Dick Vermeil Awesome”sauce”

09Apr10

I knew there was some reason I always liked him:

When we arrived at BlackSalt two nights ago, locating the Vermeil party wasn’t difficult. What gave it away were the hulking NFL players crowded around “Coach Vermeil,” as he is affectionately known. They turned out to be Chris SamuelsLondon Fletcher, and Shawn Springs, and all were wine aficionados–a revelation soon followed by others that swiftly disabused me of several enduring stereotypes. (Not one of them owns a steakhouse.) Over a glass of Vermeil Wines 2005 Zinfandel, Fletcher, who led the Washington Redskins in tackles last year, told me that Vermeil had taught him about wine. “He used to take groups of us out for wine dinners back in 1998 when I was a rookie and he was coaching the Rams,” Fletcher said. Fletcher now boasts a substantial wine cellar, and was thinking of purchasing several cases from his old coach.

Vermeil stopped by to explain that his coaching philosophy was not limited to the gridiron. “Rookie night at our house always included sharing a glass of wine together,” Vermeil told me. “I’ve really enjoyed teaching kids how to drink wine.” It turns out the NFL has a thriving wine subculture, one powerful enough to transcend the bitterest rivalries. Vermeil revealed to us that when he was coach of the Philadelphia Eagles he would leave cases of wine in the locker room for his nemesis, the legendary Pittsburgh Steelers coach Chuck Knoll, who shared his passion for grapes.

There’s something very Carlo Ancelotti about that last anecdote. Vermeil’s appreciation for the finer things in life is a far cry from my days as athlete, where it was shocking that one could play basketball and write for the school newspaper.

Check out the dinner menu for the tasting, which sounds delicious:

Dinner at BlackSalt featured Vermeil Wines with a five-course tasting menu from Executive Chef Richard Cook. Standouts at our table were apan-roasted Atlantic tuna belly paired with a 2004 Frediani Vineyard Syrah, and a citrus-cured Arctic char with bacon, capers, red onion that was paired with a rare 2005 Charbone. Given the oppressive mid-Atlantic heat, I especially enjoyed Vermeil’s 2008 Sauvignon Blanc–enough that I may test the limits of the Atlantic’s expense account to acquire more of it. But don’t take my word for it. Real critics like Vermeil’s wines, too. “His initial dive into the wine world is impressive,” Robert Parker wrote in The Wine Advocate.

I hope I’m not overstepping my bounds to mention that I have enjoyed some of Robert Parker‘s wine collection, albeit at a time in my life when I didn’t fully realize what that entailed. And that’s just about as much explanation as you’ll get about that one.

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