Everything I Needed To Know About Wine I Learned From Larry Bird
By Jonathon Alsop, Boston Wine School Founder & Exec. Dir.
BOSTON MA USA April 17, 2023 Bill Simmons, the writer formerly known as the Boston Sports Guy, once recounted a story of hanging out with Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas by a Las Vegas hotel pool. This tale was so vivid in its detail and almost hallucinogenic in tone that it captured what that head-spinning Magical Mystery Tour hang must have been like, if it actually happened, while at the same leaving you – me, at least – unsure a little if it even did happen.
Honestly, I’m blistering a bit myself picturing the strawberry-blond Bird in the Nevada sun, and it’s a vast stretch for me to imagine anyone anytime anywhere chatting and chirping away with the despised pariah Thomas.
Out of this surreality emerged a conversation about the game of basketball’s intangibles. Anyone who’s played to win knows that just putting the ball in the basket is really a small part of it. You can score a lot of points and still lose. Winning is spirit and drive, luck and communication and a few more major immeasurables. The “secret” to great basketball, Bird and Thomas agreed, was that it’s not about basketball. People who focus on basketball lose; people who focus on the intangible elements win.
As you might guess, people ask me all the time what’s the “secret” to great wine, from buying and collecting it to ordering in a restaurant and everything else you can imagine. Every single time, the answer is that it’s not about the wine.
White, pink or red, the wines from a vineyard with an interesting history are wines that are going to be interesting to drink. Wines that are utterly new to us are great not just because of the juice but also majorly thanks to the flash of novelty. Once you get to know an importer’s name and taste, the company logo on the back label can become the most important thing. And if you want an A+ bottle of wine in a restaurant, that happens when you create a beautiful relationship with the people; it’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
I’m not really giving anything away by revealing these secrets, none of which has anything to do with the wine in the bottle. Every wine lover wants every other wine lover to be drinking mind-bending wine too, but the focus for many people is too much on the juice itself and on the score of the juice versus the intangibles of winning wine: don’t talk about the wine, but talk about who made this wine, and why, and where, and how did it get here?
It’s not about the wine. It’s about everything else. And the wine.
The Big Red One
2019 Antigal “UNO” Malbec (Maipú, Mendoza, Argentina, about $18) Although I teach with Malbec all the time, it’s so ubiquitous and beloved that I forget sometimes to give it the attention it deserves. Unlike other synthetic and bordering on weird “days” of the year – yes, I’m talking about you, National Pine Cone Wreath Day – April 17 is World Malbec Day in honor of something that actually happened: in 1853, Argentina’s President Sarmiento hired the French to plant grapes, and the first Malbec arrived the same year.
There are a few wineries in Argentina older than Antigal, founded in 1897, but only a few. As an original early adopter from the century before the previous century, they’ve earned the right to bolt a big metallic numeral one on every bottle, and the experience delivers very much what that implies. What I love especially about this Malbec is that the flavor profile is higher and brighter and more fruit focused than typical. Malbec is a dependably big and dense red wine, and a lot of times it’s very earthy and subterranean.
There’s still plenty of bass in the mix, and there always will be, but this is the first Malbec ever that’s smelling predominately like flowers to me and tasting so much like blackberry jam. It’s soft enough that I’d confidently try it with wine lovers who are just getting into big red wines. It’s affordable enough that I can see drinking it while eating a rotisserie chicken over the sink some Tuesday night after getting home late from work. I regret not opening this last weekend with the amazing tandoori mixed grill from Shan-a-Punjab near BWS headquarters, but I won’t let that happen again.
If you buy a whole case at a friendly discount, we’re talking $3 a glass, which is irresistible. The “buy” flag is flying high for all big red wine lovers.