Courtesy of Kathryn RathkeSometimes it's nice to sit back after dinner and sip something sweet purely on its own. F&W's Ray Isle names his favorite after-dinner wines.>>
Ray Isle, Food & Wine's Executive Wine Editor

Courtesy of Kathryn Rathke

  • Sometimes it's nice to sit back after dinner and sip something sweet purely on its own. Here are three excellent vinous substitutions for (or additions to) dessert.
  • Moscato d'Asti Moscato has become huge over the past year or two, thanks in part to some intervention from the hip-hop world. Much of what's on the shelves is from California, but for my money the grape variety reaches its apogee in Italy's Piedmont region. Moscato d'Asti—from vineyards near the city of the same name—is gently sparking, lightly sweet, and beautifully fragrant, recalling tangerines andorange-blossom honey. One of the best is the graceful 2011 Michele Chiarlo Nivole ($12 for 375 ml); another good one to look for is the apple-inflected 2011 Paolo Saracco ($14).
  • Port Port, which comes from northern Portugal's Douro Valley, is arguably the world's greatest sweet wine (the château owners of Sauternes might disagree, but that's their prerogative). Great vintage ports can age for decades; but assuming you don't have a temperature-controlled cellar and decades of patience, you might want something more immediately approachable. Tawny port, which is aged in barrels by the producer and has an alluring toffee-nuts-dried fruit character, is the answer. One of the best is Dow's 10 Year Old Tawny Port ($25), which has distinct hazelnut and dried citrus notes. Another is the Croft 10 Year Old Tawny Port ($30), which is in a slightly sweeter, more caramelized style.
  • Late Harvest Zinfandel Late-harvest Zinfandels are exactly that: wines made from Zinfandel grapes that are harvested very late in the season, which means grapes that are intensely ripe and high in natural sugar. The alcohol content of the finished wine isn't any higher than usual though, which means a glass of late-harvest zin won't damage you quite as much as a glass of port (which is fortified up to 19 or 20 percent alcohol) will. Two to look for are the spicy 2009 Dashe Late Harvest Zinfandel ($24) and the dark, plummy 2011 Bella Late Harvest Zinfandel ($25).
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