Sweet wines are made in one of two ways. The first way is that the yeast stops fermenting before its eats all of the sugar during fermentation. This can happen when the grape juice has more sugar than the yeast can eat or if the yeast is pulled out of the wine before it converts all of the sugar to alcohol. The other way sweet wine is made, is by adding alcohol during the fermentation process, which will kill the yeast before it eats all of the sugar in the grape juice. This is called fortified wine. Port is a great example of a wine made this way. Some sweet wine can almost feel syrupy in mouthfeel. But other sweet wine can be a fantastic complement to a dessert as a nightcap. Acidity in sweet wines is very important, because it helps to balance out the sweetness. So a well done sweet wine should have a good amount of acidity.
Full Bodied Fortified Sweet Red Wines
Fortified red wines have a higher alcohol content between 16%–23% ABV. The fortifying process is what makes the wine sweet, because it stops the fermentation process by killing the yeast. Which prevents the sugar content from becoming alcohol.
Port Wine – comes from the region of Douro of Northern Portugal. It has flavors of blackberry, raspberry sauce, licorice, cocoa, juniper berry, and anise. These wines have a much higher alcohol content, and therefore recommended to have smaller serving sizes. These are the most popular “dessert wine” in the United States.
Mavrodafni of Patras – comes from Greece in the Patras region of Pelopennese, which is southwest of Athens. It will have flavors of black currant, dates, figs, and black pepper.
Black Muscat – this is made with a unique grape that provides flavors of candied apple, rose, violet, cotton candy, perfume and cinnamon. This is a very rare type of wine, but has a very complex flavor profile and texture.
Vin Santo Occhio di Pernice – also known as eye of the partridge. This is actually made with a white wine grape. This wine is rarely fortified, but has the same complex flavor similar to those wines. This rare wine is made with Tuscany’s star grape, Sangiovese. It has flavors of aromas of fig, date, hazelnut and maraschino cherry.
Dessert Red Wines
There is not a simple or standard definition of what a dessert wine is. In some parts of the world, it can simply mean a sweet wine that is drank during dinner. In the USA, wine is legally defined as any wine over 14% alcohol by volume. Often, dessert wines are fortified, but not always. White dessert wines are usually drank before a meal, and red dessert wines are drank after the meal, with dessert.
Sweet Red Wine Flavors
Make sure you don’t confuse sweet with fruity. Fruity flavors do not mean that the wine is sweet. It may just make it seem that way, when in fact the wine is dry. Sweet red wines will typically have some combination of these flavors in the profile:
Fruits – figs, cherries, blackberries, raisins, dates, red and black currants, blueberries, black cherry, boysenberries, raspberries, juniper berry.
Spices – sassafras, coffee, spiced herbs, cinnamon licorice, cocoa, anise.
Other flavors – candied fruit, flowers, fruit james, chocolate, cotton candy, sweet cherry sauce, violets, candied apple, roses, perfume, hazelnut, maraschino cherries.