When talking about sweet wines many people are probably describing ones that are fruity and jammy. But in the wine world, sweet wines are defined as those with high amounts of residual sugar.
A wine’s sweetness is determined by its residual sugar level. That’s the amount of sugar that remains in a wine after fermentation. During the fermentation process, grape sugar is converted to alcohol. If you stop this process early, more of the grape sugar will remain in the finished product for a sweeter wine with less booze content. Technically speaking, this is expressed commonly in grams per liter (g/L), with a sweet wine being one with more than 121 grams per liter.
These bottles are generally considered a little easier for some to sip, because of this higher residual sugar content and usually lower alcohol and tannins. However, there are strong wines that also contain plenty of residual sugar. A wine with an alcohol by volume (abv) over 17–18% was probably fortified with a neutral spirit to stop the fermentation early. These fortified wines like Port are produced to complement sweet desserts.
|1. Niepoort Vintage Port 2015
|2. Cleto Chiarli Brut de Noir Rose
|3. Banfi Rosa Regale
|4. Cavicchioli 1928 Sparkling Dolce Rose
|5. Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2016
|6. Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port 2017
Sweet red-wine types can range from light to full in body. We’ve included this full range in the wines that we’ve chosen to taste and review so that we can give you our recommendations and verdict on the best sweet red wine.
Our Best Sweet Red Wine Reviews and Comparisons
1. Cleto Chiarli Brut de Noir Rose
Lambrusco is usually thought of as the fruity red wine from Emilia-Romagna. However, Lambrusco is a grouping of about 10 different grape varieties and 11 unique sub-regions, with most in the market coming from the 3 top production regions of Lambrusco Modena, Lambrusco Emilia, and Lambrusco Reggiano.
The wines range from dry (Secco) to sweet (Dolce), so look for wines labeled with Semisecco, Amabile, or Dolce for a sweet style. And the color from the dark purple to the pale ruby of this sparkling rose from the oldest producer in Emilia-Romagna DOC.
Chiarli was founded in 1860, and that 160 years of winemaking experience which shows here in this blend of Pinot Noir and Lambrusco. Production was limited to 5,000 dozen.
- Variety: 85% Grasparossa (Lambrusco), 15% Pinot Noir, Italian Sparkling Rose
- Appellation: Modena, Emilia-Romagna, Central Italy
- Winery: Charli
- Alcohol: 12%
- Bottle: 750 ml
What We Like About Cleto Chiarli Brut de Noir Rose
The gentle bubbles and gorgeous pink color pours to a creamy foam of luxury and elegance for drinking at any time of the day.
A lively aperitif on its own, it’s also a great choice with brunch. Pair in the evening with Spanish tapas, or if you’re going Italian, for dinner with pasta and pizza. And make sure that you save a glass (or another bottle!) for dessert strawberries, fruit salad, or sweet dolce.
Gently pressed from Grasparossa and Pinot Noir with notes of roses, strawberries, raspberries, red currants, and other fruits of the forest. Mint and cider apples provide balance.
Cleto Chiarli Brut de Noir Rose ages for six months in cuve to produce a sparkling rose of persistent bubbles.
What We Don’t Like About Cleto Chiarli Brut de Noir Rose
Don’t expect the fine sparkles of champagne. It’s a Lambrusco after all. But then that’s happily reflected in the comparative price.
- Light and bubbly for brunch
- Fruity taste and finish that goes well with dessert
- A delicious sweet rose wine to end the evening
- Could be foamier
- Unexpectedly sweet for some
2. Banfi Rosa Regale
This is another sparkling wine from Italy, but darker and sweeter than the above. It’s made from Brachetto, the sweetly aromatic and complex grape variety that grows only in the area of Acqui Terme, in Southern Piedmont. The wine, called Brachetto d’Acqui is made exclusively in the Piedmontese sub-region of the same name and has a DOCG classification.
Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (Controlled Designation of Origin) is the highest classification in Italy. All DOCG wines from each producer are tasted and analyzed by a government–licensed judgment panel before being bottled. If approved, the wines are guaranteed with a numbered governmental seal across the cork or cap.
Light ruby red in color and low in alcohol, Brachetto d’Acqui wines are off-dry to very sweet, with attractive strawberry and floral aromatics. This Banfi Rosa Regale is no exception and has even been rated among the top 2% of all wines in the world.
- Variety: 100% Brachetto, Italian Sparkling Rose
- Appellation: Braquetto d’Acqui, Piedmont, Italy
- Winery: Banfi
- Alcohol: 7%
- Bottle Size: 750 ml
What We Like About Banfi Rosa Regale
The aromas are of strawberry, sweet cherry sauce, raspberry, violet, and rose candy. And with the same on the palate, Banfi Rosa Regale is a delightful red sparkling wine.
