By Rick Riozza

This column has enjoyed its share of Halloween articles written through the years in the CV Weekly with such titles as: Drink Up Witches!, Trick or Treat—Haunting Hootch for Halloween, and last year’s Oh No! Oh Yes—The Walking Dead!

And we’ve reviewed plenty of wine that became a Halloween treat simply because of its label. Quoting myself previously: The days of quiet wine packaging and labeling are done! Wine bottles are partying hearty with outfits as clever as yours. Just a couple of years ago, most of the Halloween wine parties had the same few wine garbs that included Bogle Phantom lurking about, and the Apothic Red hiding in the shadows, even the7 Deadly Zins was masquerading as a love-potion.

Now there’s a plethora of evil vino and every wine shop worth their weight is decorating spooky with eerie labeled wine bottles on every cob-webbed shelf in the store. Labels with unnerving names such as Cockfighter’s Ghost—an Australian wine named after a ghostly steed said to reside in the vineyard after drowning in a nearby creek; Poizin Zinfandel, “the wine to die for”—from the Armida Winery in Dry Creek Valley priced at $25 and the Reserved bottling which comes complete with its own wooden coffin, costing a hideous $60; and yet another Zin, California’s Zombie Zin, where probably the best thing about this wine bottle is the punk rock Zombie daring you to sip some of his evil elixir.

I know it’s unsettling, but some of the crazy scary wines/labels are no longer with us—R.I.P.  Wines with such names as “Daggers Delight,” “Frankenstein’s Cab Franc,” “Fresh Blood, Vein Ripened,” “Ye Olde Spider Venom,” and, as one would expect, “Zombie Virus,” sadly, they’re settling somewhere in purple purgatory, only to be found nestling in your nightmares.

Whatever wine marketing Madison Avenue comes up with, really, what could be scarier than an over-oaked California Cabernet or Chardonnay at 15.9% alcohol that costs over $100?

The “most popular Halloween/scary wine labels”–as computed by actual sales, include Ghost Pines, Apothic Inferno, the aforementioned, Bogle Phantom and 7 Deadly Zins, The Velvet Devil, Chronic Cellars Dead Nuts and some of the Orin Swift line-up.   And there’s no question for you folks planning a Wicked Halloween Wine tasting party to have these wines on hand for some humorous ambiance.

For the discriminate wine taster—and, art aficionado, the following couple of wines would definitely make it worth getting into a costume that fits and parading over to the party:

2014 Besieged Red Blend, around $20, is produced by the well-known Ravenswood Winery of Sonoma County.  It’s a “limited release” red wine that continues to impress.  The label of course works with its three black ravens hovering over a scary looking landscape. Having three or four bottles of this wine on the bar would get me into a costume.

More importantly, the wine is dark, rich, and full of flavor.  We get aromas of blackberry, blueberry, baking spices, cigar box, tobacco, and cassis. The mouth-feel is rich and smooth with rich blackberry and chocolate coming through in the taste along with a hint of smoke.  It’s a juicy quaff with a nice finish of cooked fruits and black pepper. What’s not to like here!

It’s a classic “field blend” from Sonoma County where Petite Sirah, Carignane, Zinfandel, Syrah, Alicante Bouschet, Barbera are combined.  Over a hundred years ago, these same varietals were often grown in the same vineyard field and blended into wine vats. Five years ago, I reviewed the Besieged wine thinking it would be simply a “fruit bomb”; but it wasn’t, and it continues as an elegant, dry, and well-balanced wine. 

Another wine with rave recommendations, fitting into the Halloween mode with its very eerie label and magnificent flavor profile is the 2017 Orin Swift Palermo, $50.  Another wine to dress up for; and speaking thereof, Orin Swift dresses his labels to the hilt.  The Palermo features a Sicilian grandmother dressed in mourning, aside a mausoleum—who herself is a skeleton.

This brand new 2017 release comes with winery notes that state: “seamless assortment of classic Napa Cabernet aromas exuding from the glass—cassis, black cherries, chaparral and a touch of intriguing butterscotch. On the palate, the wine is tastefully expressive with ripe raspberry, crème caramel, bay leaf and two types of currants—red and black.; carrying its own weight through the finish, the wine’s prominent tannins will soften over time.”

In simple terms, I get aromas of cherry, flowers, and oak; flavors of berries, plum, cassis and mocha. Well balanced with big tannins (I like that a lot!) and a bright finish not heavy.  A tasty Napa Cab—no tricks here, a wonderful Halloween treat!

Still in the dark? Remember, the most blood thirsting wine on earth is made from the famous Sangiovese grape. When translated from Italian, sangiovese means “blood of Jupiter.  This is the grape which produces your favorite Chianti and/or Brunello di Montalcino in the Tuscany area.

If there’s a blind wine tasting at your next Halloween party, and you sense and taste blood notes from a glass—think Chianti. Indeed, wasn’t it Hannibal Lecter’s wine of choice when he dined on a living brain?

Don’t be scared! Enjoy your favorite blood favored wine tonight! Cheers!

Rick is still your somm-de-ghost pouring and entertaining at the usual haunted venues.  Contact him at