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Blood-red Wines To Serve At Your Halloween Bash

By Thor Iverson

OCTOBER 27, 1997:  Despite what the legends say, a garlic bulb isn't going to keep a vampire from playing Hoover with your neck. But a nicely aged Bordeaux might do the trick; it's wet, it's tasty, and (most important) it's red. So if you happen to run into a vampire while holding a bottle of 1982 Haut-Brion, let us know how it turns out, okay?

Meanwhile, you'll have to take care of a host of other ghoulish figures this Halloween. (Yes, of course we're talking about your friends.) And unless ketchup or stage blood is on the menu, serving a selection of deep, dark red wines at your upcoming Halloween party might be just the thing to satiate the future Lestats among the guests. A note: none of these wines contain hemoglobin or platelets, but a few certainly seem ready to clot at any time.

Sparkling wines, including champagne, rarely get much darker than a salmonesque pink. That simply won't do for Halloween, but Blanchard Liquors (102 Harvard Avenue, Allston) has the answer: NV Gratien & Meyer Noir de Noirs Cardinal ($12.49) from the Loire Valley, in France. "Noir de noirs" (in the wine world) means "red wine from red grapes," and though this gentle bubbly doesn't taste much like any of the usual sparklers, it will definitely surprise your guests.

Syrah (or shiraz) is a grape that gained fame in the wines of France's Rhône Valley, but it really shines in the warm climates of Australia and California. When it's allowed to ripen in ideal conditions, it produces inky red explosions of fruit with tongue-shriveling tannins. The inexperienced will want to start with some of Australia's bargain-priced shirazes, such as the 1995 Lindemans Shiraz Bin 50 South Australia ($8.99 at Reservoir Wines & Spirits, 1922 Beacon Street, Brookline) and the 1996 Rosemount Estate Shiraz ($11.99 at Reservoir). If those just aren't huge enough for your friends, move up (in quality and price) to the 1992 Sean H. Thackrey Pleiades California ($21.50 at Brookline Liquor Mart, 1354 Comm Ave, Allston) -- a blend of Rhône-style grapes that includes syrah -- or the thickest, most mouth-chewing syrah of all, the 1990 Sean H. Thackrey Orion Napa ($37.50 at BLM).

The aforementioned Rhône Valley contributes a few bruisers of its own in the 100-percent syrah wines from Cornas. The 1989 and 1990 J. Vidal-Fleury Cornas ($20.25 each at BLM) are big, thick, chunky, somewhat coarse wines that take on some fantastic flavors with about a decade of aging.

Italy provides a lot of dark, brooding reds (Barolo and Amarone are never going to fit anyone's definition of "light"), but the deepest and darkest are the vino da tavlolas (table wines) made outside Italy's appellation guidelines with a dizzying variety of native and non-native grapes. Sangiovese, the principal grape of Chianti (a fairly light wine except under the best of conditions), can produce massive, dark-red monsters if vinified properly. The 1986 Badia a Coltibuono Sangioveto ($31.95 at BLM) will actually be at its best at your 2006 Halloween party, but it can satisfy those heartier Transylvanian cravings right now.

The obvious (and easy) choice for your basic blood-red quaff is America's most significant contribution to the wine world, red zinfandel. Great choices are more plentiful than ever, and these wines have the added benefit of (usually) being at their best when they're young. That means that the exuberant, spicy fruitiness of good zinfandel doesn't have to wait for a future party; it can be enjoyed the night you bring the bottle home.

Zinfandel's price has crept up over the last few years (but then, so has the price of most other wines), and the top producers frequently charge $30 or more. Nevertheless, there are still many great bargains in the under-$20 range. Producers such as Storrs, Marietta (both available at Marty's Liquors, 193 Harvard Avenue, Brighton), Ravenswood (available nearly everywhere), Rabbit Ridge (The Wine Press, at 1024 Beacon Street, Brookline, has a great selection of Ridge's diverse portfolio), and Murphy-Goode (BLM) are nearly always solid. Perhaps the best widely available producer is Ridge, and the 1995s (the Pagani Ranch, Geyserville, Lytton Springs, and Sonoma Station are all available at Reservoir in the mid-$20 range) are tasty -- and massive -- blends of zinfandel with more obscure varietals (petite sirah, carignan, mataro, alicante).

Of course, there's no reason the plasmatic fun has to end with the meat course. (You are serving red meat with these wines, right? Cooked rare?) Dessert brings out the really viscous stuff; brilliant, sweet red wines that are sticky enough for you to pretend . . . never mind. Better stick with the ketchup for that.

The most unique choice is a red version of a popular Italian aperitif wine, Moscato d'Asti. The 1994 Cascina Gilli Malvasia di Castelnuovo Don Bosco ($12.75 at BLM) is a slightly sweet, slightly effervescent wine to serve with simple fruit desserts, or by itself as a lighter counterpoint to the noir de noirs sparkling wine you served at the beginning of the meal.

Port is an obvious choice for those in search of a little blood in their wines, and for this purpose tawny and dry white ports should be avoided. Simple ruby ports will generally suffice, but for the really dark stuff you'll need to seek out some vintage port. There are two kinds: "real" vintage port, produced only in outstanding years, which is expensive and requires as long as 40 years to soften up enough to enjoy; and single-vineyard vintage port, which is not a "true" vintage port in the technical sense, but a vintage-dated port produced from a single vineyard that would have been part of the vintage port in an official vintage year. Got that? No? Well, it doesn't matter -- just head down to BLM and pick up a bottle of 1984 Dow Quinta do Bomfim Vintage Porto for $30. It's a fortified wine that could easily last another decade or two, but is already drinking well. This wine also needs decanting to remove sediment, though for the purposes of a Halloween party it might be better just to let the sediment dribble down your chin.

Another novelty at BLM is the 1994 Robert Doutres Banyuls Les Clos de Paulilles ($18.95). Banyuls is a port-like wine with a decided chocolate flavor; this leads many tasters to conclude that it's the one wine that actually goes with chocolate. Don't believe it -- the bitterness of chocolate will make even Banyuls taste like sugar water.

And finally, top it all off with a few drops of Bonny Doon Fraise ($10.99 at Blanchard's). This isn't a wine, it's a strawberry "infusion" that can be sipped in very small quantities, used as a mixing ingredient, or poured over ice cream. It's very thick, and very strong, and may finally be the blood substitute you've been searching for.

There is another way to approach this party, however. Rather than focusing on dark red wines of serious oenological interest, you could search out wines that capture the true spirit of the holiday. With that in mind, here are some mildly frightening suggestions:

From Reservoir: 1995 Torres Sangre de Toro ($8.99) -- literally "bull's blood," this inexpensive Spanish wine is actually quite tasty. While you're there, pick up a bottle of Hungary's 1994 Egri Bikovér Bull's Blood ($6.89, and what is it about bull's blood that's so compelling to winemakers?).

From Blanchard's: MoonShine (1994 Sauvignon Blanc and 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon) comes with a scary, but thematic, black label complete with crescent moon.

And finally, for a really terrifying experience, why not try to locate a bottle of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Echézeaux? Blanchard's has one for sale. See the price tag?

Scared yet?

Thor Iverson is an Internet content coordinator and wine critic for the Phoenix.

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