Food & Wine Wine Culture

Sweet Red Wine

Sweet red wine is a fantastic introduction to wine, as compared to jumping directly into a dry, complex red wine for anyone who’s starting to appreciate wine drinking. It’s also an ideal “transitionary wine” for white wine enthusiasts who would like to start drinking red wine.

What makes sweet red wine different from regular red wine is that it’s significantly sweeter. It’s perfect as a dessert wine, as a great pairing to chocolate, and as a generally inexpensive option for individuals who don’t want the more complex flavors of other wine varieties.

Quick Guide To Sweet Red Wine

Dessert Wines

Dessert wines, also known as sweet wines, come in a wide variety of styles and production methods. They tend to be very sweet and are often served with dessert.

The most popular types of sweet wines are Port, Madeira and Marsala. Other less common varieties include Dolce, Dessert, Sec, Demi-sec and Late Harvest.

These ruby ports are the perfect addition to your next cheese board or dessert. Below, we’ve included a few of our favorites. These wines are best enjoyed slowly with your sweet treat.

Sweet (fruity) Red Wines

The red wines at the beginning of this list are more approachable and commonly consumed.

There can be some confusion between sweet red wines and fruity reds. Sweet wines have residual sugar that is left after fermentation, while fruity wines are dry (no residual sugar) with aromas and tastes of fruits like cherry, raspberry, plum or blackberry. When you drink these red wines, they may seem pleasantly sweet to you because the fruit aromas from the grape trick your brain into thinking you are drinking something sweet!

What is Sweet Red Wine?

In wine terms, sweet red wine is defined as wine that features residual sugar. Most people think that sweet red wine is characterized by having more of a fruity flavor, but the true description of sweet red wine is a wine that features 121 grams of residual sugar in 1 liter or 30 grams in one bottle.

Within the sweet red wine categories are varying degrees of sweetness. Some of the best examples of sweet red wine are Port Wine, Banyuls, and the most popular in recent years, the Apothic red.

One of the most common methods of making sweet red wine is through the addition of a spirit, such as brandy, to stop fermentation early, allowing the wine to produce more residual sugar rather than more alcohol. Therefore, it must also be noted that sweet red wine features less alcohol content than regular red wine. It also features fewer tannic flavors.

How Is Sweet Red Wine Unique?

Dubbed as a “dessert wine,” sweet red wine is perfect as a dessert itself, or as the best wine pairing for sweet desserts and dishes. They feature a more distinctly sweet taste because of the method by which they are made. The most common methods to make sweet red wine are Adding a Spirit, Freezing the Grapes, and Blending a Sugar Component. Let’s discuss each of these methods:

1. Adding a Spirit

This method is the signature process of Portugal’s Port Wines. Sugar residue is achieved by getting rid of the yeast. Fermentation is stopped early by adding a spirit like brandy, which kills the yeast, and in turn, residual sugar from the grape wine is produced. In other cases, a fine filter is used to ensure that there is no yeast left behind, leaving more grape sugar in the blend.

2. Freezing the Grapes

This method is commonly used to make Inniskillin wine. The grapes are frozen while still on the vine to make sure that the sugars present in the grapes are not frozen. They are then pressed while frozen, followed by the removal of the stems and seeds after pressing. After this, fermentation begins.

3. Blending a Sweet Component

This is commonly used in Germany and features adding a sweet component to the grape juice before fermentation begins.

These three methods are the reason behind sweet red wine’s unique flavor. Being sweeter than most wines, as well as having less alcohol and tannin flavors, it meets the palate of new wine drinkers and those who prefer to have more sweetness to their wine.

What Does Sweet Red Wine Pair With?

Sweet red wine is relatively easy to pair with different food flavors. In general, the wine should not go with light snacks or foods, such as unseasoned salmon, eggs, lean cuts of fish and meat, or a light salad. The flavors of the wine can overpower the light dish, making its flavors and tastes disappear with the richness of the wine.

Here are some of sweet red wine’s perfect food pairings:

  • Sweets and Desserts

Because it is relatively sweeter than most, they’re perfect as a dessert wine. They go well with sweet desserts such as chocolate cake, chocolate truffles, meringue desserts, sweet cookies, and the like.

