wine Features

Halloween: One hand on a glass of wine, one dipping into the candy bag…


By Jim Clarke
October 2007

Let’s be clear: I’m entirely aware that the major consumers of Halloween candy are in no position to worry about pairing those candies with wine. For the kids, hot apple cider should be fine, or perhaps pumpkin juice if they’re Harry Potter fans. However, more than a few parents and other adults dip into the Halloween basket, or nibble at the candies left over after all the Trick–and–Treaters have come and gone. Here are some tongue–in–cheek thoughts on what to sip while you’re waiting for the ghosts and ghouls to come by.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds: Not a Trick–or–Treat item, but they merit inclusion since it’s the only food associated with the holiday that isn’t sweet. The salt and slightly nutty flavor call for a dry, crisp white; many Italian varieties fit the bill and have an appropriate light nut aroma. Millbrook, in upstate New York, has had a lot of success with the Tocai Friulano grape; the 2006 shows tropical aromas on the nose, but the palate turns more toward quince, pear, and marzipan. As an added bonus, Millbrook lies in the Hudson Valley, not too far from Sleepy Hollow and its famous horseman.

Candy Corn: Mostly sugar and vaguely marshmallowy, candy corn may be a traditional Halloween item, but they don’t offer much to work with, pairing–wise. They’re sweet, but fat–free, so cleansing the palate doesn’t require a lot of acidity or tannins; however, something bubbly seems to echo the idea of these little nibbles. Try the Veuve Clicquot–Ponsardin Vintage Rich 2000; it’s medium–bodied, and the “rich” character comes through as body and softness — yes, it’s sweet, but not too much so, making it easy to sip over the course of an evening. It even shows some marshmallow aromas, as well as touches of quince and white chocolate.

Chocolate bars: Milk chocolate is the Halloween standard, and offers a chance to pair something relatively dry, but tannins still aren’t in the cards. Go for big, fruity Zinfandel; Four Vines’ ”The Biker“ Zinfandel 2005 from Paso Robles is a treat that does the trick: full–bodied, with lots of blackberry, loganberry, and vanilla plus a touch of spice, one could argue that it makes the chocolate redundant, but it actually lends some suavity to cheaper, mass–produced chocolates in particular.

Three Musketeers: As a fan of Alexandre Dumas, I wanted to pair this candy bar with a wine from Gascony, the home of D’Artagnan, hero of the Three Musketeers novels. Fortunately, the area includes Bordeaux, so I had any number of high–quality wines to work with. A Sauternes with some age went very well; if Halloween merits serious celebration in your house, splurge on the Chateau D’Yquem 1995. Age has brought out darker fruit aromas like fig and dried apricot along with botrytis–inspired touches of orange zest and hazelnut — great complements to the nougat. It’s expensive, sure, but think of what you saved on the cheap candy bar (and remember to share; that’s what the Three Musketeers bar was originally all about.).

Milky Way: Here&rsquo:s a pairing for all those parents who spend Halloween chauffering their pre–pubescent ghosts and ghouls around the neighborhood on Fright Night: Kwak. A delicious Belgian amber beer, it&rsquo:s named for Pauwel Kwak, an innkeeper who developed a special glass for coachman to enjoy it in (They couldn&rsquo:t leave their coaches, so the glass was designed to hang on a hook next to the coachman&rsquo:s seat.). After your night of playing the coachman, this soft, smooth brew matches the Milky Way&rsquo:s nougat and caramel and adds in notes of fig, banana, and licorice. It&rsquo:s mildly sweet, with no hoppy character to cut it, making it a beer to relax with rather than a refresher.

Snickers: Go for tawny port to take on the chocolate, caramel, and nuts; the Quinta do Noval 10–Year Tawny does well with its full body and good balance of dried fruit, walnut, and caramel aromas. While moderately sweet, its finish is clean and firm, not cloying.

Twix: The cookie reminds me of Scottish shortbread…perhaps a smooth Scotch might be a good match for the caramel? Something Highland, and on the rich, voluptuous side? The Longmorn 15–Year Old certainly works; toffee, honey, and molasses aromas are leavened by a little nuttiness and touches of dried herbs, and its weight balances well with the alcohol.

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup: A childhood favorite of mine, I find as an adult that they pair well with a wine that offers a bit of contrast; the oily touch of the peanut butter does well with some tannins, and choosing a fruit–dominated wine leaves the ratio of chocolate to peanut butter flavors undisturbed. The guy on the Sandeman label looks like he’s dressed for Halloween, and their Vau Vintage 2000 goes very well with a Reese’s. It’s a vintage Port, but intended for earlier drinking, so its tannins are soft and silky, and it comes through on the palate with lots of rich, dark fruits like boysenberry and blueberry.

Caramel Apples: This simple treat is actually one of the trickier pairings. In the other cases, sweetness and perhaps the fat–to–tannins relationship were the only really places you could go wrong, so there was plenty of room to fiddle with flavors and aromas, which are actually the least important part of pairing food and wine. But here we have the acidity of the apple to take into account, along with the caramel’s sweet–and–sticky texture. I turn to Sherry for the answer at times like these; the flor yeast that protects the aging wine as well as the solera aging process allow these wines to retain superb acidity while developing richness and madeirized, nutty–caramel flavors. An off–dry Amontillado like the Domecq Medium Dry will get this effect just right, and the pairing will invoke two appropriately morbid culinary references – the Snow White’s poisoned apple, and Edgar Allen Poe’s infamous cask.

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