Olive Magazine
Five bottles of wine in a row

Off-dry whites: everything you need to know

Published: February 10, 2020 at 3:32 pm

olive’s wine expert explains why medium-dry wines with a hint of sweetness are more versatile than you might imagine

About off-dry white wines

“A glass of dry white wine” used to be an indicator of sophistication, a hangover (pardon the pun) from the 1960s and 70s when most readily available white wine was slightly sweet and pretty nasty. Those naff German wines gave a bad rep to wines with a little sweetness, known as off-dry or medium-dry, but they can be just as lovely as a nice dry white and are so much better with all kinds of food.


Off-dry white wines make the hot/sour/ sweet/savoury notes of Chinese and Southeast Asian dishes sing, as well as gentle Indian curries such as tikka masala and korma – the sweeter the wine the more chilli it can take. Sweetness is also thrilling when balanced by salt (think salted caramel), so off-dry wines are wonderful with salty dishes (roast pork, crackling and apple sauce is a bingo pairing). They love anything smoked (salmon, ham, cheese) and they cut through rich meaty pâtés, seafood and creamy sauces with great aplomb. They are also a match made in heaven with cheese, especially those stinky rind-washed cheeses such as époisses or Stinking Bishop.

Sweetness in wine comes from concentrating the natural sugars found in the grapes by halting fermentation before all those sugars have been converted to alcohol, leaving what’s called residual sugar (RS), by letting the grapes shrivel on the vine before picking, or laying them out on straw mats to dry in the sun. Cheap, industrially produced wines often have extra sugar added, but that’s another story.

Grapes commonly made in off-dry styles include riesling, gewürztraminer, muscat and torrontés. Frustratingly, how sweet the wine will taste is often hard to gauge, so always ask for advice or research online. Off-dry wines have up to 18 grams RS per litre of liquid (which may or may not be marked on the label) but the perception of sweetness also depends on the acidity and alcohol content of the wine, as well as the temperature at which it’s served – these wines should be served chilled to reduce any cloying sweetness. Sweeter wines may be unfashionable but those in the know know that they often make a smarter choice. Put aside your preconceptions and give them a go.


The best off dry-whites to buy…

Dr Loosen Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett, £15.99, Waitrose

This has enormous charm and a fine balance of sweetness and refreshing acidity at a gentle 7.5% ABV, it would be fab with our coconut dal with crispy paneer.

A long green bottle of white wine

Tesco Finest Gewürtztraminer, £9, Tesco

Lychees and rose petals wrapped around some gingery spice, this stands up brilliantly to Asian food as well as cheesy/creamy dishes – fab with a cheese and balsamic pickled shallot toastie.

A long bottle of dark white wine

Chateau Moncontour Vouvray Demi-Sec 2018, £10, M&S

Made medium-dry from the chenin blanc grape in the Loire, full of quince and peachy fruit – try it with our butternut ravioli with brown butter and sage.

A bottle of white wine with a gold cap

Martini Dolce 0%, £6, Morrisons

Fruity zero-alcohol fizz with lovely baked apple/lemon notes and not too sweet. Drink this in place of prosecco or with apple crumble.

A dark bottle of non-alcoholic wine with a blue label

Royal Tokaji Late Harvest 2015, £12.99, Majestic

Made from a blend of local grapes in the famous Tokaj region of Hungary, this is properly sweet (96g/litre RS) but has only 11% ABV so isn’t too sticky and is total heaven with stilton.

A bottle of green-tinged white wine

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