Gridiron grapes

By Michael Brenton

Tailgating beyond beer

With tailgating and game-watching parties in full swing, how do fans find wines that are tasty, great values, convenient to open and easy on the pocketbook? Read on.

With a few exceptions, the wines reviewed either come in a box or screwcap bottle. Prices, where listed, are recent shelf prices at Goodrich’s Shop-rite on Trowbridge Road (before any applicable case or Greater Lansing Vintners Club discounts).

For a perfect tailgate starter, try a fresh mimosa. The recipe can be as simple as pouring a pint of fresh orange juice and a bottle of sparkling wine into a pitcher. There is no point in spending big bucks on sparkling wine for mimosas. A bottle of domestic Andre Brut ($4.99) or Cristalino Brut Cava ($7.69) from Spain will do just fine. Cristalino is a good choice for those who want to skip the orange juice, too. Other value priced sparklers to consider for consumption with or without orange juice are Adami Prosecco, Rotari Brut, Mont-Marcal Cava and Francoise Montand Brut Rose. Sparkling wines tend to be light, crisp and refreshing, with low-to-moderate alcohol content. They are versatile with a variety of foods and always appropriate for a celebration.

But what about non-bubbly selections? Riesling is always a good bet for flavorful, low-alcohol, crowd-pleasing wines. Consider Schlink Haus, Hans Christian Piesporter or Dr. Loosen, AKA “Dr. L” ($11.99), which features only 8.5 percent alcohol, yet crisp flavors that pair well with spicy appetizers, or even bratwursts.

The days of automatically associating box wines and screw cap wines with inferior product are long gone. In fact, these packaging conventions can provide strong quality enhancements. Box wines typically hold the equivalent of four bottles, at far less weight and packaging cost. Moreover, because there is a bag inside the box that collapses as wine is released from the spigot, the wine is completely protected from oxygen. Two reputable box wine products are Black Box and Bota Box. Bota Box ($18.99) will definitely appeal to the “green” crowd (Sparty and otherwise), with its environmentally friendly recycled cardboard, bonded with cornstarch (not glue) and printed with soy based inks. Grape varieties include Merlot, Shiraz, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon and Old Vine Zinfandel.

Black Box ($23.99) has fancier, glossy packaging and includes domestic Chardonnay, Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling, along with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (a great, crisp, selection for lighter foods on a warm day) and Italian Pinot Grigio.

A popular screw cap series of wines is produced by eco-friendly Chilean winery Cono Sur ($8.79),
featuring numerous varietals, including Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon,
Pinot Noir and Carmenere (a fun alternative to Merlot).
Screw caps ensure that the occasional defective cork cannot taint the wine, which invariably is discovered only at the most inopportune time (e.g. when a replacement bottle is not readily available). For an insightful, independent review of Cono Sur wines visit underground/2009/ march/cono_sur.html.

Another  very popular  series of value priced wines is produced by Salmon Creek ($5.29), which includes varietals such as Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Frequently, the greatest values come from lesser known labels and regions (supply and demand drive price). A screaming value is Quinta dos Aciprestes, a Portuguese wine blended from three grape varieties that are seldom recognized on this side of the pond but entrenched in Europe. At a shelf price of $8.79, there’s a reason this rich, ripe wine has attracted a dedicated following. Pair with big, full flavored foods. Or from Spain, consider Protocolo ($6.59), a red made from the seriously underappreciated Tempranillo grape. Other big reds include Shoo Fly Shiraz ($11.89), which earned a Wine Spectator score of 91 (value doesn’t get much better than that); perennial favorite Marietta Old Vine Red ($11.99), a juicy and flavorful blend of Zinfandel and other red grapes; or Four Sisters Shiraz ($11.99), with a dash of aromatic Viognier.

Transplants from Ann Arbor might appreciate an ultimate Wolverine tailgate wine, “Bo Merlot” ($21.49), which is not a novelty wine, but a serious red from California. Perhaps readers can brainstorm about an appropriate moniker for a Sparty themed wine?

In Vino Veritas.

(Michael Brenton is president of the Greater Lansing Vintners Club. His column appears monthly)