Which red wines are the driest?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I love very dry reds, but I usually just go with Cabernet Sauvignon because I'm a little intimidated to try others. I was told that Chianti is slightly drier but I have yet to try it. Which red wines are the driest?

—Stephanie, Baltimore

Dear Stephanie,

When it comes to wine, “dry” can have both a literal definition and an informal one. Officially, dryness refers to the absence of sugar. During fermentation, the grape sugars are converted to alcohol. If all, or nearly all, of the sugar converts—with less than 10 grams of residual sugar per liter or less remaining—the wine is technically considered dry. In this sense, most table wines are “dry.”

But dryness is also a feeling you can get from red wine, particularly the tugging on your cheeks or chewy texture that can come from tannins. Some grapes, like Cabernet Sauvignon, are naturally high in tannins, and there are winemaking practices that can also accentuate tannins.

Chianti is a district in Italy’s Tuscany region, and the wines from there are made primarily from the Sangiovese grape. Some Chiantis can be big and bold with a mouthful of drying tannins, but I think Sangioveses can also be rather juicy, with an acidity that makes them very food-friendly. Give them a try, they might be to your liking. I think that Syrah and Petite Sirah–based wines can also be very dry. The driest? I’d say Nebbiolos, which can be big bruisers of a wine when young.

And try not to feel intimidated! You might want to find a local wine shop and tell them you’re interested in exploring dry reds. Just tell them your price range, some wines you’ve enjoyed in the past, and ask them for their advice. Believe me, most stores will try to sell you something you’d like so you’ll come back. In general, I’d be careful of some of the cheaper wines, which tend to be made in a sweeter, smoother, easy-drinking style. But you should find plenty of good examples of dry wines for about $8 and up.

—Dr. Vinny

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