Halloween candy is one of life’s great pleasures. Or, at least, some of it is. The truth is that the good stuff — the chocolate bars, the peanut-butter cups, the brand-name fruit chews — disappears almost immediately, and most Halloween hauls quickly become odds-and-ends collections of vanilla-flavored whatevers, stale hunks of pink gum, and loose candy corn. Making sure that every last piece of candy gets eaten requires a little help, but fortunately one of the most interesting styles of wine can be a great match for all of the weird little leftover candy you (or your kids) will have a day or two after Halloween.
Madeira is a fortified wine that I could discuss for longer than I should, mostly because it’s so underappreciated today. That wasn’t always the case, and, in fact, it was the United States’ most coveted wine in the 18th and 19th centuries. Major public events were toasted with glasses of Madeira, but that particular tradition, like the wine itself, has fallen out of favor.
This is too bad because the wines are really cool. They start out like any other fortified wine: Grapes are crushed and fermented, and when the desired level of sweetness is reached, they are fortified with a neutral spirit to stop fermentation and beef up the wine’s alcohol. What happens next, however, is a process called estufagem: The wine is heated to temperatures over 100 degrees for several months or longer, which replicates ancient aging techniques. The estufagem process also renders these wines nearly bulletproof: It wouldn’t be unusual to see a bottle from the 1920s that’s been opened and left at room temperature, usually death for any other wine.
The most important part, of course, is the taste. The intentional heating can result in wine with very specific, individualized profiles: You will find caramel-like notes of citrus peel and savory nuttiness that, yes, will go very well with something like a Tootsie Roll.
Now, a note on the price: These bottles are not bargain finds, but think of Madeira as you would something like a bourbon. You can open it, have a glass, and let the bottle sit for weeks and weeks, so you can return to it for a pour from time to time, instead of having to finish it all at once. Here’s how you should get started:
The Rare Wine Company Charleston Sercial Madeira NV ($60)
Sercial Madeira, named for the grape used to make it, is a category that has a touch of sweetness, but is nevertheless the driest offering you can find, which makes it a great match for saltier candies like Mary Janes, those peanut-butter chews you find in the black-and-orange wax wrappers, or even some Reese’s peanut-butter cups, if you can find those.
Barbeito Freitas Signature Madeira Verdelho 1992 ($120)
If you’ve ever wondered which wine to drink with those orange, marshmallowy circus peanuts — and who hasn’t, right? — this is it. They’re also good with fruitier things like Smarties or Starburst. The reason is because Verdelho will be sweeter than Sercial, so the sugar will work well with these little sugar bombs.
The Rare Wine Company Boston Bual Madeira NV ($53)
Another choice from the Rare Wine Company, the house names its wines after famous American cities from before the Revolutionary War as an homage to the fervor at which we once drank these wines. Darker in color and sweeter still, there is a raisinated quality to Buals that will match chocolaty and sweet flavors alike. The vanilla and cinnamon characters will also be a nice touch in softening the waxlike coating of the candies and overall elevating the whole waxed experience. Finally, a reason to eat those waxy candies like Tootsie Rolls, candy corn, and those little candy cola bottles.
Blandy’s Malmsey Madeira 10 Year Old ($35)
Malmsey is the sweetest, richest, densest style of Madeira. Its flavors of burned caramel, coffee, and nuttiness help temper the bitterness of darker candies like black licorice or the stray box of Good & Plenty (which is nothing if not an acquired taste). Blandy’s is the oldest house that makes Madeira now, so even at this lower end of the price scale, you’re getting some very high-quality wine.
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