My Absolute FAVORITE Sweet Red Wine Types!

My Absolute FAVORITE Sweet Red Wine Types!

Aloha, it's Karina, and thanks for stopping by Underground Wine Merchants!

Wine is the perfect drink to enjoy during warm weather. It goes great with casual picnics with friends and family, hot afternoons on patios, long days at the beach...you get the idea. But are you stuck in a rut with your summer red wine?

Some popular sweet red wine types include:

You're probably either sticking to to ˜fruity' wines because that's what people think of when they think of summertime or avoiding red wine altogether because it can give you a headache.

Not fair! There are many sensational sweet reds out there that go down easy and pair well with almost any occasion this season.

Here are some options to try right now.

Chianti

A dry red wine made in the Tuscany region of Italy. This is a versatile food wine, but it typically has rich aromas of wild berries and cherries with flavors of tart cherries and perhaps tobacco or leather.

The finish will be medium to full-bodied, with a pleasant sourness. The wine has low tannins and is best when paired with food such as pasta dishes or red meats. Notable producers include Ruffino, Frescobaldi and Tenuta dell'Ornellaia .

The Chianti Classico, Riserva and Rancia are all examples of good Chianti wines.

Valpolicella

A sweet red wine made in northwest Italy; this is an ideal after-dinner drink, especially with chocolate desserts.

The Amarone and Recioto are examples of this Italian favorite.

And don't forget a refreshing glass of Prosecco - a sparkling wine from Italy that makes you feel like you're on vacation in the Mediterranean!

Madeira

A strong and very dark dessert wine that's aged for years in seacoast Portugal; it's great with hard cheeses.

Madeira is a fortified wine that originated on the eponymous Portuguese island of Madeira, located in the north Atlantic Ocean. The wine is produced in a variety of styles ranging from dry wines which can be consumed on their own as an apéritif to sweet wines usually consumed with dessert.

Cheaper cooking versions are often sold as simply "madeira" which have been heated to remove some of the alcohol and improve stability while adding raw material to cheaply bulk them out.

It has been noted that one reason for the perceived poor quality of some commercial madeiras may be that these cheap varieties have been used for blending with other wines rather than being drunk straight by themselves.

Vin Santo

This sweet Italian dessert wine is made from white grape juice that's been dried in the sun until it turns into raisins, then fermented into a dry red wine and aged for years in wood casks before being bottled.

Serve Vin Santo with blue cheese, fruitcake or gingerbread cookies.

Malaga

Malaga Wine is a wine made from muscat blanc grapes, usually Moscatel de Alejandría. It originated in the Spanish region of Andalusia with cultivation initially occurring in the Guadalhorce Valley and the Axarquía regions. However, it has now spread to several other regions within Spain.

The wines which are produced using Malaga Grapes tend to have very distinctive aromas of citrus fruit and honey with a hint of almond or marzipan. Some more affordable examples can be rather sweet due to high residual sugar content while others are more dry.

Serve this with nuts and/or olives.

Philip Togni Ca' Togni Sweet Red

This Italian dessert wine combines the best of both Port and Vin Santo.

Philip Togni Ca'Togni Sweet Red is a delicious dessert wine made from late harvest Nebbiolo grapes. It is produced in the Langhe region of Piemonte and has only recently been imported to the United States.

This Italian sweet red offers flavors of dried cherries, figs and raisins as well as honeyed notes with unusually rich body for a wine this light in alcohol (only 7.5%).

The sweetness comes from grape must which weighs in at 115 grams per liter--a level that would render most wines undrinkable but not so here. "It's like eating fresh bing cherries and pears and drinking Vin Santo at the same time" says my friend Mary Kay who introduced me to this special wine.

Ca'Togni is a blend of late harvest Nebbiolo with 20% Croatina and 5% Bonarda. The grapes are hand harvested in small containers, taken to the cellar on horse-drawn carts, brought up steep stairs through the ancient notary's house connected by a tunnel to which they were historically carted after pressing.

They are then left for three days in temperature controlled rooms where enzymes naturally convert less accessible sugars into more simple ones, creating high alcoholic wines that can be enjoyed immediately or aged for several years before release as sweet dessert wines like Ca' Togni . Once pressed, the grape must is added to stainless steel tanks where the fermentation process takes place over a three week period. The finished wine is moved to oak barrels where it remains for one year before bottling.

