Saturday, February 20, 2010

Wait, There’s Wine Tasting at NASCAR???

Caitlin and I had a very romantic Valentine’s Day. We went to the Daytona 500. It was my first time at a NASCAR race, and as I am a wine-loving urban-dweller, I had some preconceived notions of what the atmosphere would be like. Namely, I anticipated being surrounded by lots of people with mullets, southern accents, few teeth, huge guts and shirts without sleeves. While there were some of those people floating around, the crowd and the refreshments were much more diverse than I anticipated. Much to my surprise, one of the first booths we passed inside the raceway was for NASCAR-themed wine and wine tasting. That’s right. There’s wine tasting at NASCAR.

It shouldn’t be that much of a surprise, considering how the demographics of NASCAR are changing - some of drivers even own their own wineries. Still, old perceptions are hard to change, and many people, myself included, still associate NASCAR with Budweiser tall boys rather than Syrah or Merlot. That being said, you have to love a sport that anticipates the growth of its fan base and accommodates them. Even though the wine booth was fairly empty, it was there, and the business appeared to be steady.

As for Caitlin and I, we opted to bring our own wine into the track…NASCAR lets you bring in your own cooler, so think about that when you are forking over $8.50 for a watery beer or rotgut wine next time you're at a ballgame. The wine we brought were several different varieties of Vendange box wines. After I chose their Chardonnay over Cakebread’s, we decided to try their Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot during the race. The Syrah was the big winner among the three. Although it had neither the richness nor the spiciness that I prefer in my Syrahs, it had much more of a body, with some licorice and blackberry notes, than I was anticipating from a box of wine. While I don’t think it will become our regular table wine, Vendange box wines are portable, inexpensive, and certainly drinkable.

While NASCAR is still not up there with, say, football or baseball for me, any sport that lets you bring in your own wine and has a wine tasting booth set up inside is doing something right.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Beltway Bacchus Book Club

Occasionally when we have people over, Caitlin and I will decant a bottle of wine. We have done this with nice bottles that need to breath, and we have done it with cheap bottles that we have been too embarrassed to serve otherwise. Regardless of the price-point of the wine, with the label hidden, our guests have enjoyed both. The reason I bring it up at all is because similar blind taste tests make up concept behind the book The Wine Trials. Very often, if the label is hidden and the wine is judged on taste alone, the less expensive bottles often are favored. I mentioned the book The Wine Trials, along with some of the wines reviewed, in a previous post. I did not, however, dive as deeply into the book as I would have liked. It is, to say the least, a fascinating book that reviews and highlights some great, budget-conscious wines.

One example used by the authors is the comparison of a $13 Domaine Ste. Michelle with a $150 bottle of Dom Perignon. Surprisingly enough, the Domaine Ste. Michelle was favored. Caitlin and I have since tasted the Domaine Ste. Michelle and it has become a regular in our champagne rotation. There were many other examples of inexpensive wines that scored higher than expensive wines in the $50 - $150 range. All of the price-performers are reviewed and indexed in the back of the book, which serves as a great guide to delicious budget red, white and sparkling wines. I would suggest picking up a copy of the book and going through their recommendations. Many of the wines are fantastic values and are more readily available than the exclusive, high-end wines with the exceptional reputations.

Using The Wine Trials as inspiration, Caitlin and I recently performed our own blind taste test.

The high-end wine was a favorite of ours, the Cakebread Cellars’ 2005 Reserve Chardonnay ($55). The budget brand was Vendange California Chardonnay ($4). Needless to say, we split the results. Caitlin liked the Cakebread more – and was able to identify it as such almost immediately. I picked the Vendange, which does have a nice buttery, sweetness to it. If you are looking for a traditional, heavy, California-style Chardonnay, the Vendange does the job nicely. The Cakebread is a light, refreshing and very smooth chardonnay. We chose to stick with the Cakebread throughout dinner, and I am sure that I will be hearing about my unsophisticated palate for a good while to come.

As The Wine Trials confirms, it is beneficial, and fun, to test expensive wines against inexpensive ones. It will help you become more honest about the types of wines that you enjoy, and might help you save money.