This being a manifesto against use of the word “dry” in relationship to wine, I herewith present ten points on why “dry” should be banned from all wine-related speak.

  1. Some people use “dry” as the opposite of “sweet” in relation to the amount of residual sugar in wine. Wine with no or very little residual sugar is “dry.” Wine with significant (whatever that means) residual sugar is “sweet.” But …
  2. Ethanol also tastes sweet, so a high-alcohol wine that is “dry”— that is, that has no residual sugar—can still taste “sweet.”
  3. Lots of acid can mask residual sugar, so a wine that is “sweet” can still taste “dry.”
  4. Fruity flavors seem sweet even when they are not associated with sugar (or ethanol, or other sweet substances), so a particularly fruity wine might seem “not too dry” even if it does not have residual sugar and is not high in alcohol.
  5. Some people also use “dry” to refer to the rough, sandpapery sensations produced by tannins on the inside of the mouth, which has very little to do with residual sugar, ethanol, or fruity flavors.
  6. Since oak is high in tannins and wine aged in oak picks up tannins from the barrel, some people really mean that they do not like oaky wines when they say that they do not like wine that is “too dry.”
  7. Some people use the word “dry” as a proxy for “good,” either because they like “dry” wines or because they think that “dry” wines are sophisticated. Some people use the word “dry” as a proxy for “bad,” either because they do not like “dry” wines or because they think that “dry” wines are snobbish. It is confusing.
  8. If you ask a server either for a “dry” wine or for a wine that is “not too dry,” the server is likely to understand “dry” in exactly the way you did not mean it but, since you used a vague word, you cannot blame the server when you do not like whatever he or she suggests.
  9. Referring to a beverage as “dry” tends to provoke bad jokes from people who like to take things literally.

10. Referring to a wine as “dry” in the presence of overly-particular wine science geeks tends to provoke long-winded manifestos on why “dry” is a terrible word to use to describe wine.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Erika Szymanski was blessed with parents who taught her that wine was part of a good meal, who believed that well-behaved children belonged in tasting rooms with their parents, and who had way too many books. Averting a mid-life crisis in advance, she recently returned to her native Pacific Northwest to study for a PhD in microbial enology at Washington State University. Her goal, apart from someday having goats, is melding a winery job to research on how to improve the success rate of spontaneous ferments. When tending her Brettanomyces leaves enough time, her blog Wine-o-scope keeps notes on why being a wine geek is fun.[/author_info] [/author]

About The Author

Science Writer

Erika Szymanski studies wine science dissemination at the Centre for Science Communication at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. She holds Masters degrees in both microbiology and English rhetoric and composition and wants, someday, to help improve the structures through which scientists communicate with each other, industry, and the world. Erika was named 2012 Louis Roederer Emerging Wine Writer of the Year for her work on Palate Press.

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17 Responses

  1. Opposed to Dry: a Manifesto – Palate Pres - My Wine Broker

    […] Opposed to Dry: a ManifestoPalate PresWine with no or very little residual sugar is “dry.” Wine with significant (whatever that means) residual sugar is “sweet.” But … Ethanol also tastes sweet, so a high-alcohol wine that is “dry”— that is, that has no residual sugar—can still taste …and more » […]

    • Lee Newby

      In systematic tasting dry is a classification of residual sugars, yes various other components in the wine may alter this profile, and you are proposing “dry” to be called, “not sweet”???

      • Erika Szymanski

        No, I’m not recommending “not sweet,” though it is a better (that is, a more specific) descriptor than “dry.” Depending on what you mean by “not sweet,” “no perceptible residual sugar” or “not fruit-forward” or “not a jam-bomb” might all do better.

      • Lee Newby

        OK what is “the word”???? Does “luscious” fit the upper end of sweet for you???

      • Erika Szymanski

        There is no “word,” Lee; there are many words that mean different things, and I’m arguing that we should use them. “Luscious” says nothing about sweetness; it evokes a certain emotion or feeling. When I use “luscious” to describe wine, I must admit that it has nothing to do with sugar and everything to do with how the wine makes me feel.

      • Robert

        I think you’ve pointed out a gap in the logic and glossary of words to articulate whether a wine is on the sweet side or not. I think we should turn this over to Former President Bill Clinton who could be very precise and evasive with his words.
        Or we could adapt something like they do for hurricanes, tornadoes, and the difficulty of paddling certain rapids??? Category 1-5!
        Or maybe we should just have another glass of wine we like and not feel so irritated about the lousy inadequate English language word arsenal.

  2. David Hance

    Interesting speculation, but changing that sort of wine-word usage sounds like a long-term and thankless task. Are you taking on that crusade, Erika? Or just speculating. No judgement … just interested.

    • Erika Szymanski

      One person at a time, David, one person at a time.

  3. Randy Caparoso

    Your frustration with wine semantics is understandable, Erika. However, you’re looking at terminology with your wine glass half empty: there is joy in shades of “dry,” just like there is joy in shades of color, sounds, textures, et al. Wine is an aesthetic appreciation because of its complexities, no matter how confounding. Otherwise, the subject of wine would always be, well, dry — and who wants that?

    • Erika Szymanski

      I’m a huge fan of nuanced language — and I agree that therein lies much of the fun involved in communal wine analysis — but that is precisely why I hate the word “dry.” Dry isn’t nuanced. Dry isn’t precise. Dry doesn’t communicate beautifully or effectively. When our language offers us so many other options, why settle for “dry?”

  4. A Lazorchak

    one of my horror story events when pouring at a wine show in Pennsylvania. We were pouring a “grocery store California blend”. I started to see a trend that the wineries making blueberry and kiwi-strawberyy flavored wines at this show were “educating” the tasters that “Dry” wine was bad. And that their wines (with artificial colors and loaded with sugar) was not “dry” wine and asked point blank what do you like better?

    I get that we are all in business of moving product. But miseducating the public and leading the coca-cola palate audience down “sweet street” is NOT OK in my book.

    March on Erika!


  5. Duncan

    If you look at “Dry” as a descriptor of flavor based n a number of factors (sugar, acidity, tannins, etc), rather than a simple measure of sugar, most of your objections to the term would seem go away. As for the misuse of the term by people not familiar with the nuances of the descriptor, there is little that can be done. I don’t think a term can be objected to because some people may not use it correctly.

    “Blue” (or any color) also has nuances in shade, depth, tone, etc. It’s still a good descriptor.

  6. Lizzy

    Well, very interesting point of view yours, Erika. And I also agree. More, you forget maybe another reason of confusion, in which people often fall. Take an Alsatian Riesling, what is it?! Sweet, many people say. Wrong! It’s aromatic. But it tastes like a wine with sugar…

  7. Thomas Pellechia


    Kudos from this perch.

    I’ve said (written) about this subject numerous times.

    You are correct: the problem with the word “dry” is that it is used by many to describe the opposite of “sweet.”

    My contention is that the word “dry” to describe wine (which I believe was first used one or two centuries ago in France)was intended to describe how the wine makes your mouth feel. As I understand its early use, “dry” was not intended to describe a lack of sweetness.

    Use of the word as it is used today is, well, useless.