Archive | March, 2013

NFL free agency & random wine sampling. You never know what you will get.

24 Mar

ImageThis can be a great time of year for a football fan.  Sure it is tough because there are no new games on, but NFL Network has 24 hour programming, so there is still football to watch.  More importantly, free agency is open & now your team can add the missing piece to win their division or make it to the Super Bowl.  Everyone is undefeated & every team has hope.  The Chiefs finished with the worst record in the NFL, but if you talk to a die hard Chiefs fan right now, he’ll be optimistic.  He will say that the team upgraded the quarterback position & the coaching position & that with all of their Pro Bowl players from last year, this year they will be the surprise of the division.  Even fans in Cleveland are excited about the new coach & Cleveland fans have been beaten down over the years.

I have read a couple of articles about how the Miami Dolphins have “won” free agency this year.  They got rid of Jake Long & his huge contract & frequent injury history.  They added Mike Wallace, who was the #1 free agent in most lists, to be their speedy #1 receiver. They added linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who was a key contributor on the Ravens Super Bowl team, & linebacker Phillip Wheeler from the Indianapolis Colts.  If you put that with their excitement about Ryan Tannehill going into his second year as quarterback, it sounds like the Dolphins are back on track.  That may even be true.  This team might jell & rule the AFC East for years to come. 

On the other hand, back in the 2010 off-season Miami fans were excited because they picked up Brandon Marshall to be their #1 receiver & Karlos Dansby to be their  hard hitting linebacker.  They had Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long.  They were also excited because of the promise shown by Chad Henne, who looked to be the best Dolphins quarterback since Marino.  The Dolphins finished 7-9 that year & missed the playoffs.  They got rid of Brandon Marshall last year.  He caught 86 passes for 1,014 yards in 2010 with the Dolphins  & 81 passes for 1,214 in 2011.  In 2012 he caught 118 for 1,508 for the Chicago Bears.  Karlos Dansby was released by the Dolphins on March 12th.  Jake Long signed recently with the Saint Louis Rams.  Chad Henne was replaced midway through the 2010 season, although he started the 2011 season as the starting quarterback.  He is now with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

I’m not just picking on the Dolphins.  Free agency is hard. I could have written thousands of words about the free agency failures of the Washington Redskins.  Just the words “Albert Haynesworth” can cause Redskin fans to punch a wall in frustration. When a team lets a player move to another team, unless there are significant salary cap issues, it means that the teams have different beliefs about that player’s abilities.  One team will be right & the other will be wrong, but it will take time to find out.  If Jake Long stays healthy for a couple of seasons & Sam Bradford blossoms into a star quarterback because he is confident that someone is protecting his blind side, we’ll say that the Rams made the right decision.  If Long is injured & his play suffers, then Miami will have been right to let him walk.  We won’t know any time soon.

For me, half of the fun will be in seeing how these new players fit in with their new team.  I thought Wes Welker should stay with the New England Patriots, but I can’t think of a better fit for him than the Denver Broncos.  He should do great, but we don’t know what will happen.  Danny Amendola seems like a perfect replacement for Welker in New England, but most of that is based on potential & his similarities to Welker (I don’t think that there was another short white former Texas Tech wide receiver out there for them to sign).  He might eclipse Welker in New England.  He might get injured in training camp & never play a down. 

The bottom line is that there is a ton of excitement at this time of year, but you don’t know what the result will be.  There is always the chance that the team is really just one free agent away from the Super Bowl.  It isn’t likely.  The only free agent that occurs to me as having tipped the balance of power & sending one team instead of another to the Super Bowl is when Deion Sanders moved from the San Francisco 49ers to the Dallas Cowboys in 1995.  Even then, Deion missed the first 8 games with an injury.  Teams have to make an attempt to improve though, & free agency is a great time of year to do it.

There is much less risk involved in breaking out some older wines to try in a random sampling.  You might waste as much as a few hundred dollars, but it isn’t like signing Jake Long to a $36 million 4 year contract & then having him injured.

I recently sat down for dinner at Zammitti’s in Kingwood Texas with a couple of guys including Eddie Ghazal, who owns the place.  Eddie broke out some gems from his cellar.  Here’s what we tried.

