|The Wines Behind the Candy
A wide range of wines to try with your favorite sweets
|From Halloween 2001:|
|A Wine Lover's Trick-or-Treat|
|Gallery of Grapey Ghouls|
|The "Ghosts" of California Wine Country|
|Pumpkin Cheesecake Recipe|
Halloween is a great holiday for kids -- maybe the best kid holiday of them all, in fact -- but for parents, it can be a downer. Who gets to dress up like a ghost, a lion or a superhero? The kids. Who gets to go door to door (or apartment to apartment, depending on where you live) loading up on free treats? The kids. Who gets to sit down at the end of the evening with a vast quantity of sugary loot? The kids.
It doesn't have to be that way. Why shouldn't parents (or guardians, grandparents, uncles, aunts, whoever) take a small share of the kids' haul -- a candy sampler, let's call it -- and sneak off to enjoy it on their own?
Stealing? Hardly. Commandeering a portion of the Halloween mother lode is actually a test of parental responsibility.
If taking candy from a baby bothers you ... well, chances are, there'll be some leftovers in the trick-or-treat basket. Got to get rid of them somehow.
And where there are treats, as far as we at Wine Spectator Online are concerned, there must be wine. Thus, this year, we convened our first-ever wine-and-candy-matching panel. Associate tasting coordinator Alison Napjus (a devoted Reese's Peanut Butter Cup fan), Wine Spectator Online assistant editor Keith Scott (a Snickers enthusiast) and myself (a longtime fan of PayDays) gathered some wines and assembled a lineup of popular candies to learn what goes best with what.
We did not limit ourselves to sweet libations. Not all candy is overwhelmingly sweet; there a numerous examples that are fairly savory. Plenty of candies include nuts and dried fruits. Nougaty candy bars tend to be less sweet than most others. Some candy even reveals a salty aspect.
Nor did we limit ourselves strictly to candy. We threw in a Red Delicious apple, the classic bobbing-for-apples apple -- not to mention, we figured, a useful nod to grown-ups concerned about tooth decay in the nation's trick-or-treating youth.
Our wine selection consisted of a Sancerre, from France; a white St.-Joseph, a blend of the Marsanne and Roussanne grapes, from France's Rhône Valley; a Chilean Chardonnay; a German eiswein; a Madeira; an oloroso Sherry; and a 20-year-old tawny Port. Our goal was to work our way up from a sleek and steely dry white to a rich, luxurious fortified wine. With each wine we tasted several candies that we thought might make for a decent match.
It was a genuine tasting challenge -- none of us had ever consumed so much candy before 11 a.m. -- but we toughed it out. Our results are summarized below. (Please note that the wine scores are from their original reviews, not the candy tasting.)
Jean Reverdy Sancerre La Reine Blanche 2000 (84 points on Wine Spectator's 100-point scale, $15) with Red Delicious apple and Goobers
The apple was a successful match, more or less. Napjus maintained that it was "a balanced pairing," but Scott argued that it "piled tart on tart" and also complained that the wine and the apple hit "all that same notes." DeBord found the apple too sweet, and he considered the mineral aspect of the Sancerre to be "a little awkward with the fruit." Grade: B-
The Goobers were another story. While Scott liked them better with the wine, Napjus said that "Goobers with Sancerre just tastes like Goobers." DeBord disliked the quality of peanut in the candy. Grade: D+
E. Guigal St.-Joseph Lieu-Dit St.-Joseph 2000 (not rated) with Butterfingers and PayDay
"The Butterfingers is a very good match with the St.-Joseph," claimed Scott. "The opulent nose counterbalances the rich butterscotch." Napjus considered the Butterfingers to be awfully rich -- "it challenges the fruit side of the wine" -- but concluded that "the wine has enough body to take it." DeBord was pleased by the lingering Butterfingers finish. "It cooperates nicely with the broadness of the wine," he noted. Grade: A
With the PayDay, DeBord thought the match was "absolutely better," and cited the peanutty candy as a more appealing companion to the broadly flavorful St.-Joseph, in which he detected a nutty aspect. Scott "disagreed wholeheartedly," arguing that the wine couldn't cut through the salty candy. "The Butterfingers was a study in similarity, but not sameness," he opined. "The PayDay makes the St.-Joseph taste flat." Napjus concurred: "Peanuts and St.-Joseph are not a natural pairing -- they wipe the wine out." Grade: C-
Concha y Toro Chardonnay Casablanca Valley Terrunyo 2001 (NR) with Milk Duds, Butterfingers and Mars bar
The Mars bar fared the best. "The most neutral candy so far," noted Scott. "It allows the Chard to show off." Napjus agreed. "It doesn't strip the wine of its fruit structure," she said, "and it allows both the body and structure to come through." DeBord valued "the ability of the Mars bar to surmount an obvious obstacle, the Chardonnay's oakiness." Grade: A
