Wine and candy are the couple I always wanted to end up together but that never quite made it. On paper, they have all the qualities of happily-ever-after (they're each delicious in their own right, and both pair excellently with a night-in and a movie), but in practice, the sweetness of the candy made my glass of wine taste like sour grapes.
So I drowned my sorrows over candy-filled pints of ice cream and Netflix, but never stopped thinking about what wine and candy could have been until I spoke with Tess Rose Lambert, a Brooklyn-based sommelier with a soft spot for the odd couple. According to Tess, wine and candy are meant to be--as long as you pair them correctly. Her basic rule of thumb is, "You want the wine to be sweeter than whatever you're eating and to match the intensity of the wine with the intensity of the candy." Here are some of Tess's go-to candy and wine pairings:
Tess suggests drinking something that will bring out the nuttiness of the caramel and the "savory undertone" of the tri-color treats, like an amontillado sherry, which is slightly sweet but "very, very flavorful so you still get the sweetness of the candy, but a lot of nuttiness from the oxidation," which amontillados have due to being exposed to the air outside of their solera barrels.
Milk Chocolate (like M&Ms)
"Port and chocolate are natural best friends," says Tess. "You've got a really creamy, silky chocolate texture with milk chocolate, so a ruby or tawny port that's light and fresh and not too concentrated can enhance some of the berry notes of the chocolates." Even M&Ms.
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Tess suggests wines from Jura, a cool-climate wine region between Burgandy and Switzerland. She says, "Chardonnay from Jura and Madeira [a fortified Portuguese wine] both have a nuttiness and yeastiness, with a lot of flavors and walk the line between sweet and savory. Chardonnay also has a lot of acid that will cut through the fat of the peanut butter and prop up the nut flavor."
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Full-bodied, rich wines pair well with sour candies. She explains that with sour candy, "you have so much intensity hitting your palate that you need something big to match that intensity." Tess recommends South African chenin blancs in particular because they "have a flat roundness to them that will round out the flavor of the candy and provide a counterpoint to the sourness and sweetness."
Caramel or Butterscotch
It's easiest to pair caramel with either a dark sherry or a Madeira (better yet if you have some leftover from those peanut butter candies), or a really rich red malbec or merlot. "If you choose something with a lot of fruit like plum and dark cherry," Tess explains, "the wine will have the aromas and flavors of the sweet fruit while the candy will have a salty umami flavor, so when it's all in your mouth, it's going to form something more than the some of its parts."
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"Something aromatic like pinot gris with a delicate flavor that's a little more floral and fruity will bring out the aromatics of the gummy bears." (And make you completely re-think the little guys.)
A really dark wine that's been aged in oak is going to work well here. Tess says, "You'll get the coconut flavor from the oak on the wine and if you're eating it with dark chocolate as well--which is ideal--the chocolate will pair with the dark berries, giving a bitter tone to the candy to offset some of its sweetness."
The Entire Barrel
If you want one fool-proof, easy bottle, Tess recommends Madeira because "it has so much sugar, acid, and complexity that there's a note to hit with every candy." She adds that a sparking wine will also pair well because "the bubbles make it super friendly with everything."
At the end of the day though, Tess says the most important thing is to pair what you like together and experiment because, "while there are basic rules and guidelines, there's an element of subjectivity. Have fun with it!"
Photos by James Ransom.