Tag Archives: sweet red wine

Even sweet red does better than rose

How much do you dislike rose? So much so that you like sweet red wine more. Yes, the much reviled and even hated sweet red wine.

The blog ?s visitor numbers for The ultimate Internet guide to sweet red wine, which ran on Monday, were 24 percent better than those for the annual rose post, which ran at the end of May.

Do you think the people who write the big-time, serious wine blogs have metaphysical dilemmas like this?

The ultimate Internet guide to sweet red wine

I have notes for 26 wines, most of which I tasted with at least one other person. The notes summarize the consensus opinion, and we judged the wines on their merits — not as, “Boy, this stinks because it’s sweet red wine.”

Having said that, most of the wines were not well made, and displayed a cynicism that surprised even the Wine Curmudgeon. They tasted as if the producers figured sweet red drinkers don’t care about quality, but only about how sweet the wine is. Hence dirty wines, wines made with unripe fruit, and wines that tasted more like Kool-Aid than wine.

This might fool the consumer in the short term, but it won’t help much after they buy a bottle or two. It will turn them away from wine, something that the wine business seems to know how to do all too well.

What too many people making sweet red seem to forget is that quality does matter, even in a sweet product. Coke and Pepsi might be sweet, but they’re also well made, with flavors in addition to sweetness. And what’s the Holy Grail of the soft drink business? To make a sugar-free soft drink that tastes as good as one made with sugar.

The best wines of the tasting were the Sutter Home Sweet Red, which was clean and balanced and would actually pair with food (barbecue, perhaps); two Italian wines, Rosetta and Montefiore, which were being made long before the sweet red craze began; and St. James Velvet Red, which I’ve given a gold medal to in several competitions.

More about sweet red wine:
Sweet red wine, part I
Sweet red wine, part II
The ultimate sweet red wine tasting

Photo courtesy of Lynne Kleinpeter, using a Creative Commons license

The ultimate Internet guide to sweet red wine

Count ’em — 26 sweet reds, tasted and reviewed. Who else would do more? Though, to be honest, there are probably dozens more out there that I haven’t gotten to, and I’m not not sure that I ever will. I’m only human.

Vintages aren’t listed, since many of the wines are non-vintage. In addition, most of the wines that that are dated are made to drink immediately and are made with a recipe that tries to make the wine taste the same every year. Hence, its vintage should make almost no difference.

Apothic Red ($12, sample): Moderately sweet, but with red wine characteristics like tannins. Not especially fruity (red cherry maybe?).

Jam Jar ($10, purchased): Probably the first of the modern sweet reds, and it proudly calls itself a sweet wine, almost like cherry cider.

Brix Sweet Shiraz ($9, purchased): Grape juicy aroma and sticky mouth feel, and nothing much more than sweet.

Beringer Red Moscato ($5, purchased): The final frontier for sweetness — twice as much sugary-ness as a Beringer white zinfandel, with a very distinctive cherry Kool-Aid flavor.

St. James Velvet Red ($7, purchased): This Missouri wine is a traditional regional sweet red, made with concord. Not as sweet as the red moscato, but sweet enough.

Quady Red Electra ($14, purchased): Technically, this is a dessert wine, but the sweet red wine trend has given the wine a boost with people who wouldn’t normally buy dessert wine. Very sweet.

Sutter Home Sweet Red ($5, purchased): Cherries with a big burst of flavor, as well as some acid balance. Clean, no flaws.

Smoking Loon Sweet Red ($8, sample): Red wine tannins like a grocery store merlot, and more grape juice-like in flavor.

Bava Rosetta ($16, sample): Very sweet with light bubbles and an almost white tea flavor. Not that far removed from a small batch soft drink, and well done.

Turning Leaf Refresh ($6, sample): Thin, and not much of a finish. An orange-ish aroma and very sweet.

Barefoot Sweet Red ($6, purchased): Lots of cherry fruit and made in the Barefoot style ? soft and approachable.

Cherry on Top ($8, sample): Not impressive ? unbalanced and grapes seem of very poor quality.

Red Breast Sweet Red ($14, sample): Lots of red cherry fruit and lots of sugar. Grape juice doesn ?t seem this sweet.

