There is a house in my neighbourhood with five or six inflatable, life-size zombies on its front lawn. I should probably say I merely believe they are life-size; I've never seen a real zombie, unless you count the rum cocktail, which is made with a brain-numbing three parts of rum (white, dark and amber), inspiring the name.
One of the pneumatic lawn zombies is lying on the ground, making like he is crawling out of an inflatable grey coffin. Fantastic stuff. It's like Beelzebub throwing a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade - without the helium or strings.
Don't you love Halloween? I love it for the pure childish joy, the sense of community, the miniature Oh Henry! bars and, of course, the Scotch and beer.
Oct. 31 is a lousy night to be cooking a proper dinner. Too many interruptions at the front door. I prefer to phone for pizza as the last stragglers come a-knocking. But before that, to pass the time and enjoy myself while holding vigil at the door, I like to enjoy an aperitif with a tapas plate of Oh Henry! bars and Skittles. Usually, it's whisky, one of milk chocolate's best partners. But this year I'll switch to an autumnal brew for the sake of change.
Great Lakes Brewery in Toronto has been making a limited-time Pumpkin Ale for three years now. It sold so well in Ontario during the past two years that this year it's being "exported" to Manitoba. It's brewed with pumpkin, nutmeg, clove, cinnamon and allspice - flavours found in a good pumpkin pie. But it's dry and refreshing. The notes are subtle and subordinate to the main ale taste, so if you weren't paying much attention, you might not notice. I like that.
The pumpkins for the beer were specially grown in summer (in time for fall brewing) by a farmer in Aylmer, Ont. And for Oct. 31 ambience, the oversized 650-millilitre brown bottle, sold individually, comes with a painted-on jack-o'-lantern label. The per-bottle price is $4.95 in Ontario (LCBO No. 67710) and $6.25 in Manitoba (MLCC No. 9656).
There are a handful of other craft-brewed pumpkin beers around the country, including Highballer Pumpkin Ale from Grand River Brewing in Ontario (www.grandriverbrewing.com) and St-Ambroise Pumpkin Ale from McAuslan Brewing of Quebec (www.mcauslan.com).
I fear that you're going to recoil at my next choice, also a beer, because it's a high-volume, well-advertised product. But if you're a fan of light beer, consider giving the new Molson Canadian 67 a chance. I'm glad I did. The number in the name refers to the calorie count in a regular-size bottle, about half the beer-belly risk of a glass of pinot grigio. I'm not counting calories, but sometimes I like to monitor alcohol.
This brew contains 3 per cent alcohol as opposed to the 4-per-cent standard of light beer in Canada, which makes more sense, don't you think? Four always struck me as neither here nor there. Three is enough to give this beer body, good texture and a certain length of flavour, but it's also light enough to make it a more relevant alternative for guests who want to leave your place sober. It's clean and nicely balanced. I like it better than regular Canadian. Currently available in Ontario and Atlantic Canada, it will be rolled out nationally by the end of November. One beef: I wish lower alcohol could mean lower price: It's $19.95 for a 12-pack.
But back to Halloween for a moment. One of the few dry-red-wine choices that doesn't fall apart with chocolate is California zinfandel. Released today through Vintages in Ontario (and available in the three western provinces) is 7 Deadly Zins 2007 ($24.95 in Ontario, No. 59311; $26.91 in B.C., No. 337402; $24.75 in Manitoba, No. 337402) from Lodi producer Michael David.
The name may be a hackneyed pun, but I'll cut Michael and David Phillips slack here because they actually grew up Catholic (and hence were drilled as schoolboys about things like sloth and envy). The wine also is blended from the fruit of seven old-vine vineyards. Old vines yield rich fruit, and this 2007 vintage represents the best of the old-school California style, super-ripe and slightly raisin-like, but with good balancing zing from spice and acidity.
If you've steered clear of this wine in the past because of the corny name, give the 2007 a chance; it's the best ever, offering remarkable structure and harmony for the price. I would have named it after just one of the deadly sins. I would have named it Lusty.
Is the Halloween theme getting tired yet? Can I add one more spooky name for the sake of white-wine drinkers? Also released today in Ontario is Tamar Ridge Devil's Corner Riesling 2008 ($18.95, No. 138289). It's from Tasmania, home of the Tasmanian Devil, an endangered carnivorous marsupial with a fearsome screech and fangs. This wine is a burst of citrus, with a deceptively sweet core that turns totally dry on the finish. It's mouth-coating and laced with a hint of minerals. It should pair reasonably well with tart jelly beans or Skittles Sour.
A slightly better riesling, though I wouldn't pair it with candy, is Helfrich Riesling 2007 ($16.95, No. 141861) from Alsace. Light medium-bodied, it has a core of peach-like flavour, a hint of minerals and a nuance of smoke on the tingly, very crisp finish. A terrific aperitif and versatile food wine.
The splurge-worthy standout in today's Vintages release is Le Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2007 ($59.95, No. 700922). This corpulent red from France's Rhône Valley shows great concentration, with a wallop of spice and notes of dark fruits, licorice and roast beef juices. It's drinkable now, but should gain complexity in a decade with proper cellaring.
As a reward for making it to the end of this column, I've saved the best-value wine of today's Ontario release for last. It's an excellent medium-bodied Tuscan red called Monte Antico Sangiovese Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($14.95, No. 69377).