Wine, wine, whine
Some men never grew up
In the broad spectrum of consumer goods bearing the names and/or mugs of prominent athletes, few are quite as arresting as wine. Beer is a natural for a loud, hot, dirty pursuit like sports because beer is a beverage with hair on it. (Beer has a head, right?) Wine, well ... wine brings to mind words like civilized and effete.
Yet these are vintage times for wine in sports. Joe Montana, Tom Seaver, Dick Vermeil, Peggy Fleming, Arnold Palmer and Mario Andretti are just a few of the notables who have floated into the business in recent years. Golfer Duffy Waldorf pens a column entitled "Uncorked" for Golf Magazine. And Charity Wines offers such distinctive brands as [Johan] Santana Select Merlot, Cabernet [Tom] Glavingnon, and [Dan] Marino Estates Vintage "13" Chardonnay from its Longball Cellars, Hat Trick Cellars and Gridiron Cellars, among others. (All proceeds, it should be noted, go to the particular athlete's favorite charity rather than his already bloated piggy bank.)
Now, far be it for me to say that a nice tumbler of Manny Being Merlot with its "spicy finish" does not go perfectly with grilled meats, pastas and pizza. It just seems to me that any wine associated with Manny Ramirez will induce spaciness, if not disorientation, while it stands at the plate admiring the meal it just launched. But I'm far from a cornersewer of the grape. My experience with the stuff is limited to a handful of unfortunate adolescent experiences with such low-budget fare as Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill, Christian Brothers port, and an execrable fruit wine called Bali Hai, most of which wound up on my sneakers after an ill-advised chugging competition in a weedy lot with besotted pals.
However...when I think of a Cam Neely Cambernet, my mind does not exactly conjure, "Rich and ripe with enticing flavors of currant, blackberry and creamy chocolate oak. This full-bodied Cabernet has notes of spice and tobacco and moderate tannins on the finish." No, my mind (the scrap that survived the Bali Hai) conjures, "Bruising bouquet of baked beans, bruins, broken teeth and cold vulcanized rubber with brash flavors of flat suds and cigar butts."
And is it me, or does a Cambernet or a [Raymond] Bourque Merlot demand to be served on ice...with the bartender's thumb in the glass?
On the diamond side of the vineyard, [Brian] Schneider Schardonnay "opens up with strong aromas of freshly cut green apple, melon and pear. A bowl full of tropical fruit salad (pineapples, bananas, mangos and papaya) is in there, as well as a hint of floral apple blossom." This is the stuff of Carmen Miranda, not catching, which I associate with strong aromas of hot dogs, sweat, dirt and leather with subtle suggestions of spit and petroleum jelly.
If happy juice is your thing, Vintage Papi ("aromas of warm blackberry cobbler with currant, black plum, fresh earth, herb, cedar, a hint of anise, flavors of black cherry, blackberry, plum, mocha, spice and mineral with rips, and firm tannin on the finish") calls for a brown paper bag and a crazy straw. Ex-NFL QB Bobby Hebert's Cajun Cannon Cabernet sounds like a worthy rival to such time-honored propellant as Thunderbird and Mad Dog 20/20.
Again, don't let me put you off any of these beverages, as they are being sold to benefit charities. I don't dance with John Barleycorn anymore and even if I did, I clearly don't get the wine experience. But the possibilities here are, of course, endless.
How about an ample-bodied [Don] Zimmer Zinfandel with a cheeky, robust aroma of Red Man chaw, pine and gerbil bedding? Or a [Barry] Bail Bonds Beaujolais with its insouciant indictment of flaxseed? Tank fermented and aged in the jug, this one has overripe flavors of maple and lemon, crisp acidity, a big head and much more body than the regular Pinor Noir -- an arresting example of a vibrant wine with juicy flavors, and a crisp accompaniment to Prisonloaf and Spam.
May we interest you in a Willie Randolph Rose? The fruit notes recall sour grapes above all, with a little edge showing in the finish. The elements of fruit, acidity and minerality are integrated, making this a perfect partner for simply prepared fish dishes or well-cooked baseball teams.
Given that it's playoff time in the NBA and NHL when whining at refs is all the rage, it seems only right that certain individuals deserve their own stock in the Whine Cellar:
Sidney Crosby Cabernet: Named in honor of the Penguins superstar who was chastised by the Rangers' Jaromir Jagr for diving during their second-round playoff series, it's admirably rich, silky and embellished with enticing aromas of plum, cassis, bing cherries, and espresso. Attractively packaged in a distinctive bottle that hits the floor any time you go anywhere near it.
Tim Duncan Blush: Mint nuances complement the primary black fruit impression of this mid-weight tropical wine. The lively acidity counteracts its overall succulence with notes of bitter tears and serves as the perfect alternative to the Manu Ginobili Gewurztraminer.
If you're in dire need of something to do until quittin' time, let me know which other athletes, past or present, you think deserve their own vino and I'll roll out a full list at a later date.