Super Bowl Beverages

You may have noticed that my blog writing has (temporarily) been a little slow on publishing. No I haven't run out of material, but I have been writing (wait for it)...portions of a new wine textbook. Soon I'll be able to announce the new business partnership, and possibly a new wine school.

But for now, it is the end of the football (American football for my overseas readers) season, and time for the Super Bowl. I must admit that I was rooting for the San Francisco 49ers to make it to the big game, again. But, those darn Seahawks got in the way. How many people really care who's in the Super Bowl? Those of us at home, that don't have a team in the game, are probably there for the commercials, or friends and food.

That's were this weeks article comes in.

photo from
I did some research to find out what the most common Super Bowl snacks were. Not the necessarily the brands, but what foods are served at Super Bowl gatherings. That got me to thinking...what would be the beverage(s) of choice for a Super Bowl party? If you wanted to make sure everyone is happy, which beverages should you have on hand for your guests? Beer, Wine, Soda, hard alcohol? Let's take a look at the top 20 most common Super Bowl foods, and my recommendations for possible pairings:

1. Chili - spicy, greasy, meaty, starchy - got to go with a nice Lager Beer, Fruity Zinfandel, or even a Beaujolais (Gamay grape variety)

2. Pizza - a mixture of flavors, spice, cheese, sauce - Beer, Chianti, Barbera, or Zinfandel

3. Meatballs or cocktail wieners, in sauce - could be BBQ, or tomato sauce - Beer, Zinfandel, Chianti (Sangiovese grape variety)

4. Salsa - spicy, acidic, vegetables - Lager Beer, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Zinfandel, Margaritas

5. Ribs - meaty, grilled, sauce or dry rub - Beer, Zinfandel, Riesling (with pork ribs) Rose

6. Buffalo Wings - spicy, greasy - Beer, Rose, Sparkling Wine, Zinfandel

7. Spinach Dip - vegetal, creamy - Sauvignon Blanc, Beaujolias

8. Guacamole - creamy, mouth coating - Beer. Sparkling wine, Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand, or Chile)

9. Quesadillas - starchy, cheesy, spicy - Beer, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Sparkling Wine

10. Artichoke Dip - vegetal, creamy - Sparkling wine, Rose (go with a dry style as artichokes make wine taste sweeter).

11. Nachos - starchy. cheesy - Beer, Margaritas, Sparkling wine, Zinfandel

12. Hot Dogs, or Pigs in a Blanket - Beer, Rose, Zinfandel, Riesling

13. Deviled Eggs - creamy mouth coating - Sparkling wine or Sauvignon blanc

14. Hoagie/Submarine sandwich - Beer, Soda, Zinfandel, Beajolais

15. 7-Layer Dip - mouth coating, mix of ingredients - Beer, Margarita, Malbec Riesling, Zinfandel

16. Baked Beans - Beer, Shiraz, Zinfandel

17. Hamburgers - Beer, Beaujolais, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel

18. Doritos - can be plain or spicy - Sparkling wine, Zinfandel, Beer

19. Popcorn - buttery, salty - Sparkling wine

20. Chex Mix - salty - Beer, Sparkling wine.

So, let's look at the count....if you are holding a Super Bowl party, Beer must be on your beverage menu, and if you must pick a style, go with Lager. The next must have is Zinfandel. Go with a lighter, fruitier version. Next would be a sparkling wine. Personally, I wouldn't spend the money on a fine French Champagne for the items on the food list. But luckily there are some decent priced sparklers out there. Next, it is close as to which white wine. You can't go wrong with Sauvignon Blanc, or Riesling (go with a dry version from Alsace or California). So you have beer, red, sparkling and white, let's add a dry Rose, and we should have it covered. For those that don't drink, add some soda. And for those that want something a little heavier, add some Tequila and margarita mix, and you are well on your way to satisfying everyone's needs.

Time for the Super Bowl....who are you picking?