Jacob Franklin Petite Sirah 2000 (Napa Valley/Howell Mountain)

This wine may have set the bar too high for the evening.  It smelled of blueberry & perfume.  It tasted like dark liquorice, blueberry, & chocolate.  The tannins were still strong. It was an amazing wine at almost every level.  As great as it was, it tasted to me like a youthful wine that still had plenty of time to settle in.  I would highly recommend this wine if you can find a bottle.  The label says that there were only 16 barrels made, so that is about 400 cases.

Joseph Phelps Merlot 1999 (Napa Valley)

This was a 91 point wine in Wine Spectator in its day.  Its day is rapidly coming to a close.  The wine was starting to get a little brown.  The nose was still great, with tobacco & cherry being the predominate scents.  The taste was complex.  There was some good, older fruit, perhaps some pruney blackberry & plum flavors.  It actually still had really strong tannins.  That may have been because the fruit was showing less.  It became softer as it opened up.  It was quite a nice wine, but if you have a bottle lying around, throw something on the grill & drink it tonight.  It isn’t going to get any better & you want to enjoy it while you still can.

Bourassa Solera Port (Napa)

Before I review this wine, I want to make a quick digression.  I hate it when people in places other than Portugal label their dessert wine as Port.  Port is made in Portugal & Champagne is made in Champagne.  You can make a similar wine in another wine region, but it isn’t that wine.  If you create a car that looks & performs very similar to a Mercedes, you still can’t call it a Mercedes. Unfortunately, despite recent changes to the law, there are many wineries who were grandfathered in to the system & still get to call their sweet red dessert wine from California, Australia, or Arkansas a Port.  New wines have to be labeled as something else.  I actually liked “Port style wine”, but that isn’t legal anymore.

OK.  I had to get that rant out.  We are on to the wine itself.  This is produced with Cabernet Sauvignon.  It is made in a Solera system where wine from newer vintages tops off older vintages in the barrel.  When the wine is bottled, some of the older wine is used, but not all of it.  Eventually there is some really old wine in the blend, but you can’t tell how much is from which vintage.  In Sherry, there are soleras that have the oldest wines dating back hundreds of years. This had a very strong aroma of cassis.  It tasted of cassis a bit as well, but the primary flavors were caramelized pecan & old jammy figs & prunes.  My notes (after several drinks) say that this wine should keep you regular.  That may not quite be true, but it does taste like it.  This would be nice with bread pudding.  It isn’t bad on a cold night by the fire either.  It looks like this wine sells for around $80.  That may be kind of high for what you get, but it is tasty.

Norman Vineyards The Monster Zinfandel 2001 (Central Coast/Paso Robles)

I read one review of this wine that called it “legendary” & “a stylistic masterpiece”.  I’m usually a fan of these big Norman Zinfandels, but I can’t tell you anything about this wine.  It was corked.  That’s the equivalent of a career ending injury to your top rated free agent.  There was nothing to do but pour it out & open a bottle of something else.

Chateau de Lescours St. Emilion Grand Cru 1998 (Bordeaux)

Wine Searcher showed a peak price for this wine of $144 a bottle in 2009-2011, with a sharp drop thereafter, leading to a price of around $66 now.  That is a pretty good analysis of this wine.

It is comprised of about 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, & 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.  I didn’t know that at the time I tasted it, but I picked out the three grapes pretty easily.  Merlot is the key grape in St.Emilion & the Cab Franc was extremely prominent.  It felt like there was a little Cab in there for weight.  The fruit was low on the wine & the tannins were low, but it was still a solid wine.  I really enjoyed the first few sips. I tasted bell pepper, mint, & a bit of earth.  It was very much a mature Bordeaux.   As the wine opened up, the fruit diminished even more & it became very acidic.  I think this wine was probably at its peak 2-4 years ago.  It is still a drinkable Bordeaux, but the things that probably made it special are going away.  If you have a bottle of this, drink it as soon as possible.  Don’t give it time to open up.  I wouldn’t suggest guzzling a wine, but I would say to pour this for a few people.  If you have just 1 or 2 people drinking this wine, it won’t be enjoyable by the time you finish the bottle.  If you have 5 or 6, they will all get a nice glass of wine.  Just don’t sit too long to savor it.

That was the tasting.  Much like in free agency, we had a hit, a miss, & a few that were solid, but didn’t have much left to give.  Here’s hoping that your team & your cellar dive only uncover hits!

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Drew Bledsoe seeks change in Massachusetts wine law | Boston Herald

21 Mar

Drew Bledsoe seeks change in Massachusetts wine law | Boston Herald.

