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The Merlot Line: Bridging the Divide Between Wine and Sports

Like most wine lovers, wine is my beverage of choice. If there's wine around, that's what I'm going to drink, regardless of the situation. It's not that I don't like beer, or whiskey. It's just that they don't agree with me as much as wine does. The conundrum I'm often faced with is that I'm a 29-year old, sports-loving male, and for some reason, society has determined that wine conoisseurs and die-hard sports fans should be mutually exclusive entities. I'll freely admit that the majority of my friends make fun of me when they come over to my house to watch a game, and snicker as I pop open a bottle of whatever wine I deem appropriate for the occasion. Sure, the habit might be a little eccentric, but as Bud Light has reminded us countless times this year, "it's only weird if it doesn't work." I drink my wine, my team (hopefully) wins the game, and everyone goes home happy. Some people have "quinoa." I have my wine. What's the problem?

Of course, watching a game at home with a glass of wine is completely different than watching at game at the stadium. At home, I have hundreds of bottles of wine to choose from that I've already paid for. At a stadium, I usually have a choice a 5 oz. bottle of Chardonnay and a 5 oz. bottle of Cab., both of which usually cost just about as much as a 24 oz. beer. A glass of wine should not cost as much as 2 glasses of beer. It's ridiculous. Also, at home, I have a coffee table that I can rest my glass on, whenever I feel the need to stand up and yell at the ref, the ump, Tim McCarver, Joe Buck, the opposing coach, or whatever player happens to draw my ire, which happens more than you might think. (Just ask my fiancée.) However, at home, the worry of spilling my wine is usually not a problem, whereas at a stadium, a beverage that is not in a can or bottle poses significant challenges.

(Note: This is where I think the wine industry needs to step up its game. In the last few years, we've managed to convince most wine drinkers that screw caps and boxed wine aren't signs of cheap plonk, and can actually be quite good. You're telling me that we can't get stadiums to sell something like this 500ml Bota Box? 500ml Bota BoxIf we can sell 24 oz. beers, why can't we serve juice boxes that hold 3 glasses of wine? Come on, wine companies and stadium management. Someone needs to make this happen.)

Sadly, the wine drinking community is often pigeon-holed into the stereotype of being a casual fan. New York Jets columnist Rich Cimini recently commented on the fans in the new MetLife Stadium, stating that "there's less noise being generated because a lot of the hardcore fans have been replaced by the fat cats who'd rather sip Chardonnay in a club suite than scream their lungs out in an outdoor seat." 

It may be that the Jets fans who drink wine lack the passion to cheer for their teams, but here in Vermont, this Red Sox/Patriots/Bruins fan sips a glass of wine with every game, and still manages to scream his lungs out. Like most other social aspects of life, I find that Red Sox, Patriots, and Bruins games are enhanced by the enjoyment of various reds and whites (because life is too short for one wine). I always try to choose wines from championship vintages for important games, pulling out wines from 2004 and 2007 for the Red Sox; 2001, 2003, and 2004 for the Patriots; and 2011 for the Bruins.My game-time beverage of choice Unfortunately, wines from the Red Sox and Bruins prior championship vintages of 1918 and 1972 aren't readily available, so I'm forced to stick with wines from this decade. However, drinking wine, beer, or any other beverage should be about enjoyment, and my game-watching experience is drastically improved by a glass of wine. I'm not about to forego my beverage of choice because society can't reconcile the fact that a wine drinker might have just as much passion for a game as Fireman Ed. If stadiums served wine in a container that prevented me from spilling it on my way back to my seat, I'd drink a glass of Chardonnay and scream my lungs out in the bleachers. Until then, I'll sip wine on my couch, and have a beer when I'm at the game.

Over the past couple years, I've been encouraged to see instances where Boston athletes have professed their love of wine. It provides me with a bit of hope that wine might be moving towards gaining mainstream acceptance as a beverage that can be enjoyed while watching sports. In 2011, I was thrilled when Mark Recchi jokingly attributed his ability to play into his forties to his consumption of red wine. When I followed up on the quote, I found an interview that Recchi had given to Wine Spectator in 2010, in which he stated that he was had been introduced to wine by hockey superstar Mario Lemieux in the early 1990s, and had become a collector over the course of his professional career. He also mentioned that he had a bottle of 2010 Petrus that he was saving for his next Stanley Cup victory, which I would assume means that he no longer has that bottle. However, even though Recchi retired after the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, red wine continues to be a staple of the team in the form of their fourth line, called the Merlot Line, for the color of their jerseys.

This year, lost amidst the big, bushy beards that have become the symbol of the Red Sox journey from worst to first, is the fact that one of the original "Soggy Bottom Boys," Jonny Gomes, is also a wine-lover, and took viticulture in college. Gordon Edes quoted Gomes as saying, "At my table, no one else is ordering the wine." While I usually pride myself on being the wine guy among my friends, if I had a chance to taste with Jonny Gomes, I'd probably take a back seat and let him make the selections. According to Edes, when David Ortiz was voted to the All-Star Game this season, Gomes bought a Methuselah (6-liter bottle) of Orin Swift's 2009 Mercury Head Cabernet Sauvignon, had the team sign it, and gave it to him as a gift before he left for the game. I'd be curious as to whether Gomes has anything special planned for a World Series victory celebration, if the Red Sox manage to continue this spectacular run. Maybe some Methusalehs of a California sparkling wine, like Iron Horse, Schramsberg, or Domaine Carneros Le Rêve? That might garner some attention.

It's a great time to be a New England sports fan, and if you also happen to be a wine lover, I'd highly recommend casting aside ceremony, and grabbing a few bottles to help with your enjoyment of the festivities. I'd make some suggestions, but as was mentioned earlier, at Jonny Gomes' table, no one else is ordering the wine. So Jonny, if you happen to read this, any suggestions for a wine to enjoy with tonight's game? Something that goes nicely with a World Series birth would be very much appreciated.

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