Montefiore Sweet Red: ($12, sample): Lots of dark fruit, mostly balanced, and fizzy. Very well done.

Cornicelli Casa Rossa ($12, sample): Very New World in style, with lots of cherry fruit and very sweet. An odd, almost mint tea aroma.

? Vertikal Dornfelder Sweet Red ($8, sample): Funky aromas and not much going on. Not very impressive, considering the dornfelder grape is supposed to make quality sweet wine.

Lindeman ?s Sweet Red Bin 46 ($7, sample): Smells like Australian shiraz and has telltale peppery flavor, but none of this carries over to the wine. Was surprised it wasn ?t more drinkable.

Rose ?s Sweet Red ($9, sample): Spanish tempranillo that isn ?t especially sweet ? more sweet fruit than anything.

Robertson Natural Sweet Red ($6, sample): South African wine that tastes like it was made with pinotage ? which is an acquired taste, even with sweet wine.

Foxbrook Sweet Red ($5, sample): California red blend that tasted old and worn out, and wasn ?t all that sweet.

Riunite Lambrusco ($5, sample): The original sweet red has a little effervescence; otherwise, seems a little thin with less fruit its competition.

Roscato Rosso Dolce ($9, sample): Italian sweet wine with red fruit and bubbles that tastes a little like cherry 7-Up.

Blue Fish Sweet Reel Red ($8, sample): German red that tastes like unripe red grapes mixed with sugar.

Red Curtain Sweet Syrah ($7, sample): French wine that smells like syrah and tastes mostly sweet, with very little to distinguish it from any of the other sweet reds.

Menage a Trois Red ($10, purchased): Almost not sweet enough. Tastes more like a soft California wine that a sweet red. Fake oak gives it an almost chocolate feel on the back.

Gnarly Head Authentic Red, ($10, sample): Lots of stewed red fruit and a sweet finish ? one of the sweet reds calling itself a red blend.

The ultimate sweet red wine tasting

Saturday morning update: Only had 14 bottles to taste — a bunch didn't arrive in time, so there will have to be a third tasting. And, though the Italian Wine Guy had to cancel (he said he was "busy"), we were able to replace him with Bill Rich, who works for a distributor in Dallas, and his 21-year-old son, Will. So we had someone tasting the wine who wasn't a cranky old wine geek.

The quality of these wines was better than the first group we did, and only three or four were really disappointing. The standouts were the Sutter Home and two Italians, Rosetta and Montefiore (both of which had a little fizz).

I'll write a more complete post after the third tasting — sweet red wine notes for everyone!

Let it not be said that the Wine Curmudgeon doesn't give his all for his art. Tomorrow, I'll be tasting more than a dozen sweet red wines (and by the time we're done it could be closer to two dozen, since the wines are still coming to the house). Ostensibly, this is for a freelance article I'm writing, but the practical result is that, combined with what I've already written about the sweet red trend, the blog will almost certainly offer the most comprehensive guide to sweet red wine on the Internet.

You can decide for yourself what to make of that.

And a tip 'o the Curmudgeon's fedora to the Other Wine Guy and the Italian Wine Guy, who have volunteered to help me sniff and spit through these wines.

Sweet red wine, part II

sweet red wine reviewsThis is the second of two parts looking at sweet red wine, which could become as important to the wine business as white zinfandel once was. Today, a look at sweet reds and what they taste like. Part I on Feb. 17 explored the whys and wherefores of sweet red’s growth.

Talk to any wine drinker — even experienced ones — and one of the adjectives they always use is smooth. “That’s a smooth wine.” “I want to buy a smooth red wine.” And that, in one word, is what sweet red wine delivers — and what the seemingly infinite number of new sweet reds is trying to capitalize on.

Because the red wine that most of us drink isn’t smooth. It’s tannic, sometimes bitterly so. It can be harshly acidic. And some of it, despite the advances in wine technology, can be unpleasantly green — tasting of unripe fruit or smelling of bell pepper. We can argue whether smooth is a legitimate quality for a wine (I think balance is a better term), but that’s what consumers are looking for.

