North Carolina wine is often characterized as being too sweet, unrefined and just plain awful. I’m here to tell you that none of those things are true.

Twenty-seven weeks ago, I started making two-minute videos featuring classic and creative sangria recipes that blend local and domestic wines with liquor, cordials and fruit. Using the hashtag #SangriaSaturday, you can find all 27 on my Instagram account and select videos on YouTube.

Pouring the wine and smiling into the camera gave me something to do under quarantine. Sipping on tart varietals, swirling juicy and complex blends and presenting glasses rimmed with caramel or granulated sugar granted me the freedom to construct elaborate garnishes of fruit skewers, citrus peels or even glazed and yeasty doughnuts. The high and long tails of deep, dark spirits, alcoholic in nature, left me room for whimsy and straightforward tastes. What started as a fun weekend project in spring turned into a schedule of summer-themed porch pounders, fall-spiced mash-ups and now candy-laced glasses.

Halloween looks different in 2020. The irony of having to wear a mask in public spaces for the past seven months sets itself up for a bunch of memes and jokes. Rather than donning a costume and masquerading, this year you can relax and find yourself at the receiving end of a sip of wine paired with your favorite Halloween candy.

“My candy of choice is always dark chocolate,” says Diana Jones of Jones von Drehle Vineyards and Winery. As a founding member of the NC Fine Wine Society whose main purpose is to highlight the fine wine that North Carolina produces, Jones commented on the concept of pairing of candy with wine.

“Wine tasting is an experience,” Jones added. “I mean, it’s about great wine, but it’s also about a great experience.”

Pairing candy with wine isn’t as serious as the judging of fine wines of the state. It’s fun, whimsical and a welcome distraction from the state of the world.

After extensive research and a little taste testing, I have the tannic, buttery, grassy and sweet notes for this season’s holiday pairing of Halloween candy and select North Carolina wines.

1. Skittles

Taste the rainbow with RayLen Vineyards and Winery’s Fizzzy Rosé or Fizzzy Bluzberry. Each is a liquid fruit basket bursting with mango, honeydew, strawberry and fresh blueberries. The fun and bubbly direct-press rosé like RayLen’s Fizzzy sparkling rosé pairs perfectly with the assortment of fruit flavors found in Skittles. Available in cans or bottle.

2. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

The silky, lush tannins of the Caravel dessert wine from RayLen Vineyards and Winery give texture to the intense blackberry and black-cherry flavors of this full-bodied and richly sweet wine. Reminiscent of a gourmet PBJ when paired with the chocolate and peanut better of Reese’s, the salty edge of the peanut butter melds expertly with the milk-chocolate couverture.

3. Starburst

Dulcimer is a refreshing blush wine with playing with notes of fresh raspberries and strawberries from Jones von Drehle Vineyards and Winery. With its tinkling and sparkling carbonation, the slightly sweet rosé makes your favorite color of Starburst pop and dance as it melts on your tongue (or gets stuck in your teeth)

4. M&Ms

The milk chocolate and hard candy coating pair well with the velvety tannins of the Merlot Reserve of Divine Llama Vineyards. The peppery hints and flavors of plum, chocolate and vanilla notes of toasty oak followed by juicy fruit flavors offer a smooth finish to the sweet chocolate bits.

5. Dark chocolate

The deep, dark and rich Jones von Drehle 2015 Petit Verdot is a high-class bold choice to pair with dark chocolate. Hershey’s Special Dark and Dark Milky Way are alternate choices to enjoy the dried plum, black cherry and blueberry tones of this award-winning wine.

6. Candy corn

Brown sugar, vanilla and butter are the dominant flavors of one of the season’s most polarizing candy offerings. A clean sparkling wine such as Raffaldini Vineyards’ Auguri will not only help mellow the candy’s sweetness, but it may even enhance its flavors. This classic, dry sparkler has high acidity and is a refreshing palate cleanser after raiding the candy bowl all night.

7. Hershey’s chocolate

Whether in bar or Kiss form, this classic American milk chocolate is taken to the upper echelon of flavor when paired with RagApple Lassie’s Syrah. A strong black pepper taste is woven into every bite when paired with the rich and dark-cherry flavors of this varietal. The most developed palates will also notice a hint of licorice in the finish.

8. Nerds

The mouth-puckering taste of these droplets of sour candy calls for a juicy, fruit-centric wine. The Sweet White and Sweet Blush Muscadine Rosé from Childress Vineyards present super sweet fruit-forward flavors of Muscadine grapes that make the taste buds pop.

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