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My Response to DeflateGate and the Wells Report

The principal purpose of this site is wine education and commentary, but anyone who has read my columns in the past knows that I am a diehard New England sports fan, and that I frequently insert sports commentary into my wine writing.

Needless to say, DeflateGate, the recent release of the Wells Report, and the subsequent punishment of Tom Brady and the Patriots has left me quite irritated. Despite my unabashed status as a New England apologist, I won't sit here and argue that the Patriots were blameless in the whole ordeal. Clearly, something irregular occured with respect to the footballs on the night of the AFC Championship against the Colts. However, when compared to other punishments that the league has levied against teams for similar offenses in recent years, I think the discipline handed down by Roger Goodell & Co. is absolutely over-the-top.

I created the graphic above to show that in trying to levy a punishment that the public would approve of, the NFL hammered the Patriots with a punishment that was more than 4x greater than the combined punishments handed out to 4 other teams for similar offenses. All of these teams committed infractions which provided them with an "illegal competitive advantage," but the Patriots were the only team whose infraction resulted in an almost 4-month investigation, a 243-page report, and an egregiously harsh penalty. As Mike Reiss of ESPN.com has stated, with the disparities in the way the situations have been handled, "it just seems we've gone off the rails here."

Also forgotten in all of this is the fact that Aaron Rodgers has openly stated that he prefers his footballs to be inflated above the legal limits allowed by the NFL. However, Rodgers is celebrated for his preference for a hard football, while Tom Brady is vilified for preferring that his footballs be at the low-end of the legal limit. Quarterbacks are allowed to prepare their footballs so that they are to their liking. Supposedly, the Giants take months to prepare the balls that Eli Manning uses in a game. This type of double-standard speaks to the hypocrisy that has plagued Deflategate from its inception. If any other team besides the Patriots had been suspected of deflating footballs, you can bet that the ensuing investigation and subsequent discipline would have been far more reserved.

The NFL is a joke. Its corporate office panders to public opinion when dispensing discipline, and even then, it rarely gets it right. Ray Rice gets a two-game suspension for domestic violence, while Brady gets four games because it's "more probable than not" that he was "generally aware" of Patriots employees deflating footballs. Goodell loves to swing his hammer of justice, but it's a hammer that rarely hits the nail on the head.

Instead of wasting an estimated $5,000,000 on the Wells Report to ensure that the Patriots hadn't deflated footballs in a game that they won 45-7, Goodell could have focused his efforts and attention on more appropriately addressing the issue of domestic violence that plagues his league. He could have spent the $5,000,000 furthering research on CTE or exploring ways to make the game safer for players. Sadly, that $5,000,000 was spent on a 4-month investigation that failed to definitively prove that Tom Brady and the Patriots were guilty of the infractions for which they are now being punished.

2015 top-draft choice Jameis Winston and Seattle Seahawks 2nd-round pick, Frank Clark, have had issues with domestic violence in their college careers, but neither is being disciplined by the NFL. However, back in 2011, the NFL suspended former Ohio State star Terrelle Pryor for the first five games of his NFL career because of impermissable benefits that he accepted while at Ohio State. This is Roger Goodell's NFL. Getting some free tatoos in college equals a suspension, while issues with domestic violence equals nothing. Tom Brady and the Patriots getting caught with underinflated footballs results in a 4-game suspension, while Aaron Rodgers openly declaring that he habitually tries to ensure that his footballs are overinflated equals nothing.

There is no rhyme or reason to the NFL's justice system, except for the fact that Roger Goodell loves the spotlight, loves to create public theater, and wants everyone to know that he is the sheriff in charge. Unfortunately, in the mess that is DeflateGate, the Patriots are left to assume the role of whipping boy, as Goodell obviously feels it is time to deliver a strong reminder of who wears the badge in the Wild West that is the NFL.



Finger Lake Reds: Evidence of Adventure in American Wine Consumption

Since I began writing this blog, one of my foremost goals has been to challenge everyday perceptions of wine, and alert adventurous palates to new wine experiences. Over the last few years, I have been pleased to see evidence that American wine consumers are letting go of old stereotypes, and are allowing their palates to go on a journey. Five years ago, it was a challenge to convince most American wine consumers that rosé was not the same thing as White Zinfandel, and was a dry, refreshing summer wine worth exploring. Today, dry rosé can be found on most supermarket shelves, which unequivocally speaks to the fact that many American wine consumers are abandoning their prejudicial views of pink wines.

