You might have your favorite Cabernets and Merlots, but what you might not know as much about is sweet red wine. “If I am reaching for a sweet red, I am usually looking for a really sweet wine—not just a dry wine with lots of fruit flavor,” says Karen Van Guilder Little, sommelier and general manager at Nashville's Josephine. “I want something with some residual sugar in it.” She notes that sweet red wines are best paired with appetizers and desserts—like chocolate, dried fruits, and stinky and hard cheeses—and they could also pair well with foie gras. In fact, if you’d like to serve this bottle for the main course, that’s doable, too. “Some of them can pair very well with game birds,” she notes. “Something like a duck with a cherry sauce.”
Meet the Expert
Karen Van Guilder Little is the sommelier and general manager at Nashville's Josephine. She got her start in the wine business working as an innkeeper at an inn with a great restaurant where she realized her passion for food and wine.
Given its unexpected versatility, this wine might be exactly what your next special event needs. We asked Van Guilder Little to share the five best sweet red wines on her roster so that you can create an applause-worthy menu with them in mind.
Banfi Brachetto d'Acqui
“Brachetto is the grape, and Brachetto d’Acqui is the region in northern Italy where it’s from,” Van Guilder Little says. “It’s a sparkling sweet red wine that is my hands-down favorite" This wine is perfect as a dessert on its own or alongside a chocolate and strawberry dessert.
Buglioni Recioto della Valpolicella
“Recioto is a sweet, unfortified wine with dense, chewy flavors,” Van Guilder Little continues. “It’s made in northern Italy, in the area around Verona. The grapes are picked and then dried for more than 100 days to produce intense dried fruit flavors." She recommends pairing this one with dark chocolate or a dessert like Black Forest cake with cherries.
Taylor Fladgate 20-Year Tawny Port
“Ports are fortified red wines or wines that have a neutral spirit added to them. It makes them higher in alcohol and sometimes high in sugar,” explains Van Guilder Little. Though she likes to drink this wine as a stand-alone dessert, you could also pair it with a nut-based dessert, chocolate, or a good hard cheese like Parmesan.
Curatoria Emiliana Lambrusco
If you're looking for the perfect wine to pair with pizza, this is it. “This is an inexpensive, lightly sweet, lowish-alcohol fizzy red from the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy,” Van Guilder Little says.
Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Icewine
“This is a wine made from Cabernet Franc grapes that are harvested after they have frozen on the vine,” Van Guilder Little notes. “It’s full of bright red fruit aromas and flavors." It's a perfect pairing with chocolate and berry desserts.