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What Do We Mean When We Define an Italian Wine as Dry?

We don’t tend to use the word “dry” to define food and drink in a positive light.

For example, you may say that a portion of food feels as dry as a desert when it’s in your mouth. This is slang that suggests that the food has been overcooked or, at the very least, is in need of some form of condiment to make it more palatable.

And yet, we often define the wines we drink as dry.

What’s more, it never seems to be used in a negative light. People don’t say that a wine is dry and then use that as a reason to never drink the wine again. In fact, dry is often used as a way to describe a good wine, particularly when it comes to a wine that you consume alongside a meal.

So, that brings us to a question.

In the world of Italian wine, what does it mean for a wine to be dry?

This article answers the question.

It’s Not About Your Senses

At least, the term dry is not about the types of senses we usually use when describing what we consume. For example, a dry wine is not a wine that will dry out your mouth. The term has nothing to do with the sensation of dryness, which only makes it more confusing.

That also means that you’re not necessarily looking for a dry wine if you like the sensation of a wine drying out your mouth. There is any number of wines that aren’t dry that could also fit into this category. Asking for a dry wine when you’re really looking for a wine that dries out your mouth could lead to you getting a wine that does not provide the sensation that you’re looking for.

It’s all a little confusing, right?

The key takeaway is that dry has nothing to do with sensations and feelings when you’re drinking one.

Instead, it’s a type of classification that is applied to a specific category of wines.

What is a Dry Wine?

The answer is all about sugar content.

In the briefest terms, creating an Italian wine involves fermenting a large number of grapes. As fruits, grapes produce a lot of natural sugars. The amount of sugar in the wine juice directly correlates to both the alcoholic content of the resulting wine and its sweetness. The more sugar used during fermentation, the sweeter and more alcoholic the wine will be. However, if much of the sugar is extracted, the wine will not be as sweet and will have a lower alcohol volume.

A dry wine is a wine that uses a minimal amount of sugar, at least in comparison to sweeter wines.

Again, this may lead to a negative impression.

You may believe that you want as many sugars as possible in your wine to make it sweeter or to increase the alcohol volume. However, the majority of wines are actually classified as dry because they don’t contain the volume of sugar required to make them sweet.

In technical terms, a dry wine is one that contains 4 grams of sugar per litre of wine or less. In some cases, the wine may even have no residual sugars. And to figure out why that happens, we again have to look at the production process.

When creating wine, a producer uses yeast to process the sugar.

It’s the interaction between sugar and yeast that leads to the creation of alcohol. That alone clues us into the fact that dry wines are not necessarily low-alcohol wines. Instead, a dry wine is one in which the producer has allowed the yeast to consume more, or even, all of the sugars present in the wine juice.

Why is this important?

Some producers leave a little bit of residual sugar behind during their production process. This leads to the creation of sweeter wines because the yeast didn’t have the chance to convert all of the sugar into alcohol.

Let’s break it down into simpler terms.

A dry wine is one that has no (or very little) residual sugar.

This does not mean that a dry wine cannot have sweet notes. Many of the dry wines you consume will have notes of sweet fruits and other materials, for example. However, the wine is not sweet by virtue of the sugar inside the drink, thus making it dry.

When Would You Drink a Dry Wine?

The answer is in the vast majority of occasions.

Let’s use the example of a three-course meal to break down the role that dry wine plays. During this meal, you’re going to have an appetiser (or aperitif), a main course, and a dessert.

The appetiser will typically require the use of a dry wine, as the food is not intended to be sweet. This wine will often be white or sparkling, as most appetisers tend to have fairly muted flavours.

During the main course, you will almost certainly drink a dry wine. The goal here is to ensure that the wine does not overpower the taste of the food. Instead, you’re looking for a wine to complement the flavours in the food, which is where dry wines excel. The specific type of wine in terms of whether you drink red or white depends entirely on the food being consumed.

Finally, we come to dessert. And it’s here where we’re less likely to drink dry wines because dessert is a sweet course.

The Final Word

So, the word dry is not used in a derogatory way when it comes to Italian wine.

In fact, dry is a term that we can apply to most types of wine! It’s simply the phrase we use to denote that a wine does not have a large amount of residual sugar content. If a wine is not sweet to the taste, it is a dry wine. This covers the vast majority of table wines, making dry one of the most common Italian wine classifications.

Of course, there are many examples of Italian wines that are dry, sweet, and everything in between in the Xtrawine collection.

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