Category Archives: What We’re Drinking

Baseball and Wine: The race to the pennant

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There is a saying every spring when it comes to the boys of summer: “Hope springs eternal.” Doubtful that 18th century English poet, Alex Pope, imagined that his words would be immortalized in baseball “hall of fame” expressions, but we hope he’d be proud. Baseball, the great American pastime, runs from the beginning of March to early October. Most teams have World Series dreams that begin early and  fade or grow as the season heads into the home stretch.

While many turn to beer and other beverages, more and more sports fans are taking the wine route as they root, root, root their teams to their pennant berths. I had a friend of mine, a San Francisco Giants fan, who always broke out a bottle of Sonoma County zinfandel for good luck. As the season came to its crescendo, she would go for the more expensive stuff. Baseball and wine, like any good match, goes together quite well. Here are my picks for the best wines with baseball that I will be pouring as my team heads into October.

I’d like to start with a bubbly, not too expensive but plenty good to whet the appetite and get the rooting lungs going. Just imagine watching the pre-game warm up with a glass of Domaine Chandon Brut from California. Elegant and tasteful, with sharp crisp acidity, this one would match well with sashimi, raw oysters, caviar and the like. Of course, one could just drink it by itself at the sound of the National Anthem. The first pitch is a strike. “What, the ump called it a ball!!!” Let the games begin. Real fans know that the first three innings are a dance between the pitchers and opposing lineups.  As more food comes to the buffet table,  I always make sure to have Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon on hand. You may say, “Wilfred, you are so boring.” Well, I just want to be pragmatic and if I don’t have these two on the back bar, someone will ask for them, I can guarantee that!

Dollars play a part in what I choose and this is the kind of event that I don’t really want to overspend.  Everyone will pour their beverages and plate their food with their eyes glued to the tube or, more likely, there will be a baseball argument of some sort. Food and wine play a supporting role here. My Chardonnay choice: The 2012 Veramonte Chardonnay from the cool Casablanca Valley in Chile. This wine is very good and quite affordable. You can even buy a few bottles extra, in case the game goes into extra innings. Cabernet needs to be easy to drink, yet definitive in its flavors. For this season I recommend the pert and clearly defined 2011 Penley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from the Coonawarra area of Australia. Now get ready for the final leg of the pennant chase. May the best team win!

Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon: Elegant, Wonderful and Timeless

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My first cab? I think it was a mid-1960’s Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve. My dad always enjoyed a glass of BV Georges on special occasions and somewhere around the age of 15 I must have taken a sip or two when he wasn’t looking. When I started drinking wine on my own, I discovered the 1968 BV Georges and the 1967 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard. Like all top wines of that era, they were elegant and stately. Over the next three decades California  ratcheted up of the power in this varietal. By the mid 1990’s, California Cabernet Sauvignon had evolved into monsters of the midway. Decidedly full bodied and tannic, they commanded attention and could overpower meals they were supposed to support.  Only the finest producers knew how to tame the new-age Cabernet Sauvignon, which leads me to Jordan Vineyards & Winery.
The winery comments, “When the first vintage (1976) of Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon debuted, it was an immediate success due to its elegance and early approachability, as well as its affinity for food.” As a retailer in San Francisco, I saw the first-hand reactions by my customers as they told me how much they loved this wine. The winery knew the style of wine that this area was destined to make and never wavered in their efforts to be true. While some wineries went bigger and bigger, Jordan maintained its balance. This is why I have always been a big fan of the Jordan Cabernets.

In a recent staff tasting at Wine.com, I poured the 2010 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon. I found the wine elegant and full of finely-tuned red fruit aromas and flavors. Aside from breaking the wine down into its components, the most important aspect of the wine was its completeness. It was not imposing or over-the-top. Isn’t providing pleasure one of the goals of a wine? As with this moment in time, I have never poured a Jordan Cabernet that was not appreciated by all. I had been drinking California Cabernet for more than a decade before the 1976 debuted in 1980, and while it may not have been my first Cabernet, it is what I am drinking and serving as often as I can. The Jordan Cabernet is elegant, wonderful and timeless.

Experiencing Rioja

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Let’s take a trip to Rioja. The three hour drive from Madrid to Haro, the westernmost city in the district, is well worth the trip. This area is a natural for fine dining: known for lettuces, peppers, onions, artichokes, asparagus, beans, peas, goat, beef and sausage making. Then there is the wine.

The magnificent and internationally acclaimed Rioja longs to be poured into a glass. Rioja is available in white (Blanco), rosé (Rosado) and of course red (Tinto). The white, made from Viura, and rosé, crafted from Garnacha, are fine wines, but I choose to spend most of my money on the Crianza.

Why is Rioja so cool? The wine is incredibly versatile and food-friendly. Plentiful in the marketplace, Rioja is ready to be paired with any cuisine, from classic American fried chicken to Sichuan chicken. Rioja has what it takes to make the experience memorable so feel free to experiment. The notion that “one must serve Spanish food with Rioja” is as old a tale as red wine with meat and white wine with fish. Go on and draw from the garden, search the pantry and grab the butcher’s or fish monger’s choice of the day before you crack open a bottle of Rioja.

