There is a common misconception out there that sweetness in red wine translates to a lower alcohol content.
This couldn’t be further from the truth, and may in fact be what’s inhibiting an exploration of the sweet red wine variety – ultimately leaving us blind to the delightful selection of wines available!
You may be surprised to learn that some sweet wines hit the 20% ABV (alcohol by volume) mark.
So, discovery is on the horizon for 2023, with a line-up of sweet red wines in this article that are elevated not only on the alcohol side of things but also with rich and elegant flavor to boot!
We’ll take a look at:
- How a high alcohol content is achieved in sweet red wines
- The 7 wines that fit this category, such as Tawny Ports and Cabernet Sauvignon
- Ideal pairings for sweet red wines.
Let’s get into it!
Popular Sweet Red Wines with High Alcohol Content
There is often the presumption that sweet red wines are lower in alcohol.
However, there are definitely varieties out there that can hit the 20% ABV (alcohol by volume) mark.
These include naturally occurring high-alcohol wines as well as fortified wine like Port, Madeira, or Sherry.
Pairing with foods such as cheese, various meats, or fresh berries helps balance out the acidity and bitterness that greater alcohol-containing wines can bring.
Some popular sweet red wines that are high in alcohol include:
- Hermes Mavrodaphne Of Patras (15%) – Red Blend
- Croft Reserve Tawny (20%) – Port
- Blandy’s 15 year old Malmsey Madeira (19%) – Madeira
- Obelisco Cabernet Sauvignon II Nefer (14.1%) – Cabernet Sauvignon
- Niepoort Ruby Port (19.5%) – Port.
Let’s examine each in a bit more detail:
Top 7 Sweet Red Wines with High Alcohol Content for 2023
There are many sweet red wines out there that tick the box of being sweet while having a decent level of alcohol content.
However, finding the balance of a reasonably priced wine with good flavors, inviting aromas, adequate ABV, and actual sweetness can be where the challenge lies!
What is the ‘best’ generally comes down to personal preference.
With that said, below is a list of ‘all-rounder’ sweet red wines with high alcohol content that you can keep in mind for when you are next in the wine aisle:
Hermes Mavrodaphne Of Patras (15%)
This subtle red blend dessert wine is described as Greece’s ‘best-kept wine secret’.
Made in the region of Achaia, you will be welcomed with tastes of caramel, nuts, spices, and baked apples.
Much like a tawny port, the Mavrodaphne maintains a higher alcohol content of 15% thanks to fortification.
It’s a staple in the alcohol cabinet for any sweet wine lover and comes in at only around $14.99!
Croft Reserve Tawny (20%)
The Croft Reserve Tawny Port produced in Portugal (the country known for Port wines) certainly doesn’t lack any strength and has an ABV of 20%.
Aged 7 years, the flavor profile contains both elegance and significant complexion.
Expect nutty aromas, spice, and rich red fruit to overtake your senses! At around $23 per bottle, this may be an excellent choice for a boozy but sweet wine option.
Philip Togni Ca Togni 2010 (14.2%)
The Philip Togni Ca Togni represents a wine that uses some of the only black muscat vines grown in the USA.
This makes the wine very distinct and unique from its counterparts! It does however sustain the sweetness of a dessert wine.
It also joins the moderate to higher alcohol content range of red wines with an ABV of 14.2%. Expect to pay around $39 for a bottle of Philip Togni Ca Togni.
Obelisco Cabernet Sauvignon II Nefer (14.1%)
Cabernet Sauvignon is a widely recognized and prestigious grape variety, so there was no way this type of wine would escape this list!
From the region of Columbia Valley, Obelisco has produced a Cabernet Sauvignon that exhibits aromas and flavors of dark blackberry, plum, cherry cola, and sweet toasted oak.
Additionally, the concentration of alcohol is far from lacking with a 14.1% ABV. While steeper in price (around $59.99), this Cabernet is truly one of the best.
Ridge Vineyards Benito Dusi Zinfandel (15.3%)
A highly rated Zinfandel wine by ‘Zinfandel Chronicles’ is Ridge Vineyards Benito Dusi.
The deep ruby-colored wine has aromas of dark plum, dusty strawberries, rhubarb, sarsaparilla, and sweet oak.
