By now, most people know the basics of pairing wine with food. So, Grub Street has asked wine pro Vanessa Price to offer pairing advice that’s a little more … unexpected, but no less important this time of year.
Sometime over the next few days, you are going to eat candy. I love it, but even the sugar-averse among us will grab a Kit Kat or a Snickers between now and Halloween. The real question, especially if you find yourself at a Halloween party, or sneaking some of your kids’ haul after they fall asleep, is: What kind of wine should you drink with it?
Trust me when I say that there’s a right way to do this and a wrong way. With wine pairing, “like with like” — the idea that you just want to match up similar flavors — is one of my favorite rules to follow. (There’s a pureness to this simplicity that speaks to me.) What that doesn’t mean is that you should grab the sweetest wine you can find. Odd as it may sound, candy and wine actually go pretty well together, provided you think about a few flavors other than “sugar.” Here are some examples of what I mean.
Candy corn and California Chardonnay: Candy corn is nobody’s favorite choice, but sometimes all the other, better candy is gone. This is definitely the time to have some wine, too. In this instance, the candy and the wine are both buttery, with a waxy texture that will line up well.
Red Twizzlers and rosé from Provence: The idea here is simple. It’s red berries plus red berries. In the case of the candy, it’s because the flavor is artificial, but with wine from the south of France, that red-fruit flavor is coaxed out of the grape by the warm sunshine.
M&M’s and Spanish Grenache: Now we’re getting serious. Grenache from Spain is known for lots of fruit and a decent structure that will fully agree with the fakey chocolate flavor (and bright candy shell) of M&M’s.
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Amontillado sherry: This style of sherry — which is off-dry, meaning it’s not entirely sweet — is my go-to for anything that involves chocolate and peanut butter, mostly because the wine’s natural nutty flavor is also a natural complement to the candy.
You won’t be unhappy with any of those, but they’re just the beginning. There is another kind of candy you will definitely come across in the next few days, and it provides a pairing that is actually really exciting. According to a decade of sales data, the most popular Halloween candy in New York State is Sour Patch Kids. It just so happens that the best wine to drink with them — and it’s really the best wine-candy combination of all, in my opinion — is also from New York State: Riesling from the Finger Lakes.
Here’s why it works: Sour Patch Kids have that rush of sharp acid that’s followed by a sour-sweet finish. Most people think of Riesling as a grape that only makes very sweet wine. But that’s not what we’re looking for here. Off-dry (or semi-dry) Riesling works much the same way, but in the opposite regression. The sweetness hits the tip of the tongue first because that’s where we have the greatest capacity for perceiving sugar. And because of the high acidity of the wine, it’s followed by a middle-of-the-palate recalibration that carries everything through to a lifted finish. The Kids and the wine follow two transverse paths across your taste receptors, creating a sort of seesaw that keeps everything balanced despite the intensity of the textures and flavors.
Off-dry Riesling is actually a unique category of Riesling that we winos cherish for its ability to pair with a broad range of foods. These styles have just enough residual sugar, or RS, left over after fermentation to soften the acidic tartness without turning into Kool-Aid — so you get flavors of rich orchard fruit, like peach and apricot, without masking the lemon-lime citrus that keeps the wine crisp and refreshing.
Because the local climate in the Finger Lakes region (which happens to be the largest wine-growing region in New York) closely mirrors the climate in Mosel, Germany (which happens to set the benchmark for the world’s greatest Rieslings), the only real players in the region focus on Riesling. One that comes from a quality upstate producer is a serious wine, and don’t let any Euro-snobs tell you otherwise.
You know where to get Sour Patch Kids (your own child’s Halloween bag, the plastic pumpkin that your co-worker put out at the office, or, um, you can find a two-pound bag on Amazon), so here are the three best wines to drink with them:
Red Newt Cellars “Circle” Semi-Dry ($13)
Don’t let the price tag fool you. Serious wine.
Dr. Konstantin Frank Semi-Dry Riesling ($14)
This is the house that pioneered Riesling production in the area, and this bottle is a testament to their reputation.
Hermann Wiemer Semi-Dry Riesling ($19)
What can I say? It’s a personal favorite — and it goes especially well with the green Sour Patch Kids.
Vanessa Price is a graduate of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust Level 4 Diploma program. She is a consultant for restaurant wine programs and private-cellar collections, and works as an importer at Maisons Marques & Domaines