October is here. Let the Halloween excitement commence. It is finally time to adorn your long-anticipated, carefully-crafted costume for this year’s epic All Hallow's Eve Extravaganza. To accompany your glorious attire, some spooky skeleton cake pops and a bottle of wine should be a sufficient entry fee. So, what wine befits such an occasion?
This is not the night for serious wines. Proof is in the mirror: you are presently outfitted in an uncomfortable body suit stuffed with pillows in vain attempt to impersonate everyone’s favorite Star Wars galactic gangster and crime lord, Jabba Desilijic Tiure aka Jabba the Hutt. You look sufficiently nonsensical; don’t confuse things further by toting a 2010 Cos d’Estournel.
Instead, go spooky or go home. In this post, I offer a few easy tips and recommendations for procuring the perfect vinous beverage for this year’s Allhallowe'en Palooza. Let's get creepy ...
The Fancy Wine Fallacy
Extravagant wine is always a fail-safe strategy to impress, is it not? Emphatically no, and most certainly not for this party. With Jabba the Hutt, Vampire Marilyn Monroe, Wonder Woman and a Minion or two meandering about, the wine will definitely not be the evening's highlight. There is therefore no need to sketch a ghoul on your 2014 Opus One magnum to share amongst the apparitional attendees. [Although, should you be so inclined, you are welcome to crash my party anytime.] There won’t be Riedel glassware set out, wine being elegantly decanting in crystal, or guests debating the wine’s complex flavor profile. Probably for the best; I suspect it may difficult to accurately assess aromatics through the plastic goblin mask plastered to your face.
Tip #1: Bring a bargain wine priced between $10 and $25. There is no need to be fanciful on this night.
The goal should be a value wine priced between $10 and $25. Remember, the wine isn’t the focus on this night, and there are plenty of other items for which money and attention are needed. Prioritize your efforts and expense on the costume and accessories.
While expensive wine isn’t necessary, that is no excuse to bring bad wine. [For the record, there is never an excuse to bring bad wine.] A few themed recommendations are provided below.
The Motif Equivalency Effect
Halloween party patrons care far less about the quality of wine than the event ambiance and a justifiable excuse to dress in costume. Matching the motif is paramount. Inebriating beverage, critical; form of beverage, negotiable. Wine certainly won’t be the only potent intoxicating potable from which to choose.
Tip #2: Choose a wine with a spooky label that screams Halloween. Patrons care more about atmosphere than quality, and the bottle must stand out amongst the other themed rivals.
You will not be the talk of the party with a 1998 Altare Barolo Brunate. The cool kid is bringing the Rogue Dead Guy Ale and vampire kiss martinis. For wine to compete in this lineup, it is imperative to be appropriately themed. Perhaps the most critical factor - and I stress the difficulty for me to say this - is the label itself, rather than the content or quality of the wine. Stay in theme with a lurid label that mimics the occasion. New World regions, such as Chile, Argentina, Australia and the United States, are a worthier venture to successfully obtain the non-traditional, spooky label you seek. It is doubtful you would locate in Bordeaux or Châteauneuf-du-Pape a plethora of fluorescent green labels with skeletons donning top hats. Fortunately, the regions that take a modern approach to bottle labeling also tend to be value regions from a price standpoint. Win-Win.
The Varietal Diversity Deficiency
With spooky wine labels, you will find yourself short of variety when it comes to wine style and varietals. This is unequivocally big red territory. Fear not; most besotted patrons in the United States prefer red wine, and the autumnal weather pairs well with a comforting, warm bodied red cuvée.
Tip #3: Spooky labels are dominated by bold, red wines. And that’s just fine.
Sure, you can find the occasional Chardonnay, but don’t fret if you only encounter power reds. If possible, stick to popular and recognizable varietals, such as Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Increasing in popularity are proprietary red blends, which at this bargain price point can be a oenophile’s best friend.
Relatively straightforward? There may be more wines from which to choose than you were anticipating. Below are four wines that are worthy contestants (listed by price, in descending order).
2014 Chronic Cellars Dead Nuts, Paso Robles, Central Coast, California - $25
A long-standing farming community, the vast rolling grasslands of Paso Robles were filled with fruit orchards and vegetable fields before wine-minded residents dedicated acreage to viticultural endeavors. It’s farm and food culture established a strong farm-to-table philosophy, pairing fresh, locally produced ingredients with the various wines of the region. The local wine styles and bottle art demonstrate a creative, diverse, and somewhat funky region that is definitely worth exploring. Bargain wines are abundant.
The wide variety of terrain and climate conditions affords Paso Robles the benefit of expanding beyond traditional California varietals, and the region is now famous for its Rhône Valley style blends using Syrah, Grenache, Viognier, Marsanne and Mourvèdre. European immigrants planted Spanish and Italian varietials during and after Prohibition, such as Tempranillo and Sangiovese, which have also flourished in the region.
