Wine Ink: World Cup racing — what kind of grape do you ski like?
March 18, 2017
Under the influence
2012 Pine Ridge Vineyards “Epitome”: Perhaps the best “skiing winemaker” I ever knew was the late Gary Andrus. Often touted as a former member of the U.S. Ski Team, he was skiing in Australia when he was first introduced to the world of wine. He went on to found Pine Ridge in the Stags Leap section of the Napa Valley before being beguiled by pinot noir and moving on to found wineries in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and the Central Otago region of New Zealand. A great skier and raconteur, I liked Gary, so I was pleased on a trip last year to Napa to have an opportunity taste this cabernet sauvignon from original Pine Ridge vineyards. The wine was like skiing a big mountain. Gary would have liked it.
With this prodigious winter winding into spring, the fastest ski racers in the world will be coming to the United States for the FIS World Cup ski races. The Finals will be contested on the slopes of Aspen mountain this weekend — and this past weekend, Squaw Valley hosted a pair of incredible women's slalom and giant slalom races. The best of the best, the Grand Cru, if you will, of the skiing world will be competing for the Crystal Globes, the symbol of excellence in skiing.
While they call it the "World Cup," virtually all of the skiers in the Finals hail from the Northern Hemisphere. The majority are from Europe and North America, which, by happy coincidence, happens to fit into the sweet spot of this column. The nations the skiers call home are those with the greatest wine traditions. It got me to thinking: "What kind of wines would best represent the world's best skiers?"
WHITE WINES FOR CHAMPIONS
Take the Austrian Marcel Hirscher, for example. The most accomplished athlete on earth who most Americans have never heard of (except ski racing fans), Marcel has won six straight overall World Championships.
That would be the equivalent of a winery being named the best by every significant wine journal for over half a decade. And for good measure he is ranked first in the slalom and the giant slalom standings going into these Finals as well.
In Marcel's home country, there are 35 grape varieties (22 white and 13 red) that can be used in the production of Qualitätswein (quality wine). Perhaps the best known, especially amongst wine geeks, is the epic grüner veltliner white wines that can show as peppery, racy and full of power.
While Champagne will, no doubt, be sprayed this week in celebration of his Crystal Globes, I'd like to pour Marcel some FX Pichler Grüner Veltliner "M" for monumental. In a glass made by his countryman, Georg Riedel, of course.
On the distaff side is the young, precise and charming Mikaela Shiffrin from Vail, Colo. Mikaela celebrated her 22nd birthday this past Monday and is coming off a pair of victories last weekend at Squaw Valley. (How is your week going?)
Mikaela is favored to win the Overall Title in Aspen. Though she is youthful, she also represents the future of ski racing, and will have an unprecedented shot at five medals in next year's Olympic Games in Pyeong Chang, South Korea. If she approaches that, her fame will rise to the Michael Phelps stratosphere.
I don't know if Mikaela is a wine drinker, but at the end of this ski season, I suggest she sit down to reflect on her success with a glass of Sonoma Coast chardonnay. It is a region that, like Mikaela, is getting more and more recognition on the international scene, and one known for precise, charming wines with power and structure.
May I recommend a 2013 Hirsch Vineyards Estate Chardonnay? Though the Hirsch is better known for their outstanding pinot noir, this release is a wine for the times. Again, much like Mikaela.
RED WINES WORK ON SNOW, TOO
Of course, if you are looking for a powerhouse American skier who has not just had world-class success, but has also overcome the vicissitude of the her sport like no other, consider Lindsey Vonn.
Again, nature imposed its uncompromising will this year on Lindsey, who severely broke her arm in training at Copper Mountain in November. But, incredibly, she is back racing downhill and just missed victory two weeks ago in Pyeong Chang, where she was second by .07 to Italy's Sofia Goggia.
Somebody should give that girl a bottle, make it a magnum, of the California Cult Cabernet from Harlan Estate, preferably one from 2010, the year she won two Medals, including a Gold at the Vancouver Olympic Games.
Big, beautiful, balanced and powerful, it is the perfect pairing with Lindsey's book, "Strong is the New Beautiful," released last Fall. Oh, and you can find that magnum on Wine.com for $2,199.00.
And speaking of Goggia, she comes into Aspen from her home region of Bergamo in Lombardy, where the Bellavista DOCG Franciacorta wines are made using the Champagne method.
Sofia trails Slovenia's Ilka Štuhec in the downhill standings by 97 points. Slovenia is the home of the renowned Ales Kristancic, who makes Puro, a legendary white sparkler that is best opened while upside down. A position none of the skiers hope to be in this week.
I could go on, but I'd rather go watch the races.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass, Colo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.