I’ve faced a number of challenges as a wine professional, but few have compared to being tasked in pairing local dessert wines with classic Halloween candy. While the endeavor was an unnatural one, it was also an opportunity to convene with a few friends and explore what exactly made for a successful pairing, ultimately securing a tasty removal of leftover candy after tonight.
One of the key discoveries was that — perhaps even more than flavor harmony — fitting textures together was essential. Many of the dessert wines we tried were somewhat youthful, and thus a bit lighter-bodied, which meant that rich and mouth-filling candies quickly overwhelmed them.
Yet when the textures were aligned, the resulting pairing was surprisingly alluring, like the Torii Mor 2011 Syrah Port with Whoppers. What worked there was that the crunchy center of the candy, along with the malt powder, accentuated the brightness of the wine and didn’t draw undue attention to the relative leanness of both.
We found a similar symmetry with the Barnard Griffin 2015 Syrah Port and a Kit-Kat bar, with the crunch of the inner wafer and the slight yeastiness being a delightful complement to the fresh fruit note of the wine. While the richer tones of this fortified wine certainly worked with the milk chocolate, again we returned to the textural delight as the centerpiece of the pairing.
In another direction entirely was the Torii Mor Late Harvest Viognier, finding a certain tropical alignment with an Almond Joy. The wine was almost a touch thin on its own, yet when enjoyed with the creamy coconut and the nuttiness of the almond, the striking acidity of the wine provided a welcome counterpoint to the unrelenting sweetness thus far.
When pressed to find a pairing for more substantial Halloween offerings, we were struck by the Gilbert Cellars Late Harvest NV Tempranillo, which was one of the only wines that could stand up to the mass of peanuts and nougat in a Snickers bar. While most of the other wines might as well have not been there, this one had enough backbone to hold on.
That said, we did introduce one ringer into the lineup, and it was the perfect pairing for the best Halloween candy, a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Indeed, the Lustau Pedro Ximenez “Murillo” Sherry showed a future direction for Pacific Northwest dessert wines, as it had a sense of dried fruits and hard spices that indicated its age. With the somewhat savory notes within the candy, it was a delight.
In all, finding pairings for Halloween candy was both a fun challenge and an excellent reminder that good pairings require not just complementary flavors, but textures as well. It also left me with a whole lot of candy to give away tonight, so hopefully there are a few eager trick-or-treaters in my neighborhood.
Zach Geballe is a certified sommelier, a wine educator and a writer. He lives in Seattle, where he owns more wine than he can reasonably drink but loves to share. You can find him at @zgeballe or vinetrainings.com.