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Celebrate National Merlot Month and Halloween With a Glass of Red Wine

We don’t what it is about Halloween that draws out the goblins in the wine industry. Perhaps it’s the devil in them, or perhaps they see a brief opportunity to make a buck. But each year there are more and more wines with Halloween themes guaranteed to loosen up an adult party. Heaven forbid someone think this holiday is just for kids.

Like most wine gimmicks, the package, not the product, is the sizzle that sells the wine. Marketing people know you’re going to be staring at a sea of wine labels, and often times, it’s the quality of an exotic label that wins. Sometimes the wine is even good.

Concha y Toro makes Casillero del Diablo (Devi’s Castle) year-round, so it can’t be blamed for fabricating a label just for Halloween. Its wines sell for less than $15, so they are a good buy. Apothic Inferno and Ghost Pines are other wines made year-round and aren’t intended to appeal exclusively to trick or treaters. This year, Witching Hour and Vampire are sure to catch the attention of your party guests.

Root 1 Cabernet Sauvignon is being sold in a Halloween bag that would make a good gift for the host. The one we actually enjoyed, though, was Flora Springs Ghost Winery Malbec from Napa Valley. It’s a serious and memorable wine that stands above others that are capitalizing on the Halloween theme.

October also happens to be Merlot Month, a declaration hardly the responsibility of the president or Congress. In fact, it’s another marketing gem created to spur sales. Merlot is still the top third seller in the red wine field, although its popularity hasn’t been the same since Miles condemned the grape in his wine odyssey “Sideways.” However, we’ve been returning to many of our merlot favorites just to reaffirm our belief that good merlot can be made in the hands of good winemakers. Lest we forget, Petrus is one of the top wines in the world and it is made from merlot. 

Merlot is a good match to fall stews and chicken casseroles. Just don’t serve it with Halloween candy.  Here are a few merlots to celebrate the month: 

  • Peju Napa Valley Merlot 2016 ($48). Peju is one of the most well-respected wineries in Napa Valley and it wouldn’t mess with merlot unless they could produce one that met its high standards. Like its other wines, the merlot is firm, full-bodied with juicy black cherry and blackberry notes and a hint of vanilla. 

  • Gundlach Bundschu Sonoma Valley Merlot 2016 ($35). We liked the effusive aromas in this sturdy, hedonistic merlot that shows off black cherry flavors with hints of cassis and chocolate. 

  • Charles Krug Napa Valley Merlot 2016 ($25). Blended with cabernet sauvignon, malbec and petit verdot, this delicious wine from an historic property has lots or ripe cherry and cranberry flavors with hints of spice.  

Cotes du Rhone 

The Cotes du Rhone region of the Rhone Valley is often regarded as a great source of red blends at a reasonable price. But is often forgotten as a source for good values in white wine.  

White wines from this region commonly offer big, thirst-quenching acidity and a variety of citrus and stone fruit flavors that come together from a wide blend of grapes, most notably grenache blanc, roussanne, clairette, marsanne, bourboulenc, viognier, ugni blanc, and picpoul blanc. The wines are generally stainless-steel fermented to preserve the freshness of the fruit. That makes them good matches to shrimp, scallops, fresh vegetables and fish. 

Here are a few we recently tasted: 

  • Domaine de la Janasse 2017 ($20). The blend is grenache blanc, bourboulenc, roussanne, clairette ,and viognier.  The golden color comes from the neutral foundre barrels that are used for one-year of aging. Look for stone-fruit flavors with a bit of mineral and fennel. 

  • Domaine la Remejeanne les Arbousiers 2016 ($20). There are equal parts roussanne and clairette in this blend with help from viognier, marsanne and bourboulenc. Aged on the lees, there is a creaminess to the texture. Lots of peach and citrus notes. 

  • Domaine La Manarine Cotes du Rhone Blanc 2017 ($20). The producer relies exclusively on clairette and bourboulenc grapes to craft this delightfully balanced wine that highlights fresh acidity but softens the blow with some malolatic fermentation.   Wine Picks

  • Pagos De Galir Godello Valdeorras 2017 ($19). From the Galicia region of Spain better known for its production of albarino, this white wine is produced in all stainless steel and aged on the lees for 5 months. Rich and ripe peach notes with a hint of citrus and some floral notes. Bracing acidity makes this a perfect match for seafood and chicken dishes.                                           

  • Frescobaldi Chianti Classico DOCG Tenuta Perano 2015 ($29). Classic, well-made Chianti Classico from Frescobaldi, this wine is very grapey with dried cherry and berry notes and a hint of wood. Great for red-sauced Italian fare.                               

  • Dry Creek Vineyards Fume Blanc Sonoma County 2018 ($16). A pretty style of sauvignon blanc that doesn’t assault the sense with a blast of grapefruit and herbs. Melon and fig dominate in a very smooth expression in the mouth with some citrus notes. Very easy and pleasant to drink even all by itself.           

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