This is one of my favorite columns to write each year; a collection of the darkest, inkiest, scariest red wines imaginable. I’m talking massive, earthy and fruit-rich cabernet sauvignon, shiraz/syrah, near-black petit sirah and explosive zinfandel for Halloween festivities.
I love big red wines — or fruit “bombs,” as they’ve become known. They usually possess high levels of alcohol but are not “hot” on the palate, and are long on flavor and fun.
In the past, during my annual trick-or-treat soiree where the moms and kids walk the neighborhood while the dads and I fraternize at home, I’ve served Ravenswood Zinfandel and Earthquake Cab from winemaker Michael-David. Both wines are from California and are known for dark, robust flavor and high alcohol content. These big wines are best served with equally powerful, perhaps themed, fare, such as liverwurst, stinky blue-veined cheeses or “monster” mashed potato salad stuffed with bacon, green onions and still more cheese. Scary, indeed.
After a few glasses of the following wines, your appearance may take on that of Michael Keaton in “Beetlejuice,” including the hair, eyes and teeth. Those dark wines do a number on your smile. But instead of scaring off your neighbors, offer them a glass.
Mazzocco 2005 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, Calif. The classic definition of a “fruit bomb.” Head for cover and imagine a mushroom cloud spreading out across your palate at the first sip. Thick layers of blackberry, chocolate-spice and other ripe red fruit draw a smile as soon as you sample this nicely structured wine that deftly hides its high alcohol content (16.3 percent). Throw some lamb chops on the grill for your guests and you’re good to go. $27.
Valley of the Moon 2004 Syrah, Sonoma, Calif. Spooky name and packaging, but a seriously good wine. As its name implies, the wine is made in the more elegant French style (syrah is the French spelling, shiraz is Australian). It’s well-balanced with complex flavors of blue-blackberries, white pepper and toasty oak. Beef satay or pork chops are the move here. $16.
Penfolds Koonunga Hill Merlot 2005, Australia. The “Land Down Under” still represents one of the world’s great wine values; you really do get a lot for your money. And with Penfolds, you know you have a winner. These wines are consistently well-made, with strong varietal characteristics with each vintage. This merlot is probably lighter-bodied than in previous years, but is still considered a “bomb.” Juicy plum and blueberry begs for a hamburger or duck if you feel industrious. $12.
Hayman & Hill 2005 Monterey County Meritage, Calif. I’ve always loved the Bordeaux concept of blending several varieties applied to California wine, known as meritage. This bottle includes varying, and descending, amounts of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec, petit verdot and cabernet franc to create a smooth and delicious blend of red wine goodness. Throw a couple of New York strips on the grill and settle in for a night of passing out candy. $15.
Sequoia Grove 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, Calif. Winemaker Michael Trujillo calls this wine “a powerhouse of tannins with fruit and rich mouth-feel, certainly one of the more intense vintages in recent years.” That intensity, combined with more than ample fruit, makes this cab a big, scary “bomb.” I like the ripe cherry, blackberry and chocolate impressions. The youthful energy of this wine makes it a good candidate to tackle a juicy rib-eye. $32.