Beautifully soft, appealing, and elegant it’s perfect for not only a celebration but for any occasion as an aperitif. It pairs well with spicy cuisines and seafood, and also enjoys it at the end of a meal with cheeses, berries, fruit salad, or another sweet dessert.
But it’s with chocolate, especially bittersweet or dark, that it goes best where it’s best, thanks to the aromatic hints of rose petals and raspberries.
What We Don’t Like About Banfi Rosa Regale
It’s probably fair to say that its raspberry sweetness makes for an acquired taste. One that’s too sweet for many drinkers.
Be sure not to mistake it for a rose!
- Festive joy of life in a flute glass
- Deliciously sweet
- Short but gentle finish with a romantic aftertaste
- Too much raspberry taste
- Not enough alcohol
3. Cavicchioli 1928 Sparkling Dolce Rose
Lambrusco wines range from dry (Secco) to sweet (Dolce). The last of our bubblies, this sparkling rose made with Lambrusco grapes from the Modena region of Italy is definitely at the sweet end of the spectrum.
Cavicchioli 1928 Rosé Spumante Dolce should be drunk young and well chilled to 40°F. It’s excellent on its own as an aperitif but also tries as an ideal accompaniment to sweet and sour flavors, seafood, risotto, and filled pasta such as ravioli and tortellini. Enjoy it with fresh fruits for dessert, and it also goes well with a cheese course.
- Variety: 100% Lambrusco di Sorbara, Italian Sparkling Rose
- Appellation: Veneto, Italy
- Winery: Cavicchioli
- Alcohol: 9.5%
- Bottle Size: 750 ml
What We Like About Cavicchioli 1928 Sparkling Dolce Rose
For sure this is a great summer wine of sweet fruity notes, but if you don’t care for champagne on New Year’s it’s also perfect. Why not savor it as a celebration in itself all year round? What’s more, the simply beautiful bottle makes for a great host or hostess gift.
The color of rose petals, this sweet sparkler bursts with a bouquet of soft florals and fresh fruits. It’s those fruits that follow-through onto the palate, with the darks of strawberry, raspberry, and cherry, balanced by lighter watermelon and a touch of citrus grapefruit.
Light and refreshing for very easy drinking.
What We Don’t Like About Cavicchioli 1928 Sparkling Dolce Rose
Even for a Prosecco Cavicchioli, 1928 Sparkling Dolce Rose is sweeter than anticipated, almost marshmallowy. If you’re looking for an alternative to costly champagne you might find it a little too tame compared to the explosiveness of a crisp Cava.
- Very light, sparkly
- smooth, soft, and sweet
- Unmistakable bottle
- Too fruit-forward
- Curt and saccharine finish
4. Niepoort Vintage Port 2015
If you thought that 2075 was a long time to wait for the previous Port, then you won’t believe how long it’s recommended to hold this 2015 Niepoort Vintage.
Robert Parker, Jr writes of it in his Wine Advocate, that “this is going to require patience. Nothing about it says “drink me now.” It should age brilliantly. If you lack a cellar and patience, look away. Drink 2035-2085.”
As such an esteemed wine connoisseur declares it “a leading candidate for ‘Wine of the Vintage’, awarding it 99-100 points, then who are we to argue? If you need any further confirmation, we’re told that the maker Dirk Niepoort himself “says it is the best he has ever made”.
If you’re waiting that long, it seems kind of academic to say now what it goes well with. But just for the record, it’s perfect with blue cheeses, as well as chocolate desserts, or just some simple dark chocolate.
- Variety: Touriga Franca, Tinto Cão, Tinta Francisca, Tinta Amarela, Sousão, Tinta Roriz & others, Port
- Appellation: Douro, Portugal
- Winery: Niepoort
- Alcohol: 19.76%
- Residual Sugar: 89g/L
- Bottle Size: 750 ml
What We Like About Niepoort Vintage Port 2015
Niepoort Vintage Port 2015 is a field blend from 80- to 100-year-old vines. With 89 grams per liter of residual sugar, its concentration and power improve as it airs out.
Firstly, you’re struck by its wonderful dark purple rim and great depth of color. Then it’s the aromatic profile characterized by the dark fruit of its color. The initial great big whack of a first taste leads into a fresher mid-palate, but still of the flavors of that dark fruit.
The end is as bold as the beginning, but with a dry and slightly green tannic finish. Of an impressive length and structure, when you taste it you can see why it’s recommended to hold for so long. It’s that obvious that its stunning combination of elegance with power will only get better with age.
