While red wine is often an acquired taste, sweet red wines are a way to introduce the health benefits of red wine to a generation raised on sweeter flavors. There are a variety of sweet reds sure to match your taste buds, so consider giving one a try.
Sweet red wines tend to fall into a few categories: sweet red varietals, sweet specialty wines (also known as sec, demi-sec, or off-dry) that the winemaker has made intentionally sweet, and dry wines with sweet, fruity, or jammy flavors.
Sweet Red Varietals
After fermentation, the residual sugars remain relatively high, making the wines sweeter than their dry counterparts. Because the extra sugar stops fermentation early, non-fortified sweet reds tend to be lower in alcohol than dry wines.
Port is a sweet wine varietal that comes from Portugal. Because of its sweetness, many people drink it as a dessert wine. There are a few types of Port - including tawny ports and ruby Ports. Ruby Port is a fortified sweet red wine that is rich and thick. Tawny Port has a golden color with raisin and toffee flavors. Port has a higher alcohol content than regular wine and it goes well with rich desserts that contain chocolate.
Try the following Port wines:
- Yalumba Reserve Antique Tawny Port, a dark tawny Port from Australia with rich toffee flavors
- Cockburn's Fine Ruby NV Portocolate, a fruity Port that is a blend of multiple vintages
- Taylor Fladgate Special Fine Ruby Port, a full-bodied non-vintage Port
Madeira wines are fortified Portuguese wines made of a combination of red and white grapes. The red grapes include Bastardo and Tinta Negra, while the rest of the grapes used in the wine are white. While not all Madeira wines are sweet, many people enjoy the sweeter Madeira wines for dessert. Because part of the process of making Madeira involves heating the wine, it winds up a tawny color regardless of whether it's made with red or white wine grapes. Sweeter Madeira wines will have one of the following words on the label:
Try the following Madeira wines:
- Paul Masson NV Madeira, an affordable non-vintage American Madeira
- Sandeman Fine Rich Madeira, a traditional dark golden Madeira
- Blandy's Malmsey 10 Year, a 10-year-old non-vintage traditional Portuguese sweet Madeira
This fortified Italian wine is made from both red and white grapes. Rubino is ruby red and made exclusively from red wine grapes. Marsala comes in a range of sweet from dry to very sweet. Sweet Marsala will have one of the following terms on the label:
Some Marsala wines to try include:
- Colombo Marsala Sweet, an inexpensive wine made in Sicily
- Cribari Marsala, which has a citrus taste and flowery scent
- Lombardo Sweet Marsala, another affordable option from Sicily
Specialty Sweet Reds
A number of winemakers are responding to the desire for more sweetness in red wine and have begun specially bottling sweet wines.
When seeking sweet reds, look for the following words on labels:
- Late harvest
Most wine shop owners are also wine enthusiasts who are happy to recommend wines, so if you're in doubt don't hesitate to ask your local proprietor to recommend a sweet red.
Some sweet reds to try include:
- PFI Horseshoe Hills Sweet Red Missouri Wine is a ruby red with flavors of cotton candy and apples.
- Bauer Haus Dornfelder is from Germany and is known for its sweet and semi-sweet white Riesling varietals. However, Bauer Haus makes their Dornfelder wine from the grape of the same name. The Dornfelder grape is the second most grown grape in Germany.
- Ca' Togni is a sweet red from Napa Valley, CA, and is made from the Black Hamburgh grape.
- Il Conte d'Alba Stella Rosa Piedmont is a slightly sparkling sweet red made from the Barbara and Muscat Blanc grapes in Italy's Piedmont region.
- Khvanchkara is made from the Saperavi grape and is semi-sweet. It comes from Georgia in the former Soviet Union.
- Bully Hills Vineyards Sweet Walter Red is a red dessert wine from the Finger Lakes region of New York.
- Carl Sittmann Sweet Red is a German sweet red made from the Dornfelder grape. It comes from the Reinhessen region of Germany.
- Schlink Haus Sweet Red is another German sweet made from the Dornfelder grape.
- Rhine Street Red Wine is a sweet American wine from the Arbor Hill winery. This wine contains a variety of grapes, with the base being Concord grapes, the sweet grape used for grape juice.
- Maryhill Zinfandel Reserve is a lovely combination of spicy and sweet. The wine tastes a little like a fortified Port. It's a very unique Zinfandel.