  • Savory Flavors

In terms of meats and other savory food, sweet red wine is perfect with sweet and sour pork, Cajun turkey, mango and cucumber salmon, spicy sausage pasta, Peking duck, and BBQ meats or chicken wings with a sweet sticky marinade.

For Ruby Port, slow-roasted pork with cranberry sauce is an ideal pairing. Dishes with fruit reductions are generally ideal for sweet red wine. Sweet sauces and honey glazes on meat are perfect examples.

  • Spicy Flavours

Sweet red wine also goes well with food having spicy flavors. This is because the sweetness contrasts the intense flavors of spicy dishes, as well as cooling down the palate.

  • Salty Flavors

Salty food pairs well with sweet red wines as well, since the sweetness and fruit flavors of the wine are the perfect contrast to the salty taste of nuts, capers, tortillas, pretzels, and cold cuts.

  • Cheese

The perfect wine to pair with many different kinds of cheese, sweet red wine is ideal for cheese boards. Specific types of wine pair well with specific types of cheese. Some of these include Gouda for Syrah wine, Gorgonzola for Port wine, Camembert with sparkling sweet red wine, Gruyere with Merlot, and Pepper Jack with Moscato.

What Are the Popular Brands of Sweet Red Wine?

Some of the most popular sweet red wines come from Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, and Piedmont in Italy, which are famous for being wine regions of the country. Port Wine from Portugal’s Douro Valley is one of the most recognized and heralded, as well as the Donfelder from the Rheinhessen and Pfalz, Germany regions.

The sweet red wine industry is vast and varied but in this guide, we’ve created a list of the best and most popular brands to try. Here are 10 of the most popular brands of sweet red wine:

1. Brachetto d’Acqui

Braida’s Brachetto d’Acqui is an Italian sweet red wine from Piedmont, Italy. With a vineyard found on the foothills of the Alps, the unique red grapes used in this wine provide a fizzy, ultra-tasty. and slightly sweet flavor. This bubbly rendition is fragrant with floral aromatics and lush strawberries, providing a sweet, light, and delicate taste.

2. Sandeman Fine Ruby Porto

One of the most popular brands of Port wine is Sandeman. Consistently ranked as one of the top Port wines in the world, Sandeman’s Ruby Porto features aromas of red and blackberries, spiced chocolate, and plums. The resulting flavor is rich and intense.

3. Avignonesi Occhio di Pernice Vin Santo di Montepulciano

With notes of molasses, dry fruit notes, a hint of toasted nuts, and brown sugar, this Vin Santo is made from the Sangiovese grapes which are indigenous to Tuscany, Italy, Providing a chocolatey flavor mixed with rich berries, it offers a unique taste unlike any other sweet red wine in the market.

4. Thomas Hardys and Sons Vintage Port

Another Port-style wine, this bottle comes from the McLaren Vale of Australia. Though technically not a Port wine, since only wine from the Douro Valley region of northern Portugal has the right to label their product as authentic Port Wine, this offering still features rich flavors of black currant and cherries and comes from rare red blends crafted from the Thomas Hardy winery. The resulting flavor is rich and bountiful.

5. Dal Forno Romano Vigna Sere Veneto Passito Rosso

This ultra-rare sweet red wine has only been made 6 times over the course of 3 decades. Corvina grapes are used to make this wine, which is grown in the vineyards of Tregnago, which is a town located an hour and a half from Venice, Italy. The resulting flavors are rich and decadent, with notes of sweet red berries, red licorice, brown sugar-coated candied violets, and crushed stones.

6. Bodkin The Crown Jewels Red Dessert Wine

This wine is made from the winery that delivered America’s first home-grown sauvignon blanc. Over the years, they have expanded their product range to include sweet red wine, which features a mixture of black grape varieties, and notes include dried fruit, plum and orange peel, saddle leather, zinfandel, and blackberry.

7. Riunite Lambrusco

This wine won the 2017 Critics Challenge of the International Wine and Spirits Competition, winning the Critics Silver Award, and comes from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. This semi-sparkling wine is famous for its sweet red flavors.

