Happy Cinco de Giro Derby Day!

This weekend affords wine lovers many excuses to celebrate with a glass of something delicious in hand. Friday, May 5th, best known to imbibing revelers worldwide as Cinco de Mayo, also happens to be Sauvignon Blanc Day. So if tequila shots chased by cold, Mexican beer aren’t your thing, why not pour yourself a few fingers of crisp Sauvignon Blanc? (Bonus points awarded if you’ve wrangled one produced in Mexico’s Baja peninsula.)

As we roll (or perhaps loll) into Saturday, more festivities await us. The first jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown will be awarded to the swiftest three-year-old at the Kentucky Derby. Also known as the Run for the Roses, the Derby is perhaps most famous for its traditional cocktail, the mint julep. Most of the spectators will be sipping on this bourbon concoction as they place their wagers on the race. But did you know that Kentucky also has a robust wine economy and is home to the first commercial winery in the United States? So again, if the usual thing isn’t your thing, see if you can’t rustle up a bottle of Kentucky wine. No one will be mad at you!

And, in Sardinia, 198 of the world’s best cyclists will begin the 21-day trek known as the Giro d’Italia. This race is the first of cycling’s Grand Tours, to be followed by the Tour de France in July and then the Vuelta a España in September. All three of these races send their contestants through stunningly beautiful countryside that, quite often, includes our favorite wine-producing regions. In the first few days of this race, the 100th anniversary of the Giro, the peloton will circumnavigate the island of Sardinia and climb the ash-dusted slopes of Mount Etna, a live volcano in Sicily. Both areas produce some really delicious wine.

Here are some ideas to incorporate into your weekend party plans:

Cinco de Mayo

I’m not much of a tequila drinker, nor do I love beer. That means I’ll be swigging down some lovely Sauvignon Blanc which, if I’m honest, is not my favorite variety. I find much of it too grassy, or too grapefruity, or just too much. That said, there are some notable exceptions, such as the ethereal wines of Touraine in the Loire Valley and Bordeaux-style white blends with a healthy dose of Semillon in the mix. A few I’ve tried and whole-heartedly enjoyed recently are listed below:

DeLille Chaleur Blanc
DeLille Cellars Bordeaux Blend: SRP $38; 14.4% abv; 73% Sauvignon Blanc, 27% Semillon
Tasciaca Touraine SB
2014 Domaine Ricard from Moore Brothers NYC: SRP $25; 100% Sauvignon Blanc
Ch La Graviere EDM White Bordeaux
Chateau La Gravière: SRP <$10; 13% abv; 55% Semillon, 45% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Muscadelle

And here’s a recipe for the perfect Cinco de Mayo fiesta: Avocado and Tomatillo Dip. It’s one of my go-to dishes because it takes five minutes to prepare and is utterly delicious. I like to serve it with fresh vegetables and Tostitos Hint of Lime chips (trust me.) Just a warning – it won’t last long, so maybe double-up on the ingredients in case you want to make a second batch.

Avocado and Tomatillo Dip

10-12 tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and cut in half
5 avocados, cut into 1″ chunks
Half of medium onion, coarsely chopped (red onion brings more color to the dish)
One jalapeño, finely chopped (seeds in or out, depending on how hot you like it!)
Salt, to taste
Ground cumin
1-2 Tbsps. of minced cilantro (optional)

Place tomatillos in a food processor and chop. Pour into large bowl.
Add the onion and jalapeño and mix in.
Add avocado and salt and stir carefully until blended in. (You want to keep the avocado chunks in tact.)
Sprinkle the top with a dusting of ground cumin and the cilantro.

Note: The amounts can be adjusted to your personal preference. Use more or less of everything, or add something new. This recipe is meant to be tinkered with!

Avocado Tomatillo Salsa

Kentucky Derby

I’ve been a horseracing fan since childhood, when my dad would take us kids to the track on Saturday mornings. He taught us how to read the Racing Form and introduced us to all the fixtures of the race track – from the grooms and hot walkers to the bookies and owners. The track is a colorful place where many streams of life cross, intermingle, and then go their separate ways, all in the course of a few hours. And then there are the horses – such magnificent, powerful beasts! Standing by the rail as they trundle past, hooves a-thunder, is a thrilling experience even all these years later.

