produced.  The EC (European Commision) has four sweetness levels (Dry, Medium Dry, Medium Sweet, Sweet) for still wines.  There are seven levels (Brut Nature, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Dry, Demi-Sec, and Doux) for sparkling wines and six for German Reisling.  In the US, we measure RS in degrees Brix.  These are all based upon sugar levels.

Most of your still wines: Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Malbec, Viognier, Grenache, etc. will be considered dry because they typically contain less than 9 grams per liter (g/l) of RS.  Once you get to know your varietals and global styles, then you will know the type of wine to expect from each.

Now that we know what dry/sweet is, let us get to fruitiness.  Most wines may contain only a small amount of RS, but every wine is fruity.  Just think about it- they are made from grapes, a fruit!  But many other fruit aromatics and flavors come about through the maturation of a grape's juice, as well as through the fermentation and aging of the wine.  Some wines just have more fruit come through than others. 

So when you give a description of want you would like to your local wine expert, just remember what it means to have a sweet wine (means dessert!), a dry wine (less RS), and a fruity wine (more aromatics and flavors associated with fruit).  Also try to associate yourself with varietals which let the fruit come out more (Grenache, Shiraz, Merlot, Pinot Gris, etc.) and the varietals that can let the sugar out!

(Image courtesy of Flickr)