How to Tell if Wine is Sweet or Dry?

How to Tell if Wine is Sweet or Dry? Navigating the vast range of wine styles and tastes can be daunting, particularly if you need help deciding what to look for.


If you know the main differences between sweet and dry wines, however, it makes choosing exactly the right bottle much easier. Let’s break down all aspects of sweetness levels in wines, from how sweet or dry they are based on their specific characteristics to techniques for deciding which fits your palate best.

How to Tell if Wine is Sweet or Dry?

Check the ABV and RS Levels

ABV (alcohol by volume) is a major indicator of how dry or sweet a particular bottle of wine may be. A higher ABV means that more alcohol has been added to the beverage, resulting in a drier taste, while lower ABV wines tend to have a sweeter flavor profile. Similarly, residual sugar (RS) levels can also help determine how sweet or dry a wine is.

The ABV and RS levels are found on the bottle’s label or online via the winery’s site.

  • If a bottle’s ABV is below 11% and it has over 2g/L of RS, then it is considered sweet
  • If the ABV is above 14% and RS levels are under 2g/L, it is dry.

Familiarize yourself with common styles.


It’s helpful to familiarize yourself with some of the most common styles of wine. Below are some examples of popular wines sorted by their style:

Dry Whites:

  • Chardonnay
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Pinot Gris

Dry Reds:

  • Pinot Noir
  • Syrah
  • Malbec
  • Merlot
  • Zinfandel
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Cabernet Franc

Lightly Sweet:

  • Riesling
  • Chenin Blanc
  • Gewurztraminer
  • Moscato


  • Desert Wines: Sherry, Port, Sauternes, Ice Wine

By studying these common wine styles, you’ll be better equipped to make informed decisions when selecting wine for your next dinner party, social gathering, or personal indulgence.

Learn another language 


Learning the language is an often overlooked method of knowing whether a wine is sweet or dry. French and Italian are key languages for understanding wines, as they tend to indicate the sweetness levels of a bottle on its label. 

For example, in France, vin sec means “dry wine” while vin doux means “sweet wine”.

Similarly, secco pertains to dry wines in Italy, and dolce is used for sweet wines. Learning these simple terms can make it much easier to understand the sweetness levels of a bottle and make your shopping experience much more enjoyable. 

Wines Listed from Dry to Sweet (Charts)

 The winemaker determines the sweetness of the wine, and popular varietals and wine styles typically share the same level of sweetness. Wine sweetness can range from almost nothing to as high as 70%, as found in rare bottles of Spanish PX.

To better understand the sweetness level of red wines, Wine Folly has created a chart that illustrates the various sweetness levels.

Since wine sweetness can vary significantly even within the same category, it’s important to research to determine the actual residual sugar in a specific bottle. One way to find this information is by using a wine tech sheet, which can provide the exact sugar content of a wine. 

When reading a tech sheet, focus on the residual sugar level, often listed as a percentage or in grams per liter (g/L).


By utilizing wine tech sheets, you can make more informed decisions about which wines to choose based on their sweetness level.

  • Wines with less than 1% sweetness are considered dry.
  • Wines with over 3% sweetness taste semi-sweet or “off-dry.”
  • Wines with over 5% sweetness are noticeably sweet.
  • Dessert wines typically start at around 7-9% sweetness.
  • Notably, 1% sweetness is equivalent to 10 g/L residual sugar (RS).
  • 1% sweetness equals just under 2 carbs per 5 oz serving (approximately 150 ml).

Understanding the different sweetness levels in wine can help you make more informed decisions when selecting a wine that suits your taste preferences and dietary requirements. Whether you prefer dry, semi-sweet, or sweet wines, it’s important to remember the residual sugar content to help you choose a wine that meets your specific needs.

It may be shocking to learn that the average wine drinker cannot detect sweetness levels below 1.5%. Yes, you read that right.


However, there is good news: trained tasters can estimate sweetness levels within a range of 0.2%, and with enough practice, this skill can be learned.

Where does the sweetness in wine come from?

The sweetness in wine comes from the residual sugar content, which is the number of unfermented sugars left over after fermentation.

Grapes naturally contain high levels of fructose and glucose, though this varies depending on the variety and ripeness. During winemaking, these natural sugars are converted into ethanol (alcohol) or left behind as residual sugar.

Depending on the style of the wine being made, a winemaker can adjust the level of sweetness by controlling how much of those sugars remain after fermentation. The more residual sugar in the finished product, the sweeter it will taste.

Read more: What Is The Driest White Wine?

How to identify Wine as Sweet or dry?


There are several ways to identify whether a wine is sweet or dry. It’s all the best ways to know quickly for you

  1. Analyzing the Wine Label
  2. Assessing the Wine’s Appearance
  3. Utilizing Your Sense of Smell
  4. Tasting and Evaluating the Wine
  5. Ask an expert or sommelier for advice.


Understanding the sweetness of wine can be a tricky process. However, with some practice and knowledge about how winemakers adjust residual sugar levels, it’s possible to identify wines that best suit your taste preferences.

From searching for tech sheets to analyzing the label or asking an expert for advice, there are plenty of ways to determine whether a wine is sweet or dry. Knowing the specific sweetness levels in different wines can also help you adjust your intake according to dietary preferences and needs.

There is all the main information about a sweet and dry wine. I hope the above information has provided all you need. Leave a comment below if you have any other questions!

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