This wine is probably unknown to you, so I'll try to describe it. Medium sweet, light red, very fruity (intense wild strawberries and overripe red grapes), drunk young. Any food pairing ideas? I was thinking maybe duck, but wouldn't it be too sweet?
Tokaji semisweet Isabella red wine pairings
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Pair with with duck? Probably not. Then again, it would depend on how the duck was prepared i.e. Duck a l'orange etc. But, then again, wine pairing with foods is a fiercely personal thing that is always a matter of opinion and preference.
Before I get into it, let's make sure we both have the same understanding of what the definition of "semi sweet" means in the context of red wine. It is a common misconception that the term "semi sweet" actually means the wine has some measure of sweetness to it due to residual sugars. This is not the case. In the wine world, a semi sweet red wine is a wine that has moderate to marked fruit characteristics such as Pinot Noir or Merlot. A semi sweet red can be dry and full bodied or it can be less dry and delicate, depending on its alcohol content.
From what you are describing, the wine sounds more like a dessert red rather than a semi sweet red.
So, with that brief definition in mind, let's get on with the fun of pairing wine with food.
In general, some good pairings with a semi sweet red, off the top of my head, I would suggest some desserts, mild cheeses, some spicy foods, fresh fruit (especially fruits like plumbs and wild cherries etc.), and nuts. To me, nuts and semi sweet reds seem to be made for each other. I would also recommend lamb with a semi sweet red. One of my favorite pairings is lamb chops and Pinot Noir.
I will list some idea from each category above.
Desserts: The problem with desserts and red wine is the desserts will always taste less sweet when paired with red wine, especially desserts that contain chocolate. As a general rule, I try to steer people away from pairing red wine of any kind, unless it is a sweet red (not semi sweet) with desserts. But, for some reason, pairing red wine with chocolate seems to be "the thing" when a sweet white, to me, wine would be far more agreeable with dessert. So, to that end, I have very few dessert ideas to offer as a pairing with a semi sweet red wine. A fruit pie of some kind.....cherry or raspberry, perhaps? Maybe rhubarb? The tannins in red wine really do not get along with the sweetness of desserts, especially chocolate.
Mild Cheeses: The general rule is semi sweet wine tends to go well with young cheeses. Semi sweet reds also tend to pair up nicely with some salty cheeses such as Aged Gouda, Feta and blue cheese, including Gorgonzola. But, be careful! The tannins in some red wines can be a disaster when paired with young cheeses. So, keep that in mind when pairing a semi sweet red with cheese.
However, semi sweet reds like Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah etc tend to go nicely with saltier cheese, as I have mentioned, especially Pinot Noir. Since the tannins in Cabernet and Merlot tend to vary, you will have to experiment with different combinations. Oh darn! Right? :-D
Other cheese suggestions would be a good cream Havarti or perhaps, a good Swiss Cheese.
Spicy Food: For me, I would avoid wines with high alcohol. They really tend to work against spicy foods. I would suggest a semi sweet red with an alcohol content of no more than 13% at most. A good Pinot Noir or Cabernet will likely go very nicely with spicy foods that feature pepper, especially black pepper, as its spice. Curry is usually hit or miss, depending on the style of curry. Syrah can also pair well with spicy food as will a good Malbec. Again, keep an eye on the alcohol content and try to keep it no more than 13%, 13.5% at the utter most.
Fresh fruit: Red wine seems to go well with most fruit. However, the nature of apples and oranges and red wine do not make for good bed fellows. So, I would avoid apples and oranges and red wine.
Grapes, plums, raspberries, blueberries, cherries etc all have varying degrees of compatibility with semi sweet reds. But, generally speaking, fleshy fruits that have lower vitamin C and acidity levels tend to work better with semi sweet reds. You can have a lot of fun mixing and matching. ;-)
The same is true with nuts of all kind. The only caution I would render in this regard is try to stay away from salty nuts and walnuts. Walnuts have a tendency to overpower the pallet and can cause some poor reactions with red wine in general. Salty nuts tend to accumulate salt in the mouth and after a while, mute your pallet from being able to taste the subtleties of the wine.
I hope this helps. If you have any more questions or would like more information, let me know.