I'm just getting into wine, and I've tried some red wines, but nothing I particularly liked.

I found a few pinot noirs too sweet, and last night I had a Paso Robles cabernet sauvignon that was a bit too buttery and smooth for me.

What should I look into for wines that are more, I guess, acidic and have an edge to them? I don't need anything particularly bitter, but butteriness and sweetness do put me off.

  • 3
    Buttery is not a term I’ve ever heard applied to red wines. Very few cabs are sweet at all.
    – Eric S
    Commented Dec 20, 2020 at 13:46
  • When you say sweet, might you be referring to specific fruit notes rather than actual residual sugar? This is a common point where I see confusion in red wine.
    – Xander
    Commented Dec 27, 2020 at 22:24

3 Answers 3


What are some types of red wine that aren't buttery or sweetish?

My guess is that one could try a red wine like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir. Generally speaking they are dry and thus not sweet.

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Red Wine Sweetness Chart

Some Chardonnays may in fact be buttery, but not all.

What does the term “buttery” mean in reference to wine?

"Buttery" can refer to a flavor, smell, texture or some combination of all three, and it's most commonly associated with Chardonnay. Buttery flavors usually come from diacetyl, an organic compound that’s a natural byproduct of fermentation. Diacetyl can also be a result of putting a wine through a malolactic conversion. Exposing a wine to oak barrels can also emphasize buttery notes—both from the toasting on the inside of the barrel, and the softening effect barrels can have on a wine’s texture.

Have you ever smelled a wine and it’s a dead ringer for butter-flavored popcorn? That’s not a coincidence. Diacetyl is sometimes added to foods for its buttery flavor—think movie-theater popcorn, margarine, crackers and cooking oil.

I consider “buttery” a positive note. Just like any other wine characteristic, I prefer it in balance with a wine’s other elements. But buttery Chardonnays used to be very fashionable, and now much less so. These days, sometimes “buttery” is used as a pejorative term.

Other descriptors in a similar vein are cream/creamy, piecrust, caramel, butterscotch or brioche.

  • Nice chart +1 to you.
    – Eric S
    Commented Dec 24, 2020 at 17:06

Very few red wines are actually sweet. Meiomi pinot noir is slightly off dry, but hardly sweet. I've never had a sweet cabernet sauvignon. Buttery is an adjective sometimes associated with California chardonnay which has gone through malolactic conversion. Lots of people seem to like it although I'm not a fan. Here is a good article.

If you have a good wine store, I'd suggest asking the shop keeper for suggestions. Personally I like Spanish wines like Rioja which are good values. You can also look for wines with higher alcohol content. It is hard to imagine getting to 13%+ ABV while maintaining any residual sweetness.

  • Eric S's recommendation of Rioja is a good one. The chief grape in Rioja is Tempranillo, and there are a number of good American ones.
    – Hal917
    Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 19:39

Technically, red wines are never sweet (with a few exceptions like Recioto) - so you probably mean the wines are full because the grapes were quite ripe, typically from a sunny location.

As a European, I often find American, Australian and similar wines more full and 'friendly', but lacking in acid that would make it pair better with food.

Look for wines from colder climates; e.g. European wines from Austria, Northern Italy, sub-Alpine France or similar non-European versions.

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