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Hold That Wine!
Starting wine lineup for Super Bowl Sunday...

By Jonathon Alsop
February 1, 2005

The homemade balloon drop is all set to go. I rigged it in the living room with the help of an office stapler and lots of that blue, easy-to-remove painter's tape. One tug on this end of the tape, and as many as a dozen balloons will cascade -- sort of -- from above when the Patriots win Super Bowl XXXIX.

Run this wine into the end zone! Popping the champagne cork of victory is a great sports tradition, although pouring and spraying it on each other just screams frat boy. Champagne pros will warn you never to pop the cork vigorously since it's somehow shocking to the wine. Only problem is, that's half the fun sometimes.

Common sense warns against shooting the cork skyward lest someone's eye get put out. On the other hand, if you have a wine that explodes like a cannon, it seems inevitable that by the end of a Super Bowl evening it's going to be used like one.

Wine is not the traditional beverage of choice for sports fans. After a couple of hours of basketball, my friends and I are naturally looking for a light refreshing carbonated beverage like beer or sparkling water. That connection carries over into television and the stadium, where no vendor has ever uttered the words "Ice cold chardonnay here."

But as sports fans change -- I'm thinking specifically here of pre-Early Show Hannah Storm and Michele Tafoya -- their celebratory habits will change too. Back in the 20th century when Super Bowl parties were all men, you could probably serve nothing but pilsner and wurst and not think twice.

In the interests of post-modern good sportsmanship, I'm upgrading my all-America wine list for the game.

Calling The Play

Westside Red goes deep for great concentrated flavor and spice 2001 Westside Red "Garnet" (about $18, distributed by Carolina Wines, 781-278-2000 and Union Wines, 773-254-9000)

Unless I'm mistaken, "westside red" was a play Knute Rockne made famous at Notre Dame. I think it's the one where the little guys run around while the big guys beat on each other.

This delightful red blend from Paso Robles is made from three classic French grapes: syrah, grenache, and mourvedre. They form the core of most famous Rhone wines from the south of France. Winemaker Austin Hope references Cote-Rotie (coat row-TEE) as an inspiration and, by extension, a goal, and it is a high bar. Garnet is very bright and beautifully aromatic. It smells like herbes de Provence and white pepper. It would be beautiful with rosemary lamb shanks or even something lighter, like a roast chicken.

Three's A Charm

2002 Three Thieves Zinfandel (about $10 for one liter, distributed by Skurnik Wines, 516-677-9300 and Maverick Wines, 630-860-4600)

Technically, it's probably illegal in many places to drink wine and "tailgate" at the same time. Be that as it may, cheap and portable are two traits you look for in a tailgating wine. Three Thieves comes in a bulbous little one-liter jug with a twist-off cap. The combination of the two things will keep people feeling comfortably cheap for quite a while, but inside, the wine is anything but cheap. Three Thieves is a real red zinfandel with fruit and spice and even a little nice soft tannin.

The Long Fruit Bomb

2002 Renwood Zinfandel (about $10) and 2002 Renwood "Old Vine" Zinfandel (about $20, both available from Horizon Beverage, 800-696-2377 and Empire Wines, 404-875-9463)

Throwing the bomb -- the long pass -- in football represents far more than just transporting the ball down the field. It suggests a certain risk and boldness, intentionally putting it all out there for thousands of people to see. Renwood's zinfandel achieves this with over-the-top ripe and radiant fruit, pleasing layers of wood, smoke, and spice, and it's a bargain as well. I see the intro-level "Sierra Series" at Trader Joe's around $8 all the time. If you find the "Old Vine" for under $20, buy!

Sparkling In Victory

NV Gruet Blanc de Noirs (about $13, distributed nationally)

Slowly but surely, this tremendous bargain is growing to be my favorite new (since 1984) American sparkler of all. No one thinks of New Mexico as prime wine real estate, but maybe we should. Next year, let's have the Super Bowl in Taos.


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