Bowl-watchers can score with wine

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This column is being written a couple of weeks before the playoffs are set to begin, so no prediction from me as to who will be lining up for the Super Bowl on Feb. 6. But no matter who's on the field, it's certain that at home a lot of snack and comfort food will be consumed, and some refreshing beverages will be set out to wash down all the fat and salt.

Everyone immediately thinks beer, but I ask, why not wine? Wine is versatile, it's crowd-friendly, it's cheap if you purchase smartly. And given the setting of this year's Super Bowl -- Dallas, the home of great barbecue -- wine makes a lot of sense.

For your starting lineup, playing against a fearsome front four of chips, dips, cured meats and cheeses, I'm advising you to go with bubbles. Whether Spanish cava, Australian fizz, California bubbly, French Champagne or Italian Prosecco, bubbles are going to jump-start the party and provide a perfect counterpoint to any and all salty foods.

You'll find some recommended bottles in my Wine Adviser columns for Nov. 14, 21 and 28. Here's one I recently tasted that blew away wines costing far more: Graham Beck Brut Ros?à Classique from South Africa. A blend of chardonnay and pinot noir, it is scented with cherry blossoms and chocolate, refined and polished, with a heavenly, lingering finish. Suggested retail is $17 but you may be able to find it for a little less.

Also recommended: Piper Sonoma Brut, one of the best-made California sparklers, selling in the $15 range.

The Ferrari 2002 Perle is all chardonnay, made in Italy, and brings to the glass the elegance and artfulness of its auto namesake (same family, too). Also from Italy is the widely available Rotari Talento Brut ($10), done in the classical Champagne method. Want something bone dry? Try the Marques de Gelida 2006 cava from Penedes, selling for around $13.

OK, on to the main course. If your halftime show has barbecue on the center stage, you want a burly red to bang into it. Try a peppery syrah or red blend: Kenwood 2008 Red Blend ($8), Blacksmith Syrah ($14), Cameron Hughes Lot 177 Syrah ($15), Kendall-Jackson 2007 Summation ($14), Pedroncelli 2007 Petite Sirah ($15), Rulo's Syrca ($15), Tamarack's Firehouse Red ($15) or Helix by Reininger Pomatia Red ($15).

On a budget? Go with a three-liter box wine. Each box holds the equivalent of four bottles of wine and comes with a handy pouring spout. Best of show is the Bota Box 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel ($19 -- that's less than $5 per bottle). In general, Bota Box does a terrific job with its three-liter lineup, which includes vintage-dated malbec, merlot and shiraz. Other good three-liter options are the Boho Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel ($18) and the Black Box Merlot ($20).

The Super Bowl offers wine lovers a great opportunity to showcase good -- not great -- wines in a comfortable, casual setting. I like the idea of placing wine in a beer-friendly environment, so there is no hint of snobbery. To make the point even more clear, serve your wine in paper cups, or cheap glass tumblers. It may surprise some of your friends to see a box of red on the table instead of some bottles of brew, but wine can be every bit as refreshing as beer, and even more flexible with whatever food hits the table.

The revised second edition of Paul Gregutt's "Washington Wines & Wineries'' is now in print. His blog is www.paulgregutt.com. E-mail: paulgwine@me.com.

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