Last week I wrote about the original Malbec wine:Cahors.  This week might sound like a repeat of the story….French wine almost goes into extinction, but a South American country starts gaining popularity for its wine, and now people are checking it out. This week’s wine grape is Tannat. Haven’t heard of it? Then you soon will.

Tannat is a red grape, which is normally found in the Basque-influenced regions of France near the Pyrénées.  The origins of the grape appear to be from the south west France, near Madiran. The name is thought to have come from a local dialect, meaning “colored like tan”, referring either to its dark color, or possibly the high tannin levels. It grows in large bunches, but the berries are small to medium in size, with very thick skins. 

Tannat makes powerful, tannic wines with dark garnet red/purple color, and good acidity, making it a great candidate for aging. Notable aromas are raspberry, blackberry, spice, coffee, cocoa and vanilla. Throughout the world, Tannat is also known as Harriague, Moustrou, Moustroun, and Bordeleza Belcha.

Tannat is mainly found in Madiran, but just like Cahors/ Malbec, it may be South America that saved this almost forgotten grape from extinction.

At one point in French history, Madiran wines were accepted at payment for taxes, by the French kings. Tannat continues to be grown in the Basque country and southwest France, particularly in the appellations of Madiran, Irouléguy, Tursan and Béarn. Today, there is over 7,200 acres planted in France. These wines tend to be chewy, dark, tannic wines with distinctive earthy and spicy aftertastes.
The most notable appellation is Madiran, where the grapes are grown on the clay and limestone hills along the left bank of the River Adour.

Traditional versions from Madiran need aging prior to opening. More modern versions are less rustic, but still can handle some bottle aging. The Madiran appellation laws mandate that Tannat be blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, or Fer. Tannat must make up to 40% to 60% of the blend. The addition of these other “blending grapes” helps soften the hard edges of the Tannat. Some producers have recently begun receiving notable press for their 100% Tannat Madiran wines. Rather than blending, they are using a method known as “micro-oxygenation” (a process developed in the 1990s and by which oxygen is trickled slowly through the wine while in tank). Oak aging is also increasingly being used to bring complexity and a subtle vanilla sweetness to Madiran. Whatever the result, Madiran is one of France’s fine reds. It is hard and closed in youth but opens up at 5 to 8 years of age into a unique wine which has flavor and structure similar to Bordeaux. Like Cahors, these can be excellent wines to cellar - particularly from top producers like Alain Brumont of Chateaux Montus and Bouscasse.

The area that is growing in popularity for Tannat is Uruguay (believe it or not, the second largest wine drinking country in South America).  It is occasionally referred to as “Harriague”, after the Frenchman that brought the grape variety to the country in 1870. Because Uruguay never suffered from the Phylloxera crisis that devastated Europe, descendants of the original cuttings first brought there still exist, and grapes from these prized vines are known as “Harriague.”. There is currently more Tannat grown in Uruguay than in the variety’s native France. Due to the maritime climate, the tannins seem to be a bit more reserved than those in Madiran, and are often blended with Pinot Noir or Merlot. Instead of raspberry aromas (found in Madiran) the aromas of Uruguay Tannat lean more towards the dark fruit, Blackberries being the most common descriptor. Tannat is now considered the “national grape” of Uruguay. 

California is now teasing us with some Tannat, but as of 2010 (the last report) there was only around 250 acres planted (mostly at Tablas Creek, Solune and Bonny Doon). It wasn’t until 2002, that Tannat was recognized as a grape variety that could appear on a wine label, thanks to the efforts of Tablas Creek’s petition.

One of the other reasons for growth and popularity of Tannat has to do with the recent research concerning the phenolic compounds that are found in the Tannat grape, which are significantly higher than other red wines. This is due to the fact that tannins come from the skins and seeds of the grapes when crushed. The reason for the high concentration of these properties in Tannat wines are that the Tannat grape contains five seeds (pips), while other wine grapes normally contain just two or three, this creates a high concentration of polyphenols, procyanidins, flavenoids and resveratrol. These are the four main antioxidant components found in all wines. Dr. Roger Corder (a cardiovascular expert at the William Harvey Research Institute in London) has identified Tannat as the grape with the greatest concentration of these compounds. Some claim that the wines of Madiran are the reason more men in the region live into their nineties. So, moderate consumption of Tannat wine may even contribute to better health.