What We Don’t Like About Niepoort Vintage Port 2017
It’s not often that we can say that we find a wine faultless, but the only thing that we don’t like about this 2015 Niepoort is that long wait. Whoever said that patience is a virtue had obviously never tasted this!
- Smoky and intense on the nose
- Racy and powerful
- A fantastic center palate of fruit
- We don’t know if we can wait that long
5. Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2016
Our last wine is another vintage Port that’s for the long term. Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2016, like the 2017 Niepoort, is a field blend, this time mostly Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinto Cão, and Sousão. It’s also highly rated by Robert Parker, Jr.’s Wine Advocate, just slightly behind with 97 points, and a drink date of 2026-2075.
It’s aged for 18 months in old oak barrels of 640 liters or larger, with a production of 6,000 cases. The maker says that “equilibrium, harmony, finesse, and elegance characterize our great Vintage Ports, which are declared only in great years (3 or 4 years in a decade)”.
- Variety: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franc, Tinta Cão and Sousão, Port
- Appellation: Douro, Portugal
- Winery: Quinta do Noval
- Alcohol: 19%
- Residual Sugar: 82g/L
- Bottle Size: 750 ml
What We Like About Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2016
From the first smell with its promise of intense and concentrated fruit, it doesn’t disappoint.
As well as blue fruits there’s dark chocolate, floral violets, and a hint of eucalyptus providing freshness. It’s one of the best noses that we’ve ever had the delight of tasting.
The leafy green continues through to the initially minty palate, but after and overall, it’s still characterized by the young fruits of dark currant, fig, and blackberry. Stemmy green bramble, Turkish coffee, and ganache notes provide liberal balance. A tarry spine adds enough edge to the fruit through to the finish.
Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2016 is slightly lighter in sweetness, with residual sugar of 82g/L. That makes it fine, delicate, and polished, yet still chewy, intense, and deep. The tannins provide a perfect balance. But it’s the purity of the fruit that’s the undoubted star.
What We Don’t Like About Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2016
If we have to be critical, we’d say that it’s not as big or immediately impressive as other ports from this vintage. But that’s only if we have to be!
- Distinctive from the start
- Generous tannins to go with this opulent fruitiness.
- Sweet yet subtle
- Drier in style than most of its peers
6. Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port 2017
Now for the first of our Port selections. Port wine comes from the Douro region of Northern Portugal. It’s a blend of many full-bodied grape varieties, including Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, and Tinta Cão.
For red-colored styles of Port wine expect aromas of blackberry, raspberry sauce, licorice, cocoa, juniper berry, and anise with mineral notes of graphite and crushed gravel. While they of course taste sweet, they have ample tannins to balance.
Vesuvio is the last of the old school of vintage ports. The real deal is pretty much the same wine that was made in their original 1826 winery. It’s even still pressed by foot in the original granite lagares, the large shallow tanks where the grapes are tread.
- Variety: Touriga Nacional 60%, Touriga Franca 25%, Tinta Amarela 10%, Souzão 5%, Port
- Appellation: Douro, Portugal
- Winery: Vesuvio
- Alcohol: 20%
- Residual Sugar: 115g/L
- Bottle Size: 750 ml
What We Like About Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port 2017
Just as you’d expect, this has a bold and luscious fruit flavor. But as well as having underlying power, with 115 grams of residual sugar, it still somehow remains fresh. It luxuriously coats the palate but its best feature is the full-on juicy finish; as long as it is delicious.
Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port 2017 is the perfect combination of fruit (loads of it!), lots of power, and full-length of flavor to go with that finish. This is clearly a substantial wine but it doesn’t feel heavy. It’s high in alcohol but doesn’t have any alcohol burn.
It’s more than a worthy successor to recent vintages, but you’ll need to give it time. Your patience will be more than rewarded!
What We Don’t Like About Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port 2017
Be prepared to hold onto it for a very long time. This is an investment, and as such, the longer that you leave it, the richer it will become. Don’t even consider opening it before 2030, and if you can wait to its full term of 2075!
- Surprisingly approachable
- Tons of flavor to enjoy
- Luxury in a bottle
- 2017 wasn’t the best year for Port
- Needs a bit more balance
As we’ve seen, sweet red-wine ranges from sparkly light Lambrusco to full-bodied vintage Port. As an aperitif, for everyday drinking with your main meal, or for sipping with your sweet afters, whenever and however you drink and whatever your palate, there’s a sweet red wine for you.
With such diversity, it’s a hard task to declare which is the best. But as you can probably tell from our reviews, we just loved Niepoort Vintage Port 2017 and think that it can’t be beaten.
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