Sweet Red Wine

There are many examples of sweet red wine produced in several wine producing regions around the world. Like any sweet wine, these are wines which have a considerable amount of residual sugar in the wine, making them taste quite sweet and generally served after dinner as a dessert wine or digestif. While there tend to be more examples of sweet white wines overall, one of the most famous styles of sweet wine, Port, is red.

These sweet wines are often served alone after a dinner but can be a great pairing with cheeses, such as Port & Stilton, a classic pairing.

Types of Sweet Red Wine

  • Fortified Wines: Generally, when normal, ripe grapes are fermented, they ferment close to dryness without any residual sugar in the finished wine. However, if you artificially halt the fermentation of the sugar to alcohol you can create a wine which still retains some of its grape sugar and is thus sweet. One way this is accomplished is by "fortifying" the wine by adding a neutral grape spirit during fermentation to stop the yeast. There are several examples of these fortified wines, including Sherry and Madeira, which are both made from white grapes. One of the most famous red fortified wines is Port, discussed below.
    • Port and Port-Styled Wine: Traditional Port, or Porto, is produced in the Douro river valley in Portugal. Red grapes are harvested and fermented and the fermentation is stopped midway by fortification with alcohol. The wines are generally rich, sweet red wines which can be bottled in a number of different styles depending on the amount and type of aging the wines receive prior to bottling. You can learn more about Porto and their various styles on our Port Wines page. There are other Port-styled wines produced throughout the world. In particular, many ports are produced in Australia and California.
    • Banyuls: Another fortified red wine, Banyuls is a small region in the south of France. The wines here are produced largely in the same way as Port, but with different types of grapes, with fortification with alcohol to halt fermentation. There are other less well known regions, such as Maury, that also make similar wines.
  • Late Harvest Wines: Some red sweet wines can be made without fortification. If grapes are left to ripen on the vine for prolonged periods of time and then harvested late, after the typical maturity level, the high levels of sugar in the grapes may be too much for the yeast to ferment completely. Often called late harvest wines, these wines are not fortified but typically have some amount of residual sugar, and thus sweetness, in the final wine. While not as common as late harvest white wines, examples can be found most commonly in New World wine producing regions such as California, such as Late Harvest Zinfandel. These wines tend not to be as structured, complex and long-lived as the best Port and Banyuls.

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