And what happens when sugar is added to red wine? The bitter tannins get covered up. The harsh acidity is blended away. And that unpleasant green disappears. It becomes, as one blurb for Apothic Red calls the wine, “smooth.”

After the jump, tasting notes for six sweet reds and a few thoughts about how these wines are made and how to tell how sweet they are.

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Sweet red wine, part I

sweet red wine
Today’s sweet red wines are much different from sweet reds like Manischewitz.

This is the first of two parts looking at sweet red wine, which could become as important to the wine business as white zinfandel once was. Today, a sweet red overview. Part II, which looks at sweet reds and what they taste like, posted Feb. 20.

Moscato is getting all of the attention, and no one — not even the Wine Curmudgeon — would argue that it ?s not the latest wine craze. It ?s difficult to argue with those sales numbers, even if there are a lot of caveats.

But that doesn ?t mean moscato is the next big thing, like white zinfandel used to be. Dig deeper, though, past the moment, and you ?ll see the trend that has the potential to not only turn into the next fad, but to significantly change the wine business in the United States. It ?s sweet red wine, something that even the most dollar-grubbing producers have always been a little ashamed of.

But be ashamed no more. Sweet red wines are racking up sales, and producers big and small are launching sweet reds. E&J Gallo ?s Apothic was one of the best sellers in the $8-$11 category last year, while Beringer — which knows a thing or two about sweet wine — expects to sell one-half million cases of its red moscato this year.

?Sweet red wine is very relevant to the marketplace, ? says Shawn Bavaresco, who directs brand development for the company that makes Pacific Rim riesling and which sells Sweet Bliss, which has a sweet red. ?We ?ve seen the demand, so we ?re going to be very responsive. We want to be out front on this. ?

Sweet red Sweet red wine has been such a pariah in the U.S. wine business that white zinfandel seems like a first-growth Bordeaux in comparison. I asked one respected winemaker, hardly a traditionalist himself, about sweet red wine, and he just rolled his eyes.

Sweet red was traditionally the province of Kosher wines like Manischewitz and Mogen David (insert joke here). Even today, when Constellation Brands is the second biggest wine company in the world, people still make cracks about its beginnings as an upstate New York winery called Canandaigua that did sweet red wine.

Real wine drinkers don ?t drink sweet red wine, as any number of real wine drinkers will tell you.

That perspective is changing quickly. Sweet red sales, says Nielsen, grew 172 1/2 percent in the 13 weeks ending Jan. 7, which was even faster than moscato’s increase. Yes, some of the same caveats that apply to moscato apply here, like big growth from a small base. But there is more going on than that.

Sweet red wine is relatively easy to make and can be made with almost any red grapes (or white grapes, for that matter). This is in contrast to a varietal wine like moscato, which needs a grape that is in short supply. And the people buying sweet red are women and the other demographic that marketers crave — the Millennials, who will soon replace the Baby Boomers as the most important consumer demographic in the country. (If they haven ?t already.) And they seem be part of the group that continues to elude the wine business — beginning wine drinkers.

?Why is everyone so surprised that Millennials, who drink Coke for breakfast, would want to drink sweet wine says Barry Sheridan, vice president of marketing for Treasury Wine Estates, which owns Beringer.

So how did sweet red go from pariah to favorite in just a couple of years? Talk to different people, and you ?ll get different explanations. But the one consistent seems to be the recession, which knocked so many producers down (and even a couple out). Sweet red wine doesn ?t require expensive grapes, because the wine ?s sweetness masks any flaws that cheaper, bulk grapes might have. So sweet red can be sold for the lower prices that consumers embraced during the recession.

Meanwhile, restoring margins and revenue that went away during the recession will go a long toward placating anyone still embarrassed about making and selling sweet red.

And, as Sheridan, noted, it ?s not a difficult sell to a demographic that likes sweets. It ?s also telling that Pacific Rim ?s sweetest wine accounted for 70 percent of riesling sales over the last two vintages — an amazing figure given that much of the wine business seems to go out of its way to convince consumers that sweet wine isn ?t something they want to buy. Imagine how much sweet red the business can sell if it makes an effort and produces professionally made wine.