No tricks, just treats for Halloween wines

(written for the Los Altos Town Crier)

Bellows and boos, Halloween draws near!
Raise a glass with friends and a ghoulish cheer!


At our house, Oct. 31 has become a night to get together with other families for an autumn shindig. While some of the adults make the neighborhood rounds with the kids, others stay home to pass out goodies. Then it’s all back together again at the end of the trick-or-treating session. As the costume-clad kiddos sort candy and swap stories, the adults enjoy treats of our own.

In honor of the spooky evening, I like to serve wines with mysterious appeal – adding to the general sense of suspense that comes with Halloween.

There needn’t be any mystery in choosing appropriate wines for your festivities, however. Los Altos-based Draeger’s Market wine consultant Gregory Peebles recommended two unexpected and alluring wines for the hallowed eve. And the wine steward at Andronico’s in Rancho Shopping Center, Kristopher O’Rourke, provided a great choice for those shopping that market’s wine aisles.

SPARKLING SURPRISE

Peebles’ first recommendation is the 2013 Maximin Grünhäuser Brut Riesling ($41.99). Peebles believes that because this is a sparkling Riesling, it will be a surprising treat for all guests.

“Made using the traditional champagne process, called ‘méthode champenoise,’ this Riesling is enticing and electric. Wonderful fruit characteristics of apple, pear, nectarine, peach make this wine a sparkling star,” he said.

For a red wine option, Peebles recommends the 2014 I. Brand & Family Cabernet Franc ($29.99).

“This small-lot, single-vineyard Cabernet Franc has bewitching aromas of African violet,” he said. “This wine is versatile and elegant, with flavors of ripe blueberry and herbs on the palate.”




WICKEDLY DELICIOUS

From Andronico’s wine shelves, wine merchant O’Rourke recommends the 2012 Carne Humana Napa Valley red wine ($34.99).

“The wine has a perfectly eerie name for the evening, but what is in the bottle is just as wonderful,” he said.

Carne Humana is a wickedly delicious blend of Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Petit Verdot and Syrah. Who’d have thought this unorthodox mix could be so good? It’s masterful: fragrant and voluptuous, loads of dark chocolate and licorice on the nose, lashings of blackberry and anise notes and a lingering finish.

“If you’re able to score some of the Halloween trick-or-treating chocolate yourself, this is the perfect wine to pair with the candy,” O’Rourke added.



Cheeses and nuts would be wonderful with these wines. I also like to make a warm dinner for eating in stages and on the go. In years past, I’ve kept a crockpot of soup or chili going all evening.

This year I plan to make Parsnip and Pancetta Risotto (see recipe at right). The ideal-for-an-October-evening flavors pair well with the wines recommended here. Plus, it’s a dish that can happily balance on laps for those giving out treats and admiring costumes.



PARSNIP AND PANCETTA RISOTTO

  • 1 pound parsnips, cored and diced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup cubed pancetta (approximately 3 ounces)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 medium leeks, white part diced
  • 2 cups Arborio rice
  • Small pinch saffron
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 5 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, freshly grated
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Parboil parsnips in water for 3-5 minutes, then place on paper towel to drain. In separate pot, heat wine, chicken broth and saffron. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

In large sauté pan, brown pancetta in small amount of olive oil over medium heat. Remove and drain pancetta. Add additional olive oil to pan and sauté leeks, garlic and drained parsnips for 5 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Pour remaining olive oil into pan. Add rice and stir to coat with olive oil. Slowly ladle in 1 cup at a time of hot broth mixture, stirring constantly and maintaining an even simmer. As soon as broth is absorbed, add another ladleful (cooking time should be approximately 18 minutes).

Fold in parsnip, leek, garlic mixture and pancetta. Add butter and grated cheese. Serve immediately and offer additional cheese.

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