8. Graham’s Six Grapes Port

Another Port wine on our list is Graham’s Six Grapes Port. This bottle features notes of raisins, chocolate, black cherries, and ripe plums that offer an abundance of tastes and aromas.

9. Cabernet Franc Icewine

Inniskillin’s Cabernet Franc Icewine is Canada’s number one ice wine producer. An award-winning wine company, it was named as the Top Canadian Producer at the 2012 IWSC Competition. This sweet red wine bottle features wet and smooth flavors that are strawberry-tinged.

10. Barbeito “Avo Mario” 50-Year-Old Bastardo, Madeira

Made from Trousset grapes that come from the Madeira region in Portugal, this sophisticated wine perfectly blends passion fruit and butterscotch flavors.

Our list consists of only 10 of the best but the sweet red wine market is packed with incredibly rich varieties that most wine connoisseurs often misunderstand and undervalue. This list of 10 of the best in the market showcase the incredible art, heritage, traditions, and world of flavors sweet red wine consists of.

Categories of Sweet Red Wine

Each kind of wine features different varieties, with sweet red wine being no exception. There are currently three major variations of sweet red wine, and these are Sparkling, Still, and Fortified. Let’s discuss each one, plus a few popular examples of each variety.

Sparkling Sweet Red Wine

These are red and bubbly, inexpensive, sweet, lightly fizzy, and sparkling. Among the best examples of sparkling wine include:

  • Brachetto

Brachetto is a type of grape found in Piedmont, Italy. They have floral aromatics that go best with chocolate desserts, and feature notes of cherry, cotton candy, berry flavors, and strawberry. For anyone who wants an introduction to sweet red wine, Brachetto wines are inexpensive and easy on the palate.

  • Moscato

These are made from muscat grapes and offer a blend of flavors that include orange blossom, peaches, and honeysuckle.

  • Shiraz

Made from shiraz from Australia or Syrah in France, these kinds of wines feature hints of pepper and chocolate.

  • Lambrusco

Lambrusco is made from Lambrusco wine found in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy. It comes from a family of reg grapes and is defined as being fizzy and semisweet.

  • Apothic Red

Made in the US, this sparkling sweet red wine appeals to a new wine drinker for its sweetness that’s not overbearing. It is a great blend of merlot, syrah, zinfandel, and cabernet sauvignon. It features notes of black plums, cherries, vanilla, cocoa, and ripe dark fruit.

Still Sweet Red Wine

Still sweet red wine is slightly sweet, medium-bodied, and non-sparkling, which means it contains no bubbles of carbon dioxide. Some of the most popular kinds of still sweet red wine include:

  • Dornfelder

Dornfelder grapes come from Germany and it’s a rich wine with strong fruity flavors. It’s usually low in alcohol and has the sweetness of flavors with an intense, sharp taste.

  • Schiava

Made in the Trentino Alto Adige region of Italy, this fruit wine features notes of bold sweet cherry sauce and cinnamon flavors.

Fortified Sweet Red Wine

Fortified sweet red wine has higher alcohol levels than other varieties of wine, but its sugar content is also higher than most. It’s also full-bodied in flavor. Some of the most popular examples are the following:

  • Port Wine

Port wine from Portugal is famous for being gracefully aged and comes in a variety of styles such as the Ruby and Tawny. It features flavors of cinnamon, chocolate, plums, and cherries, with grapes indigenous to the region of the Douro Valley.

  • Banyuls

Old vines of the Roussillon county of France are where the grapes of Banyuls are grown, offering primary flavors of dark chocolate, mint, and baked prunes.

  • Sherry

With flavors of saline, brazil nut, jackfruit, pressed lemon, Sherry is mostly made in the Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia, Spain, using Palomino grapes grown indigenously.

  • Marsala

Another sweet red wine variety coming from Italy, this time from Sicily, Italy, this wine offers notes of vanilla, brown sugar, tobacco, and stewed apricot.

There is so much to learn about sweet red wine due to the fact that many wine connoisseurs and the industry, in general, have overlooked their rich flavors and capacity to enrich food and dishes, especially desserts, cheese, and savory cuisines.

The perfect option for an after-dinner drink or as the perfect pairing to dessert, this ideal introduction to the world of red wine should be among the essential collections of any cellar.

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