ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

I work at a bar and always get asked for a sweet white wine or a dry white wine. We offer Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc by the glass. I understand that different brands of wines can vary in level of dryness and so on, but I was wondering out of these three wines, which would be the sweetest and which would be the driest.

—Stacey, Australia

Dear Stacey,

I suggest you try them yourself, as advice based on personal experience is always the best. There’s no definitive way to say that a Chardonnay is always sweeter than a Sauvignon Blanc and so on. I don’t think it’s useful to make a guess (or a sweeping generalization), as all of those wines can be made in multiple styles. And for those who would jump to the conclusion that Riesling would be the sweetest, then they’ve never had a bone-dry version. (You really should try them; they can be delicious!)

Unfortunately, when people talk about “sweet” and “dry” wines, I get a little nervous because not everyone uses those terms the same way. For me, a sweet wine is a true dessert wine—one with measurable residual sugar, like Port or Sauternes—but I know plenty of people who say “sweet” to refer to ripe fruit flavors or just a lack of drying tannins. Sweetness sensitivity varies from person to person, and a wine that is technically fermented dry—all its sugar converted to alcohol—can give an impression of sweetness from the grapes or even the barrels.

Here’s another thought: When a customer asks you for a sweet white wine or a dry white, why not offer a sample pour? Just a splash in a glass, with “I really like this Chardonnay, what do you think?” That would be providing the sort of service that usually results in a good tip.

—Dr. Vinny


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