Wine for your Halloween Party

Reportedly Halloween  is the third biggest party day after New Year’s Eve and Super Bowl Sunday. Its not surprising with many adults wanting to drink their sweets instead of begging for them door to door. This year if you are hosting a party full of people dressed as Miley Cyrus, Walter White and Minions, you’ll need to buy a bunch of wine and nibbles to keep the party going.

There is no reason to break the bank buying expensive wine. Here are a couple of uncomplicated, inexpensive wines that will be crowd pleasers for your naughty nurse and Duck Dynasty dude and everyone in between.

First up, the folks at Gnarly Head are promoting their unpretentious, fruity Old Vine Zinfandel and Chardonnay as Gnarl-O-Ween wines. With the pumpkin packaging and easy on the wallet pricing, these wines will do the trick at Halloween.

The 2012 Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel is made with grapes grown in Lodi on vines that are up to 80 years old. Its a blood red mouthful of bombastic blackberry and black cherry. It will go well with a fist full of fun sized snickers. It will set you back about $12 a bottle.

The 2012 Gnarly Head Chardonnay is also sourced from ancient vines creaking about the flat fields of Lodi. This is no restrained white Burgundy. Hell no, this wine dresses in leather and chains even after Halloween. The honeysuckle, tropical fruit and oaky flavors will go well with that apple you just bobbed for. Its a bargain at $10.

Concannon Vineyard is also promoting its wines as a Halloween treat. They have cooked up a ghoulish recipe to pair with the  2009 Conservancy Petite Sirah. Bay Area chef Joyce Goldstein, has a “Turkish Meatballs with Smoky Eggplant Puree” recipe that reminds me of the grapes for eyeballs and spaghetti for brains trick of my childhood haunted house (OK, it will taste better). She encourages us to dress up the meatballs to look like mummies by arranging shredded mozzarella cheese over the top and placing two slices of black olives for eyes. Here is the reasonably simple recipe to prepare for your Halloween party.

Turkish Meatballs with Smoky Eggplant Puree

Time: 1.5 hours
Serves: 4-6 people


  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef, not too lean
  • 1/2 cup grated yellow onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, very finely minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne, or ½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley plus a bit more for garnish
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • Flour
  • Olive oil
  • 3 cups plain tomato sauce, (canned is just fine) or Parmalat strained tomatoes.
  • 1 cup beef broth

In a mixing bowl combine the meatball ingredients with your hands. Fry a sample meatball and taste it to make sure the seasoning is balanced. Then form all of the meat mixture into balls that are the size of a walnut. You will have about 34 to 36 meatballs.

Dip meatballs in flour. Film a large sauté pan with olive oil over high heat. Brown the meat balls, in batches, turning to brown evenly, and set them aside on a plate in or a bowl. (Leave them a bit rare as they are going to simmer in the tomato sauce. You want them to be moist, not dry. )

In another large sauté pan, warm the tomato sauce and thin with beef broth. When ready to serve, add meatballs to tomato sauce and simmer on low heat for 10 minutes to warm the meatballs through.

For best balance with the wine, the folks at Concannon encourage you to “be sure to take a good mouthful of eggplant along with each bite of meatball. The eggplant is the key ingredient in this food and wine pairing.”

Now you just need to hire the fire dancers, fill up the smoke machine and carve a few pumpkins.

What are you drinking?

Shannon Ridge Vineyards and Winery delivers quality without the elevated price

A friend of mine was serving Shannon Ridge Chardonnay at his holiday party. When I asked him why he chose it, he said, “I was looking for a Chardonnay with a traditional Napa Valley style, but without the Napa Valley price. The guy at the wine shop steered me to this Lake County wine.” 

That’s exactly what Clay Shannon, founder of Shannon Ridge Vineyards and Winery, had in mind when he bought land in Lake County just north of Napa Valley – quality without the elevated price. The high elevation and cooler climate big are ideal for growing big tannic grapes like Cab and Zin. The well-drained, rich soils full of potash, calcium and good potassium levels allow the fruit to get ripe. Equally as important, the steep sloped vineyards were didn’t come with the king’s-ransom price tags of their Napa cousins.   

Clay grew up in wine country in Healdsburg, CA. He got into the grape growing business right out of high school and established a solid business. He eventually sold his farming business to Sutter Home Winery in 1985 and worked there until 1993. He learned a on the job, growing grapes all over California. After a short and lucrative stint as an almond farmer, Clay was beckoned by the siren’s song of the grapes to return to the wine industry to start Shannon Ridge with his wife in 1995.

