Ghosts and Gore: October Book + Bottle Pairing
It’s October, which means the best time of year to all you Halloween- and fall-loving folks! We’ve got tricks (a guest wine reviewer) and treats (wine and candy pairings!) for you today. And, our book + bottle pairing will put you in the mood to string some cobwebs across your porch and stock up on sugary sweets that may or may not last until the end of the month. So grab your pumpkin spice latte, pull up a chair, and read on!
To be cliché, we’re going with a spooky theme - ghost stories and bloody legends. We’re readingThe Halloween Tree — technically a young adult book, but you’ll love it because it’s short and sweet scary! The story begins with a group of boys about to go trick-or-treating when they notice one of their posse, Pipkin, is missing. They go look for him at his house and find a very sick Pipkin who mysteriously indicates he’ll meet them at the spooky mansion down the street in a few minutes. They arrive, and while Pipkin isn’t there, someone named Mr. Moundshroud, who awful closely resembles the grim reaper, is. Moundshroud proceeds to tell the boys that death is taking their friend, but offers to lead them on an adventure that could possibly rescue Pipkin from an untimely demise. What ensues is a Halloween version of A Christmas Carol where the boys travel through Halloweens past learning about the origins of the holiday and the truth of death while chasing their lost friend.
What’s most fun in the book is learning about the source of some of our favorite Halloween traditions. Many of us have ideas of the historical cultures that combined to give us one of our most popular holidays, but with this cute book, you can’t help but learning something new about Halloween. Throughout history, humans have been fascinated with death and have tried their best to understand it through myth, story, and religion. The ancient Egyptians left food out for the deceased, so they could be nourished in the land of the dead — a tradition that’s now turned into giving candy to kiddos. The Egyptians also famously gave us mummies, whose white wrappings hide something frightening inside. The Celts had Samhain (pronounced sah-win), a festival celebrating the harvest, welcoming the “dark” part of the year, and communing with spirits. Celebrated from October 31st to November 1st, the Celts would carve jack-o-lanterns out of turnips to scare away evil spirits (very similar to gargoyles!). Often they would dress up in disguises (read: costumes) to confuse the spirits, preventing the spirits from playing tricks on them. Our neighbors down in Mexico celebrate día de los muertes - from October 31 to November 2, when the dead come back to visit their families and friends. The tradition is full of skeletons, and people paint their faces to look like the iconic death mask. There are so many more traditions, too, like ghosts and witches and Frankenstein, and more that have come from a plethora of other traditions that combine to make our Halloweens so much fun.
The author, Ray Bradbury (1920-2012), was prolific in writing short stories, novels, and even screen plays. One of his most famous works is Fahrenheit 451. While it wasn’t the scary book we chose for October’s pairing, the thought of burning books is truly horrific, and it’s worth considering for a moment. Last month we celebrated Banned Books Week (September 22-28) to bring attention to censorship and to encourage literature as a way to open our minds to new ideas. Fahrenheit 451, a dystopian novel about the government burning books, was ironically banned in some places in the US for its depictions of burning and destroying bibles. Bradbury was concerned by the threat of censorship he saw in US McCarthyism that he felt resembled the Nazi and Soviet book burnings that led to totalitarianism and political repression. While our government doesn’t ban books anymore, schools, libraries, and other institutions can and do blacklist certain books. Many other countries have governmental bans in place. It’s important to learn from the past and keep our minds thinking.
I wanted to do some sort of story where I could comment on what would happen to a country if we let ourselves go too far in this direction, where then all thinking stops, and the dragon swallows his tail, and we sort of vanish into a limbo and we destroy ourselves by this sort of action.
- Ray Bradbury, regarding Fahrenheit 451
Because Ray Bradbury was so keen on theatrical performances, he turned many of his ideas into screenplays or radio adaptations. The Halloween Tree can be read traditionally, for sure, but on audiobook it’s even cuter. There are several versions you can get that narrate the book with a cast of characters and some background music to give you the full effect of a real ghost story. This would be an excellent book to read as a family, as adults will think it’s charming and will appreciate the literary nature of Bradbury’s writing, but kids will get a kick out of the brave, young characters and the awesome adventure they embark on.
