Hello Halloween! Hallo-Wines with Bloody Borscht, Pukey Pumpkin, Chunks of Brains on Intestines

Have you ever looked at the display of Halloween themed wine bottles at the grocery store or World Market and think, “Ewww I bet those are awful!”

Well, I did! I figured they were overpriced, tarted up, bulk wine with nothing to say, and just good-time wine — not one you’d take home for dinner!

Now I’m clearly NOT talking about Flora Springs, which has embraced and celebrated its ghost winery heritage. (Read more about ghost wineries HERE.)

No, I’m talking about the kind of wine you would pick up on your way to a party. Like the kind that comes in a coffin.

But given the opportunity to taste a number of them recently I was surprised and pleased as was the gathering of goblins, ghosts, and ghouls, seven in all,  who’ve been friends for 15 or more years. In fact all of us were grateful to be on this side of the grave with each other and these festive and fun wines!

Over the course of the evening, our conversation ranged from the wines and back, and I’m appreciative of where we traveled. Three of us went to high school together, and several in the group are gay or bi, and we talked at length about the importance of having gay role models — even if they weren’t out. We also talked about what it means to live in a world that has a vocabulary for ways to express both gender and sexual preference — even if we all aren’t as fluent in this new language.

I attribute this conversation in part to the wines: they are fun, but they are also serious.

Halloween is a time when we explore our dark sides, the other sides, and wine, as a social lubricant can facilitate this.

If the wines had been terrible, they would not have put us in such a good mood. Also a huge thanks to Drummer Diane for hosting us and creating a container for this conversation to occur — I’m bummed I didn’t get any photos of us in our festive garb!

The wines seriously performed so much better than how we thought they would. We thought all of these wines might just add up to being a cheesy marketing tactic, but all of these wines had unique characteristics that played off of the pot luck meal differently.

I shouldn’t have been so surprised however, as while I bought them on sale, they were originally priced in the $12-25 range, and several of them had nice deep punts.

What’s a punt and why do wine bottles have a punt?

The punt is that cavity in the bottom of a bottle. The deeper the punt the better the wine often is because they expect the bottle to be cellared for awhile and this way, the sediments collect in the bottom of the bottle and does not get mixed back into the wine when it is poured. There are other reasons too for a punt in a wine bottle — it makes it easier to pour, it makes it more stable when upright, it holds up to pressure better, and it makes the bottle easier to clean before filling. We had some kinky ideas too — and have you noticed that deep punted wines usually have wide shoulders? — but I won’t go there… I will take those secrets with me back to the grave!

We tasted eight wines and one cocktail, and these bloodthirsty ghouls went mostly vegan and vegetarian with pairings of cheeses, curried coconut pumpkin soup, chunky borscht, and squid ink pasta with roasted butternut squash.

Before I get into more detail: if you’re looking for fun Halloween activities in Ventura County, check this post out. And after Halloween comes Day of the Dead — and there’s more great activities in Ventura County which you can learn about here.

WINES

  • Nino Franco Rustico – Valdobbiadene – Prosecco Superiore Italy
  • Vampire’s Delight: Nino Franco Prosecco Cocktail with Root 23 Cherry Almond
  • 2016 – Rest in Peace – CA Pinot Grigio
  • 2015 – Poizin – Rose CA
  • 2015 – Moselland Rheinhessen – Riesling Qualitätswein
  • 2015 – Once and it’s gone – Pinot Noir – Willamette Valley OR
  • 2015 – Rest in Peace – CA Red Wine –
  • 2014 – Besieged – Sonoma County CA
  • 2014 – Vampire – CA Red Wine Blend

MENU

  • Black Cheddar and Tres Leeches Cheese board
  • Bloody Borscht
  • Pukey Pumpkin Soup
  • Chunks of Brain on a Bed of Intestines

Rustico – Valdobbiadene – Prosecco Superiore – Nino Franco – 11% alcohol – SRP $18
and with Root 23 – Cherry Almond Simple Syrup – All Natural “Vampire’s Delight”
samples for my review consideration

This is a fun simple syrup – kind of reminded Helen of a Kir Royal but without the additional alcohol. The cherry adds a nice tartness, and the nutty almond goes very nicely with the prosecco.

I really liked how pretty the cocktail is, and the way the color hangs in the glass. A great bloody red color for Halloween, it could also work with Christmas with a beautiful red berry. You could also add a sprig of rosemary to make it more of a Christmas cocktail.

This syrup really works because it’s not overly sweet.

Pineapple Helen mixes a lot of cocktails and she pointed out that felt this syrup is a way to save a bottle of bubbly that you don’t really care for. However when the bottle of prosecco is great to begin with, it makes an excellent cocktail.

This prosecco is very nice on its own, bright and acidic, making it a great choice for a cheese plate or garden party. It’s good with light appetizers, and it handles a great depth of cheeses. I can even see enjoying this wine with a lovely fruit tart. It likes nice sharp cheeses, as well as lovely alpine style cheeses, goat cheeses, and we can imagine creamy cheeses, as it was over the top with the tres leches cheese.

