Red Wines: Sweet or Fruity?
When it comes to sweet wines in general, it is easy to confuse sweet with "fruity." While a wine's sweetness is perceived by the tastebuds on the tip of the tongue, a wine's fruitiness is largely an aromatic perception. Keep in mind, you can physically only taste four sensations: sweet, sour, salty and bitter, yet you can smell thousands of scents, so a wine's fruitiness is the result of the combined efforts of taste and aroma. Tannins will also tame fruit, if a wine is overly tannic it will bind the fruit on the palate and mask aromas and perceptions of fruit.
How Can I Tell if a Red Wine will be Sweet?
Wines can be loosely categorized as sweet, off-dry (semi-sweet) or dry. It is typically the amount of residual sugar in a wine that will determine a wine's level of sweetness. Remember, that the process of fermentation takes the naturally occuring sugars in the grape and converts them into alcohol through the use of yeast. With this in mind, a key wine label indicator that can often serve to give you clues to the residual sugar content is the alcohol level. In table wines, the lower the alcohol level, the higher the residual sugar content and the sweeter the wine (in most cases). That's one reason that you'll often see German Rieslings with alcohol levels in the range of the 8-12%, with considerably higher levels of residual sugar.
Categories of Sweet Red Wines to Try
The most famous sweet red wines fall into the distinctly dessert wine category, where the fortified wine known and loved as Port will do its best to fill a sweet tooth's expectations. Germany's Dornfelder grape is often made in a lighter-styled, slightly sweet version and while not overly exported, it can certainly be found in U.S. markets and is worth a try if you are searching for a sweet red wine. Italy's Lambrusco is a slightly sweet, slightly sparkling inexpensive red wine that was wooed wine lovers the world over for years. It is intended to be consumed young and is readily available in most markets.
Specific Sweet Red Wines to Find
Again, most sweet red wines will fall under the "dessert wine" designation. Below are some topnotch red dessert wines that will rock your red wine world.
Banfi's Rosa Regale - This bright red wine from Italy's well-loved Piedmont region has a devoted following. It is a red sparkling wine that is sweet and subtle with the lush flavors of ripe raspberry and juicy strawberry. Consider giving this wine a run with chocolate-based desserts, fresh fruit and pecan pie.
Souverain Dessert Syrah Alexander Valley - A unique, sweet red wine offering from Sonoma's Souverain winery, this dessert red will knock your socks off. With residual sugar in the 10% range and the dark berry flavors of blackberry and black cherry along with thick layers of spice, make this wine an extraordinary sweet red wine find!
Rosenblum Cellars Late Harvest Zinfandel - Zinfandel tends to put more fruit forward as it is, but when combined with the concentrated sugars of late harvest, this Rosenbloom wine throws some serious sweet to the palate. Expect some rich toffee character combined with dark cherry, raspberry and a touch of fig all under the veil of sweet spice.
Inniskillin Winery Cabernet Franc - Inniskillin is Canada's premier ice wine producer. As such they have devoted themselves to making ice wine out of Cabernet Franc - to say that it showcases sweet red berry fruit, mainly strawberry and raspberry, would be a severe understatement. It is a virtual explosion of concentrated fruit carried out with an elegance that is unsurpassed.
So the next time you find yourself searching for a sweet red wine, remember one of the key clues that you'll be looking for on the label is the alcohol content. For sweet red wines, it's one of two extremes - a high alcohol content as found in the most famous sweet red wine, Port, or lower alcohol contents in a red table wine, generally in the 8-12% range indicating that the fermentation process was stopped before all of the grape's natural sugars were converted to alcohol.