However, despite the fact that Americans are becoming more adventurous in their choice of wines, many stereotypes still persist. One of the stereotypes that I find most frustrating is that wines from certain geographies are written off, without a second though, because they are not thought to be premier wine growing locations. While California, Oregon, and Washington are universally recognized as the premier wine growing locations in the U.S., all 50 states in the U.S. produce wine, and I'm willing to bet that if you were to sample a few from each state, you'd find something appealing. Being from the Northeast, I find it especially maddening when consumers write off the red wines of the region with cliché phrases like:

  • "Vermont is beautiful, but it's a beer state. The wines aren't worth your time."


  • "Riesling from the Finger Lakes is delicious, but it's climate is too cold to produce any good red wines."

In a more distant time, these phrases might have been worthy of merit. However, today, quality red wines can be found all over the Northeast. Climate change, and research into cold-hardy red varietals have revolutionized red wine production in Northeast states such as Vermont and New York. I previously wrote about the success that Vermont wineries such as Shelburne Vineyards and Lincoln Peak were having with the French-American hybrid grape, Marquette. In New York, where the climate is slightly warmer, the Finger Lakes, the Hudson Valley, and Long Island are producing tremendous wines from true vitis-vinifera grapes such as Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. I've noted my affinity for New York State red wines many times. Whitecliff Vineyards' Pinot Noir is tremendous, and I was pleasantly surprised by the red wines from the Finger Lakes that I encountered at the Killington Wine Festival in July 2012.

While many wine consumers think exclusively of Riesling when they think of the Finger Lakes, the region is at the heart of the vitis vinifera revolution, thanks to Dr. Konstantin Frank, who grafted vinifera vines on to American rootstock. However, while I was very impressed with the quality of the Red Newt Cellars red wines that I tasted at the Killington Wine Festival, I was not impressed with their price point. While I'm not opposed to paying $50/bottle for certain wines on occasion, it's definitely not what I want to be spending for a wine everyday. After tasting the reds from Red Newt Cellars, I talked to representatives from Fox Run Vineyards - another stellar Finger Lakes winery - who told me that while they produced several red wines, they had not brought any to the festival, because they were unable to distribute them in Vermont.

Although I was thoroughly disappointed at not being able to taste the Fox Run Vineyard reds at Killington, I remained in touch with the folks at Fox Run, and through their generosity, I was able to taste 4 of the winery's reds. The great thing about Fox Run's red wines is that with the exception of their Meritage and the Cabernet Franc Reserve, none of them will cost you more than $25. It's just a matter of being able to find the wines. Fox Run provides a list of locations (both restaurants and retail stores) that sell/serve their wines, but not all of these locations carry their reds. However, if my tasting experience is any indication, these are definitely wines that are worth trying. They may not be household names just yet, but remember, it was once a struggle to convince most wine consumers to try dry rosé. Be an adventurer, and try Finger Lake reds before they hit the main stream. You can thank me later.

A Review of Fox Run Vineyard Red Wines

2008 Cabernet Franc/Lemberger: You may have heard of Cabernet Franc, but it's perfectly alright if you haven't heard of Lemberger, which is another name for Blaufränkisch. Blaufränkisch is a workhorse grape in Austria and Germany, where it produces spicy, tannic wines that are frequently compared to Pinot Noir. In the Finger Lakes, under the care of Fox Run winemaker Peter Bell, the Lemberger is blended in equal parts with the Cabernet Franc, creating a light-bodied wine, with aromas of smoky red fruits on the nose, and bright red cherry flavors on the palate. Perfect on it's own, it also makes for a great pairing with grilled meats, and hard cheeses.

2009 Lemberger: On its own, the Lemberger shows a much more gamey, earthy character. The aromas of blackberry and raspberry are intertwined with a certain muskiness, not uncommon to Austrian Blaufränkisch or even an entry level Burgundy. It displays much more weight and body than the Cabernet Franc/Lemberger, with jammy, yet bright bing cherry flavors with a hint of pepper and spice on the finish.

2009 Cabernet Franc: The Cabernet Franc has the varietal's hallmark notes of bell pepper and dark fruit on the nose, but is blended with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, which provides an added dimension of coffee and dark chocolate. Red fruit and licorice flavors dominate the soft, silky palate, which shows very little in the way of tannins.

2010 Merlot: Tasted blind, I'm not sure that many people would identify this as a Finger Lakes red. This is classic Merlot. Due to the cooler climate, its alcohol content (12.0%) is a little lighter than most Merlots on the market today, but its aromas of plum, blackberry, and other dark fruits are quite pronounced. On the palate, its rich, jammy, fruit flavors intermingle with a balanced tannic structure, making this a great wine to pair with red meats.


Oysters & Wine

Shucking OystersOver the last few years, I've become quite obsessed with oysters, and have started eating them as often as I can afford to do so. Unfortunately, like wine, oysters are a somewhat expensive indulgence, but fortunately, they are incredibly healthy. Averaging about 10 calories per oyster, they are high in protein, low in saturated fat, and are a great source of vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids. In my opinion, they are the perfect appetizer, especially when paired with a crisp, white wine.

