Choosing the best sweet red wine brand can be a daunting task for those less experienced in the world of wine.
With so many different labels, grape varietals, and wine regions to choose from, there are plenty of decisions to be made when it comes to finding the perfect sweet red wine brands.
Sweet Red Wine Overview
While the majority of sweet wine styles throughout the world are made with white wine, there are a handful of sweet red wines that have established themselves as the most important in the world. There are a few basic principles to understand before choosing the perfect bottle for you.
The Basics of Sweet Red Wine
Some styles of sweet red wine are made using special processes like fortification, late grape harvesting, and the implementation of botrytis-affected grapes. Others are made with winemaking techniques using wine grapes with naturally high sugar levels.
These traditionally produced bottles are often referred to as “semi-sweet” red wines, and warmer new world wine-producing regions like the United States and Australia have made an economy producing red wines with naturally high residual sugar.
Wine Folly is one of the best educational resources for wine enthusiasts, and they have composed a wine sweetness chart that categorizes styles of wine from all across the world by their residual sugar content.
The founder has also produced a video guide on the topic.
Grape Varietals Used for Sweet Red Wine
Lambrusco is one of the most important sweet red wine grapes in the world, and it is most famously produced in Italy’s Emilia Romagna region. This red wine grape is naturally high in sugar content, and the wines it produces often carry notes of sweet fruit like ripe berries.
The Brachetto grape is another red Italian grape that is used to produce sweet red wines of high quality. Along with Lambrusco, this sweet red wine grape is most often used to produce sparkling wines that are both sweet and balanced on the palate.
Fortified wines are made with a variety of different red wine grapes depending on the region and style of production. Different types of Port wine are made using grape varietals like Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional, while most Madeira is made using the Negra Mole grape.
Famous Sweet Red Wine Regions
Emilia Romagna is an important Italian wine region that produces the most iconic and sought-after examples of sparkling sweet red wine using the Lambrusco grape on the market today. This is one of the most recognizable regions in the world when it comes to sparkling red wines.
Piedmont is one of Italy’s most important wine regions and produces some of the most expensive and sought-after wines in the entire world. While Barolo and Barbaresco are the main attractions in Piedmont, Brachetto d’Acqui is a world-renowned sparkling red from the region.
Portugal is home to two of the world’s most popular styles of fortified sweet red wines. Ruby and Tawny Port are both produced in Portugal’s world-famous Douro Valley and are most often served as dessert wines or aperitifs.
Food Pairing With Sweet Red Wine
Sparkling sweet red wines are a great candidate for pairing with fried appetizers and dishes with a fair amount of crunch.
The bubbly smooth texture of Lambrusco and Brachetto wines is a great candidate for pairing with fried chicken dishes, especially those with a citrus-based sauce.
Ruby Port is most often served as a dessert wine, making it a fantastic candidate for pairing with rich and strong dessert dishes. The red fruit notes of the Port work in harmony with fruit-based pastry dishes such as cherry tarts and blackberry pie.
Tawny Port is known for carrying far fewer fruit notes compared to Ruby Port and instead is often characterized as having nutty or caramel-like flavors. This makes Tawny Port a better candidate for pairing with luscious desserts such as toffee and cheesecake.
Choosing a Sweet Red Wine
When it comes to deciding on which sweet red wine to purchase, there are a number of different considerations to take into account to ensure that the best bottle is selected.
Perhaps the most important deciding factor is the desired sweetness, as the term “sweet” is a broad range in wine.
Everything from off-dry California Zinfandels to extremely sweet red variations of Canadian Icewine is marketed and often referred to as “sweet red wines.” Once the desired sweetness is determined, the next factor to consider is the style of wine.
Sparkling sweet red wines are light, refreshing, and slightly sweet, while fortified red wines like Port are thick, luscious, and extremely sweet.
As a general rule, sparkling sweet reds are better served at the beginning of a meal, while fortified reds are best enjoyed at the end with dessert.
Five of the World’s Best Sweet Red Wine Brands
- Paltrinieri ‘Radice’ Lambrusco di Sorbara
- Banfi Vigne Regali ‘Rosa Regale’ Spumante
- Ferreira Dona Antonia 20 Year Old Tawny Port
- Barbeito Malvasia
- Cantine Pellegrino Marsala Vergine Riserva
While there are thousands of different sweet red wines on the market today, there are certain styles, regions, and producers that are the most well-known and trusted internationally to produce high-quality sweet wines that are sure to deliver no matter the occasion.
1. Paltrinieri ‘Radice’ Lambrusco di Sorbara
- Delivers a fantastic and unique blend of texture and luscious fruit flavors
- Was awarded a gold medal at the Mundus Vini Awards and a 95-point score
- One of the best values in all of the high-quality sweet wine at around $20 per bottle
- Not sweet enough for those looking for a full-bodied dessert sweet red wine
- Not all wine enthusiasts enjoy sparkling red wine with more “serious” meals
2. Banfi Vigne Regali ‘Rosa Regale’ Spumante
- A traditional light red wine from the famous Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG of Italy
- Winner of multiple international wine awards as well as high ratings from critics
- An affordable high quality sparkling sweet red wine for under $20 per bottle
- Medium to light sweetness is not strong enough for those with a “sweet tooth”
- Some wine enthusiasts do not regard sparkling reds as highly as sparkling whites
3. Ferreira Dona Antonia 20 Year Old Tawny Port
- Deep and complex flavors of vanilla, licorice, and baking spices
- The flavors and complexity have developed over 20 years of aging
- Sweet enough to indulge wine enthusiasts with any palate
- Too sweet for some wine enthusiasts to enjoy as anything but a dessert wine
- Price tag of around $70 per bottle is not realistic for some budgets
4. Barbeito Malvasia
- One of the most famous and recognizable dessert wines in the world
- Highly praised by a variety of different wine critics
- Available on the wine menus of some of the world’s finest restaurants
- The high price tag will scare off the majority of wine enthusiasts
- Usually reserved for only special occasions and celebrations
5. Cantine Pellegrino Marsala Vergine Riserva
- One of the most highly rated fortified wines from all of Sicily
- Often referred to as one of the best Marsala wines in the world
- Sweet enough for a dessert wine while maintaining layers of complexity
- The aggressive flavor will be overwhelming for more delicate palates
- The cost of around $40 per bottle is too much of a risk for some
While there are a wide variety of different sweet red wines being produced all over the world today, there are certain producers and brands that have a long-established reputation for high quality.
Paltrinieri ‘Radice’ Lambrusco di Sorbara is perhaps the most versatile and widely available sweet red wine on the market, making it one of the best sweet red wine brands in the entire world.
Certain stronger variations of sweet red wine like Port, Madeira, and Marsala are well suited for adventurous palates but too strong and aggressive for others. Sparkling sweet red wines made with Lambrusco are well known as “crowd pleasers,” as they are enjoyed by all and well suited for pairing with a variety of different dishes.