Sweet Red Wines for Healthy Drinking
Many new wine drinkers have a decidedly sweet tooth, having been raised on coke, candy and chocolate as their 'normal sweetness level'. Red wines are known for their health benefits - and also for their tannic, non-sweet flavors. Many new wine drinkers therefore seek a sweet red wine that is as sweet as possible.
As a bit of background, the tannic, leathery flavor of red wine comes from the red grape skins. All grape "insides" are white in color. So a red wine that only uses the skins briefly during winemaking - like a white zinfandel - is going to generally be less tannic and more sweet. It will also be light in color, since the color comes from the grape skins. A wine that sits on the skins for a long time during winemaking will end up darker in color, more tannic - and more healthy. That's because many of the health compounds in a wine come from its skin.
Therefore, in order to find a sweet red wine, your quest generally is to look for a pinker red wine. The two tend to go together.
The easiest wines for most new drinkers to handle tend to be the white zinfandel and white merlot style. These are very sweet in the grand scheme of things, but to someone used to drinking sugary sodas they will seem "normal". Think of this as someone taking coffee and dumping 5 creams and 5 sugars into it. It is the flavor of wine plus a lot of sweetness.
Note again that these blush wines are only in contact with the grape skins for a short period of time. That's why they are light pink and not deep red. This also means they does not have many of the health benefits associated with red wine. Still, it's a way to get started.
Another very sweet red is port, the dessert wine. Port is higher alcohol than a regular wine, but is rich, thick and sweet. It goes great with chocolate and is wonderful for fireside sipping. It gets you used to the rich, complex flavors that wine offers.
Training the Tongue
For many people, their quest with a sweet red wine is to try to then develop their taste buds to appreciate more fully the wider range of wine. They are training their tongues to tolerate tannins. Tannins are the mouth-drying components found in tea bags. For those individuals, once they get comfortable with drinking white zinfandel, they should try moving along to merlot, chianti, and shiraz.
Merlot is the name of the grape used to make merlot wine. This wine has been used as a blending wine for hundreds of years because its flavor is so gentle. The typical flavor for a merlot is plum. Merlot goes well with just about any medium-body dish, like burgers or pork chops.
Chianti is a multi-grape wine made in Italy. You might remember the straw-basket bottles used for Chianti in the olden days, and from movies. This wine is fruity tasting and goes wonderfully with pizza and lasagna.
Shiraz is also known as Syrah and comes from the Syrah grape. The name shiraz is just what Australia chose to call their version of the wine, and the name has become very popular. Shiraz wines are spicy and peppery, and go wonderfully with steak and spicy dishes.
Which Wineries to Try?
I have many wine reviews on line, but the best thing you can ever do is to go into your wine shop and talk to its owner. The owner knows exactly what he has there and what would appeal to your taste. The more you get to know him or her, the more the owner will know what you enjoy, recommend similar offerings, and be able to point you at something that is just your style. It won't help you if we recommend a wine that isn't available for you locally!
So try every wine you can, see what you like and don't like, and build your own list of favorites. In the end, it is your palate we're talking about, and whatever you enjoy drinking, that's what is perfect for you!
If you would like some specific guidance, swing by our wine forums and we'll help out!
Sweet Wine Styles
Sweet Dry Wine Tasting Chart
Wine for a Sweet Tooth
Dry Wine Term
Sweet Wine Term
Wine Basics Main Page