Cheers, cheers for old Notre Dame.
It’s college football bowl season, and oddly, the famous golden dome helmets of the Fighting Irish are nowhere to be seen. All is not lost, however, for Domers and their legion of disciples, the so-called “subway alumni” who never set foot in a Notre Dame classroom but claim the school and its traditions as their own. Because they can now get their hands on the 2016 edition of Notre Dame-branded wine.
Yes, the University of Notre Dame has its own wine. For the second year in a row, actually. Go ahead and roll your eyes, if you must — or suppress your cynicism, and embrace the fact that this is more evidence, more good news, that wine continues to gently infiltrate everyday life in the United States.
To arrive at the five California bottles now available for purchase in the Notre Dame Family Wines 2016 collection, ND tasters worked their way through submissions from more than 40 wineries with ties to the university. These are alumni and friends of the school, and just to be clear, none of them learned how to make wine in South Bend, Ind. Notre Dame is not claiming to be a winemaking school.
The disconnect between wine and school image is part of what makes the ND collection so interesting. A Catholic university embedded in a blue-collar town surrounded by the rural Midwest is hawking cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and chardonnay bearing its good name. Sacramental wine gets poured on Notre Dame’s campus daily, but we’re talking about table wine here — pleasure wine.
So why would the University of Notre Dame bother? Why wine and not some other commodity? The obvious answer is that they knew it would make money, and Notre Dame is as adept as any American institution at doing that. Domers and their flock are everywhere, and they drink wine just like the rest of us, and this is a way for the school to raise money for student financial aid and alumni programming. Someday, banks might give away wine just for opening up a passbook savings account. Or the cable company might send you a bottle when you sign up for service. It’s all good.
The labels on the bottles (three reds, two whites) are either blue or white, all with gold lettering and Celtic knot work. Curiously, three of the bottle tops are gold and two are black. It’s obvious that the different cap and label color combinations were meant to distinguish each bottle from the others. But still, if I were a package-design-and-marketing referee, I’d throw a flag for Missed Opportunity. One has to believe that some of this wine will get bought and never opened — placed on a shelf forever as an ND collectible. Next year, I’d give them all golden domes.
This year, though, don’t save any bottles. If you’re a Notre Dame fan, you probably need all you can get. The Fighting Irish posted an uncharacteristic 4-8 record, including a crippling loss to USC in the final game.
But you know that. So, let’s get to the good part. Below are brief tasting notes of the bottles in the Notre Dame Family Wines 2016 Collection, listed in descending order, according to style and price.
2014 Bargetto Winery Chardonnay Full of butter and vanilla, but with fresh acidity that leads to a smoky finish. Tiny suggestions of orange and anise. $16
2013 Trinitas Cellars Chardonnay The most ND-looking bottle of them all — golden wine with a blue label and a gold-foil top. Expect butterscotch, citrus and toasty notes. $35
2013 Lucas & Lewellen Estate Vineyards Pinot Noir Juicy cherry, bright acidity and minerality characterize this easy-drinking, versatile wine from Santa Barbara County. Great for tailgating. $19
2013 Brutocao Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon With plum, vanilla, leather and spice, this wine is like a pulling guard, full of muscle but also fleet of foot. From Mendocino County. $30
2013 Paul Hobbs CrossBarn Cabernet Sauvignon The MVP of the collection, this Napa Valley winner is floral with notes of raspberry, dark cherry, blackberry and tobacco. $46
To purchases any of these wines, visit www.wines.nd.edu