When it comes to watching football, I am most definitely not one of those guys on the couch you see in the beer commercials. There may be a couple of brews in the fridge for special occasions or for friends who demand them, but for me football on the tube is as much about wine as it is about the game — a chance to multitask with two things I really enjoy.
It was Sunday evening. The Patriots had just won the first game over the Chargers, and it was on to the Giants and Packers. To me it didn’t matter that the temperature was –1 at game time at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. I wanted a white wine, which wasn’t a hard decision to make in the warm comfort of the living room.
So I popped open the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc from Handley Cellars in California. Handley is a family-owned, small-production winery in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino County. It also owns vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County, which is where it grows sauvignon blanc and some of its other grapes.
It’s all a matter of preference, of course, but I’m less interested these days in those piercing sauvignons loaded with over-the-top citrus and grassiness, as many from New Zealand can be. Give me something more balanced and rounded that’s actually pleasant to drink on its own and doesn’t necessarily call for sushi or Thai or other spicy foods that require the fire-extinguishing properties of these highly aggressive sauvignons.
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Fortunately, Handley’s $15 wine was about as mellow — and interesting — as sauvignon gets. From the first breath I knew I was dealing with a winner, even if the Giants-Packers showdown was just getting under way.
“Gorgeous sauvignon blanc” I wrote in my notes. There was a lot going on in the glass with “lovely tropical fruit,” including pear and papaya notes. Add in touches of vanilla, lime and green pepper, ending with a “crisp, steely finish.” It all combined in a wine of depth and balance that reminded me that California is producing some first-rate sauvignon blancs these days.
They typically show a richer style than, say, the Loire Valley of France (whose wines I also love) and use at least partial oak aging, as the Handley does. While I used to turn away from that style, I find that it can bring dimension and elegance to the wines. The Handley was great just sipping on its own, but will match well with fish, shellfish and white-meat dishes and, yes, even sushi and Thai. The wine is available now through the winery (www.handleycellars.com) and will be released nationally this spring.
The sauvignon got me curious about Handley’s other wines so I tasted a few more of them. Among the whites the 2006 Anderson Valley Gewurztraminer stood out. This $18 wine, which is in some stores as well as the winery, is based on a blend of grapes from Handley’s vineyard and two others and shows nice complexity. It’s dry and restrained, with signature gewürztraminer spiciness and classic lychee fruit. The flavors really emerged as the wine warmed up a bit. This one was also interesting to sip on its own but is made for pan-Asian and other fully flavored foods. I can even see it with your favorite guacamole and salsa.
Which brings me back to football and next weekend’s Super Bowl. I’ll be watching again, hoping for a great game and another great bottle of wine. Go Giants, go Patriots. Go white, go red.
Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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