Whether in a dry red or a sweet white wine, wine sweetness is one of the characteristics people consider most when picking a new style to try. Most grapes can produce either dry or sweet wines, but it’s helpful to be able to track where wine styles generally land on a wine sweetness chart.
“Bone dry” is a technical term that means there is no residual sugar left in the wine. Styles that typically land in this category include Bordeaux, Pinot Grigio, Tempranillo, and Albariño.
Dry wine typically refers to examples with less than 10 grams of sugar per liter (g/L), often including Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Syrah, Zinfandel, Garnacha, and Chardonnay.
Off-dry wines typically range from 10 to 20 g/L. Riesling, Chenin Blanc, and Champagne may be examples.
The term “sweet wine” can apply to anything off-dry and beyond, but is typically reserved for wines 20 g/L and above. Anything between 20 and 75 g/L is usually referred to as semi-sweet wine, like Lambrusco and Moscato wine. Sweet wine types like Tokaji, Port, and Sauternes usually have 75 g/L or higher.
No matter where a particular style lands on the wine sweetness chart, it’s good to remember that residual sugar content and the perception of sweetness are two different factors that both relate to how sweet something tastes. While residual sugar content refers to the actual sugar level in the beverage, the perception of sweetness is more complex, and can occur in dry wines, too. For example, when a wine has flavors or aromas associated with sweetness (think floral or fruity notes), our palate is more likely to read it as sweet. Other wine characteristics, like a high level of alcohol, can also increase the perception of sweetness, while factors like acidity and tannins can reduce it.