There are competing tales as to why peppermint-flavored striped sugar sticks were bent into a cane shape starting in the 1800s. Most likely they were meant to resemble a shepherd’s crook from the Nativity scene, but their attractive presence (and ease of hanging) on the Christmas tree guaranteed them a place as a holiday hallmark. Something you may not have considered is pairing them with a glass of wine as an adult fireside treat. They’re more complex than you think.
Above all, candy canes are sweet. The wine pairing rule with sweets is that the wine should be sweeter than the food. (Yes, candy canes are food.) Canadian Icewine (one word) is the pride of the country’s wine production. Often made with Vidal Blanc, it gives intensely sweet flavors of tropical fruits and maple syrup and, as a bonus, might bring to mind cozy winters among Canadian snow-capped forests.
Peppermint’s defining trait is menthol, a pungent, sometimes spicy, flavor with a cooling sensation that balances sweetness. A bracingly crisp white wine can accentuate this quality in an unpleasant way, so try the opposite and pair with a rich red like Pinotage. This South African crossing of Pinot Noir and Cinsault boasts flavors of rich black fruit, smoked meat and even menthol itself. It’s an unusual pairing— but it works.
Peppermint is in the Lamiaceae family, which includes most culinary herbs like basil, mint, rosemary, sage, savory, marjoram, oregano, thyme and lavender. Use this as a guide to choose a wine that might tease out this quality. Sylvaner (or Silvaner) has peach flavors alongside an herbaceousness that can range from just-cut grass to stronger thyme or oregano notes. An off-dry version will make the most sense with the canes.
Candy canes hanging on a Christmas tree can’t help but bring pine scents to mind, but mint does contain pinene, the compound that gives pine trees (and rosemary and eucalyptus) their resinous scent. Fiano is a rich white wine that’s less fruit-forward and more floral, nutty and minerally, and often contains a piney note of its own. It can tease out the savory notes that underlie candy canes’ minty sweetness.
This article originally appeared in the December 2022 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!
Published: November 21, 2022