Thursday, October 1, 2009

Wine Perfect for Football and Tailgating? Oh yes!

It might be heresy to propose this, but when I'm tailgating before (and, to be honest, during) a football game, I prefer my beverage of choice to be wine, not beer.

I can't be the only one out there with this inclination, so this column is dedicated to you, my group of football fans willing to risk the occasional raised eyebrow to sip as you please.

Naturally, the criteria for a tailgate-appropriate wine is different from my guidelines for regular weekday wines or those for special occasions.

Football-ready wines should be approachable and should not require an in-depth analysis after each sip. These wines should instantly comfort and bring a smile to my face, then quickly allow me to move on to chiding the opponent or heckling other fans.

The choices also should be affordable and typical tailgate food-friendly.

With this criteria in mind -- and knowing that the first glass gets tipped back earlier than most other sipping occasions -- I lean toward bold yet easy-drinking reds that work well with burgers, barbecue and wings, and softer, fuller-bodied varietal (single grape) whites and white blends that show a nice dose of acidity for classic items like chips and creamy dip or guacamole.

For burgers, barbecue and wings

Cline, Zinfandel, 2007 CA ($10). This easy-drinking red Zinfandel (not to be confused with blush wines or White Zinfandel) has a gorgeous nose of vanilla due to oak aging, with black cherry and raspberry flavors that will sing with barbecue.

Torbreck "Cuvee Juveniles" 2008, Barossa Valley, Australia ($17). The Grenache, Shiraz, Mouvedre or "GSM" blend lends a baked blueberry nose and raisin, plum and cocoa notes on the palate that are not quite as powerful as many Shiraz from the same region, making it perfect for daytime sipping.

Yellow + Blue Malbec ($12). Made from organic grapes, this Malbec will not only stand up to chewy, meaty textures, but it's incredibly convenient. It comes housed in a soft Tetrapak (think juice box for adults) that's easy to lug around (it weighs less than two pounds) and won't break. Bonus: It has two more glasses of wine in it versus a regular glass bottle, making it great for larger groups. Available at Whole Foods.

For chips, dip and guac:

Misiones de Rengo, Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Central Valley, Chile ($11). The crisp green apple and lemon-lime notes of this wine are grounded by slate-y minerality. Its hefty dose of acidity balances the creaminess of dips and guacamole. Best served well chilled. Available soon at

Next, Riesling, 2008, Washington State ($12). Slightly sweet and soft nose doesn't overpower. Juicy rush of apricot, melon and lemon zest comes out with a dry finish. This wine is certified organic to boot. Great with fish tacos in addition to salty chips and mango salsa.

Alois Lageder, Pinot Grigio, 2008, Alto Adige, Italy ($17). Tipping the high end of our tailgating wines, this savory Pinot Grigio sets itself apart from mundane, flabby examples of the varietal with its subtle smokiness, bright minerality and slight creaminess.

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How to Pick a Summer Wine: The Gentler, Lighter Side of Wine

Summer’s soaring temps beg you to step away from heavy Cabernets and check out the gentler, lighter side of wine. When choosing the perfect summer wine for your outdoor engagement party or wedding, think light, crisp, refreshing--and because people tend to drink more in the heat--lower in alcohol. Nothing more prettily suggests summer than a dry (i.e. not sweet) rose. Avoid the simple, syrupy versions and try French roses from the Mourvèdre grape or roses made using the Saignee method for more complexity. Pick wines from countries where you imagine the locals sipping leisurely at sidewalk cafés while basking in the sun, like Spain. A Spanish fave is Albarino from the Rias Baixas region. Made to drink young, Albarino is a crisp, white wine with intense fruit, lively acidity and generally a lower level of alcohol. It pairs perfectly with summer foods from seafood to grilled vegetables. But you don’t need to swear off red wine for summer. Look for light bodied wines like Pinot Noir from Oregon or a Valpolicella from Italy, both capable of standing up to barbequed foods. And don’t be afraid to put a slight chill on your red wine. It is summer after all!

Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain, “Exceptional with Everything” Oh Really?

There's nothing we love more than a challenge. It's in our makeup. We're two women, thirties. One Indian. One Filipina. The first, founder and CEO of a business in the arguably male-dominated wine world. The second, building experience to be a future proprietess of a wine store. Add to this: In New York City. So when presented with the opportunity to play wine and food critic for a night—to pair Rías Baixas Albariño wines, proclaimed to be "exceptional with everything" with Mercat’s offerings —it is impossible and simply against every ounce of who we are, to refuse.

Mercat means “market” in Catalan, the language of the northern Spanish region where owner, Jaime Reixach, is from and where the restaurant’s menu draws its inspiration. The albariños we’ll be drinking also originate from the northern region, and so we’re already anticipating more perfect wine pairings than tragic mismatches.

It’s a beautiful warm Thursday night—and we are tasting two Albariño wines: Alba Rosa from Martinez Serrantes and Pazo San Mauro, both 2006 vintages. We take our time with each wine—assessing them alone and then side by side. At the end, we agree that both are delightful: the Alba Rosa is sparkling with surprising depth while the Pazo San Mauro would bring life to our springtime picnic. Further, we imagine that if each wine were to be personified, they might just be these two ladies, described as such:

Alba Rosa Martinez Serantes Albariño | Scarlett Johansson: "Sparkling with surprising depth"

Alba Rosa Martinez Serantes Albariño | Scarlett Johansson: "Sparkling with surprising depth"
This golden blonde hued wine gives an almost effervescent quality that shoots racy brightness into your mouth. It has the usual grassiness and citrus qualities one expects from this wine. The reason why this wine fits Scarlett most is because it has the quality of lightness but comes with surprising depth of character and fullness in body. The comparison would be perfect were the wine to show great legs, but its light-bodied, lower alcohol nature doesn’t allow it.

Pazo San Mauro Albariño | Cameron Diaz: “Livens up your springtime picnic”

Pazo San Mauro Albariño | Cameron Diaz: “Livens up your springtime picnic”
Cameron would be a fun addition to any springtime outing. Her lightheartedness would make everyone smile and this wine does the same. The light yellow straw color gives way to granny smith apples, peaches, melon, and citrus scents that jump at your nose, smelling like springtime in a glass. This wine begs to be explored further. The crisp and pleasantly tart apple is balanced with pear and makes it the perfect brunch wine.
Now, we move on to the heart of our challenge: Exceptional with everything? Oh really? How do these two beauties handle themselves in company? After the three and a half hours of glorious sipping, chewing, and chatting, among ourselves and the restaurant staff, here are our findings:

No surprise, our lovely wines get along splendidly with their classic and traditional partners: we have raves for the nicely seasoned patatas bravas—not too spicy, not too garlicky—and the padrones/blistered shishito peppers, the char and oil offset by the tartness of the wines. One of us goes wild for the Canelons de Verdura/eggplant wrapped spring vegetables, manchego, and cranberry reduction. And then Chef Lowder sends over Trencat d’Ous/mushroom with salsa verde topped with a fried egg, which again, goes splendidly with our wines. Even the suckling pig/Cochinillo, which we think will surely clash, in fact becomes the surprise of the evening. Like the beauty and the beast, our wines and the pig make an unlikely but harmonious pair.

We ask ourselves for the last time: Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain: Exceptional with Everything?

If not for being the gluttonous bottomless pits that we are, we would certainly have answered YES with an exclamation point. But since we order those two desserts—Torrades Sta. Teresa/fried bread with lemon yogurt and Pa Amb Oli Xocolata/bread, olive oil, and chocolate, our answer must be: Almost. These two desserts with our two Albariños — are disastrous.

Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain: Exceptional with almost Everything.

--Anu Karwa and Marie Estrada

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