Happy Halloween, wine lovers! I know there are a lot of articles out there proclaiming you can pair wines with your Halloween candy, and while I appreciate the efforts of these writers, I would not pair wine with candy. Especially dry wines! Sticky sweet candy will only make your Cabernet taste bitter. Instead, why don’t you enjoy a sweeter wine by itself or with dinner? You don’t have to pair wine with candy to enjoy sweet treats for wine lovers this Halloween.
Different Kinds of Sweet Treats for Wine Lovers
Sweeter wines come in many different styles, so there really is a wine for everyone. Sparkling lovers can shift from a Brut to a Dry, Off-Dry, or Dolce. Heavy red wine drinkers may enjoy a nice Ruby Port, and lighter white wine drinkers may switch to a Canadian Ice Wine or Sauternes. Understanding how sweeter wines are made may help you decide if you want a little more or less alcohol and what type of wine you’ll enjoy the most.
Sparkling wines usually have extra residual sugar than your standard dry table wine simply because of the way they are made. Even your Brut Champagne has up to 12 grams of residual sugar per liter. Really, only Brut Nature sparkling wines are (sometimes) sugar-free. However, if you want something a little sweeter, look for “dry,” “off-dry,” or “sec” on the label. For your reference, here are some of the sugar levels in sparkling wines.
- Brut Nature: 0-2g/L.
- Extra Brut: up to 6g/L.
- Brut: up to 12g/L.
- Extra Sec: 12-17g/L.
- Sec: 17-32g/L.
- Demi-Sec: 32-50g/L.
- Doux: more than 50g/L.
If you’re a sparkling wine lover, it’s pretty easy to switch out your typical Brut for something a little sweeter without giving up the bubbles.
Dessert wines can be made in a range of regions, styles, and with all kinds of different grapes. The most common dessert wines you’ll hear about are wines like the sweet Bordeaux wines of Sauternes, Ice Wine in Canada, or Eiswein in Germany, and even late-harvest wines from other regions. These wines are made in different ways, for example, Ice Wine is only made when the grapes are frozen and even pressed frozen, whereas other dessert wines may be made from grapes that have been affected with the Botrytis fungus (Noble Rot), giving them a honied characteristic, such as Sauternes. These dessert wines typically have higher levels of alcohol because the grapes are harvested later in the season when there is a higher sugar level present in the fruit. Because of the high sugar levels, fermentation stops before all the sugar is converted to alcohol, giving the wine higher sugar levels and also higher alcohol levels.
The most famous fortified wines are Port from Portugal, Sherry from Spain, and Madeira from… the islands of Madeira (Portugal), although there are many others like Vin Doux Naturel from Banyuls in the Roussillon region of France. Fortified wines are high alcohol wines due to the fact that a distilled spirit, usually brandy, is added to the wine base. In some cases, the spirit is added to stop fermentation, which means that there is still some sugar left in the wine, such as in Port production, and sometimes, the spirit is added once fermentation is completed and the wine is dry, such as in some Sherry production.
Because fortified wines can range in sweetness level depending on when fermentation was halted, it’s a good idea to do some research or know your wines before just blindly purchasing a bottle. For example, a Fino, Manzanilla, or Oloroso Sherry will be dry, whereas a Cream Sherry, Pedro Ximénez, or Moscatel will be syrupy and sweet.
Ruby and Tawny Ports and Vin Doux Naturel are going to be sweet treats for any wine lover.
Sweet Treats, Etc…
Of course, there are many other wines that can be sweet. Riesling gets a reputation for being a sweet wine, but there are some fantastic dry Rieslings that are nowhere near sweet, so again, pay attention to the label if you are looking for a wine that goes one way or the other.
Sweet wines are great on their own or paired with dessert depending on the flavor characteristics of each. It’s safe to say that a Tawny Port may not pair well with a lemon pie, but maybe a more citrus-based dessert wine would be a better match (late harvest Sauvignon Blanc). One word of caution would be to make sure that the wine is sweeter than the food, or otherwise, you do risk the sugar in the food making the wine seem more bitter than it is. Our palates can play jokes on us when food and drinks are not well-matched with each other. This is why “red wine and chocolate” is not always a great combo. Make sure that the chocolate is dark and unsweetened if you plan on paring with your red wine. I wouldn’t pair a Milkey Way with a Cabernet and risk losing the integrity of the wine to the sweet goo of the candy.
Sweeter wines are also great with spicy foods–think a Riesling with spicy Thai food. The sweetness of the wine will help cool your mouth down in between bites and keep you refreshed while you sweat out the spices. So, it’s not always dessert you have to think about when pairing sweeter wines with food.
Wine lovers: Skip the candy this year and stick with a liquid sweet treat, or get some spicy takeout and let a wine with a little extra sugar keep you refreshed, either way, enjoy some sweet wine treats this Halloween!