My personal pick is the 2010 Cune Crianza. This wine is fresh, fruity and substantial. Some tannins for firmness on the palate, yet nice and rounded in the finish;  perfect for a buffet while relaxing in the backyard with family and friends. In the end, one does not have to visit Northern Spain to enjoy the Rioja experience.

Free the muscat

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Trends come and go, but most are fun and some are important. Over the last few years, Muscat has picked up global attention. A lot of this stuff  is sweet and fizzy and oh so easy to drink. But Moscato has not always been a trend. In it’s home base of Piedmont, Italy, it is known as Moscato d’Asti, and this wine has been in vogue for some time. While I have often enjoyed the sugar babies that are sweet and fizzy, my vote goes to the dried versions and that is why I would like to free the muscat.

Recently our team met with Master of Wine Olivier Humbrecht, and tasted several of his wines, including the 2012 Domaine Zind Humbrecht Muscat (Vin d’Alsace). I found the wine absolutely charming and stylish. With just a smidgen of sugar at 5 grams/liter (consumer threshold is around 6-7 grams), the wine stays between the stages of dry to barely sweet. In this area of sweetness, the wine can perform wonders with savory dishes like Szechuan Scallops on a b bed of noodles, as well with a faintly sweet dessert like Linzertorte, a common dish in Eastern Europe.

So I say, “Let us free the Muscat.” Enjoy this wine with some of your favorite foods and open a world of wine and food pleasures that you may have never known.

Grilling: Cabernet, Rib Eye of Beef and beyond

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Right now I am thinking that I really would enjoy a perfectly grilled rib eye of beef (a similar cut to entrecôte in France). I can still remember the incredible one I enjoyed with my good friend Peter Chai at Restaurant Saint-Julien in Bordeaux many years ago. The kitchen produced a steak so bloody good that its memory remains indelible in my brain. On that day in the Médoc we drank a whole bottle of Bordeaux at lunch (well, I drank ¾ of the bottle). Now my palate years later is demanding that I re-create that moment from the past. This thought became more intense after I boarded a plane from Bordeaux just a day ago. I had just spent five days with judges from the Los Angeles International Wine Competition at the Bordeaux Le Fete (June 25th to 29th) drinking large glasses of Bordeaux (the Bordelais always pour huge glasses of wine for their guests and themselves) and melting into a blur of grilled meats and Bordeaux rouge.

If you love Cabernet Sauvignon, you have to go for the rib eye. With apologies to my vegan and vegetarian friends, rib eye and Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the world’s most perfect food and wine matches. Where is this leading? Grilling and BBQ  goes beyond all borders. While we in the United States have coined the phrase, “Barbecue- the great American pastime.” one just has to travel a bit and realize that this way of cooking can be found the world over.

It is safe to assume that every culture does a little bit of grilling. This popular way of cooking provides all of wine lovers with many pairing options. The choices that quickly come to mind are (and there are many more): Korean grilled (thinly sliced beef, marinated in a sweet soy-like sauce) with a dry to slightly sweet rosé. Argentine indirect grilling of beef- begging for a glass or two of Malbec,  I have enjoyed that many times in the vineyards of Mendoza in Argentina. How about grilled a whole chicken, a worldwide favorite? One could snag a fine California Pinot Noir and just melt into an easy chair in the backyard.

Now that the table has been set: How about a few wines to whet your appetite? Some folks in the wine world contend that I am a Napa boy. Well, yes I am really fond of wines from my backyard (Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino), yet my twitter and Instagram handle suggest otherwise. If you go by @willeboysf, you have to be  local and international at the same time. Having said that, one of my favorite wineries in the Napa Valley is Hall Wines and the 2011 Hall Cabernet is one to enjoy for this season’s grilling. A first choice with beef, but well suited with chicken and pork as well. Made from a cooler vintage, the wine’s edginess makes it more versatile than it would have been otherwise. When the super-rich and well-ripened 2012 is released, you will find the wine more suited for beef and heavier meat dishes. For partiers looking for something to dance on their palate and pair with a whole range of entreés, the 2013 Miraval Rosé Côtes de Provence has everything one would want. The wine is pleasing and gentle, with pretty red fruit flavors. Just imagine gnawing on a grilled chicken leg and washing it down with this wine. If you are into a sophisticated BBQ, I’d like to point you in the direction of the 2012 Sojourn Rodgers Creek Pinot Noir. This wine is awesome and delicious. Succulent and pure with lots of wild strawberries, it calls for grilled leg of lamb spiked with rosemary sticks, slathered with garlic and dotted with fresh cracked black pepper. Now take out the grill or buy a new one if you must, this is a good time to get the cooker ready and enjoy! While I am loading up my cellar with Cabernet Sauvignon and the weekly fridge with rib eye of beef, grilling offers so many possibilities. Make your days as yummiest as you can.