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Devilish wines go down well on Halloween
By John H. Isacs

I’M amazed how popular Halloween has become in Shanghai. There are countless parties and plenty of young kids dress up in adorable costumes.

Today Halloween is all about fun, but centuries ago the occult still permeated the collective human psyche and spooky creatures like ghosts, goblins and evil spirits were far more real and threatening.

The holiday we refer to as Halloween is an amalgamation of ancient celebrations. The Celtic festival Samhain was celebrated on October 31 to mark the end of the season of sun and prepare for the season of dark and cold.

Celtic priests called Druids would meet on hilltops, light fires then dance around the fires and sacrifice animals. Samhain rituals also involved black cats, ghosts and magic.

The Romans had an autumn festival called Pomona Day that celebrated the goddess of fruits and gardens. In the first century when they invaded Britain this holiday gradually made its way into local culture. A third ancient influence was the Catholic celebration referred to as All Saints Day.

In AD 835, the Roman Catholic Church stipulated that this holiday should be celebrated on November 1. Over the centuries these three celebrations merged together and by the 16th century the holiday was called Halloween.

The trick-or-treat custom is a much more recent advent. In the Middle Ages poor peasants would go door-to-door asking for coins or food.

By the 19th century children in Scotland and Ireland would disguise themselves in costumes and go door-to-door for food and money. This was known as guising and immigrants brought the practice to America. The first documented mention of children trick or treating was in Alberta, Canada, in 1927. In a little more than a decade the practice spread throughout North America.

For those of us too old to go trick or treating, what are the best ways to celebrate Halloween? Drink spooky wines, of course.


Themed drinking

Optimizing Halloween fun is all about getting into the spirit, so the wine you drink tomorrow night should have something that relates to the scary spirit of the holiday. Some of my favorite Halloween quenchers have truly spooky names and designs.

In the late 1980s, US entrepreneur Michael Machat started importing wines from Transylvania in Romania. Yes, the same place that’s home to the world’s most famous vampire, Dracula. Machat aptly named the wines Vampire Vineyards. A decade later he decided to make his own wines and purchased a winery in Napa Valley.

His scary range of wines include Vampire Merlot with black cherry flavors and herbal notes, Vampire Cabernet Sauvignon with blackberry and dark chocolate flavors and Dracula Syrah that offers spicy black cherry flavors. Vampire Vineyard may have an amusing name but their wines are well-made, distinctive high-quality wines.

Another less expensive yet equally creepy wine is Velvet Devil Merlot from Washington State. This medium body wine offers pleasant raspberry and blueberry flavors with a smooth slightly tannic finish.

Should you be a fan of Aussie wines then I recommend trying two wines from the Southern Australia producer R Wines. The fruit forward Evil Cabernet Sauvignon and Pure Evil Chardonnay are anything but evil on the palate with pleasant ripe fruit flavors and velvety textures.

Another somewhat spooky but fun wine to enjoy on Halloween is Gato Negro which means black cat in Spanish. The Gato Negro line of wines is made by the Chilean giant San Pedro, which has been making wines since 1865. There are several Gato Negro varietals including two whites, a fresh Sauvignon Blanc and fruity Chardonnay and a trio of reds that include a balanced Cabernet Sauvignon, slightly spicy Carmenere and fruit-forward Merlot. All Gato Negro wines are inexpensive and easy-to-drink.

The Casillero del Diablo wines from the Chilean producer Concha y Toro also work for Halloween. Diablo means devil in Spanish and the bottles actually have a rather spooky depiction of the devil. The name Casillero del Diablo started in the 1800s when Don Melchor, founder of Concha y Toro, discovered that his employees were stealing his wines. In response, he spread a rumor that the cellar where his wines were stored was the cellar of the devil and inhabited by evil ghosts.

Pairing with chocolate

The scary tale worked and to this day there’s a gold devil’s head on the label of all Casillero del Diablo wines to commemorate Don’s witty deception. The Casillero del Diablo line of wines includes a wide range of popular white and red varieties that offer a quality drinking experience at reasonable costs.

Another important aspect of modern Halloween celebrations is candy, especially chocolate. Matching chocolate and wine has been a deliciously rewarding endeavor ever since cacao beans were discovered by the Europeans at the end of the 15th century.

For centuries most connoisseurs adhered to the idea that a dessert wine should be just a little sweeter than the dessert. This tried and true rule allows us to match dark chocolates that are not too sweet with fruity red wines, especially full-bodied wines like Californian Zinfandels and Italian Amarone and Nero d’Avlo wines.

These reds aren’t really sweet but they are full of ripe fruit flavors and have heady alcohol content. The combination of fruit and alcohol makes them ideal partners to dark chocolate.

Sweeter milk chocolate or white chocolate is best accompanied by a sweet sparkler like Moscato d’Asti from Piedmont, Italy, or a demi sec Champagne or CAVA. These sweet sparklers not only work wonderfully with the sweet creamy flavors of the chocolate but their bubbles and natural acidity also cleanse the palate.

Sweet fortified wines like Port or Sherry are also fine partners for chocolate. If you’re enjoying super sweet chocolates then pick an intensely sweet wine like Pedro Ximenez Sherry.

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