In the beginning, he was growing Petite Sirah and Cabernet in the red soil of Lake County and selling the grapes in long term contracts to big wineries such as Beringer Vineyards, Robert Mondavi Winery, and others. He started making small amounts of wine with winemaker Marco de Julio in 2002 and got the feel for it. In 2003, as he talked to his young children about their future, he realized he wanted a more stable financial business and decided to go full bore into the wine making business. Fast forward a hand-full of years and Shannon Ridge is now producing around 100,000 cases of wine a year.  

He embraced the challenge of transitioning from vineyard management to being a winery owner and relished the learning. “As a grower for other wineries the incentive is to grow tonnage. When making wine, the importance of yield on quality is more important. You have to focus on the quality of crop management: pull leaves, let the grapes hang the proper amount of time and don’t over crop it. It makes a huge difference in the quality of the wine.” His biggest learning, “If the wine is priced right and it tastes good, people will buy it.”  

For the Shannons, quality is rooted in sustainability. A corner-stone of the Shannon Ridge approach to sustainability is a heard of about 1,000 head of sheep that roam the vineyards. These wooly compost machines sanitize the vineyards by eating the leaves dropped, grapes missed and the weeds. With sheep hard at work, the Shannons eliminated the use of systemic types of herbicide and reduced the fungicide program. They also take the straw from the lambing barns and use it for mulch under the vines. To complete the cycle they sell grass-fed lamb to the local restaurants that buy the wine.   

Shannon Ridge makes a wide selection of wines such as Petite Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Barbera. The diversity of varietals is a vestige of planting vineyards under contract for other wineries. It’s also allowed Clay to experiment to see what worked best. Cabernet, Chardonnay and Petite Sirah are the top sellers, followed by Sauvignon Blanc and Wrangler Red, which is a fun blend of Zin, Petite Sirah, Syrah and Tempranillo.  

I tasted my way through the “Ranch Collection” line-up, enjoying the whole batch. In the cooler months I tend to drink more red than white wine, and opted to share my tasting notes for the Shannon Ridge reds.

2009 Shannon Ridge Petite Sirah Lake County

The grapes are sourced from the family’s High Valley Vineyards in Lake County. It is fermented in stainless steel and barrel aged in a mix of French and American Oak. This is the winery’s signature wine. The grapes grow particularly well in Lake County producing a wine with deep color, firm tannins and plenty of fruit.

Look The first thing I said when I pour the wine into the decanter was “Whoa, look at that color.” It splashed down the sides like liquid grape jelly; deep, vivacious and jolly royal purple as opaque as the last breath of sunset before the night goes black.
Smell The Petite Sirah has bouncy aromas of baked blueberry pie and flaky pie crust with spiced roasted beats and vanilla.  
Taste The bold blueberry, currant and vanilla flavors are balanced with firm tannins. The fruit coats the tongue in a velvet robe and the tannins grip the lips and teeth in a warm embrace. This wine pairs well with lamb, like the grass and grape fed woolies that roam the Shannon Ridge vineyards.
Price $ 24


2009 Shannon Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Lake County

 The grapes for the Lake County Cab are grown in High Valley and Red Hills appellation vineyards. They use extended maceration to get the darkest color possible and then age the wine in a mix of French and American Oak.

Look This Cab is deep plum purple with some translucence.  
Smell It has a rich nose of blackberry, black cherry and baking spices.    
Taste Jammy blueberry, stewed plums and fig with baking chocolate flavors meld with plenty of tannins that punctuate each sip. The smooth texture holds for a long finish the eases from berry to bitter. This is a steak-lovers wine. It has the pop to marry with a fat ribeye.
Price $19  


2009 Shannon Ridge Merlot North Coast

Merlot grapes grown in Lake and Mendocino counties are blended with small counts of Cab (9%) and Barbera (6%) for vibrant color and flavors.

Look This is eye popping eggplant and ruby gleaming in the glass.
Smell Full scents of cassis, black currant, pomegranate and cedar greet the nose.  
Taste Shannon Ridge makes a pleasant, easy-drinking and food-friendly Merlot with buoyant berry, black cherry flavors and a touch of bitterness. It has mild tannin on the finish and a smooth mouthfeel. A great wine for a cool night, roasted root vegetables and pork tenderloin.
Price $19  


2009 Shannon Ridge Zinfandel

 Zin is well suited for the cooler climates of Lake County. Much of the Zinfandel that Shannon Ridge grows is used in the Wrangler Red, but Clay selects some of the best fruit and blends it with 7% of Petite Sirah to make a little more than 2,000 cases of this Lake County Zin.

