What are the best sweet red wines?
For wine lovers with a serious sweet tooth, we recommend taking a look at our best sweet red wine selection. These bottles have been chosen for their fantastic quality for price and their current high rating. Just like their white counterparts, red wines that are also sweet come in a variety of styles. Let’s take a look at some of the top sweet red wine types (as a category of dessert wines) from around the world.
But first, a question of semantics: When does a red wine qualify as sweet? In general, a wine’s sweetness level depends on the amount of residual sugar per volume after the fermentation of the grape juice has finished. A dry wine will have very little residual sugar, less than 10 gram per liter. Wines with 10-30 grams per liter of residual sugar are usually classified as off-dry. Wines with 30 grams per liter will usually be called sweet.
How are sweet red wines made?
There are several different winemaking techniques used to make sweet red wines. In some cases, winemakers will make the decision to kill the yeast in order to halt the fermentation process. This stops all of the sugar from being converted into alcohol, leaving behind residual sugar, so the wine tastes sweet. One way to do that is through fortification. The production of fortified wines involves the addition of a neutral wine-based spirit, whose high alcohol content kills the yeasts and blocks fermentation.
In the case of sparkling wines, the wine goes through a secondary fermentation. Before this takes place, the winemaker adds a mixture of wine and sugar (referred to as dosage) which can leave the wine tasting sweet even after second fermentation is complete.
Sugar can be concentrated in red grapes by leaving them to hang longer on the vine. Grapes that are harvested later in the season will have amassed a higher level of sugar. This sugar can either be converted to alcohol through fermentation, or left as residual sugar if the yeasts are stopped. Several producers in Argentina, like Susana Balbo, have been experimenting with late-harvest red wines made from their flagship Malbec grape. These wines reveal stunning flavors of black cherries, cinnamon, dark chocolate and cloves on the palate.
Sweet wines can also be produced with the help of botrytis cinerea (a.k.a. Noble Rot). By this method, a fungus infects the grape clusters, poring microscopic holes in the grape skins. This causes the grapes to dehydrate and their sugars to become more concentrated. While this method is popular in sweet white wines – like Sauternes, Tokaji and BA/TBA Rieslings – in the context of red wines, it is still very rare.
It is important to differentiate sweet wines from fruity wines with sweet aromas, like the sweet strawberry jam aromas in some Grenache wines or Beaujolais Nouveau. It is also important to note that sweet red wines will rarely have the tannins of traditional dry wines like Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon red wine from Bordeaux, France.
What is a sweet Italian red wine?
Lambrusco is a sweet red sparkling wine made in the region of Emilia Romagna in Italy. One example of this stye is the Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro Amabile. This style of sweet red wine is made with a secondary fermentation in the tank or bottle, creating CO2 which gets trapped in the wine as effervescence. This process makes the wine sparkle. Tasting notes for Lambrusco often mention rich aromas of blueberries and red fruit like sweet cherries, along with floral fragrances of violet. These wines are the ideal pairings with simple dishes, like a charcuterie board or a pizza with a red sauce.
Another Italian sweet red sparkling wine is Brachetto d’Acqui from Piedmont.
Also from Italy, Recioto della Valpolicella Classico wines are made with the passito method. The latter involves allowing the grapes (Corvina, Rondinella and Corvinone) to dry out before fermentation. These sweet Valpolicella red wines are known for their full body and remarkably complex aromas. These wines are usually more than medium bodied or full bodied on the palate. Their bouquet reveals aromas of chocolate, cinnamon, tobacco, licorice and balsamic.
What is the most popular sweet wine?
Another style of sweet red dessert wine is Port. This stye is produced as a red blend from the indigenous grape varieties of Portugal’s Douro Valley. Port is a fortified wine made in a variety of styles. Ruby Port is bright red in color with aromas of plums, chocolate and black cherry. Meanwhile, Tawny Port (like the Graham 10 Year Old Tawny Port) displays a golden, brownish color. It reveals a complex bouquet of nutty, toffee and raisin aromas. Usually, Port wines drink best after a few years of bottle age. Pair dark chocolate with red wines from Port. Another classic paring is blue cheese.
Other popular sweet red wines from around the world include the Jam Jar Sweet Shiraz of South Africa. Apothetic Red, situated in the famous Napa Valley area of California in the United States also produces a semi-sweet red blend, which we do not currently carry. Philip Togni in Napa makes a sweet red wine from Muscat Hamburg grapes. Several American producers also make approachable sweet red wines from the Concord grape variety. These tend to be very juicy, jammy and sweet, although not particularly complex on the nose.
Sweet red wines can also be found in Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, Austria and Spain. These wines range in price from low to high. They can be distinguished by their red color, aromas of red fruits and fruity flavors.
How should I serve a sweet red wine?
We recommend serving all sweet red wines on the cooler side. Sparkling sweet red wines like Lambrusco do best when chilled, just like with white sparkling wines. This helps keep the effervescence intact. As all sparkling wines, the best choice in terms of glassware will be a tulip glass, although flutes and coupes are also popular.
Still sweet red wines should be served cooler than room temperature, especially in the case of fortified wines. This is because the significant alcohol in these wines can otherwise overwhelm the more delicate aromas. For the same reason, fortified red wines like Port are best served in a small glass.
Sweet red wines represent a relatively niche style and are much rarer than their white counterparts. Their elevated sweetness and tannins can make them a challenge to pair with most savory dishes. Nevertheless, they do tend to pair exquisitely with a wide range of chocolate desserts and nut desserts. They also do well in wine and cheese pairings, especially with blue or blue-veined cheeses.
Because of the complexity of their aromas, these wines are also ideal on their own as a sweet treat any time of the day. They do a great job pairing with dessert and are thus considered one of the best Thanksgiving wines. They can easily replace dessert for those with less of a sweet tooth.
Any questions on sweet red wines?
We hope you take the time to adventure into the rich world of sweet red wines. Discover our carefully-chosen selection of best sweet red wines, perfect to enjoy with your next festive meal! And if you should have any questions on the current price of any of our sweet red wines or need recommendations for the best sweet red wines to serve at your next gathering, do not hesitate to contact us directly. Our expert team is here to help you make the right choice!