You may have heard or even used the phrase regarding the preference for a dry wine. But what does that really mean? The problem is that the term gets used in a couple different ways.
When referring to a dry wine, a lot of people are referring to the way that it tastes or the sensation that the wine produces in their mouth. But 'dry' can also refer to the amount of sugar in the wine.
Ok, so what then is a 'dry' wine? Well, most wines are technically dry. That is, during the fermentation process, the yeast is allowed to consume all the natural sugar in the juice of the grape and convert it into alcohol. Thus, dry wines actually contain no sugar. But, if the fermentation process is interrupted before the natural sugars are converted to alcohol, then you end up with a wine that has a residual sugar level greater than zero. So these wines are 'sweet' which is, in wine parlance, the opposite of 'dry.'
And while we'll save an in-depth discussion of residual sugar for a future posting, there are certainly winemakers that produce wines with some sweetness by interrupting the fermentation process. And these wines are highly popular.
What about wines that dry out your mouth when you drink them? Aren't they dry wines? Well, technically no. The sensation of dryness in the mouth is actually the result of tannic compounds in the wine or 'the tannin.' Tannins are naturally produced from the skin and seed of the grape. And these tannic compounds in grapes are the same ones that are experienced when drinking a strong cup of tea or when eating nuts such as walnuts. They can yield the same effect; a drying sensation in the mouth. But this is not what makes a 'dry' wine.
So the next time you or someone you know uses the term 'dry' when speaking of wine, ensure that you clarify what is meant by the term. Otherwise, it can result in very different wines. Cheers!