By Rick Riozza

A Halloween wine tasting party!?  Don’t get spooked!—don’t be scared, you can pull it off.  Hey! there’s nothing more disturbing and frightful than an empty glass of wine on Halloween.  So be safe and huddle your wine friends together—and no zombies please!  It’s just a big mess when they’re around.  

Putting together a last-minute All Hallow’s Eve wine party is the perfect answer to all those party-goers who’ve found themselves with a cause but without a venue as they were edged-out of all the local haunted houses that are filled to capacity with partyers, lookie-loos, and pollsters.

I think it’s a good idea to do a “blind” tasting.  Everyone gets to wear masks and they can continue on with a full-on costume.  Actually, a blind tasting means that everyone tastes a series of wines without knowing what they are, by not really covering their eyes, but covering the bottles with bags or aluminum foil.  This is a fun way to focus on the wine without having fixed or bias notions for or against the chosen wines.

The task is to guess the identity of the wine, or, as one wine writer has offered: Which Wine is Witch.  And there are some good themes to play around with: You can try to guess the varietal; the least or most expensive wine on show; and, of course, simply vote on a favorite. Hey—it’s a festive way to drink through a bunch of wine and offering your two cents on the matter. You and your guests are certain to learn more about wine and each other

You can also choose a format, as with a sit-down tasting, just chugging straight from the bottle (no one really likes this idea but it does happen in certain places as the tasting goes overtime) or, you can place the wines around the room—how about a wine scavenger hunt?  Great idea but with a lot of spillage going on. And as the French say: all wine glasses have a future rendezvous with breakage.

Here’s some other considerations:

BYOB—why not ask your guests to bring over a bottle of wine to add to the mix.  If you decide to foot the bill for all of the wines to be considered, well it could get a little rough especially if the theme is high-end wines where the group figures out which wine is the most expensive.  This would be a very generous host and I’d like to attend this party.

Pick a party theme. You can showcase straight-forward varietals such as Chardonnay or Merlot as most are familiar with. Or you can be adventurous and try wines from specific countries or areas, such as Transylvania or Moldovia.  Of course it’s the textbook time to have a line-up of spooky wines.  That is to say wines, winery names, and labels which are a bit haunting.

We can mention the usual suspects such as Apothic Red or Dark with their sinister appearing labels, but they’re so popular, you’re probably drinking these right now.  So let’s look for some other labels:

Surely on the list and immediately setting the scene would be Vampire Pinot Noir, $8.99,and its sibling bottle Vampire Vineyards Syrah Dracula from the Vampire vineyards up in Paso Robles.  Actually, there’s a whole slew of bottles from Vampire and I’d recommend going to their website to check out their Vampire, Dracula, and Trueblood selections and all of their bloody accessories and T-shirts to fill the evening until dawn—did I mention chugging from the bottle around this time?

Witching Hour, at around $7.99, is an intense full-body red blend with deep flavors of dark cherries, espresso, and vanilla for the more serious drinkers.  Goosebumps Velvety Red, $8.99, is from Sicily but tastes like a jammy California fruit bomb for those less serious in your party who just want to have fun and enjoy it with peanut-butter sandwiches.

Another fun wine to try is The Warden, brought to you by the folks over in Australia that make the very popular 19 Crimes.  The bottling and label of these two wines are perfect for the evening—they appear as movie props in the next horror movie.

These are red blend wines that impress everyone with brooding aromas of dark cherry, blackberry, boysenberry, chocolate, mocha, and vanilla bean.  On the palate, The Warden is mouth coating with lashings of criminally intense dark fruits along with a surprise balance of acidity to keep things fresh.  Around $15 at Total Wines in Palm Desert.  Indeed, all of the bottles & prices mention can be found at our Total Wine store.

Finally, it’s been the surviving consensus of scary parties past, that Ravenswood Limited Release “Besieged” at only $14.99, should be one of your vino candidates on the tasting table

This wine is a blend of Old Vine California heritage varietals that you vino lovers will recognize: 35% Carignane, 20% Petite Sirah, 18% Zinfandel, 13% Mourvedre, 9% Alicante Bouschet, and 5% Barbera which were sourced from vineyards in Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma Valley, Russian River Valley, Knights Valley and Sonoma Mountain.

No tricks here but an absolute treat for the bargain price of a focused wine from famed winemaker Joel Peterson.

Besieged is red-black in color, rich, robust, with full flavors igniting your senses of blackberry, black cherry, plum, cardamon, resolving into a delicious, smooth, satisfying finish.” Now before you assume that this has all the earmarks of a “flabby fruit bomb”, re-think immediately: This wine is elegant, dry, well-balanced with all the complexities stirring from the heritage varietals. A ghoulish cheer to all!

Rick is your sommelier-de-ghost entertaining at all haunted venues. Contact