All this talk of health benefits, and what we all really want to do is enjoy the wine. Isn’t that what is important? Since Tannat is a somewhat rustic wine, with some harsh edges, it needs to be softened by food, especially fat. I would pair with beef, lamb, strong cheeses (blue or Parmesan), or maybe a nice Cassoulet (confit of duck and sausage stew)….Yummm!

Cahors = Côt = Malbec

Over Christmas, my office does something called "Christmas Angel". The idea is to decorate your designated person's office space, and give them small gifts, with clues to who they are. My Christmas Angel gave me only one clue. She didn't care for wine. In my office, that actually narrowed it down quite a bit. I wrote a note to my angel saying she probably was drinking the wrong wine, and should experiment more. She proceeded to go to a local wine shop and (with help) purchased a bottle of Cahors. She knew I liked French wine, but had no idea what she bought. This got me thinking about how many people don't bother to try certain wines (particularly French wines) because they are labelled regionally, and not varietally. I have mentioned Cahors in one of my earlier blogs, but never went into much detail. So today, you get to learn a little bit about Cahors.

Cahors is the capital of the Lot department in the southwest of France (south of the better known Bordeaux region). Here, the Lot River slowly rolls along the valley floor, encircling the town of Cahors. The town was originally a Celtic settlement, prior to the Roman conquest. Cahors was also the center of commerce during the Middle Ages, and served as a crossroad for pilgrims on the trail to Santiago de Compostella, in what was then Iberia (now Spain). Today Cahors is perhaps best known as the center of the famous A.O.C. “black wine of Southwest France”.  The deeply dark, inky and earthy wines are produced from the Côt grape. Cahors was awarded A.O.C. status in 1971

Côts origin is thought to be from Quercy, centered in Cahors.  According to Janis Robinsons  great book, “Wine Grapes”, the cot grape “is a natural progeny of Prunelard and Magdeleine Noire des Charentes (the mother of Merlot). This makes Côt the half sibling of Merlot.” The Côt grape is more commonly known as Malbec—a fascinating contrast to its Argentinian brother.

In the 18th century, Cahors was considered a more prized wine than Bordeaux. Its’ sad fate was to become a blending wine for strengthening weak Bordeaux.  Côt was introduced to the Bordeaux region to add color and body to the regions wines (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Carmeniere). At this time, the Côt grape gained its’ more recognized name, in recognition of the person that introduced, and cultivated the grape, to the region: Malbeck (now known as Malbec). Most of the Malbec vines in Bordeaux were not replanted after a devastating frost in 1956 (today, less than 2,300 acres remain). The largest plantings in France still remain in the Cahors region (around 10,000 to 12,000 acres). Compare that to Argentina, which has over 66,000 acres of Malbec planted.

The best traditional vineyards are on slopes above the river on soils of gravel, limestone and clay. The berries are large, oval, dark black, in long loose bunches, and makes a well-structured red wine which can be tannic, and is often oak aged. Traditional Cahors tends to have more raisin and tobacco flavors than the wines of Argentina, and have hidden rich fruitiness which may show up after a few years in bottle. Argentinian Malbec also tends to have smaller berries than those of Cahors. Their wines also have riper tannins (possibly due to the altitude and phenolic ripeness obtained). There are some more modern style of Cahors, which are similar to basic Bordeaux and are designed for early drinking. Given its usually reasonable price (especially when Bordeaux prices are too high), Cahors can be a great value.

Wine from the Cahors appellation must be made from at least 70% Côt (also locally known as Auxerrois or Pressac) grape, with a maximum of 30% Merlot (introduced in the 1960’s), Jurancon Noir, or Tannat grape varieties.

Thanks to Argentina, Cahors is coming back from the brink of oblivion. Be honest, how many of you even knew what Malbec was just seven years ago? Now go out and try the original: Cahors.