This year I’m particularly excited about the race because of Patch. Patch will break from the 20 post, meaning he will start the race about as far from the rail as possible. It’s not unheard of for a horse to win after breaking from that far out, but few have done it. However, there’s something truly wondrous about Patch – he has only one eye. A serious infection necessitated the removal of his left eye, and he has adapted to running races (and life) without it. Having lost my left eye also (not to an infection, but to multiple sclerosis) I applaud Patch’s resilience and will be standing by my television on Saturday, rooting him on to victory. Go, Patch, go!

Lovers-Leap-1800x650 Kentucky
Lover’s Leap Vineyards in Central Kentucky

Earlier I mentioned Kentucky’s wine industry and, I have to admit, I know so little about it. As it turns out, the trade’s website, www.kentuckywine.com lists 66 wineries located within the commonwealth and scattered throughout its four quadrants. Production comprises everything from hybrid grapes to vitis vinifera varieties, and every style of wine is made. Black Barn Winery, located outside the city of Louisville, specializes in crafting wine from the classic Bordeaux grapes Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc, sourced from vineyards in the Sierra Foothills of California. So if the idea of bourbon doesn’t ring your bell this Saturday, why not try a wine from Kentucky? Or just go with a Bordeaux blend from your favorite region – it’ll be easier to find.

Giro d’Italia

Cycling is one of my favorite sports and I used to do quite a bit of it before my Patch incident. These days I watch the races on TV and sip on a glass of wine from one of the villages visited by the peloton. (I’ve written wine-centered posts about each stage of the 2015 and 2016 Tours as well as the 2016 Vuelta.) Naturally I’m excited to start the season with Stage One of the Giro on Saturday. It sends the riders along the northern coast of Sardinia, right through the fabled vineyards of Vermentino di Gallura, the island’s only Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) classification. While Vermentino is produced all along the western coast of Italy, it reaches a level of complexity in Gallura that intrigues me. I find the wines to be a little fuller in body than their brethren which, combined with lemony acidity and hint of fennel aromas, is a winning combination for me. Especially when served alongside grilled seafood and vegetables. If Vermentino di Gallura doesn’t turn up at your local shop, inquire about the white wines of Liguria or Corsica (although the latter is a French island, it makes Vermentino-based wines, too.) The bottle below is one that I find regularly available at my Whole Foods; perhaps it’s on the shelf at a store near you.

Jankara Vermentino Front Label
Jankara Vini: SRP $22; 100% Vermentino

After Sardinia, the peloton sets course for the nearby island of Sicily, where some of the most exciting wines in the world are being made (in my opinion, that is!) I can’t wait to watch the riders climb the slopes of Mount Etna, framed on either side by vineyards that seem to defy Mother Nature’s laws – or tempt her more destructive instincts. What will I be drinking as I watch? Perhaps a white Etna DOC blend based on the Carricante and Catarratto grapes. Lots of crisp lemon flavor, bracing acidity, and an affinity for food make these wines a refreshing choice. If I’m leaning toward a red, there is nothing I’d enjoy more than a Nerello Mascalese-dominant blend. Tons of cherry fruit, searing acidity and, I swear, a hint of smoke. If you’ve never tried one of these wines, please do put them on your list – they’re a revelation!

Graci Etna Bianco
Graci Etna Bianco: SRP $20; 70% Carricante, 30% Catarratto
Vini Franchetti Passopisciaro: SRP $33; 15.5%abv; 100% Nerello Mascalese

Enjoy Your Weekend

With so much going on and a plethora of reasons to party, this weekend offers something for everyone. Whether you plan to join your neighbors for a block-party bash or keep it simple at home with a few close friends, appreciate the moment and the people who make such events worth celebrating. After all, without them this weekend is nothing but an excuse to drink some tequila and watch a horse (or cycling) race. Let’s raise a glass to each other and toast our good fortune. And don’t forget to cheer for Patch!


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