Which Red Wine is the Sweetest?
There’s something delicious about a sweet red wine that differentiates it from other wines on the shelf.
It can be refreshing and fruity on a bright spring day or a heavy, rich complement to a decadent after-dinner indulgence.
With such a broad spectrum of sweet red wine, it’s left us wondering which one is the sweetest.
Let’s explore the world of sweet red wines and break down all the major categories.
If you have an insatiable sweet tooth and love red wine, you’re in for a treat.
What is a Sweet Red Wine?
What makes any wine sweet is the amount of residual sugar left behind after the fermentation process.
During fermentation, the grape skins sit in the grape juice. Then yeast is added to convert the sugars into alcohol.
A sweeter wine results when the fermentation process is ended early, leaving more residual sugars behind.
An alternative to this is adding extra sugars or introducing noble rot.
Noble rot, also known as Botrytis cinerea, is a grey fungus that benefits wine by adding boldness, flavor, sweetness, and complexity. It’s common for grapes to become infected with noble rot once they’re ripe, which can also add a higher alcohol content to the wine.
A winemaker can also use liquor, like when brandy is added to make the fortified wine, Port.
Lastly, freezing wine grapes can also make the wine sweeter. When a grape is frozen, this keeps the sugars from becoming diluted, almost like being frozen in time. But we will talk about this unique wine later.
For now, let’s get into the different types of sweet red wine and their unique characteristics, starting with the most bubbly!
Sparkling Red Wine
We wanted to kick off our list with some refreshingly sweet bubbly. We love how sparkling wines always give us something to celebrate. Sweet or dry, these ruby bubbles are perfect for all seasons and occasions.
You’re likely familiar with the famous Italian sparkling wine Lambrusco, and who could blame you for loving it? It’s fruit-forward, crisp, and irresistible when served chilled. We think it’s an excellent contender for the perfect warm-weather bubbly.
Another Italian wine that’s always fizzy and sweet is the beloved Brachetto d'Acqui. This red wine resembles Lambrusco and the sparkling white Moscato d'Asti. With aromatic floral and fruit notes, it’s perfect for summertime sipping.
Lambrusco and Brachetto d'Acqui are relatively low in alcohol, with only about 8-12% alcohol per volume on average.
What’s crazy about Brachetto d'Acqui’s sweetness levels is that about half of this wine’s alcohol level is residual sugar. No wonder it’s sweet!
There is also Rosso Dolce, a gently fizzy red from Northern Italy that’s perfect for sipping in every season as an aperitif or with chocolatey, gooey brownies. It’s sweet enough to be paired with a dessert but also light enough to complement slightly savory meals like spaghetti with tomato sauce.
Lastly, if you’re a fan of Australian wine, you’ve got to try Sparkling Shiraz (or Syrah). This bubbly red can be dry or sweet and often contains flavors of anise, herbs, vanilla, black pepper, and deep berry.
It’s slightly higher in alcohol than the other sparkling reds mentioned, with levels around 12-14%, adding to its spicy makeup.
Now that we’ve talked about some of the fizziest sweet red wines, let's explore some of the smoother varietals.
Semi-Sweet Red Wine
Light to medium-bodied, semi-sweet reds are the way to go when tasting lighter dishes and desserts. They also taste delicious as an aperitif or with appetizers and are a great middle ground if you love a little bit of sweetness but aren’t looking for a sugar rush.
Here are some of our favorites in the semi-sweet red wine category.
With deeply sweet notes of black currant, plum, and fig, Red Zinfandel is the perfect medium-sweet, full-bodied wine. It contains a rich complexity and alcohol levers between 13.5% and 17% alcohol per volume.
What’s interesting is that White Zinfandel wine is made using the same grape as Red Zinfandel. The main difference is that Red Zinfandel wine is produced in a Rosé style, where the grape skins are in contact with the wine for longer.
While Malbec is typically considered a dry wine, some variations are just a tad sweet. Sweeter Malbecs contain divine flavors of rich chocolate, black currant, coffee, and cherries.
Still not sweet enough for you? Our next category is full of syrupy sweet wines that make a lovely dessert pairing but are also perfect as desserts on their own.
Super Sweet Red Wine
Regarding red wines that are “super sweet,” it’s no surprise that dessert wines often take the cake.
Dessert wines will often be thick and syrupy, with sugar content that’s teeth achingly sweet.
Below is our list of the most popular dessert wine categories and some insights about what makes them so sugary.
With raspberry, blackberry, chocolate, and even caramel flavors, Port wine is our first dessert example that contains residual sugars at around 100 grams per liter or higher. This type is a fortified wine, which means it has been combined with liquor like distilled brandy.
The high alcohol content and excess residual sugars make port double the trouble for sweet reds.
Port typically comes in four styles: Ruby Port, Tawny Port, White Port, and Rose Port.
But since this is a blog about the sweetest red wines, we’re focusing on Ruby and Tawny Port.
The main differences between these two are sweetness level, look, and expression.
Because it is a younger wine, Ruby Port tends to be lighter and fruitier, while Tawny Port is much sweeter, more orange in color, and has a more complex, caramel taste.
The next highly sweet red wine we’ll be covering comes in a range of sweetness levels and produces everything from sparkling, white, dry, and Rose.
When chilled, Muscadine wine delivers a refreshing rush of sweetness. However, this particular red has a reputation as a “cheap drinking” wine that’s “overly sweet.” But rest assured, this red tastes lovely in hot weather.
If you love candied sweets, be prepared as Muscadine is sugar-heavy, with around 120-150 grams per liter of residual sugar.
Crafted from the grape varieties Trebbiano, Malvasia, and sometimes Sangiovese, Vin Santo, or “holy wine,” is another of Italy’s prized dessert wines. This perfumy wine is full-bodied with vibrant aromas of dried apricot, hazelnut, honey, caramel, and tropical fruit.
It contains a minimum alcohol content of 16% per volume and a whopping 27% residual sugar!
While you can pair this wine with sweet baked goods, we consider it a dessert in itself.
Our last pick is the legendary German Ice Wine, which can contain as much sugar as 180 to 320 grams per liter. We don’t know about you, but that statement alone has us thinking about walking straight to the dentist!
What makes this wine so sugary is the process of freezing grapes on the vine before turning them into a must. Freezing distills the sugars in the grapes, causing them to become more concentrated.
Besides being mind-blowingly sweet, Red Ice Wines taste like candied strawberries and honey, with strong notes of other red fruits and high amounts of sugar.
All this talk about residual sugars, alcohol, and fruit flavors might have you thinking, “what red wine tastes the sweetest?”
We’ve got the answer for you below, and we have a feeling it might surprise you.
The Sweetest Red Wine
It’s the fortified alcohol that gives Tawny Port “first prize” as the sweetest wine. While it may not have as much residual sugar per liter as Ice Wine, the flavors and brandy make it the sweetest on the palette.
Port is one of the best sweet red wines with dark fruit notes and high residual sugars that melt in your mouth like cotton candy.
If you love a strong chocolate caramel taste, this aged wine is excellent with buttery desserts like apple pie.
A high-quality Tawny Port will never disappoint.
Sweet as Pie
If you want to satisfy your sweet tooth when it comes to wine, check out our delicious Red Wine Selection for every red, from dry to sweet!
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