Ca'Togni Sweet Red has an intense ruby red color, unctuous body and ripe fruit on the palate with concentrated flavors of cherries, dried figs and raisins that persist on the long finish.

I surprised myself by finishing off both bottles in my cellar within two weeks!

This will be a real treat for Port or Vin Santo lovers who can't get enough of either--and at only $13 per bottle ridiculously good value too.

Serve this with chocolate-covered strawberries or wild figs.

Moscato d'Asti

Keep your eye out for this Italian Moscato wine which is soaked with flower nectar just like Orange Muscat grapes are to make it even sweeter.

The wine is rich and sweet, so it's perfect for the dessert course. The aroma is of honey and nectarines and fresh flowers with a long lingering aftertaste that will remind you of honeysuckle or other light fragrant flower petals.

It's important to note that this isn't the same thing as Asti Spumante which has been made since at least the 16th century in an area near Turin in Northwest Italy. It was originally made from Moscato grapes but nowadays, while still delicious, it's mostly made from Chardonnay or Pinot Noir grapes instead of Muscat à Petits Grains . If you want a similar type white sparkling sweet late harvest wine to try instead, look up Crémant d'Alsace from France or a German Vendange Tardive or Auslese wine.

Italian Moscato d'Asti is usually served as a dessert wine, but I've enjoyed it before dinner just fine too. In fact, it's so flavorful and delicious that you can't really tell it apart from a full bodied white wine. It has the sweetness of an Italian Passito style wine which almost appears to have been reduced slightly after being pressed so there's even more concentrated flavor in the final product.

It pairs wonderfully with other fruits like peaches and pears as well as lemon cookies. Moscato d'Asti goes great with fruit tarts too or a light cheese cake.

One of the best Moscato d'Asti wines I've had so far is called Lazzaroni and it comes from a family owned winery which has been producing wine in the Asti area since at least as early as 1796. The name comes from an Italian word that means "beggar" or "mendicant." It's unknown if the wine was named after the beggars who would ask for alms, or simply because they were impoverished themselves, but either way it makes for quite a lovely sweet low alcohol (5-6%) dessert wine.  The price is also very accessible coming in at around $14 per bottle!

Serve this at room temperature over ice cream or pound cake.

Rock and Ruddle Sweet Red Wine

A blend of Zinfandel, Gewurztraminer, and Nebbiolo grapes that's then fortified with honey.

Tasting Notes: A wine that's delicate in viscosity with a high percentage of alcohol content.

A dry wine with harmonious flavors of raspberry, cherry, vanilla and spice.

Full-bodied with a refreshing finish.

Serve this after dinner with almonds or ice cream.

Maremma Toscana

Maremma Toscana wine is a wonderful pure Sangiovese made to the highest quality in Chianti, Italy. Only grapes from select vineyards are used for this IGT Tuscan wine.

These vineyards have been selected for their uniqueness and special characteristics that influence the final product with a distinctive character of its own. The region is located between Florence and Siena about an hours drive from either city by car.

Maremma means "coastal marshlands". It follows that most of the vines are planted on higher ground rising above the sea level giving the creators special conditions to produce a great red wine which has a wonderfully deep ruby color with a light intensity of crimson.

The color shows the great quality of our grapes with intense aromas of red fruit, spices and toasty oak flavor, tanins are smooth and mild. The wine is fresh , easy to drink with a pleasant finish.

Be sure to serve this one chilled on its own or over ice cream.

Baco Noir Sweet Red Wine

Made from the Baco Noir grape, which is a cross between Cabernet Franc and an obscure Swiss grape called Neuburger; fruit forward but dry, it goes very well with chocolate desserts.

Folle Blanche Sweet Red Wine

This sweet Beaujolais is low in tannin and notes of smokey bacon fat and green olives. A great wine for pairing with poultry and pasta.

A refreshing drink on its own or a wonderful pairing with especially poultry or egg dishes, but also works well with pasta's creamy sauces, frothy souffles and other elevated forms of cheese plates.

Nicely balanced yet big on the finish, Folle Blanche communicates a sense of place that has nurtured generations of winemakers while revealing a newfound vibrancy from today's fiercely independent young producers. The wine's robust character makes it a natural partner for a range of food, from grilled steak to pizza.