The nose is greeted with bright aromas of strawberry, blackberry and cherry. The palate is rich and thick with ripe fruit, turned earth, tobacco and spice. This blend (64% Zinfandel, 21% Tempranillo, 15% Petite Sirah) beautifully harmonizes the Tempranillo spice, peppery Zinfandel and smoky leather of the Syrah. This is a balanced representation of the diverse flavor profile blends can offer.
Can't find Dead Nuts? Chronic Cellars has a fine selection from which to choose.
2015 Intrinsic Cabernet, Columbia Valley, Washington - $20
Do you enjoy the bold, fruit-forward New World style Cabernet Sauvignon of Napa Valley, but would prefer to not pay the extraordinary Napa tax? You may wish to consider searching a few states to the north. Washington’s low-cost, fertile farmland combined with a dry, consistent growing season and an abundance of sunshine - up to 300 days per year and 17 hours per day! - produces some of the best value, full-bodied red wine varieties in the United States. The Washington trend is in the blend, but that doesn’t mean you can’t easily procure a bottle of Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon on the grocery shelves.
This wine, a 90/10 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, has aromas and flavors of blueberry, black cherry, dark chocolate and leather characteristic of Columbia Valley. Bold and fruit-forward with excellent tannic structure, this wine would definitely benefit from time in the cellar. If you are disinclined to wait for Halloween 2027, try to get to the party early and allow time for decanting. Pairs perfectly with a flowing red dress.
2014 Ravenswood Besieged Red Blend, Sonoma County, California - $18
Sonoma County, directly north of San Francisco, is vast and varied in topography, climate, elevation and soils. It’s vineyards and wineries are equally diverse, ranging from small family operations to behemoth corporate enterprises. Living in the shadow of its prestigious neighbor to the east, Sonoma has excellent value in a wide selection of varietals and styles. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the dominant varietals, but something can be found for everyone in this productive appellation, including some of the oldest Zinfandel vines in the country.
This wine is a grape collective that represents the best of Sonoma’s sub-regions, including Alexander, Dry Creek, Russian River and Knights Valleys.
This robust blend has invited a lot of friends to the party: Petite Syrah, Carignane, Zinfandel, Syrah, Alicante Bouschet and Barbera. Black fruit flavors of blackberry and black cherry dominate the palate, with accenting baking spices. With this gang of grapes, you can expect a full-bodied wine with lots of tannins and a long finish.
19 Crimes Banished Dark Red Blend, 2016 Vintage, Southeastern Australia - $12
A dollop of candor is necessary with this selection. This is a Treasury Estates wine that you would be potentially procuring almost exclusively for its bottle art and Halloween theme. That’s not to say that it is bad, necessarily, but it is a rather one-dimensional fruit bomb and otherwise unexciting. This is best viewed as a cheap, spooky bottle easily located, and thus fits the needs of this post precisely. It holds the additional benefit of a great party conversation to pair with your cake pops. 19 Crimes presents an unlikely ode to a culpable crew, during a period of history that is largely omitted from the textbooks.
Conventional wisdom of the 18th Century held that criminals were genetically impure and thus inherently defective, devoid of any potential for rehabilitation. With British prisons brimming and expensive, the remedies were execution or exile. 19 crimes carried a sentence of exile, or “transportation,” the majority of which were petty crimes and frequently utilized to extricate undesirables from society. The list included impersonating an Egyptian (a critical factor to consider when contemplating Halloween costumes), stealing fish from a pond or river, clandestine marriage, watermen carrying too many passengers on the Thames (only if any of them drowned, of course), and embueling (i.e., stealing from) naval stores, but only in certain cases (minor pilfering permitted).
The Crown first shipped convicts to the American colonies in the early 17th century. The yank's victory in the Revolutionary War, however, put an abrupt end to that one-way ticket. Australia was the next transportation destination. On January 20, 1788, the first batch of convicts banished from England landed south of Sydney. Over the next 80 years, approximately 164,000 criminals-turned-colonists were transported to Australia from Britain to forge a life in outback. A fascinating yet often neglected narrative. Perhaps the opportunity for a wine and costume pairing?
The "Banished" Shiraz-blend, honoring the convict James Wilson, is a beautiful dark purple color, with a rather one-dimensional, fruit-forward flavor profile of blackberry jam and plum, accented by dark chocolate and characteristic pepper spice on finish. Smooth, medium- to full-bodied and not terribly complex or remarkable, but it does cater to the American palate and would likely please the crowd. For $12 and a good story, you can't really go wrong.
Need a high quality vino for your oenophilic Halloween bash? Or hoping to indulge at home with wine and your favorite Halloween movie? We have you covered. Next week I sit down with Kevin Keaveney and Jorge Garcia (LOST, Hawaii Five-O), two consummate Halloween super fans and masterminds behind Hawaii’s unparalleled haunt experience, Mummy: Curse of the Crypt. We will recommend a few opulent, spooky wines to pair with our favorite Halloween movies, music and events that are certain satisfy your ghoulish proclivities. Stay tuned!
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