While our October book is safe for kids, our bottle is not. We’ve invited one of Book + Bottle’s best supporters to tell us the story of the wine.
guest posted by Heidi Kipkowski
My name is Heidi Kipkowski and I'm a local cork dork and the ultimate Halloween fanatic. It has been my mission this Halloween season to find wines with the spookiest, scariest backstory for a tasting I'm hosting at the end of the month. After much research, I came across this spooky wine that not only has a great story but a great winemaker, too (so it's going to taste good!). It hails from Columbia Valley, Washington, and is a Southern Rhone blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. This is a great comfort blend that is perfect for cozy fall days, especially if you have a fireplace! As you can see, the wine is named Sinister Hand and features a severed hand dripping blood on its label. Now for the story:
The story of how this wine got its name takes us back to Ireland before the 11th century where two families were fighting over land. One of those families was the O'Reillys, ancestors of the current winemaker, David O'Reilly. The other family was named the O’Niells. In true Irish fashion, a rowing competition was organized between the two families with the agreement that the first to touch land after rowing across a lake would become the owner of the property. During the race, the O’Niell boat fell behind, but the stakes were high, so in an effort to win, one of their crew members took his sword and cut off his own hand. He then threw his severed hand ashore thus touching shore first and winning the title to rule the land. While the O’Niells may have won that race, the O’Reillys went on to make fantastic wines in the Pacific Northwest.
Sinister Hand is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre (and sometimes a little Cinsault). This blend is often called a “GSM” and is famous thanks to the spectacular wines of similar constituents from the Southern Rhone region of France, including Chateauneuf du Pape. Washington State also has the ideal conditions to grow these grapes and makes some excellent GSMs, including this one. Sinister Hand is a dry, red wine that is fresh on the palate. You’ll definitely get the black pepper and smoky notes of the Syrah showing through, but the Grenache offers a nice fresh fruity character with raspberries, cherry pie, and plum. The oak aging gives the wine a structure, but the vanilla, warm spice, tobacco, and leather notes make this a wine you want to snuggle up with. I don’t eat meat anymore, but I bet this would be great with a steak! This would be the perfect wine to sip on Halloween night when you’re passing out candy to the neighborhood kids. Hope you enjoy!
A LITTLE SOMETHING EXTRA: WINE AND CANDY PAIRING
We know you’re going to end up with extra Halloween candy, and you’ll probably be tempted to eat it while sipping on some wine. Maybe you think chocolate and wine are so often paired together that candy just makes sense, too! Well, wine and candy is often an extremely challenging pairing as the sweetness of the candy can make wine taste dull, bitter, or unpleasantly acidic. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in both at once. Here are some tricks and treats to help you make the most of this opportune pairing.
Trick: The traditional sommelier rule for pairing wine with sweet desserts is that the wine should be sweeter than the dessert, lest the sugar in the dessert render the wine bland and flat. With something as sweet as Halloween candy, you’ll have to go pretty sweet with your wine. Maybe you’re not usually a fan of sweet wines, but this is a great introduction to these wines because they’ll actually taste better and more balanced when paired with the sugar of candy. When in doubt, choose a dessert wine like Port, Sauternes, or Moscato.
Treat 1: Fruity candy like starbursts, jolly ranchers, skittles, candy corn, or gummies pair well with Moscato D’Asti wine. This wine is light and fresh and bubbly, but also super sweet, and it brings out the fruitiness of these candies.
Treat 2: Dark Chocolate (especially with orange and almond flavors) with Shiraz. High quality Shiraz is dry, but it is juicy! The punch of that bright fruit, along with the natural chocolate notes in Syrah/Shiraz help make this an unbelievable pairing.
Treat 3: Malted Chocolate with a GSM. Above, Heidi told us all about the Sinister Hand GSM blend from Washington. Remember how she told you it was fruity and fresh? That fruit juice character is a good balance for lightly sweet chocolates like these. It’d also be good with Hershey’s kisses or Kit Kat bars. In fact, this is probably a go-to for most of the chocolates in your candy bucket. Do as Heidi suggests and have this bottle while you’re handing out candy, as we all know you’ll probably pop a few in your mouth as you wait for the doorbell to ring.
Treat 4: Any chocolate that has nuts in it, like Reeces, Snickers, etc. will pair nicely with Sherry. The way Sherry is aged makes it taste nutty or even caramelized - it’s called oxidation. That plus the sweetness of an Oloroso or Pedro Ximenez sherry will marry perfectly with nutty chocolates.
While doing the research for this bonus section, we came across this adorable poem An Ode to Halloween Candy Pairing that sums up these suggestions into a fun rhyme scheme. Elizabeth Schneider is a huge Halloween fan, and is one of our favorite wine educators. We highly recommend her podcast Wine for Normal People if you want to learn more about wine.