- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Super Bowl Sunday is America’s annual party day. All across the country, friends and neighbors will gather to watch the big game and, more to the point, make merry. Many will want to toast the touchdowns with a glass (or two) of wine.

Harry Smith, executive chef for the restaurants at Jacksonville’s Alltel Stadium, where the Super Bowl will be played, knows that watching football doesn’t necessarily mean drinking beer.

“From the Terrace Suite [the stadium’s fine-dining restaurant] to at-home get-togethers, fans are looking to add some variety to the game-day menu,” he says. “That means adding wine to the mix.”

Mr. Smith insists that wine can be a down-home drink. The glasses don’t have to be crystal, and you still can serve chips and dip. In fact, you’ll find his recipe for a delicious wine-friendly dip at the end of this column.

But which wines? Choosing bottles to open at a neighborhood Super Bowl get-together isn’t quite the same as selecting wines to accompany a sit-down meal. After all, the focus Sunday will be on fellowship and fun, not finely tuned pairings.

The first thing to keep in mind, then, is to pick wines with bold flavors. Nuanced subtleties that would prove enticing at the dinner table will tend to get lost in all the pigskin hubbub.

In the same vein, this is one occasion in which inexpensive really does make sense. There’s no need to spend more than $10 or at most $15 a bottle for a good party wine — meaning one that’s full of flavor without prominent acid or tannin.

Acid in all wines and tannin specifically in reds are structural elements rather than flavors. While all wines have them, some wines have higher levels than others. Notable acid can be all to the good when a wine is paired with a dish that benefits from a tart edge — New Zealand sauvignon blanc, for instance, with oysters on the half shell. So, too, with tannin. If matched with a grilled steak, a tough, astringent cabernet sauvignon will magically turn supple.

At a party, though, where the wine will be drunk both on its own and with a bevy of different foods, these elements need to stay in the background. That’s because a good Super Bowl wine has to be above all else easy to sip and enjoy.

Here are four categories full of just such wines, along with specific recommendations to look for when shopping.

DRY RIESLING

While Riesling is often sweet, many delicious wines from this grape come in a dry form. They’re full of bright, tangy citrus and summer fruit flavors and so prove tasty both on their own and when nibbling on party snacks. Though the best truly dry Rieslings come from Alsace in northern France, most seem too expensive for casual party sipping. Adam “Reserve” 2002 ($15) is a delicious exception. It tastes of crisp apples with a citrus zing in the finish.

You’ll find some exciting dry Rieslings in Australia, as this grape is that country’s best-kept secret. Jacob’s Creek “Reserve” 2003 ($12) tastes crisp and lively, while Wolf Blass “Gold Label” 2002 ($14) offers a floral bouquet and enticing lime-tinged fruit flavor.

UNWOODED CHARDONNAY

Chardonnay remains America’s favorite white wine, but many people want an alternative to the heavy, oaky style that was in vogue a few years ago. Unwooded renditions provide that. They’re great party choices because they offer full flavor but don’t seem heavy.

Wines from the Macon region of Burgundy often see little or no wood. Try Drouhin Macon-Villages 2002 ($12) or Laboure-Roi Macon-Villages 2002 ($11). Both taste rich without seeming clunky.

Though most Australian chardonnays are quite woody, some adventurous vintners excel with this style. Yalumba 2003 ($11) proves the point with its sumptuous but autumn (apples and pears) fruit flavors.

2003 BEAUJOLAIS

In France, Beaujolais is the traditional choice with ham, sausages and other cured meats. Here at home, it’s perfect with sandwiches. Though the record-setting heat of 2003 wreaked havoc on many French grape-growing regions, Beaujolais producers witnessed a dream vintage. Their wines are lower in acid than in other years and display an unexpected depth of enticing strawberry and raspberry flavor.

Georges DuBoeuf “Flower Label” Beaujolais Villages 2003 ($9) tastes remarkably harmonious. Just a step behind comes Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages 2003 ($9), with less depth but arguably more finesse. Both of these wines are widely available and are well worth buying by the case. Odds are we won’t see a vintage like 2003 for a very long time.

CHILEAN MERLOT

When well made, merlot can be an ideal party red — full of flavor, but soft and supple. Sadly, most merlots priced less than $15 aren’t made especially well. They either taste vegetal, reflecting underripe grapes, or sappy, reflecting excessive yields and heavy-handed winemaking.

One place that excels with value-priced merlot, though, is Chile. Good examples display rich, ripe fruit flavors, often with herbal undertones, and unassuming tannins. The sumptuous Santa Rita “Reserva” 2003 ($11) is an excellent example. A merlot of this quality from California would cost two or three times as much.

Other Chilean merlots worth trying include the bright, lively Veramonte 2003 ($9), the earthier but still supple Cousino-Macul 2002 ($11), and the smooth Concha y Toro “Casillero del Diablo” 2003 ($9). All three offer plenty of bang for not many bucks — which is just what you’ll want come Super Bowl Sunday.

White bean and basil dip

This recipe is from Harry Smith and Levy Restaurants.

1 19-ounce can cannelloni beans, drained

cup extra virgin live oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

cup loosely packed basil leaves, chiffonade (sliced in thin shreds)

1 teaspoons minced garlic

cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper

Puree beans with olive oil in a food processor until smooth. Add lemon juice and mix well. In a separate bowl, combine basil, garlic, Parmesan, salt and pepper to taste. Fold the bean puree into basil mixture. Serve with bagel chips, crackers, or crostini.

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