When it comes to sweet wine, there are numerous winemaking processes in which the wine can get its sweetness, from fortification to late-harvest picking to halting fermentation. The one thing that all bottles of sweet wine have in common is the presence of residual sugar, otherwise known as RS. RS is what happens when the yeast fermenting the grapes doesn’t convert all the sugar into alcohol, leaving some of the sugar in the wine and making it sweet.
Over the last decade, sweet red blends coming out of California have become extremely popular. These wines aren’t exactly sweet, but they’re not dry, either. They’re somewhere in between. Why are these wines so popular? It’s because we Americans don’t quite realize how much we like sweet things. From the time we’re children, we tend to gravitate toward sugar. We don’t necessarily want a full-blown dessert wine, but a lot of people don’t want that bone-dry mouthfeel that a dry, tannic red offers. Over the last five years, domestic winemakers have picked up on this, leaving their red blends with some RS in them to hit that sweet spot that the average consumer likes.
Popular Red Blend Brands
Consumers have gravitated to big brands like Cupcake, Apothic, and Menage a Trois. But — and this is where it gets tricky — there’s no indication that these wines are sweet. In fact, the bottles rarely even state the region or varietal.
What About Meritage Blends
There are also plenty of dry red blends that come from California, known as meritage blends. These blends are similar to Bordeaux blends, made with the same varietals most of the time, and are definitely not sweet. These wines are fermented entirely dry, though more often than not, they have a higher alcohol percentage than their European counterparts due to the stronger ripeness of the grapes. Riper grapes means more sugars present for yeast to consume, resulting in more alcohol in the final product.
Popular Sweet Red Wines
There are a few other popular types of sweet red wines in the world, such as port and Brachetto d’Acqui. Port is made in the Douro Valley of Portugal and gets its sweetness from being fortified midway during fermentation. Brachetto, a lower-alcohol, slightly sparkling red from the northern part of Italy, gets its sweetness from halting fermentation prior to completion, leaving residual sugar in the wine.