Many people favor dry whites over any other type of wine. Wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and dry Riesling are produced around the world, and wine drinkers value them for their crisp flavors and easy ability to pair with foods. You can drink dry whites any time of year, but they are especially refreshing during the warm months of summer. With so many varieties of dry white wine, there's a white that suits almost any palate.
Wine grapes have varying degrees of natural sugars depending on the varietal, how late in the season the grapes were harvested, and the level of concentration of the juices. During the fermentation process, yeast converts sugars from grape juice into alcohol. When a majority of the sugar is converted, and residual sugar is less than one percent of the wine's volume (four grams of sugar per liter), the wine is considered dry. Wines can also be considered medium dry if it contains a residual sugar of 12 g/L. Wines with higher levels of sugar are off-dry, medium, or sweet.
Sweet and fruity are two terms are often confused in wine terminology. A fruity wine is not necessarily a sweet one, and the driest of wines can still have multiple fruit characteristics. Fruity does not necessarily describe the wine's level of sweetness but rather its fruit characteristics. For example, Riesling may taste of apples, or Sauvignon Blanc may have flavors of gooseberries.
Very Dry Whites
These wines contain less than 4 g/L of residual sugar. Therefore, they have a dry characteristic and crispness that makes them perfect for dry wine lovers.
This is one of the driest, crispest wines, making it a superstar for sipping or cooking. This lean, clean wine is often herbaceous or grassy with well balanced acidity and underlying fruits. You can find Sauvignon Blanc grown around the world. Major growing regions include Bordeaux, New Zealand, the Loire Valley, South Africa, Austria, California, and Washington State.
This dry Spanish wine wine, pronounced al-buh-reen-yo, has bright acid and refreshing flavors of citrus and light salty notes. It is delicious with the seafood that is plentiful in Spanish cuisine. The Portuguese call it Alvarinho.
The Burgundy region of France is well known for its excellent Chardonnay wines. In fact, Chablis from France is a crisp, lean wine made purely from the grape. Wines from this region are redolent with flavors of apples, tropical fruits, citrus, and flint. New World versions from California and Washington State are aged in new oak, and tend to be toasty with vanilla flavors. The presence of absence of oak in Chardonnay affects the flavor profiles significantly. Without oak, bright tropical notes come to the fore. With oak, toasty vanilla flavors tend to dominate.
Pronounced musk-uh-day, this light bodied wine is extremely dry. Muscadet is made from Melon de Bourgogne grapes and shouldn't be confused with Muscat or Moscato wines, which tend to be off-dry or semi-sweet. Instead, Muscadet is sharp, tangy, and delicious with citrus and mineral notes. This wine comes from Loire Valley.
Torrontés (torr-on-tez) is a wine that is growing in popularity. You'll find many delicious examples from South American countries, particularly Argentina. It's an aromatic white, meaning the wine is particularly fragrant. On the palate, you'll discover peach and citrus notes along with a bright acidity and floral notes.
These wines may have as much as 12 g/L of residual sugar. The tend to be a little sweeter than very dry wines but not so sweet as to classify as an off-dry or dessert wine.
Pinot Blanc is a genetic mutation of Pinot Noir. However, it's a white wine grape grown in regions like Germany, Austria, Italy, and Alsace, France. It has similar flavor profiles to Chardonnay making medium- to full-bodied wines with zippy acidity and notes of apples and almonds.
Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris
In Italy, this wine is called Pinot Grigio. Elsewhere, particularly Oregon and France, wines from the same grape are called Pinot Gris. In Germany, it's called Grauburgunder. Pinot Grigio from Alsace, France is a sweet wine and usually doesn't fit in the dry whites category. Dry Pinot Grigio/Gris wines are light, crisp, and fruity with mineral or citrus notes. Italian style Pinot Grigio tends to be the crisp, mineral version of this dry white wine, while the French Pinot Gris style tends to be fruity and dry.
Viognier (vee-oh-nay) is an aromatic grape. In fact, in France's Côte-Rôtie wines, winemakers blend a little Viognier with the Syrah to add an enticing scent with a nose of citrus. It's a French grape that's growing in popularity all around the world for its highly fragranced aromas and flavors of peaches and honeysuckle.
Austria specializes in this peachy wine with undertones of pepper and spice. When the grapes are harvested when they are less ripe, citrus - particularly lime - is the flavor that predominates. However, the later in the season the grapes are harvested, the less citrus notes you'll find in the wine, and riper grapes yield wines with peach notes.
Germany and Alsace specialize in this spicy, aromatic white. You can also find good examples from New Zealand, Oregon, and California. Not all Gewürtztraminers (guh-vurtz-tra-mee-nehr) are dry. This grape is also popular in a sweeter, late-harvest version. If you're looking for dry, choose a German trocken or halbtrocken version. Expect floral, spice, and citrus notes in this wine.
Another wine grape that thrives in the cooler climate of Germany and Alsace, Riesling (ree-sling) can be dry or sweet. The acidic wines have flavors of minerals, stone fruits, and apples. You can also find examples of dry Rieslings in Washington, Oregon, and California.
Champagne (and sparkling wines outside of France) is also a type of dry white wine. While many Champagnes are dry, the region has its own sweetness classification.
- Extra Brut is has less than .6 percent residual sugar.
- Brut contains less than 1.5 percent residual sugar.
- Extra Sec has 1.2 percent to 2 percent. It is a medium-dry wine.
- Sec has 1.7 percent to 3.5 percent residual sugar.
- Demi-Sec contains 3.3 percent to 5 percent residual sugar.
- Doux contains 5 percent or more residual sugar.
Food Pairing for Dry Whites
Ready to try some great food pairings with dry whites? While there are no hard and fast rules, consider the following.
- Crisp wines like Sauvignon Blanc pair well with light, bright foods such as halibut with lemon.
- Sauvignon Blanc is also the ideal wine to pair with a salad, vegetables, or anything with strong notes of herbs, particularly dill or basil.
- Oaky wines with toasty flavors like you'd find in Chardonnay work well with rich, fatty foods, such as lobster with butter sauce or fettuccine Alfredo.
- Spicy or acidic whites like Riesling, Torrontés, Viognier, or Gewürtztraminer hold up well to spicy foods, such as Asian food.
- Champagne and sparkling white wines work well with foods that have salty or umami flavors.
- A fruity white like Pinot Gris works with delicately flavored foods, such as shellfish.
- Albariño, with its subtle salinty, is really good with raw fish such as sashami.
Cooking With Dry White Wine
Many recipes don't specify the specific varietal of wine, but rather call for a "dry white wine" instead. So which wine should you use?
- Use a wine with intense flavor such as an oaked Chardonnay, a dry Vermouth, or a dry Sherry in buttery or creamy sauces and stews such fettuccine Alfredo or mushroom risotto.
- Use a wine with a lighter touch for dishes with lighter flavors such as a beurre blanc sauce or a spring vegetable risotto. Chablis is a good choice here.
- For seafood, consider an acidic dry white with citrus notes such as Albariño.
- For dishes that favor herbal or vegetable flavors or that are very light, select an herbal dry white such as Sauvignon Blanc.
The Right Dry White
Don't let the term "dry" intimidate you. While dry whites have little sweetness, most are very accessible. They are especially wonderful when chilled to the correct temperature and served with foods that complement their flavors and aromas. If you're new to wine, seek expert advice from restaurant staff or the local wine shop, who can steer you to some of the best dry white wines available.