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October 27, 2011

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Wine with Kisses, M&M's, Snickers

ALL dressed up for Halloween and nothing to drink? Before we explore some great wines for Halloween this year, let's take a look back at this ancient holiday.

Short history

The holiday that we refer to as Halloween comes from a collection of ancient cultures and celebrations. The Celtic festival Samhain was celebrated on October 31 to mark the end of the season of sun and prepare for the advent of the season of dark and cold. Celtic priests called Druids would meet on hilltops and light fires around which they would dance and sacrifice animals. Samhain rituals also involved black cats, ghosts and magic.

The Romans had a festival called Pomona Day that celebrated the goddess of fruits and gardens and when they invaded Britain in the first century this holiday gradually made its way into local culture.

A third ancient influence came with the spread of Christianity and was referred to as All Saints Day. In 835 AD the Roman Catholic Church stipulated that this holiday should be celebrated on November 1. Over the centuries these three celebrations merged together to become an annual holiday that by the 16th century was called Halloween.

The custom of trick or treat by children is a much more recent advent. Related to the Medieval practice of souling when poor people would go door-to-door for coins or food, the earliest mention of the term "trick or treat" only dates back to the 1920s. In the late 19th century in Scotland and Ireland children would disguise themselves in costumes and go door-to-door for food and money. This was known as guising. Based on information derived from newspaper and magazine archives, most modern historians believe the practice of children going door-to-door for candy treats became nationally popular in the United States in the 1930s.

By the time of my youth, Halloween was one of the most anticipated holidays where along with siblings and friends we would go to the front doors of the homes of neighbors and friends and shout "trick or treat" and be rewarded with copious amounts of candies, especially chocolate. As good as that chocolate tasted then, it tastes even better now as I pair it with a synergistic wine.

Chocolate & wine basics

Matching chocolate and wine has been a delicious endeavor of love ever since the cocoa beans were discovered by the Europeans at the very end of the 15th century. For centuries most connoisseurs adhered to the idea that a dessert wine should be just a little sweeter than the dessert. In general, this is a good rule that works most the time. This rule allows us to match slightly bitter dark chocolates with dry red wines, especially robust red wines like Zinfandel, Amarone and Nero d'Avlo wines from Sicily. These reds aren't really sweet but they are full of ripe fruit flavors and have heady alcohol content.

The famed French oenologist Emile Peynaud proved that alcohol itself tastes sweet and also heightens the feeling of sweetness in a wine. Following this science, it's no surprise that the aforementioned red wines work so well with semi-sweet chocolates.

Achieving balance is another quest in food and wine pairings. All the flavors need not be the same, but they must work well together. The beauty of semi-sweet or sweet Champagne or sparkling wines with the taste and texture of a cake or cookie is a match that clearly works. Balance can also be achieved by paring a sweet Moscato d'Asti from Italy with white chocolate or most milk chocolates.

However, we can also achieve balance by contrasting flavors or textures. This theory of wine and food pairing is consistent with the Asian belief in yin and yang (two polar opposites interconnected and interdependent in the natural world). The clean slightly acidic finish of a good-quality dry wine or sparkling wine does wonders in foiling the rich and creamy sensations of many chocolates. The acidity also acts as a palate cleanser making the next bite of chocolate even more delectable.

In general, the higher the cocoa percentage in a chocolate, the more intense the chocolate experience, while the sugar or sweetness taste is less, allowing for pairing with full-bodied red wines. However, sweet Port and Sherry fortified wines also work well with chocolates having a high percentage of cocoa since these powerful wines tend to accentuate the best qualities of dark chocolate.

Popular treat pairings

I'm pretty certain that it won't only be the little ones consuming chocolates this Halloween. The advantage of being an adult on Halloween is that you can enjoy wine with your sweets. Typically Halloween is not about fancy, high-end chocolates but rather more commercial chocolates. Here are some of the most popular and widely available chocolates that are almost certainly to be found in your child's candy bag - paired with complementary styles of wines. I have purposely chosen wines that are not too sweet since most popular chocolates are quite sweet themselves and need something to contrast sweetness, not accentuate it.

