Sweet red wines tend to get a bad rap. Wine critics often see them as being insufficiently "serious" or complex. The public often associates sweet red wines with cut-rate, poor-tasting wines, such as the Carlo Rossi muscatels. However, some sweet red wines can be delicious.
There are four main groups of sweet red wines: "straw" wines, fortified wines, sparkling wines and young wines. "Straw" wines are wines which have been made from dried grapes; the drying process concentrates their natural sugars. Fortified wines include distilled spirits, such as brandy. Sparkling wines are wines with high levels of carbon dioxide. Young wines are wines which have not been aged for very long, which results in sweeter, less complex flavours than those of older wines.
The top ten sweet red wines are as follows: Aleatico, Port, Madeira, Lambrusco, Beaujolais Nouveau, Fragolino, Cagnina di Romagna, Brachetto, Vin Santo and Recioto della Valpolicella.
Recioto della Valpolicella
Recioto della Valpolicella, an Italian "straw" wine, is a sweet, pungent red wine made from the Valpolicella grape blend. In order to create Recioto Della Valpolicella's signature taste, these grapes have been allowed to develop a benevolent fungus known as the noble rot, which produces sweet, concentrated flavours. Recioto della Valpolicella is best enjoyed as a dessert wine.
Vin Santo and Aleatico
Vin Santo, another Italian "straw" wine, is made from dried Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes. Vin Santo wines are very sweet dessert wines. Unlike many sweet red wines, Vin Santos may be aged up to ten years.
Aleatico di Portoferraio is made in Elba. For the making of Aleatico, grapes are dried prior to being fermented. It's an authentic Italian wine that's known for its sweetness and strong aroma. The taste brings the drinker intense fruit flavours.
Port is a fortified wine from Portugal. More than a hundred different grape varietals may be used to make Port, and it comes in a wide variety of styles. Most ports are sweet and thick, and all of them are high in alcohol. Because ports are so strongly flavoured, they are usually served on their own or with dessert.
Madeira is a Portuguese fortified dessert wine. While there are quite a few types of Madeira, only those Madeiras made from Tinta Negra Mole and Complexa grapes are red. Like Ports, Madeiras are high in alcohol, but their flavours work much better with food. This wine is sometimes used in cooking.
Brachetto, a sparkling red wine made from the Italian Brachetto grape, is famous for its heady aromas and berry flavours. Made in the "frizzante" style--which means "lightly sparkling"--Brachettos are low in alcohol and pair well with fruit and chocolate.
Lambrusco and Cagnina di Romagna
Lambrusco wines are made from the Lambrusco grapes grown in Italy and Argentina. They are foamy, frizzante-style reds. Chilled Lambrusco wines are more refreshing than sweet, and they make a wonderful accompaniment to grilled or barbecued foods.
Cagnina di Romagna is a delectable, sweet red wine. It's known as the wine to drink if you don't want to get drunk. In addition to being low in alcohol, it's low in acidity, and it's a great wine to serve at parties because it's very easy to sip and savour. This wine is meant to be enjoyed immediately so don't shelve it for ageing; in Italy, it's often enjoyed around Christmastime. The festive taste tells the drinker why.
Fragolino and Beaujolais Nouveau
Fragolino, made from a hybrid grape called the Fragola, is notable for its delicate strawberry flavours. Another lightly sparkling red, Fragolino is the perfect chilled summertime drink.
Beaujolais Nouveau is a delectable wine that gets its name from the Beaujolais area of France where it's made. All grapes in this region must be harvested by hand, and this special touch seems to reach the wine itself; its whole berry fermentation process brings out its strong fruit flavours. With a fun purple-pink colour, it's a very lightweight wine that's popular at parties, showers and weddings.