This wine is produced by the well-known Folle Blanche winery in the Beaujolais region of France, which has been producing wines since 1624. The estate's name means "madwoman" in French and comes from one of the three so-called "crazy sisters" who came up with a novel way to preserve excess grapes during a bountiful harvest: distilling them into brandy. Even if you don't recognize the Folle Blanche name on this bottle, you have likely consumed their wines or spirits before – they also produce cognac and vodka as well as an array of still and sparkling wines under various house names worldwide.

Folle Blanche is owned by Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH), the world's largest luxury group.

Dolce Naturale Sweet Red Wine

Made from the Catarratto grape, this is 100% unfermented Sicilian juice that's sweet as honey; serve chilled on its own over ice or with fruitcake, biscotti and nuts.

Port

One of the most famous dessert wines around the world, this comes many varieties including ruby port (a tawny port that has been aged for two years), vintage port (a premium red wine made only in the best years—aged for four years minimum), late-bottled vintage (LBV) ports (the same as vintage ports, but they're bottled earlier and thus less expensive).

Related:

Reserve Tawny Port

This is a special, aged version of the traditional dessert Port; the driest and palest variety available.

It is named after the winery, which was founded in 1820 by British immigrants. The grapes used come exclusively from the oldest vines of this company, located right on the border of Portugal and Spain. Rheteserve uses a blend of Portuguese wines from the old Denomination of Origin Região Demarcada Oeste to create their dessert Port.

The most important step in producing Tawny Port is that the wine stays with its skin contact for quite some time, during which it dries up and darkens – both physically and chemically – becoming almost-like a red wine in color. This process takes anywhere from 5 to 8 years.

Along with this comes a mellowing process responsible for "rounding out" the taste.

Tawny Port has a nutty flavor with dried fruit aromas, including raisins and figs. As the wine ages in wood casks, it oxidizes changing its taste.

This is why Tawny Ports are ready to drink when bottled but also improve with further aging in the bottle keeping indefinitely when stored properly.

Actually it's best after about 15 years of sitting on your dusty shelf or in you cellar . It can be served either straight-up or well chilled, at around 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Late Harvest Zinfandel

One of California's most popular dessert wines—this tastes similar to Port but with more spice notes like clove, allspice and pepper. Lighter and smoother than a Port, Late Harvest Zin has a distinctive hint of sweetness that's balanced by natural acidity.

Late Harvest Zinfandel is usually dark red or purplish black in color. It has aromas of ripe juicy black cherries, prunes, plums and sweet spices like cloves with similar flavors.

Style: A California take on late harvest wines with juicy dark-fruit flavors mingled with spicy notes of clove, pepper and allspice

Serve with: Sweets like cheesecake or chocolate truffle cake

Pairings: Turkey mole enchiladas; pot roast; cheddar cheese; chocolate cake; crème brulee; fresh fruit desserts like strawberry shortcake

Alcohol Content: 14% ABV

Zinfandel Vintage Differences: Many winemakers will use grapes that are overripe when they make their Late Harvest Zin in order to get the rich sweet flavor.

If a producer wants to make an oaked wine, they will usually take the grapes and then place them into oak barrels after fermentation.

This adds a darker color and fuller body. The winemakers can decide how long to let the wine age in these oak barrels from 6 months up to years before bottling.

This can be both dry and sweet.

Sherry

A very famous fortified wine—the original "Aperitif" before Champagne hit the scene. Sherry comes in many styles, but generally the sweeter ones are labeled with a "PX" or "Oloroso." These are typically paired with chocolate desserts.

Frozen Wine

This is also known as "Eiswein." It's made like ice wine but then pressed while frozen which results in a highly concentrated sweet juice with intense flavors such as apples and citrus fruits.

Another benefit? A lower alcohol content compared to regular dessert wines because it freezes at a much lower temperature!

These are pricey though—a few examples include California's EOS Late Harvest Riesling, Schramsberg Demi-Sec N.V. or Germany's Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Trockenbeerenauslese.

Ice Wine

An expensive and highly concentrated sweet wine from Canada, Germany and Austria. The grapes must be frozen on the vine before they are harvested—they freeze at a lower temperature than normal grapes.

This results in a sweeter juice which is then fermented to make a very aromatic, flavorful dessert wine with bold aromas of tropical fruit (like pineapple) and flavors of honey, lychee fruit, vanilla and cinnamon!