I need to post something on some wines I tried recently & how they relate to free agency, but in the meantime, I couldn’t pass up on posting this.

Enkidu Wines + Why is Darrelle Revis so hard to trade?

7 Mar

moss beating revis

Enkidu WInesLast week I went to a wine dinner & met Phillip Staehle from Enkidu Winery. I had tried his wines in the past, but had never had a formal tasting on them. The food was great (The Funky Door in Lubbock Texas) & the conversation was excellent. Phil was enjoyable to chat with & was a wealth of information about his wines.

Enkidu Winery, named after the character from Gilgamesh, is a Sonoma Valley Winery. They do not own their own vineyards, but they have long term relationships with their growers. They make fewer than 5,000 cases of wine a year. They consistently win medals in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition & they get great reviews.

Here’s what we tried the other night…

2011 Tin Cross Chardonnay (Alexander Valley)
This has a bit of a buttery taste from 30% new oak, but it doesn’t have that over the top, pour it on your popcorn taste. That’s because it doesn’t go through malolactic fermentation. So it is more of a hint of butter. Since it doesn’t go through malo, the acid is higher, which makes it crisp. There is a little mellow spice& vanilla. There is some minerality to begin with, which really grows as the wine opens up. I also noticed some lemon, or maybe lemon cream. The nose really shows the mineral character of the wine. This was a terrific example of what you can do with Chardonnay in Alexander Valley. It runs about $30, so it isn’t an everyday wine for most people, but it is certainly a nice treat.

2009 Tina Marie Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley)
Meaty isn’t the first word you usually think of with Pinot Noir, but it isn’t a bad starter for this one. On the front it shows blackberry, fairly deep red fruit, & spice. As it settles in the meaty, almost bacon flavor showed through. It also had some plum that was almost pruney, in a good way. I liked this wine a lot more as it opened up. My first sip seemed like a solid, but light California Pinot Noir. After it had some time to breath though, it revealed a much more complex wine & I greatly enjoyed it. I would recommend pouring this wine about 20 minutes early, or decanting it. I also read recently about a chef who has been sticking his red wine in a blender to aerate it. That is so weird that I have to try it! This wine runs about $42. I liked the wine, but that may be more than I would pay for it.

2010 Bedrock Vineyard Zinfandel (Sonoma Valley)

This is a big boy Zinfandel. The vines for the grapes are as much as 125 years old. When the vineyard was planted, there were some vines of other grape varietals interspersed. So this wine has some Alicante Bouchet, Petite Sirah, Peloursin, & Carignane mixed in with it. That blend adds complexity to the finished product. It is a tough trick to pull off because you have to pick at the right time. not all of the grapes will be at equal ripeness at the same time. This wine was fermented on native yeast, which really surprised me. I asked Phillip about it because the wine showed some alcohol, balanced, but clearly higher than usual. He said it was 15.7%, which is pretty high. Most yeast dies around 15%. I asked what he used, since I figured he was using a special commercial yeast that had been shown to be tolerant of high alcohol. Nope, just native yeast. In case you don’t know about making wine with native yeast, it was the way all wine was made for thousands of years. There is yeast on the skins of the grapes or in the vineyard. Wineries will start to build up colonies of yeast as well, not always good ones, but that is a different story. That yeast gets into the juice & starts to eat the sugar & convert it to alcohol. Some native grapes work great & you get great wine. Some don’t & you get stuck fermentation (where it is hard to get the sugar to convert to alcohol) or you can get stinky wine. Anyway, this yeast worked well. The wine has strong fruit on the nose & a long finish. The alcohol does show a little high, but it is balanced by the fruit. The fruit itself tends toward older, dried fruit flavors. It spent 15 months on French oak & the tannin exchange with that new oak has left it softer than you might expect. This is a wine that you can pair with meat with a lot of flavor. It would be great with lamb or a Montreal steak. It sells for about $34.

2008 Diener Ranch Petite Sirah (Red Hills Lake County)
This won a Gold Medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition this year. There are some really nice tannins here, which is the signatyre of Petite Sirah. It has a great mouthfeel with a little spice & a distinct cocoa taste. It is dry, & not exactly austere. Maybe “reserved” is a better word for it. We had this with a chocolate dessert, which was a nice match. If I were to have it at home, I would be more likely to have it with grilled meat. I think some ribs would be great with it. I prefer beef, but it would be nice with some pork ribs as long as they had a little spice. This wine throws sediment, so if that bugs you, you might want to decant it. Otherwise, just grit your teeth! This is $34.