DeBord found the Butterfingers "marginally better" with the wine, while Napjus indicated that "the finish doesn't clash, but the match isn't ideal." Scott called the pairing an "exercise in creaminess." Grade: B+
The Milk Duds were an unqualified disaster. DeBord found them "vile"; Scott, "grotesque"; and Napjus, "simply not good." She went on to point out that the very sweet candy "completely overwhelms" the wine and insisted that "only milk would be a good match" -- but noted that you can get free movie tickets with multiple Milk Duds purchases. Grade: F
St.-Urbans-Hof Riesling Eiswein Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Ockfener Bockstein 2000 (92, $65) with Almond Joy and Three Musketeers
The panel had high hopes for the eiswein-candy combination, but was still surprised by how delightfully the sweet German dessert quaff got along with the Almond Joy, our coconut, almond and chocolate dark-horse inclusion. "The sugar in the wine is an important part of the story," Napjus commented. "This is not a case of the candy wiping out the wine. You can taste both." Scott uttered simply, "Outstanding match," while DeBord found the "oddness" of the coconut to be a deft foil to the wine's "exotic fruit." Grade: A
The Three Musketeers, however, was a flop. "A little limp -- it doesn't diminish the wine, but it doesn't do much for it, either," Scott said. "Too chocolatey-creamy and mouthcoating," added Napjus. "Eiswein wants coconut," DeBord insisted. He also noted that the excessive sweetness "pumped up" the wine's "acidic finish." Grade: C
Cossart Gordon Bual Madeira 10 year old NV (88, $33) with Snickers and Milky Way
A triumph for Snickers, which is, according to Scott, "the undisputed 'King of Candy Bars,' the only candy bar that really possesses layers of flavor and texture." It was the clear winner for Best Pairing in this year's tasting. Scott found the match "kick-ass." Napjus was equally succinct: "I like it. It works." DeBord marveled at how "each component in the candy -- sweet, nutty, even chewy -- matches a flavor in the wine." Grade: A+
The Milky Way fared poorly. DeBord found the pairing "blah," Scott said it "obliterates the wine's flavor," and the ever-snappy Napjus quipped that "when they invented Madeira, they didn't have Milky Way in mind." Grade: D
Antonio Barbadillo Oloroso Jerez Dulce Amoroso San Rafael NV (90, $22) with Reese's Peanut Butter Cup and Baby Ruth
The panel -- especially Reese's expert Napjus -- was disturbed by the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, whose interior of peanut butter seemed crumbly and stale. "It's a corked Reese's," Scott joked. Nevertheless, we pressed on. Scott was "unmoved," but Napjus maintained that the pairing was "pretty good, though not great." She detected the "nutty flavors of the wine, even through the strong peanut-butter flavor of the candy." DeBord found the peanut-butter flavor "too broad" and felt that the nutty Sherry had a hard time distinguishing itself. Grade: B-
DeBord then demanded that the panel test out his theory that, for a decent match, Sherry requires the nuts in the candy to be actual nuts, not peanut butter. Out came the Baby Ruth. Napjus was unconvinced ("better, but still not great"). Scott disliked what the candy did to the wine's finish ("it gets all hot and Cognac-like"). DeBord agreed: "something in the candy bar is definitely messing up the finish." Grade: C+
Sandeman Tawny Port 20 year old NV (91, $42) with Hershey bar, plain M&M's, Clark bar and Chunky bar
The Chunky bar was a surprise last-second inclusion that trounced the competition. "Flat-out good chocolate," DeBord said. "Plus, the nuts and the raisins give the Port more to work with." Napjus seconded the observation. "The raisins-and-nuts aspect is well suited to what Port is typically about." Scott rounded out the panel's enthusiasm. "A rich spectrum of flavors makes this candy-and-wine combo a winner." Grade: A
As for the M&M's, Napjus argued that "the candy coating adds an extra component." Scott dissented, observing that "the sugary shell detracts from the wine." DeBord considered the pairing "acceptable." Grade: C+
The Hershey bar had problems. "Good Port cannot rescue a bad candy bar," Scott said. Napjus didn't care for the Hershey bar either, but argued that "the simple, basic chocolate at least gives the Port an opportunity to shine." DeBord was "disturbed" by the chocolate's mealy texture and chemical aftertaste. "The pairing can't help it." Grade: C-
On to the Clark bar -- an appalling candy, one that should perhaps be banned from Halloween. Unanimously disliked. "Awful," DeBord said. "Yuck." -- Napjus. "Hijacks your mouth." -- Scott. We didn't even give it a shot at the Port. Grade: F
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