- Barefoot Sweet Red Wine is an affordable sweet red blend from California's Barefoot Winery. It is available in grocery stores that sell Barefoot Winery products.
- Sutter Home Sweet Red Wine comes from one of California's well-known value wineries. It's bright with fruity flavors of peach and cherry. You can find it in many grocery stores.
- Gallo Family Sweet Red comes from one of the United States' oldest winemaking families. The wine is medium-bodied with fruity flavors. The wine is available at grocery stores.
- Sweet Bliss is a sweet red from Washington State made from Sangiovese and Barbera grapes.
- Liberty Creek Sweet Red is available in many grocery store wine sections. It has lush flavors of cherries and berries.
- Quady Electra Red is an effervescent dessert wine with only five percent alcohol.
- Yellow Tail Sweet Red Roo is another sweet red you can find at your local grocery store. It is made from a blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and other red wine grapes.
- Totally Random Sweet Red Wine is made with an array of red wine varietals. The winemaker has stopped fermentation early, however, to leave residual sugars in the wine.
- House Jam Red is a lightly effervescent, sweet red that is best served cold.
- Oliver Soft Red is an Indiana wine made from Concord grapes.
Chocolate Red Wine
The latest entry into the sweet red market are red wines mixed or infused with chocolate. The result is a sweet, creamy, chocolaty drink reminiscent of Port. These are truly dessert beverages. Some manufacturers mix in other flavors, such as raspberry, as well. Some to try include:
- Chocovine, a creamy combination of cocoa and red wine found in many grocery stores
- ChocolatRouge Sweet Red Wine, combination of dark chocolate and red wine
- Chocolate Shop Wine, specialty wines from a chocolate wine maker that comes in flavors like chocolate strawberry and chocolate mint
Dry Wines with a Sweet Edge
Most dry wines that have a hint of sweetness won't give you the full-on sweet experience, but many people who don't enjoy extremely dry reds may like the following wines.
This Italian wine from Italy's Vento region has a slight sweetness. The wine gets its sweet edge because winemakers dry the grapes on straw mats for several months to concentrate sugars, which contributes a bittersweet raisiny flavor. Amarone is also higher in alcohol than some other red wines, with about 14 percent alcohol. While the wine has a sweet edge to it, Amarone is still considered a dry wine, and it pairs quite well with game meats.
This wine from Italy's Piedmont region has a slight sweetness. It is also a light, fruity wine, making it a red wine that many find more accessible than heavier reds.
Another wine from Italy's Piedmont region, Dolcetto is an accessible, fruity wine that drinks well in its youth. The word "dolcetto" means "little sweetness." The light red has soft tannins and a wonderful fruit character. Because it is prized for its freshness, Dolcetto does not age well. It's best drunk within a year.
This German wine has wonderful acidity to balance it's slight sweetness. The wine is also low in alcohol and has a fairly light character.
Lambrusco, which comes from Italy, is similar to a light, fizzy grape juice. While it isn't as sweet as juice, it is very fruit-forward, which lends it a sweeter flavor than many of its more tannic brethren.
This is a light, fruity wine. Vintners release Beaujolais Nouveau on the same day of every year, which is the third Thursday in November. Beaujolais comes from the Beaujolais region of France and is meant to be drunk young and fresh. Because it is such a fresh wine, vintners bottle and release Beaujolais Nouveau in the same year. Beaujolais Nouveau is made from the ultra-fruity Gamay grape.
Some to Try
If you'd like to try a red with a hint of sweetness, consider trying the following wines:
- Georges Deboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau, the classic Boujoulais Nouveau from one of the region's well-known producers
- Rinuite Lambrusco, an affordable lightly fizzy red you can find in many grocery stores
Francesco Boschis Dolcetto di Dogliani Vigna dei Prey, a lush, polished Dolcetto from Italy
Barbera d´Asti Pomorosso Coppo, a spicy, fruity, full-bodied red
Huber Dornfelder, a deep purple, lushly scented red
Vaona Pegrandi Amarone, a slightly sweet red with raisin flavors
Enjoy a Sweet Red
Sweet red wines are a great way to enjoy red wine, without the full tannic flavors of traditional red wines like Cabernets or Bordeaux. If you are looking for something that is easier to drink, this variety of red may be just for you. Sample several varieties until you find the one that pleases your palate.