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Some wines pair with typical Halloween fare
By John H. Isacs

Many years ago when I was a kid in Connecticut, the United States, one of the most anticipated and exciting days of the year was Halloween. Not only did you get to act like a kid and dress in outrageous costumes but you also collected vast amounts of chocolates, candies and other treats.

Today, my nephews and niece celebrate Halloween in much the same manner even though commercialism is much greater.

Halloween is big business in the United States. According to the National Retail Associations, US consumers will spend nearly 7 billion US dollars this year making Halloween the second-largest commercial holiday after Christmas. Even winemakers have gotten into the act by releasing scary special edition wines. The commercialization of Halloween is, however, a relatively recent phenomenon.

Ancient roots

Over two millennium ago, Celtic tribes in northern Europe celebrated the pagan festival of Samhain on November 1 to mark the end of summer and beginning of winter. The preceding night, large bonfires were set to scare of the spirits of the dead.

When the Romans conquered the Celts, they brought with them their traditional Feralia and Pomona festivals that became merged with Samhain. Feralia commemorated the dead while Pomona honored the Roman goddess of fruit and trees.

In the mid-eighth century AD, Pope Gregory III established November 1 as All Martyrs Day and in AD 1,000 the church proclaimed November 2 All Souls’ Day.

By the late Middle Ages this amalgamated holiday became known as All Hallows’ Eve and eventually Halloween in English-speaking cultures.

The Medieval practice of the poor going house to house begging for food and money was a precursor to modern day trick-or-treating. The first documented use of the term “trick-or-treat” was in Alberta Canada in 1927. By the following decade the practice was common all over North America.

Wines for traditional foods

All this history has made me decidedly thirsty. Candy is certainly the treat most associated with modern Halloween, but I’ve already written about wines with Halloween candy, and there are two traditional foods with more historic roots to the holiday.

Perhaps the food most associated with Halloween is the pumpkin. The tradition of making jack-o’-lanterns started in Ireland and Scotland when turnips were carved into lanterns to remember souls in purgatory and help guide them to heaven.

Nineteenth-century immigrants to North America kept the custom but used the readily available and easier to carve pumpkin. Roasted pumpkin, pumpkin pies, cakes and puddings became associated with Halloween as well as Thanksgiving.

Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venice sweet wines from the Southern Rhone are great with sweet pumpkin pies, cakes and puddings. Choose a top producer like Guigal or Jaboulet and you’ll be in for a hauntingly good treat. Other pumpkin-friendly wines include Vin Santo from Tuscany, Italy as well as Moscato d’Asti lightly sparkling wines from Piedmont, Italy.

Candied apples are another Halloween treat. Associating apples with this holiday most likely days back to the Roman holiday of Pomona as the Roman goddess of fruit and trees was often commemorated with offerings of seasonal apples.

Apples pair well with many wines but the sweetness of the candy syrup covering the apples demands a sweet wine with a good dose of residual sugar like a Pedro Ximenez Sherry from Jerez, Spain.

Lustau, Gonzalez Byass, Williams & Humbert and Herederos de Agueso are just a few top bodegas with wines available in town. One may even choose to forgo pairing wine with candied apples and instead enjoy a good glass of hard cider. Just don’t ask me where to find it in Shanghai.

Spooky wines

Another fun and creative way for adults to celebrate Halloween is to drink scary wines. In Halloweens past I’ve recommended demonic wines like the Casillero del Diablo — “cellar of the devil” — varietal series of wine from Chilean producer Concha y Toro and Egri Bikaver Bull’s Blood red wines from Hungry.

This Halloween readers may also try ghoulish wines like Armida Winery Poizin Zinfandel with a skull and cross-bones on the label, Vampire Wines varietal wines from California, Ghost Pines Chardonnay from Napa Valley and The Velvet Devil Merlot from Columbia Valley in Washington state.

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