Working in wine retail, one of the most common questions I get is, “Can you recommend a good sweet red?”
Nope. But I can tell you where they are.
I’ve been at this wine retail thing for a little over a year now, and I’ve still never tasted our most popular sweet red wines. I’m not talking about traditional, high-quality sweet reds — Port, Madeira, and Ice Wine (from red varieties). And I’m totally down with Brachetto and (good) Lambrusco. I’m talking about the mass-produced, inexpensive, fly-off-the-shelves, sweet reds. We never demo these guys (because they sell themselves), so I invested for the sake of education.
I’m holding out very little hope that I will actually like any of these wines myself. So, in the interest of a fair tasting, I invited my college crew. Younger drinkers usually prefer sweeter wines, so I thought it would be fun/educational to do a generational tasting. We have representation from Gen X (that’s me and the Mr. Armchair Sommelier) and Gen Z (my college crew and their SOs).
In order from highest to lowest ABV:
Jam Jar is a sweet red wine from South Africa made with the Shiraz grape. It was launched in 2009, specifically to appeal to the growing numbers of sweet red wine drinkers in the US. It has 5.7% residual sugar (57 g/L) and 13% ABV. Retail = $10ish.
Gen X: It’s very flat. A big fruity flat fruity thing. Tastes exactly like church communion wine. Oooof. Hard, hard pass.
Gen Z: I feel like I could spread this on my toast. I’m not mad at her. I would drink this.
Sweet Walter Red
Wildly popular, Sweet Walter is a blend of Concord, Rougeon, and Baco grapes from the Finger Lakes, NY region. It’s made by Bully Hill Wines. The winery doesn’t publish a tech sheet or specific information regarding sugar content. But it’s sweet. Really sweet. 11% ABV. Retail = $10ish.
Gen X: Smells like a wet dog. Foxy McFox Face (foxy is a term used to describe the distinct musky smell of wines made with American hybrid varieties like Concord). Grape. So, so grape. Tastes like fermented Welch’s grape juice. Awful. Just awful.
Gen Z: I don’t think this tastes like wine. It’s like drinking sweet grape juice. No, like drinking spicy, sweet grape juice. I can spit this out, right?
A semi-sparkling wine from the Emilia Romanga region of northern Italy, made from the Lambrusco grape. It has 5% residual sugar (50 g/L) and 8% ABV. In the 1970s, Riunite was the best selling import wine in the US, selling something like 12 million cases per year. Retail = $6ish.
Gen X: It’s not actually wine, is it? It’s tastes like wine flavored beer. And regret. Gross.
Gen Z: The reunite. Why does this taste like feet? I guess the bubbles distract you from the taste. I would prefer a Blue Gatorade.
Launched in 2011, Roscato is a frizzante wine (just a touch of carbonation), from Lombardy, in northern Italy. It’s a blend of Croatina, Teroldego and Lagrein grapes. It has 11% residual sugar (110g/L) and 7% ABV. It’s insanely popular, and confused the hell out of me when I first started in wine retail. I had no idea what this stuff was. People would ask for Roscato, and kept taking them to the Moscato section. Retail = $10ish.
Gen X: It’s a carbonated drink that’s red in color. Tastes like a cavity. Also Cherry-7UP.
Gen Z: It tastes like carbonated Kool-aid. It needs a pouch. And a straw.
Stella Rosa Rosso
Stella Rosa is the number one brand of imported Italian wine in the US. They make 22 different flavors. Yes, 22. The Rosso is the original. A “proprietary grape blend” of several varieties, including Brachetto. It’s frizzante, or slightly sparkling. It has 12% residual sugar (120 g/L) and 5.5% ABV. Retail = $10ish.
Gen X: What is that taste? It’s sort of cran-grapey. Or raspberry Pez. I don’t hate it as a drink, but it doesn’t really taste like wine. Maybe if I thought of it more as a red wine cooler? Would probably make a good sangria base. The best of the bunch.
Gen Z: This is something I would drink over ice. Like sparkling grape juice. Grape and apricot. Kinda good, actually. Yeah, I like this one.
So there you have it. Not as much separation between generations as I thought there would be. We all agreed on the “best” sweet red wine: Stella Rosa Rosso. I guess there’s a crown on the label for a reason.