On the palate, you’ll find a bold red and blue fruit that lingers. The dense and weighty Zinfandel wine has a staggering 15.3% alcohol content with no fortification, with a retail price set at $40.
Niepoort Ruby Port (19.5%)
This award-winning and highly-regarded port wine is sure to leave you satisfied.
The Ruby port doesn’t lack alcohol content with an ABV of 19.5% but still sustains an enticing sweetness.
Aromas of dark fruits follow through to the palate and provides excellent balance, making this wine an ‘easy drink’.
The price sits at around $50, depending on what retail outlet store you are purchasing from.
Toro Albala Don PX Cosecha 1994 (17%)
Toro Albala Don PX Cosecha is a dessert wine originating from Spain that is complex and intense.
Pedro Ximénez grapes used in production lay in the sun to concentrate all the sugars, ultimately giving the wine its high alcohol content (17% ABV).
Dried fruits and eventual notes of licorice, coffee, cinnamon, and cocoa are the standouts of this wine.
Having a sweet and velvety complexion is what offsets the acidity or bitterness that could otherwise be experienced. Expect a price of approximately $55 for this delicious dessert wine.
How Alcohol Content Is Achieved in Sweet Red Wines
Realistically, most wine yeast is bred for 10%-13% alcohol. So, how do winemakers exceed these values when producing sweet red wines?
Adding sugar is a technique which can elevate alcohol content in the final product. However, this is a process that should be carried out with care to ensure sugar doesn’t act as a preservative.
Temperature also comes into play, with warmer environments being better for producing higher-alcohol wines.
This is because warmth keeps the yeast invigorated, especially when it is reaching the end of its efficacy.
Higher alcohol of course does come with more intensity and viciousness. Therefore, it can have a significant effect on a person’s wine experience.
A wine that is high in alcohol will have a richer body. This means they can feel more substantial and often lingers in the mouth for longer.
In contrast to this, lower alcohol wines will taste lighter and be more delicate. However, other factors such as residual sugar and tannins can also impact the taste of sweet wines and dictate how it feels on the palate.
Pairing and Enjoying High-Alcohol Sweet Red Wines
There is a range of different pairing options for sweet red wines out there, depending on the type of wine drunk and what the occasion is.
From various cheeses and dark chocolates to berries (as well as a multitude of savory options), wine and food pairing is an art.
For your Ports such as the Croft Reserve Tawny, excellent pairings include blue cheese to showcase that contrast of tangy and sweet, caramel desserts like toffee pudding to match the nutty notes of the Port, or fresh berries as a light dessert to refresh and cleanse the palate between courses.
The Obelisco Cabernet Sauvignon II Nefer is best partnered with a good cut of steak. In particular, higher-fat cuts that are rare to medium-rare are ideal matches.
This is because the fat and protein lessen the bitterness of the wine, making it smoother on the palate and enhancing the fruity flavors. Other good options include lamb or various burgers.
Zinfandel is your perfect wine to pair with any American barbeque offering; think ribs, sausages, or brisket, or anything else that can be charred, sweet, or spicy.
However, thanks to the rich flavors of this wine, any red meat or hearty meal is suitable.
If you are thinking about any of the other sweet red wines such as ‘red blends’, you can follow the theme of pairing with various meats. Other creative food pairings could include earthy dishes such as mushroom risotto, or beetroot and goat cheese salad where the sweet wine enhances the savory flavors of the dish.
Alternatively, roast vegetables are another good option as the natural sweetness of the vegetables match the wine.
Expect to be impressed and want more after discovering what is out there in the world of sweet red wines, particularly those with greater alcohol content.
The different aromas and flavorful notes that each variety of wine possesses is what makes it unique!
Nutty, spicy, and fruity flavors abound, and the sweet profile of these wines ultimately balance out the high alcohol that accompanies it.
So, will you opt for a fortified option like the Croft Reserve Tawny Port, or go with a naturally occurring alcoholic wine such as the Ridge Vineyards Benito Dusi Zinfandel?
Either way, make 2023 the year to explore the best sweet red wines with high alcohol content out there so that you can level up any wine drinking occasion.
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