Hershey's Milk Chocolate - one American classic should be enjoyed with another American classic, so I recommend enjoying your next Hershey bar with a big old-fashioned Zinfandel from California. Pick an old vine Zinfandel that has super ripe, almost sweet, black and red fruit flavors that will perfectly highlight the slight sensations of black cherry in the Hershey bar. The slightly peppery nature of the wine will also accentuate the chocolate flavors.

Hershey's Kisses - the perfect partner for these unpretentiously smooth and creamy chocolates is a Moscato d'Asti as the delicate honey sensations of the wine highlight both the flavor and texture of the Kisses, while the good acidity and bubbles in the wine cleanse your palate. Moscato d'Asti is also an innately romantic wine that befits the candy's name.

Kit Kat - this unassuming popular chocolate offers a variety of flavors and textures that benefit from a fresh wine that can highlight these qualities. Try a fruity Prosecco or New World sparkling wine that will blend harmoniously with the mild milk chocolate while contrasting the toasty flavors and crunchy texture of the wafer cookie.

M & M's - regardless of their color, all M & Ms go well with medium dry-style Sherries as the weighty smooth texture of the wine contrasts with the crunchiness of the M & Ms and the sophisticated nutty flavors of the Sherry add flavor dimensions to the chocolate.

Snickers - the combination of sweet, salty and savory flavors within a Snicker's bar are best enjoyed with a sweet wine that isn't too sweet. My solution is Vin Santo, the historic sweet wine of Italy made from specially dried grapes. The complex sweet fruit, nut and vanilla flavors of the Vin Santo will highlight the chocolate and caramel flavors of the candy bar, while the clean acidic finish of the wine leaves the palate free of any sweet stickiness.

Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d'Asti (DOCG), 2008 (375ml)

Region: Piedmont, Italy
Variety: Muscat
Aging method/potential: No oak. /Drink now
Importer/price: ASC / 159 yuan (US$25)
Pairing tips: Serve at 7 - 8°C; the wine is lovely with milk and white chocolates, strawberries, fresh tropical fruit salads or a wide variety of sweet cakes and pastries.

unmistakably Muscat wine with a pale yellow color, abundant scents of peach, apricot and hints of caramel and fresh flavors of melon, honey and sweet berries; unlike many inexpensive sweet wines this wine is quite clean and fresh

Barone Ricasoli Castello di Brolio Vin Santo del Chianti Classico (DOCG), 2003 (375ml)

Region: Tuscany, Italy
Variety: Malvasia
Aging method/potential: 6 years in oak barriques. / lovely now but will keep for a decade.
Importer/price: Watson's Wine / 498 yuan
Pairing tips: Serve chilled, about 10°C; this is an excellent contemplative wine served alone after dinner, but also quite nice with chocolate as well as sweet moon cakes, especially Red Bean Moon Cakes.

dark golden-yellow color, complex fruity and nutty nose and concentrated elegant dry yellow fruit, honey and coffee flavors with a long, pleasantly clean finish; this is an excellent Vin Santo that has an exceptional sweet fruit and acidity balance
De Bartoli Windy Peak Pinot Noir Chardonnay Sparkling, NV

Region: Victoria, Australia
Variety: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay
Aging method/potential: some components aged in the bottle on the lees up to 7 years. / drink now or within 2 years.
Importer/price: Everwines / 198 yuan
Pairing tips: Serve well-chilled, about 8 - 10°C; very nice as an aperitif, also good with seafood dishes and desserts that feature chocolate

sparkling wine with old world sophistication and new world exuberance, the wine features an enchanting slightly pinkish-peach color and small, persistent bubbles, fruity nose with toasty hints, concentrated yellow and red fruit flavors and good acidity in the finish

Williams & Humbert Dry Sack Medium Dry , NV

Region: Jerez-Xérès-Sherry, Spain
Variety: Palomino, Pedro Ximénez
Aging method/potential: Solera System with 7 years in American oak. / sest within 3 - 5 years of purchase.
Importer/price: Horse Dragon / 268 yuan
Pairing tips: Serve well-chilled, about 8°C or on-the-rocks; this versatile wine goes well with a wide range of foods including spicy Asian dishes and flavorful desserts.

one of the world's best known Sherry brands, Dry Sack Medium Sherry has an amber color, intense aromas of dried nuts and concentrated ever so slightly sweet dark fruit and nut flavors with a smooth, clean finish


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