As I write this, the Atlanta Braves baseball club has the best record in the National League and the second-best in the majors. From this unbiased observer’s perspective, the World Series is a virtual lock for the Braves. Therefore, we must start planning now for the ladder of celebrations to come.
The natural celebratory beverage of choice (“The Natural,” get it?) is bubbly. The majority of baseball analysts on my street in Decatur pick the Braves to win the National League East, so we won’t have to deal with the rigmarole of the Wild Card play-in game. Extreme early projections have them locking up the East on Sept. 15 at home against the Padres.
For the uninitiated baseball fan, compiling the best regular-season record in the five-team Eastern Division of the National League gives you a berth in the playoffs. The baseball season is a grueling 162 games, fraught with slumps, injuries and stomach-churning personnel decisions, like playing catcher Brian McCann instead of phenom and rookie of the month for April, Evan Gattis.
Winning the East is big, but it’s just a pit stop on the way to the Big Dance, so our wine can’t be too fancy. Our sparkler should be classy and since we’re talking about the American pastime, let’s pick domestic bubbly. California is a bastion of bubbles. Champagne houses such as Mumm, Chandon, Roederer and Taittinger have been making first-class sparkling wine there for decades.
But let’s choose a real home-grown sparkler. J Vineyards in Sonoma County make some of the most elegant sparkling wines I’ve ever had from anywhere. At a recent gathering of bubble heads, I opened J’s 2004 Late Disgorged Brut ($90), it took everyone’s breath away. We’ll consider this for the championship, but for getting in the playoffs, we’ll pop the cork on J’s Cuvée 20 ($28). Affordable and easily enjoyed by infrequent bubbly imbibers as well as aficionados, this is our choice for the first rung of the ladder.
Next up, the Divisional Championships. The first-round of the playoffs whittle four National League teams down to two, but winning this round—while necessary, of course—is somewhat unfulfilling, which reminds me of cava. Don’t take this the wrong way, lovers of cava—the sparkling wine of Spain and easily the best value in the wine world—but I’ve yet to have a cava that has taken me to the heights of Champagne.
I buy cava; I love cava. Cava is the wine of picnics and Chastain concerts. Cristalino Brut ($8) and Segura Viudas Brut Reserva ($9) are regularly on my shopping list. Considering the importance of our march to the World Series, we’ll up the quality while keeping our eyes on the prize (and our pocketbooks!). Let’s choose Segura Viudas’ Aria Brut ($12). A lovely sparkler to drink, but inexpensive enough to pour on second baseman Dan Uggla’s head.
Who would have guessed that we’d sweep the Cardinals for the National League Championship this year? Payback for last year’s Wild Card loss is sweet, which seems like a nice segue to mention Gruet’s Demi-Sec ($16) or Moët & Chandon’s popular Nectar Rosé Champagne ($75) or the often overlooked Taittinger Nocturne Champagne ($110). All delicious, but I like my sweet dessert sparklers in small doses. When the Braves are crowned the 2013 National League champs, I want a long draught of something special.
I’m at odds on this one. My new favorite Champagne is Chartogne Taillet’s Sainte Anne ($45) from the village of Merfy. Powerful yet elegant, it reminds me of Jason Heyward’s swing. However, it’s hard to deny Henri Billiot’s Brut Réserve ($50) from the amazing village of Ambonnay. Complex and ever-changing in the glass, it is something to behold whether you’re celebrating or not. Since there are no ties in baseball, we’ll go with the Billiot, which fans will have an easier time finding.
For some it’s Krug. For others, it is Dom Perignon ($145), Cristal ($215) or even Armand de Brignac’s Ace of Spades ($245). For me, the Holy Grail of sparkling wine is Champagne Salon. Ridiculously expensive at $320 a bottle, it has simply taken me to places no other Champagne or practically no other wine has. Winning the World Series (or achieving your own significant goals in life) is reward enough for the dedication and hard work it takes to stand alone the final rung of the ladder of success. Rather than viewing this as an extravagance, it is simply pairing the best of times for any baseball fan with the best possible wine.
Gil Kulers is a certified wine educator and a consultant for a metro-Atlanta wine shop. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Wines are rated on a scale ranging up from Thumbs Down, One Thumb Mostly Up, One Thumb Up, Two Thumbs Up, Two Thumbs Way Up and Golden Thumb Award. Prices are suggested retail prices as provided by the winery, one of its agents, a local distributor or retailer.
— Gil Kulers, AJC Drink blog