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What Dry and Off-Dry Means in Wine Plus the Other Sugar Descriptors

Wine laws and wine bottle labelling rules and regulations are definitely known for their difficulty. Before some serious wine Ed, I remember standing in the aisle at the liquor store in puzzlement of many wine bottle labels. The funny thing, though, is that when you finally get to understand the labels, you see how they can really help you ensure you are leaving your wine store with the wine you really intended.

One of the things I have found wine labels immensely helpful with is sugar levels. There is nothing worse than taking home a German Riesling with the expectation of a dry wine with crisp and refreshing acidity but ending up with an off-dry wine with noticeable residual sugar. Off-dry Rieslings are excellent too, but NOT when I was really looking for something else, something dry and bursting with acidity.

Residual Sugar Scale in Wine

First, let's start with what Residual Sugar means. During the fermentation process, the natural sugars in wine are converted into alcohol. The sugars that remain are called Residual Sugar. The table below outlines how much residual sugar you can expect in your wine, should it be labelled as Dry, Off-dry, and so on. A good thing to note and to help put the table in perspective is that the average wine we consume has about 4 g/l residual sugar.

​Sugar Classification found on labels and wine descriptions

Residual Sugar in Grams Per Litre


up to 9 g/l


​9 to 18 g/l


18 to 50 g/l


50 to 120 g/l


120+ g/l

Now, using the chart above, you'll have another weapon in your arsenal as you go about your day selecting delicious wines from your local store!



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