Red sky at night — Vampire’s Delight

We spent a lot of time discussing what to cam this cocktail and we debated calling it Vampire’s sunrise or sunset;be  an entire conversation revolved around whether a vampire would more likely to be awake at sunset or sunrise…

At the very end of the evening, Sue decided to finish her cheese plate, but wanted something a bit brighter to finish the evening with. She wanted some white wine to refresh and regenerate her palate, but did not want to go back to the easy going white wines on the table. She decided to go back to the prosecco to cleanse the palate and finish the cheese. it brought out a wonderfull peachiness in the wine when paired with the sharp cheddar. It was almost like eating a peach pie.


2016 – Rest in Peace – Pinot Grigio SRP $11
purchased on sale at World Market

This wine surprised us the most — it has a decent punt and light, bright varietal characteristics..

Color: Very light pale in color almost white with a touch of light yellow and a nice metallic sheen.

Nose: Subdued. Grass and minerals, saline, honeysuckle more like the essence of it, not just the flower but the greenness of the plant as well.

Palate: Light in body, light and dry, this wine has a very subtle palate, non-offensive, very smooth, mild, indistinct. This wine is a nice light cocktail wine, easy to drink. Light and lucious. This wine has a nice metallic mouth feel.

Pairing: Pinot grigio really likes the boursin cheese, nice with both the pumpkin soup and the borschts, and managed to handle most of the cheeses, but liked the milder cheeses and the boursin best. With the pumpkin soup, the spices really added a nice depth of flavor to the wine.


2015 – Poizin – Rose Wine – 12% alcohol SRP $18
purchased on sale at World Market

We’re not sure but we suspect this is a rose wine made from white zinfandel (I mean, it has zin in the name, right?). It’s very fruity and somewhat sweet. In our conversation around the table about this wine with three of my friends who have been to burning man and all of my friends there are familiar with flow arts or fire arts, and pointed out that “poi” is a fire toy and zin must mean zinfandel so fiery zin as well as a play on the word poison.

Color: Dramatic color in the bottle, very pretty reddish pink.

Nose: Sweet florals and fruit, petrol, sulphur.

Palate: The petrol comes across on the palate as well, very fruit forward, semi-sweet.

Pairing: Great with the mancheco, not so great with the cheddar, it fought a bit with the pumpkin soup, but really nice with the borscht —  a wow moment around the table as we discovered it.

The mancheco and borscht is tamed by the wine and the ine is tamed with the food.


2015 –
Moselland Zeller Schwarze Katz Rheinhessen – Riesling Qualitätswein – 10% alcohol – SRP $14
Orange Kitty 500 ml; purchased on sale at World Market 

The story behind the cat bottle goes like this: three wine merchants “were about to sample out of a barrel when a black cat suddenly jumped on it, arched its back, and swiped its paw at anyone who approached it. The wine merchants chose the barrel guarded by the cat thinking it held the best wine. Zeller Schwarze Katz wine sold so well that wines from this vineyard in Zell have maintained the name since. But Moselland was the first and only winery to actually market their wine in a black, cat shaped bottle! Now there are many colors, finishes for holidays, and a special pink bottle to raise funds and awareness for Breast Cancer Research.”

Romans first who planted vines along the banks of the Rhine River; today the Rheinhessen region is Germany’s largest with riesling grown on over 9k acres (14% of the total)  and enjoys some of Germany’s warmest and driest weather with low precipitation, warm summers, and mild winters.

We’re going to be revisiting Germany in December for Wine Pairing Weekend!

Color: Light buttercup with very golden edges

Nose: Petrol, soil, saline, smells alpine and cold, nice light floral

Palate: Sweet yet tart, nice minerality, not cloyingly sweet, bright acidity

Pairing: Sue loves rieslings with curries and thai food. This worked for her, it did not work for me as much, not so great with the borscht. Cheeses for this wine are goat cheeses, the boursin, as well as the alpine style cheeses. This would be a really fun fondue wine.

Fondue would be a great idea for a Halloween party!

After tasting through all of the wines, Sue had to go back to this wine to finish her pumpkin curry soup, her favorite combination of the evening. I was somewhat surprised to find I really liked this wine with the pasta.

BELIEVE IT OT NOT: I found an EMPTY “used” bottle for sale for almost $60 eBay! And there’s a bunch on sale there for much more than the wine costs! You could buy two at World Market, enjoy the wine with a nice Asian takeout dinner, then sell the bottles to pay for the dinner!

I’ve loved my orange Kitty bottle; it’s been on display since I bought it and I plan on keeping it!.

2015 – Once and it’s gone – Pinot Noir – Willamette Valley – 13.2% alcohol $18
purchased on sale at Grocery Outlet

This wine is a mystery. My search skills says it left without a trace… I bought this at Grocery Outlet thinking it would be fun to add to the mix of wines for Halloween because of it’s spooky label.

Color: Not opaque, not translucent, reddish pink

Nose: Cherry, cranberry, tart red fruit, the alcohol is prevalent, butterscotch.