The Enkidu wines aren’t found everywhere, but if you run across them, they are worth checking out.

My football thoughts of the day are about the Darrelle Revis trade story going on at the moment. I think it is going to be almost impossible for the Jets to get full value in a trade for Revis.

In 2007, Darrelle Revis was the 1st round pick of the Jets (14th overall). His play at cornerback has been excellent. He has been named to the Pro Bowl 4 times and named an All Pro (which is much more prestigious) 3 times. He even has a cool nickname, “Revis Island”, because he can be left on an island to defend the other team’s top receiver without expecting Safety help over the top. SO why would the Jets want to trade their best player & why is it going to be so hard? There are 2 ways of looking at it.

Revis has been surprised about the trade talk. He has said “It doesn’t make sense to trade your best player.” I am usually bothered when a player talks like that, but in the case of the Jets, I guess it isn’t bragging when there isn’t anyone on the roster who has a clear claim on second best. Here is one way of looking at it if you are want to trade him
1) How often can you acquire an elite player in the league who is under 30 years old? Revis is 27.
2) Revis can shut down the other team’s leading receiver, so your other corner can get safety help, or you can free a safety to blitz. Basically, he can make your entire defense look better & he can disrupt an offense. They have to game plan for him.
3) If you feel like you are a team that is 1 cornerback away from winning a Super Bowl, possibly the San Francisco 49ers, the Denver Broncos, or the Atlanta Falcons (or The New England Patriots, although the Jets would never trade him there) shouldn’t you give the Jets a Herschel Walker type deal so that you can get over the hump & win a Super Bowl?

Here is the other way of looking at it & it’s why I think the Jets won’t get what they want…
1) Revis tore his ACL last year & is still rehabbing it. There is a perception that players are coming back from ACL injury more quickly than they used to, but cornerback is a harder position than running back to rehabilitate because it is inherently more reactive than the running back position. The running back can pick his angle & protect himself more easily than a cornerback. Rod Woodson did come back in the same season after an ACL tear, but he wasn’t the same player & eventually moved to safety.
2) If he can’t play at his best this year you are in trouble, because he is in a contract year & you would have to decide what to pay him going forward without knowing if he would ever be as good again.
3) You can’t franchise him because after he renegotiated his contract in 2010, he was able to add a “no franchise” clause. So you couldn’t keep him for an extra year to see if he can get back to 100%
4) He might hold out again. He missed the first 21 days of training camp his rookie year holding out for more money. In 2010 he missed all of pre-season holding out for a 4 year $32 million, fully guaranteed contract. He didn’t make any interceptions that year. In 2012 he threatened to hold out again, despite language in his contract that attempted to prevent it. He has been talking about needing $16 million a year on his next contract, so it wouldn’t be out of character for him to hold out for a long term, expensive contract before reporting to his new team.
5) Most of the teams that are mentioned as being a cornerback away from a Super Bowl win can’t afford to pay him what he wants. The 49er’s are now 14 million under the cap, but that is less than Revis wants & even if they trade some of their 15 draft picks to the Jets, they will still have their own free agents to sign & new draft picks to pay. The Falcons might make the most sense. They cut cornerback Dunta Robinson the other day & are now $15.9 million under the cap. They might sign a new contract with Matt Ryan & gain some cap room as well. That still isn’t enough for Revis & they are still probably going to pick up a running back & some defensive help in free agency. They have been linked to Steven Jackson & Osi Umenyiora. They are also hoping that Tony Gonzalez will come back for another year. The Denver Broncos have about $18.5 million in cap space. They have some other needs though (like running back) & unless the Jets are just writing off the year, it would be odd to trade Revis in the conference. John Elway has been known to roll the dice on a highly paid player who is coming off a major injury. It would mean a ton of cap money tied up in two players though. If they paid Revis $16 million, they would have almost 30% of the salary cap tied up in Revis & Manning. You can put together a team that way, but it is hard to do.

Here’s the question that I think a GM has to ask. What would you give to pick up a player that you may only have for a year, who probably won’t be in top condition until late in the year…if at all, who can’t be franchised, who has a history of holding out & griping about his contract, & whose salary demands could kill your salary cap? When you look at it that way, it is hard to see someone giving up much to get Revis. Of course they only need to find one GM or owner willing to make the deal. I just don’t see it as likely to happen.