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You can feel it in the air on the cool Lincoln evenings we’ve enjoyed lately. Husker football is drawing near. In just 10 days, the Huskers take the field in preparation for another championship run. What better way to do your part than by exploring some Big Red wines? In this case, the bigger the better.

To me, big red wines are full of flavor. They are ripe, juicy and sometimes a little over the top. They can work well with food, but it’s not necessary. I’m looking for rich fruit flavors and tannins that coat the palate.

This month, I left it to the pros at three local wine stores to recommend some Big Red wines. I ended up with a trio of wines from California. My wife prepared a homemade pasta sauce made from Nebraska-grown tomatoes, accompanied by fresh grilled asparagus. I was ready for a flavor explosion.

I started with Buehler Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($20), with ruby red colors in the glass and aromas of vanilla and subtle spices. On the palate, the wine is smooth and rich, offering flavors of black plum, toast, dark cherry, nutmeg and a slight undertone of eucalyptus. This wine is more refined than explosive, but delicious without a question. Score: 89 points

Next, I tried Stag's Leap Wine Cellars “Hands of Time” Red Blend 2009, Napa Valley, Calif. ($26). A Bordeaux-style blend of primarily cabernet sauvignon with a little merlot, this wine is garnet-colored in the glass and has sweet aromas of red berries and licorice. The wine has a dry mouth feel from the merlot, offering pleasing flavors of dark fruit and currant, with subtle flavors of clove and a hint of cedar. It has a nice length on the finish with soft fruit flavors. If you told me this was an import from Bordeaux. I would believe it. Stylish and classy. Score: 87 points

Finally, I tasted Armida “PoiZin” Zinfandel 2010, Sonoma County, Calif. ($20). Mostly zinfandel with a little petite syrah blended in, this wine is dark purple in the glass with aromas rich in dark fruit, vanilla and spice. The wine offers enormous flavor on the palate that includes black raspberries, vanilla, toasty oak and nutmeg spice. It has a pleasing warm mouth feel and a lengthy finish. This is a big wine. (Full disclosure, this is a wine carried by the Italian Vine). Score: 88 points

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This is an exciting group of wines that I would be proud to serve and fully enjoyed drinking. The best buy in the group may be the Buehler Cellars. It’s an ideal match for the fresh tomato sauce and pasta dish. The acidity of the tomato sauce integrated well with the soft tannins of the cabernet sauvignon. It was almost designed for the grilled asparagus. Not what I expected from a California cabernet, and I’m glad I was pleasantly surprised.

For the mission at hand of finding Big Red wines, the “PoiZin” stole the show. In a black bottle with a bright red skull and bones logo painted on, the bottle looks like a tribute to the Husker Blackshirt defense. There is nothing subtle about this wine. It’s as explosive as Baker Steinkuhler busting through the opposing line for a quarterback sack.

Part of the enjoyment of wine is seeking a wine well-suited for the occasion. I’m always looking for an excuse to head to a local bottle shop and find the next best thing as well as something I’ve never tried before. Husker football is an excellent excuse.

Go Big Red!

Mark McDonald and his wife, Kim, own The Italian Vine, a Lincoln-based wine distributorship. They recently lived in Italy for several years and studied and developed a passion for wine that inspired them to open their own enterprise.


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