I have to confess, when I first started eating oysters, I thought that Champagne was the only appropriate pairing for them. However, over time, I found that wines such as Txakoli, and other crisp, dry, white wines make phenomenal companions for oysters. Still, when I was approached by Pangea Shellfish to help them craft a wine pairing page for their site, I felt as though I had some learning to do.

Pangea ShellfishThankfully, resources such as What to Drink with What You Eat and A Geography of Oysters by Rowan Jacobsen were available to help me develop and refine my knowledge of oyster and wine pairings, and Pangea Shellfish was kind enough to send me 9 different types of oysters, which I used to test various pairing suggestions. After eating my way through East Coast Oysters such as Belons, Standish ShoresWellfleets, Summersides, and Pemaquids, and West Coast Oysters such as Komo Gways, Kumamotos, Penn Coves, and Kaiparas, I was thoroughly satiated, well acquainted with a wide-variety of oysters, and ready to offer up my thoughts on pairing suggestions.  

A sample of our oyster bountyTo me, the really interesting thing about oysters, is that like wine, they demonstrate the effect of terroir. An oyster's flavor is influenced by the salinity of the water it grows in, the local tides, and the make-up of the sea floor. It is an absolute thrill to taste a Wellfleet oyster alongside a Kumamoto, as the flavor profiles could not be more different. Whereas the Kumamoto is plump, mild and shows hints of melon, the Wellfleet is salty, crisp, and full of minerality. While I'm not an oyster expert by any means, it was a fun opportunity to taste the different varieties, and note the stark differences between them.

As far as the pairings go, my tasting experience largely validated the suggestions that Rowan Jacobsen, and the experts of What to Drink with What You Eat had to offer. You can view my tasting suggestions at the Pangea Shellfish wine pairings page. Cheers!


Rigal Sauvignon Blanc: Another Sauvignon Blanc From an Unexpected Location

I feel that Sauvignon Blanc aptly demonstrates the effect that climate and terroir can have on a wine. Sauvignon Blanc is grown all over the world, but originates in Bordeaux. The stylistic variations that exist between Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley, California, New Zealand, Bordeaux, Chile, Argentina, Australia, and Italy are markedly pronounced, and can only fully be accounted for if one accepts that climate and terroir do influence the character of a wine.

While most wine drinkers associate Sauvignon Blanc with as originating from Sancerre, California, and New Zealand, the grape truly can be found all over the globe. Even though within France, the most heralded location for Sauvignon Blanc is Sancerre, you can find examples of the grape in Burgundy, perhaps the world's most famous source of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as Bordeaux, where many think the grape originated. There is also a school of thought that traces Sauvignon Blanc's origins to Gascogne, in Southern France, just south of Bordeaux. The other day, while tasting wines with Brad Kelley of Burlington Wine Shop, I was fortunate enough to encounter such a wine in the 2010 Rigal Sauvignon Blanc

The Rigal Sauvignon Blanc is not your typical Sauvignon Blanc, but at $7.99, it's definitely a weeknight wine that is worth getting to know. From the 2010 vintage, the wine is showing its age, but still drinking well, showing a honeyed character, with warm fruit flavors and aromas. It's a great example of the evolution of a white wine. Whites tend to become less acidic as they age, and take on deeper, richer flavors. They also darken in color, moving along a spectrum of: Pale Yellow Green --> Straw Yellow --> Yellow Gold --> Gold --> Old Gold --> Yellow Brown --> Maderized --> Brown.

I described this wine as a "Chardonnay lover's Sauvignon Blanc," and I'd be curious to see who would agree with me. If you're looking for a wine with rich, warm fruit flavors, that will pair perfectly with richer seafood dishes, this is for you. At the very least, you'll get to try a Sauvignon Blanc from a most unexpected location, but one which may be the grape's ancestral home.


Small Family Wineries: Fantastic to Drink, Tough to Get Your Hands On

In the time that I have been writing about wine, I have made no secret of the fact that I have a tremendous affinity for small family estate wineries. I believe these wines are the truest representation of what wine should be. They are crafted without the influence of corporate oversight, by those who make wine as a labor of love above all else. The proprietors of small family estate wineries are out in the vineyards almost every day, closely monitoring the growth and development of the grapes. They are either directly involved in the harvest of the grapes, or are judicious overseers in the process. They know their land, they know their craft, and their wines are their passion. As anyone who regularly drinks small production, craft wines can tell you, this passion is reflected in their taste. There is a singularity, and a uniqueness that is found in these wines. They are not just simply another wine in the supermarket aisle.

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