Look Dark garnet color foreshadows the richness of this wine.
Smell It has opulent fragrances of fig, tart cranberry, black pepper and dusty cedar bark.
Taste This is a fairly traditional California Zin with big, jammy raspberry, cola, pepper and tobacco flavors. It’s perfect with pizza, pasta or just with a conversation.
Price $19


Clay’s favorite wine and food pairings are as humble as his beginnings. “I’m a deluxe hamburger guy, and I love it with our Wrangler Red. It’s fun wine with good tannins and structure, but simple enough to drink it with a hamburger. I also our single vineyard cab and our Viognier with lamb loin chops seared with salt and pepper.” That sounds damn good to me.

If you want to try Shannon Ridge wines with your favorite meals or at your holiday parties, call your local wine shop or order online. Shannon Ridge wines are available widely throughout most U.S. states including Texas. I purchased Wrangler Red (not reviewed here) at Specs in Austin.

Shannon Ridge Vineyard and Winery provided samples of the wine for review through its PR agency, Balzac Communications.

What are you drinking?

Wine with a wild side; Quivira Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley

Crisp fall days like this make me think about hunting. I appreciate the pursuit; the romance of the struggle of man against beast at its most pure state. Hunting naturally raises an important question: what wine would go well with the fantastic quarry? What wine goes with unicorn?  For such an idyllic meal, I need wine like fresh flowing blood of Gaia, rustic and pure, with my cheek nestled on Mother Earth’s chest.

Alas, I’m not a hunter. I’m going to the store to buy something far from exotic like bison or lamb and pretend I went hunting. I’m going to grab a wine that is rustic and earthy that would go with wild game.

How about something from Quivira Vineyards and Winery, like Zinfandel? This stuff has a wild boar on the label. Zin is the wild boar of the wine world and oh man it goes well with wild game too. I called Hugh Chappelle, winemaker at Quivira, to find out more about this wine just in case you go hunting or have a thirst for a wine that is as at home in a hunting cabin as it is served on a linen table cloth.

While Mr. Chappelle was driving between vineyards inspecting the grapes before this year’s harvest, he graciously took a little time to tell me about the wine and the company mascot, Ruby. Ruby the wild boar was raised as a piglet at the winery and still lives on the property. She has a strong affinity for Zin, just like her more wild cousins that roam the hills above the valley hell-bent on pillaging the vineyard.

Quivira pays a lot of attention to its wild side. I’m not just talking about the pig. The wine is certified as biodynamic. Hugh studied native yeast fermentation in the early 1990s and prefers the straightforward approach to wine making with wild yeast fermentation and wild malolactic. He is committed to bringing fruit into the winery that doesn’t need a lot of manipulation, which means he has to do a lot of work in the vineyard. The natural touch in the vineyard means that Quivira doesn’t irrigate much to bring the acid down or additives to bring it back during the wine making.

Not only are the wines biodynamic, but Quivira also embraces the locavore movement by growing the food they serve at their farm-to-table dinners. They raise eggs, pigs and produce on the estate for the restaurants in the area. Biodiversity and self-sustainability are integral to every aspect of their operations.

Quivira is a terroir driven house. The land is the signature of the wine and not the hand of the wine maker. They go to great lengths to plant the right varietals in the right places to reach the right maturity of sugar and acidity. The Dry Creek Valley is Mecca for Zinfandel. The Quivira vineyard established in the in the 1980s had existing Zin vines that were originally planted in the 1930s. The longevity is a testament to the suitability. The rugged character of the land comes through in the wine.

2008 Quivira Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley

Look This wine is dark garnet at the depth and ruby red at the edges. It has the clarity of a Pinot, and none of the inkiness of some Zins.
Smell Spiced rhubarb pie, served with a side of plum and raisin compote come through in this bold, rustic and fruity nose.
Taste Quivira comes on with a rush of smoked raspberry, anise, bitter chocolate and black pepper with ample alcohol with sleek acidity. This is a good wine to warm you after a day tracking wild boar in the woods.
Price $20


Hugh says the ideal place to open the bottle of Quivira Zinfandel is on the back patio on a lazy weekend afternoon with family and friends. Zinfandel and grilled food are a perfect pair. Just don’t serve it with the pet boar, Ruby.

Quivira Vineyards and Winery provided a sample of the wine for review through its PR agency, Folsom + Associates.

What are you drinking?