It’s that time of year when wine writers, bloggers, apps, bars, etc., try to create pairings of wine and candy. I’m not immune, as my bar manager and I created one for Jet (incidentally, I’m most proud of the Gruner Veltliner and Sour Gummy Worms…). While it may seem a bit silly, insignificant, and self-serving (and, well, it is!), it is also fun. Pairings with snack foods, comfort foods and candy help make wine seem more accessible to a broader public. So, I’m all for it. But, not everyone gets into the candy quite so much and if, like me, you are more likely to celebrate Halloween with a spooky book or movie, then why not pair your wine with that?
Pairing with a “thing” or a “thought” is both similar and different from pairing with a food. While pairing with foods, wine texture and structure are very important features. For instance, I typically prefer a rounder, creamier texture with vegetables, and a firmer, more austere texture with fats, while high acid does not pair well with spice, but pairs nicely with fat. In literary, musical, or cinematic pairings, the idea of texture, structure, and flavor remain important, but more viscerally so. Perhaps more important is the power of those factors as well as taste and, in particular, scent to evoke memory or experience.
Hence the pairing suggested by my husband: Ouled Thaleb red blend (Cab Sauv and Grenache) from Morocco and the movie Hellraiser. His thoughts here involved the visual play on Pinhead (the weird character with pins in his head) and the repeating along the right-hand side of the wine label. But, it also played on the scents of cedar, sandalwood, and leather in the wine, which conjured the puzzle box and ancient magic and incantations of the film, as did the very words “Ouled Thaleb”.
Along similar lines, one of Jet’s customers offered a pairing that drew on the wine’s characteristics to elicit another time and place. He paired our Summit Pinot Noir from Bodega Volcanes de Chile with Mozart’s Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) from Mozart’s Requiem. For him, “the volcanic earth and smoke flavors” of the Pinot Noir evoke Judgment Day.
My choice for a Halloween wine pairing revolves around imagery and history: Marchesi Biscardo Corvina from Italy and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”. It might seem self-evident that this choice revolved around the wine’s label – which features a crow, a member of the Corvidae family – and the main character of Poe’s poem, a Raven (also a member of the Corvidae family). But, that would be a bit too simplistic. The visuals are very important, but the connection between both corvids stems also from the name of the grape (Corvina), the setting of the vineyard (Verona), and the literary trope through which corvids indicate foreboding.
This wine is made from 100% Corvina grapes sourced from the Valpolicella region of the Veneto, where it thrives. The grape is commonly considered to be named after the Crow, which must be a diminutive form of Corvus (the crow’s genus name) found in a dialect of the Veneto. The thick-skinned grape is said to resemble the Crow in color, with lustrous black toned with blue and purple (such as is shown on the Marchesi Biscardo label. However, the grape is also known as Cruina, which means “unripe” in dialectical Italian – and Corvina is a late-ripening grape. “Corvina” is also the name of a fish, though it seems far less likely that the name refers to a fish than to a bird – particularly as it is a bird that appears on the label. To make matters even more confusing, there are other Passerines (birds of the order Passeriformes – to which Corvidae also belong) whose species name is corvina. But, these are found in Africa and Central and South America, making them less likely to be equated with the Corvina grape of the Veneto. We can, I think, safely attribute the grape and the bird on the label with the crow.
The Marchesi Biscardo winery is located in Verona, which featured as the setting for Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”. The significance for this pairing is Shakespeare’s use of crow imagery. In “Romeo and Juliet”, the crow is used in several acts as imagery for unattractiveness – as when Romeo compares the superior beauty of Juliet amongst the other women as a dove among crows. But Shakespeare used crows – and other members of the Corvidae family, including ravens and rooks – as harbingers of night, malaise, death, and evil in other plays. For instance in Macbeth (III, ii, 50-4):
“—Light thickens; and the crow
Makes wing to th’rooky wood;
Good things of day begin to droop and drowse;
While Night’s black agents to their preys do rouse.”
Image from the “Crows of Shakespeare”, Jemima Blackburn 1899
Shakespeare’s use of Corvidae in a sense of night, evil, malcontent, and death continues a long history of their use as liminal figures between the living and the dead – possibly stemming from their carrion-eating behavior; such behavior is referenced in a verse from the 9th Century “Anglo-Saxon Chronicle”:
“ They left behind them, The corse to devour, The sallowy kite, And the swart raven,
With horned nib, And the dusky vultur, Eme white-tailed The corse to enjoy.”
Shakespeare, during his lifetime, would have been keenly aware of the association between Corvidae and death in the contemporary image of the “Plague Doctor”, which featured a beaked mask that contained perfume.
By the 19th Century, the trope of linking Corvidae with “dark”, generally speaking, was well ensconced. This is also when one of the most famous English examples was written – Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”:
“Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.””
Of course, pairing wine with “Hellraiser” is not exactly “high-brow”. However, that is probably just as Mozart and Poe would have prefererred.