Palate: Tart, tart cherry, Dora enjoyed the silky tannins

Pairing: Not great with the pumpkin curry soup, it did not like the borscht either. It was fine with the pasta, but not brilliant — maybe if it had mushrooms in it. It paired well with the cheeses.

This wine needs more of a earthy mushroomy food; it needs earthy meaty richness. Pate and Pinot always a great pair, which would also work here. Nothing wrong with the wine, but it did not work well with what we were eating tonight. Dora thought this wine went great on its own, but when paired with the evening’s meal, was not great.


2015 – Rest in Peace – Red Wine – 12.9% alcohol SRP $11
purchased on sale at World Market

The label says Buelton. Not a lot of info out there about this wine.

Color: Looks to me like flat cherry cola — a bit of brown with the red.

Nose: Cherry cola or Dr Pepper.

Palate: We agreed it reminded us of the old fashioned candy called “bottle caps” and specifically cola or Dr Pepper.  The fruity cola also comes through on the palate.

There is a fruit forward loveliness to this wine that makes it a perfect wine to accompany anyone to a Halloween party.

Pairing: Fun with the pumpkin soup, yum! Also works well with the borscht and the pasta. This is a really nice versatile food wine. It made the soup feel richer, more textural than the soup was on its own.

 


2014 – Ravenswood Besieged – Sonoma County – Limited Release – SRP $22
Petite Sirah, Carignane, Zinfandel, Syrah, Alicante Bouschet, Barbera
purchased on sale at World Market

The grapes for this wine come from old vine premium Sonoma County vineyards: Alexander Valley with warm with gravelly soils; Dry Creek Valley that has stone-strewn soils with one of the longest winegrowing histories in California; Sonoma Valley that is cooled by north-south winds, a rarity in North Coast growing regions; Russian River Valley that is only a few miles from the Pacific, fog can drop temperatures 35-40 degrees in the evening; Knights Valley with remote vineyards embraced by Mount St. Helena; Sonoma Mountain known for its high-altitude, steep-sloped vineyards with well-drained soil.

It’s in an impressive bottle with nice masculine shoulders and a deep punt.

Color: Dense rich color, deep burgundy, with a bright rosey, ring

Nose: Boysenberry, bright cherry, leather, tobacco, cigar box, vanilla, cooking spices

Palate: Rich heavy tannins, this is a big wine that could lay down a bit longer. Plenty of blue fruits and acidity. I really liked the complexity of the blend.

Pairing: When you’re tasting for wine, you taste wine-food-wine. If you’re tasting for food, you taste food-wine-food. In this case, the borscht made the wine taste better, but the wine did not make the borscht taste better. It did nothing for the pumpkin soup.

This wine needs big bold meats to tame it — or a portobello burger!

Not great with the pasta, yet handled the roasted butternut squash beautifully. After the Vampire was over, Sue headed to the Besieged to finish off the rest of the cheese on her plate, wow, does this wine love sharp cheddar cheeses. The Cabot black aged cheddar was off the charts with this wine.

Sue says, “This wine would be fantastic with a grilled buffalo burger w/ blue cheese or super sharp aged cheddar.”

Because I am familiar with the Ravenswood label, and have enjoyed Ravenswood wines for years, I bought two bottles so I have one more to look forward to! Maybe with a buffalo burger with blue cheese and a juicy heirloom tomato!

2014 – Vampire – 13.5% alcohol SRP $15; $25 in a coffin box
purchased on sale at World Market

This wine has a really fun back story! Music/trademark attorney Michael Machat first envisioned Vampire wine “the blood of the vine” when was driving across the Nevada desert in 1985, but people laughed. Years later, he finally brought his vision to fruition using wines from Algeria and then elsewhere in Europe. In 2007, they moved production to California. They make a number of different wines under the Vampire label and it sure seems like they are having good time doing so!

Color: Rich and dark, with a bit of transparency. Garnet.

Nose: Vanilla, butterscotch, alcohol, cherry pipe tobacco, cherry snuff, a bit of clove

Palate: There are a lot of big tannins in this wine. Peppery, spice, and cherry fruit makes us suspect a blend of syrah and cabernet sauvignon.

Pairing:  This is a good BBQ wine, the rich tannins would do well with rich smoked brisket, ribs or any other slow smoked meats. While not great with the pumpkin soup, it went well with the borscht and with the Squid ink pasta with roasted butternut squash. It loved the sage notes from the sage olive oil sauce. It was also nice with the rosemary crackers on the cheese tray. This wine likes herbal notes.

At the end of the evening, after finishing the pumpkin soup with a splash of the resiling, Sue went to the Vampire to finish the rest of the meal because of how the sage in the sauce of the pasta went with this wine.

One of the best pairings of the evening with the borscht!

At the end of the meal we felt that the Vampire was very seductive. It was the first to go. Was it because it was the last on all of our palates and we did not want to go back because we were enjoying it so much? Or was it because it was truly the favorite  of the evening? For Sue, she just wanted to finish her meal with this wine and was bummed when it was finished before her last bite was over.

Overall, a wonderful evening with friends and a fine collection of haunted wines!

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