Wine should be from somewhere & Wes Welker needs to stay a Patriot

Barossa Valley I tried a couple of wines recently that were both good. Both succeeded as examples of the varietal. One stood out to me though because it tasted like it was from somewhere and the other didn’t.

So what does it mean for a wine to taste like it comes from somewhere? To me it means that when you taste the wine, you can easily pick the country or region where the wine was made. You can imagine the climate and the soil that helped make the wine the way it is. The French word that covers this and a whole lot more is terroir. That’s pronounced something like “terwah”.

Last night I tried DMZ 2012 Chardonnay from Stellenbosch South Africa. Here are my tasting notes. It had good acid, with light oak that mellowed into butter and vanilla.There was a lemon and shortbread flavor that made me think of the lemon Girl Scout cookies. In fact, I would highly recommend this wine with lemon Girl Scout cookies. If DMZ can just get 10% of the moms who need a drink after standing outside the grocery store all afternoon selling cookies while their kids are running amuck, they will be the best selling wine from South Africa. There was also some green apple and minerality. As the wine opened up, the lemon notes and the minerality really seemed to come out and that ended up being the primary flavor. It kind of tasted like a lemon Girl Scout cookie that had been dropped on a gravel road…in a good way. I liked the wine. I checked & the previous vintage got an 89 in Wine Spectator, which is great for a wine under $20.00. The only negative I took away from the wine was that it didn’t taste like it came from anywhere. It had some traits of a Chablis, but realistically it could have been a wine from Chile, or Australia, or France, or almost anywhere.

The night before that, I tried the 2008 Groom Barossa Valley Shiraz. To me, it was a wine that could only have come from Barossa Valley in Australia. This wine was so dark that it ranged somewhere between dark purple and black. It had dark brambly fruit that was extremely deep. There were layers of plum, blackberry, and dark cherry. The wine had a long finish. It had good mouthfeel and enough acid to pair well with food. The tannins were solid, but not especially pronounced. As the wine opened up it showed deeper fruit and a longer lasting finish. This would be a great wine with a Montreal steak. The heavy fruit would soften the spice of the seasoning and the acid would make the steak melt in your mouth. For those who care, it received 92 points in Wine Spectator. I tried it with some chocolate that had lemon and cracked black pepper in it and it was fantastic. I know that wine books tell us that red wine doesn’t go with chocolate. I know that experts will say that the polyphenols, acids, and tannins that chocolate and red wine share make them a terrible match. I know that you are only supposed to have chocolate with Port or a Muscat based dessert wine. I also know that lots of people love red wine and chocolate. This is a great example of how the two can work together. The fruit in the Shiraz translated into sweetness compared to the spice of the black pepper in the chocolate. You can believe the scientists here, or you can try it for yourself.

Anyway, the wine tasted great. It also was a wine that made me think of Australia and the red dirt in Barossa. It felt like it came from somewhere. I love Syrah from France. It is the same grape as what the Australians and South Africans call Shiraz. It tastes different though. The same grape that tastes huge & deep and jammy in Barossa tastes velvety and nuanced and smooth in the Northern Rhone. Thanks to the different terroir, the wine makers in each region take the same grape and make two world class styles of wine.

I don’t know if there is anything like terroir in football, but I do know that some players and some schemes work better with some teams than with others. I believe that subtle shift from team to team is going to weigh on Wes Welker this year.

For those who don’t know, Wes Welker is a former Texas Tech football player who plays for the New England Patriots. He had a great career at Texas Tech and still holds the NCAA record with 8 kickoff returns for touchdowns. Partially because Texas Tech had a pass happy offense that sometimes inflated numbers for receivers, partially because he ran a 4.65 in the 40 yard dash at the scouting combine, & mainly because he is short for a receiver at 5 foot 9 inches (maybe), he wasn’t drafted.

He signed with the San Diego Chargers in 2004 and made the team. Unfortunately he was cut after the first game. He then signed with the Miami Dolphins and mainly played special teams. He had a huge game against New England where he scored touchdowns on a punt return and kickoff return and also kicked an extra point, a field goal, and made a tackle in the same game. The Dolphin’s kicker was injured early in the game. By 2006 he was the third wide receiver on the team. He managed to lead the team with 67 catches and to catch one touchdown pass.

In 2007 he was a restricted free agent. The Dolphins didn’t want to pay him more than 1.35 million for the year. They traded him within the division for a 2nd round & a 7th round pick. Neither of the players that they drafted with those picks is still with the Dolphins.

Since joining the Patriots, Welker has caught more passes than anyone else in the NFL. He reached 500 catches with the Patriots in 70 games, which is an NFL record. He is the Patriots’ all time receptions leader and he did it in less than half the time of Troy Brown, the previous record holder. He has averaged 112 catches per year, which is amazing. It might be a Hall of Fame type average.

So what changed? Welker didn’t get faster or taller. He is playing with a great quarterback, but he still caught 111 passes in 2008 from Matt Cassell when Tom Brady was injured. It seems that New England was just the right fit for his skill set. His ability to run precise routes across the middle should work for any team, but it works like gangbusters in New England. Despite changes in offensive coordinators, the coaches at New England consistently have put him in a position to succeed in a way that the coaches in San Diego and Miami just didn’t.

So now he faces a tough choice. This year the Patriots probably can’t pay him what he made under the franchise tag last year (9.5 million). If they tag him again this year, he would probably make over 11 million. Either he can sign with New England again for less, or he might make more money signing somewhere else. The problem is that if he signs for 7-10 million a year for 3 years somewhere else and the coaches don’t use him correctly, or the quarterback doesn’t get the ball to him at the right time, he might not be around for all 3 years to collect the money. Teams don’t have much patience with a 32 year old plus receiver with a big paycheck if he isn’t putting up the numbers. If he works out a deal with New England, he may be leaving money on the table.Wes Welker

I hope that Welker and the Patriots can work out a compromise that pays Welker close to what he is worth, but allows the team enough cap money to sign other key players. I think that he is the best player that he can be in New England and I don’t think that his skills would be easily replaced in New England. They tried it to some extent last year with Julian Edelman and as good as he was, he wasn’t as good as Welker. Of course he got paid less than $700,000 last year, so he was comparatively a bargain.

Just like some grapes show their best in certain soils and don’t perform their best in different climates, I think some football players need to be in the right spot to excel. Here’s hoping that I can drink some Groom Barossa Valley Shiraz this Fall while watching Wes Welker catch passes for the New England Patriots.

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