While the majority of ice wines are white wines, there are some lovely reds on the market too.

Raisin Wine

There are two types of Raisin wines that you may encounter—one is made from actual raisins (grapes that have been dried out) while the other type is made after grapes have been pressed for regular wine.

In the first case, grapes are dried and stuffed into a bottle full of sugar.

The resulting wine is very dark, thick and sweet. In the second type, raisins contain grape juice concentrate which is added to regular wine after fermentation has taken place. The result is a much lighter colored (amber) and normal tasting beverage that can be served like any other table wine.

Raisin wines were popular before Prohibition in America because they were easier to produce than traditional wines at home; all you had to do was add some sugar and wait for it to ferment!

Since raisin wines use less equipment (no press or separator needed) and no sulfites during preparation (see our article on Sulfites), these wines made great family projects and were often shared with family members.

Nowadays, raisin wines are very hard to find in the United States and Europe and usually only available at specialty wine shops or online sites.

Portuguese Dessert Wine

This red wine-style drink is made with Moscatel grapes that are harvested late into September early October—which gives them all the time they need to ferment fully.

This results in intense flavors (and aromas) like honey, marmalade and dried fruits, plus sweetness levels that can be off the charts!

Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto

Made from red Brachetto grapes, this is one of the finest Italian dessert wines around.

This sparkling red wine is very light and floral with tastes of berries and ripe cherries. a semi-sweet sparkling wine, this boasts a very smooth finish that is nearly nonexistent.

We think this is the best Italian sparkling red wine on the market today--just delicious! (Alcohol - 5%)

Recommended Pairings: Similar to Dessert Wines

Serve with Strawberries and Cream, Hotel Chocolat Chocolate Brownie, or Cheesecake with Raspberry Sauce

Gerd Anselmann Pfalz Dornfelder

This is a German red wine made with the Dornfelder grape that tastes of blackberries, raspberry jam, truffles and coffee! It is a medium-bodied, flavorful wine that pairs well with anything from pork to chocolate.

This red wine has been growing in popularity in the U.S., especially since 2009 when its production increased by 19%. In fact, according to the Wine Institute, over 1 million cases of it were exported to the US last year.

Tasting Notes: The nose of this red has some mineral tones and higher tones of fresh berries and cherries. There is a nice acidity on the front palate with an underlying hint of leather, balanced with a supple tannin structure throughout the mid palate and finish. The structure of this young Dornfelder will definitely need additional time in bottle to smooth out but will be a nice bottle to keep on hand for up coming dinners and gatherings.

Alicante Bouschet

Another Rhone-style blend from Portugal—this time it's a dark purple wine with aromas of violets, blueberries and mulberry fruit.

Alicante Bouschet is a grape that's often used as a blending grape in Portugal and it usually produces wines with high acidity.

The taste? Intense flavors of ripe berries, chocolate and graphite. The finish is long and round with a slight smokiness.

Kourtaki Mavrodaphne of Patras

This is a dark, sweet wine made with the Mavrodaphne grape.

It is aged in wooden casks and produces a dark purple wine with raisin and fig aromas.

It has an alcohol content of 15%+ and is best served with lamb dishes. It is mainly produced in the area around the city of Patras, but some good examples are also made on the island of Zakynthos (Zante).

This wine has recently enjoyed a surge in popularity as it was featured prominently in season 4 of the HBO series "Game of Thrones."

It tastes of chocolate-covered cherries yet is dry (with medium acidity).

It's also available under the Achaea designation - if it says "Achaia Clauss" on the label, it's likely from the Achaia district of Patras.

I like this wine with lamb chops or roast lamb, and I think it would work well with some spices (ginger perhaps).

If you can't find Mavrodaphne, look for another dark red grape (like Touriga Nacional) and adjust your spice selection accordingly. 

Kourtaki is widely available throughout Greece; you should be able to find a bottle in any neighborhood supermarket.

In Closing

In closing, I hope you've learned about some new dessert wines or perhaps discovered an old favorite to sip on with your next sweet treat.

If this has inspired you to expand your wine palate, I suggest checking out some of the other wine guides here at Underground Wine Merchants.

Mahalo!

-Karl

  • September 5, 2021
  • Blog
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