Top 5 Sweet Red Wines

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Sweet red wines aren't just for dessert.
Sweet red wines aren't just for dessert. (Image: Scott Cartwright/iStock/Getty Images)

Not all red wines are dry, and not all sweet wines are white. Although they can be difficult to find, sweet red wines are worth exploring. They are often served as dessert wines but can pair with a wide variety of foods. The very best sweet reds are complex and intriguing and worth showcasing with a well-considered meal.

Port

Port originates in Portugal and is perhaps the most famous of all sweet red varieties. Port is a fortified red wine, meaning that during aging brandy spirits are added to the fermenting grape blend base. The result is a complex spirit with both nutty and fruity notes. The best port is very expensive and aged for many years; it's also the least sweet. Beginners should start with ruby port, which is widely available, affordable and also pleasantly sweet. Port is often served as a dessert wine and pairs extremely well with dark chocolate, but you can also try it with savory dishes. Duck, game, aged cheeses and charcuterie all fare well with port.

Lambrusco

Lambrusco is a sparkling Italian sweet wine. The most imported wine to the United States in the 1970s and 1980s, it fell out of style in subsequent decades but, according to Culinate.com, it's made a recent comeback. Its effervescence makes it a satisfying wine for summer meals; lambrusco tastes particularly good chilled and is low in alcohol to boot. Some styles of lambrusco, labeled "secco," are dry; look for semisweet varieties labeled "amabile" instead. Pair it with all sorts of pasta dishes, of course, as well as an antipasti plate of salami and Parmesan cheese; it can even accompany pizza without a hitch.

Late-Harvest Red Zinfandel

The later the harvest, the longer wine grapes have had a chance to mature and develop their sugars, so late-harvest red wines such as Zinfandel end up with a sweeter finish than other vintages. These late-harvest wines also tend to be more expensive, in part because the winery risks losing its crop entirely to mold or other disaster the longer it delays the harvest. Late-harvest Zinfandels are big and fruity and pair well with rich desserts such as cheesecake, fruit pies and tarts and chocolate.

Brachetto d'Acqui

This sweet and slightly fizzy red wine from the Piedmont region of Italy has earned a DOGC guarantee of origin label -- Italy's strictest quality assurance ranking, enforced by government inspection -- thanks to its unique characteristics, including a distinctive bouquet of roses and berries. Like many other sweet reds, Brachetto d'Acqui is also low in alcohol. Its limited production can make it hard to find in the United States but it is worth seeking out. Pair Brachetto d'Acqui with fruit desserts, amaretti cookies or chocolate.

Red Ice Wine

Ice wines, also known as Eiswein, are dessert wines made from grapes that have been frozen before being harvested. Freezing concentrates the sugars in the grape, resulting in a sweeter wine with a rich flavor. The grapes must be harvested immediately, making ice wines fairly rare and expensive. Canada and Germany are the primary producers of ice wines thanks to their suitable climate. Ice wines can be either red or white; reds are rarer. Pair red ice wine with aged cheese, pate, foie gras, nuts and chocolate.

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