My father and I have been exchanging emails about FIFA’s World Cup Soccer. I was born in the Azores Islands, about 800 miles off the coast of Portugal, on one of the smaller islands named Terceira. Soccer is our island’s collective sport of choice.
My father grew up playing soccer with the boys in his village. For my father and his friends, and for even my generation, soccer is a transcendent game; it is at times dangerous and brutal, and at other times as graceful as ballet. When two teams are well matched, the game is consistently riveting. The level of physicality and movement in soccer, paired with the national pride felt in the beating heart of each die-hard soccer fan for his or her team of choice, makes soccer one of the most widely appreciated and beloved sports in the world. So, World Cup Soccer is a time for celebration for many nations around the world, and certainly for many immigrant communities throughout the United States.
Beer is a great beverage. I love all kinds of beer, and find that I drink them mostly during the summer. But, for this Portuguese girl, my beverage of choice for World Cup Soccer is red wine.
Perhaps it’s due to the muscularity of the game, coupled with the sometimes delicate movements of a player’s feet or head that I find myself gravitating toward the syrahs in my cellar when World Cup Soccer season rolls around. Like soccer, a good syrah is a dance of opposites: it can be at once massive and almost animalistic, with bacon fat and leather on the nose, while still exhibiting much delicacy and elegance, with violets, white pepper, and rose nuances emerging in the glass.
We are lucky here, in the southern Central Coast, to be surrounded by so many great local and Central Coast-based syrahs. Between Santa Barbara County and Paso Robles, one finds many compelling, delicious syrahs from which to choose, and, for the most part, they are all much more affordable than a cult cabernet from Napa Valley, but I would argue that they are, despite varietal differences, just as interesting and satisfying to drink.
Take, for instance, the 2004 Hug Cellars, Bassetti Vineyard Syrah (hugcellars.com), which was born to be paired with a convivial gathering of friends and a great soccer match. The nose on this wine provides ample notes of espresso, bacon fat, brambleberry, smoky meats, crme de cassis, and sage. It is luscious and generous, with underlying elegant tannins. This is the perfect wine for true syrah lovers, and, at $40 a bottle, it can almost be considered affordable when compared to C’te R’ties that demand three times as much, but aren’t, by any stretch, three times as good as this keeper.
Another great wine to decant and share with friends while World Cup Soccer unfolds on ESPN is the 2004 Ambullneo Vineyards, Howling, Central Coast Syrah ($59). This wine consists of fruit from two great vineyards - Bien Nacido in Santa Maria Valley and Rimrock Vineyard in Arroyo Grande - and requires a degree of rumination and some decanting. There’s a lot going on in each glass of this stunning syrah, so, as the players move across the field, marking their territory, then erasing it as they move closer to the opposing goalie, you will want to swirl, smell, and drink it with a degree of concentration and passion that only a true soccer fan would understand (ambullneovineyards.com).
If you’re watching your wallet these days, the truly enjoyable and satisfying 2000 Epiphany Starlane Vineyard Syrah/Cabernet fetches about $20 a bottle at their tasting room in Los Olivos, and you should be able to find it pretty readily around the county. This wine is mostly syrah (80 percent), with the balance dedicated to cabernet sauvignon. This is a big wine, but the mouth feel is velvety and elegant. I would pair this red with several artisan cheeses, leaning more toward the aged and dry cheeses. Because of this wine’s palate size, it’s one to sip slowly, throughout the game, as your team (hopefully) scores the most goals.
Go Pauleta and Ronaldo! Go Portugal!