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All they have to do is love wine.
That's right, wine. Try this one on for size: Once the kids have finished scouring the neighborhood for Blow Pops and tiny Snickers bars, throw on your best vintner getup -- a tweed jacket and a witty tie if you favor the Europeans, a pair of jeans and some turquoise jewelry if California is your thing -- and, duly disguised, stage your own grownup version of trick-or-treat. With wine.
Enter half-bottles -- 375ml versions of the standard bottle size -- in which a whole range of different wines can be found. In fact, many major producers, in most wine-producing countries, release wine in half-bottles. No need to skimp on quality simply because you've gone down in format. In some cases, the very best wines available come in smaller-size bottles -- Sauternes, for example, the great dessert wine of Bordeaux.
Truth is, sweet wines in general are terrific candidates for grownup trick-or-treating. One, because they make fine gifts anyhow; and two, because they're sweet, a sophisticated legal-drinking-age counterpart to what the kids are loading up on. Maturity does not mean that a youthful sweet tooth must be surrendered, especially on Halloween.
However, confining yourself to "stickies," as sweet wines are sometimes called, isn't entirely necessary. Any of a number of regular reds and whites come in half-bottles. Check with your wine merchant, as these represent an excellent opportunity to sample quality wines at a slightly lower price.
Champagnes and other sparkling wines also come in halves, as well as in an even smaller format, the 187ml "split." See if you can track down Pommery Pop or Baby Piper, two recent efforts by respected Champagne houses (Pommery and Piper Heidsieck, respectively) to release their bubbly in wee bottles. Both even come with their own straws.
So stop seething over your vanished childhood, and get your greedy mitts off the Bazooka and the Blow Pops. This year, figure out how to trick-or-treat like a wine-loving grownup. If you think about it, you don't really even need the kids.
A Wine Spectator Online Selection of Small-Format Trick-or-Treat Stickies
Here's a rundown of sweet wines that would serve as excellent trick-or-treat fare for grownups. More than 500 cases were produced of each wine, and all are rated 85 or above on Wine Spectator's 100-point scale.
Kracher Trockenbeerenauslese Neusiedlersee Grande Cuvée Nouvelle Vague No. 10 1998 (98, $55)
Halloween is a time for monsters, and here's a good one. A great, big, powerful wine in a small bottle. Plus, just saying "Trockenbeerenauslese" sends a chill up the spine.
Chateau Reynella Tawny Port McClaren Vale Old NV (92, $18)
Port is, in many respects, both definitely autumnal and seriously Halloween-y. Rich, somber, relaxing -- the definitive form of candy for grownups. And there's a good chance that this one will outlive the Tootsie Rolls of 2001.
Jackson Riesling Marlborough Botrytis Single Vineyard 1999 (93, $25)
Botrytis is a very Halloween-ish occurrence: perfectly healthy grapes are permitted to develop the ghoulish "noble rot," in which they become frighteningly shriveled, thus concentrating their sugars. This one is a terrific example and a pretty good buy.
Eola Hills Gewürztraminer Oregon Late Harvest Vin d'Epice 1998 (90, $16)
Oregon is not generally regarded as a scary place, and Gewürztraminer is perhaps the least terrifying grape variety. So why throw this one into the mix? Because late-harvest Gewürz is good. There's also some unproven speculation that it can ward off evil spirits. You be the judge.
Bonny Doon Muscat California Vin de Glacière 1998 (89, $16)
Winemaker Randall Grahm is a Halloween kind of guy -- his wines usually evoke a smile, and his devotion to his craft is downright scary. This one, a blend of several offbeat grape varieties, requires a little bravery, but as any god trick-or-treater knows, it's the threat of the trick that leads to the glories of the treat. Plus, 13,000 cases were made, so there's plenty to go around.
Thierry Despres Monbazillac Grande Maison Cuvée Mademoiselle 1998 (89, $13)
Le trick or treat? Why not? The ancient Celtic celebration of Halloween, after all, began in Britain and northern France. And in the late '90s, jack-o'-lanterns and Halloween regalia began to appear in Paris. American culture sweeping the globe? Or the French rediscovering their Druidic roots? Regardless, Monbazillac is a pretty interesting wine. Hailing from Bergerac, near Bordeaux, it can approach the quality of fine Sauternes, at a much lower price.
Antinori Umbria Muffato della Sala 1997 (87, $35)
Halloween in Italy? Maybe not yet on the American scale, but dolcetto o scherzetto -- Italian for "trick or treat" -- has been heard more often of late, despite some claims that Halloween is a corrupting pagan ritual with Satanic undertones. This view doesn't seem to bother Italian grownups, who have been known to celebrate the eve of All Saints' Day, a national holiday (Nov. 1).
Château de l'Engarran Coteaux du Languedoc Cuvée Ste.-Cécile 1998 (86, $11)
If you've got your ear to the ground, you know that there's serious bargain action in the Languedoc, France's vast southern winemaking region. Here's a dessert wine that won't bust the bank, and that deviates a tad from the robust reds and rich whites for which Languedoc has become known.
Compiled by Alison Napjus, associate tasting coordinator
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