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|26 апреля 2005
Ex-Red Wing Igor Larionov helps create three bold vintages, with more coming - Detroit Free Press
BY CHRISS KASSEL
Sitting in an upscale Birmingham bistro is a dapper, slightly built man in his mid-forties with rimless spectacles perched on the tip of his nose. He's musing aloud on chess strategy, politics and the subtle interaction of cabernet and merlot in a glass.
Remember that old TV show, "What's My Line?" Here, you might guess that this man is a college professor or an accountant. Your first thought would not be that this is one of the most accomplished players in the history of international hockey. But, in fact, he is.
Since retiring last year, former Red Wings center Igor Larionov, nicknamed "Professor," has been spending a good chunk of time juggling a portfolio of hockey-free projects, one of which is wine.
He fell in love with the stuff during the 1992-93 season when he went to Switzerland to avoid a Russian-imposed salary kickback, and he has developed a full-blown passion for it as a hobby, conversation piece and business opportunity.
Having squirreled away the sort of mind-boggling collection that only a healthy paycheck can support, 44-year-old Larionov recently turned his focus to the creative side of the subject, engaging Australian winemaker Kevin Mitchell and Dave Miner, the Yoda of Oakville enology, to create a series of Larionov-labeled wines.
Miner and Mitchell are to winemaking what Larionov was to the NHL -- front and center, full-bore and reliable. To date, along with partner Mike Davis of AHD Vintners, Larionov has released three red wine gems: one reserve shiraz and one regular cuvee (both called Triple Overtime in honor of Larionov's game-winning goal against the Hurricanes in the 2002 Stanley Cup playoffs) and Hattrick, a blend of three (naturally) meritage grapes -- cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. Another variety waits in the wings while lawyers check up on copyright details surrounding its similarly hockey-oriented moniker.
"So far I'm releasing only wines from the United States and Australia," says Larionov. "By and large, that's what interests me. Among Russian people especially, there's the perception that Americans can't make wine. But in 2003, we did a tasting of top New World wines with Moscow's leading sommeliers and wine distributors and simply blew their minds. Prior to this, they'd only been exposed to California jug-type wines."
Encyclopedic wine knowledge, a star-studded wine cellar and a personalized
wine label might not be on the priority list of an average athlete, but
Larionov has never been average. Born to working-class parents in the unlovely
Moscow suburb of Voskresensk, he grew up in the era of the Cold War, peering
His grandfather spent 14 years in a Soviet prison, and Igor himself
perpetually skated on the thin ice of dissidence, earning panicked warnings
from his parents and teachers. He came of age with a thirst for knowledge,
a hunger for freedom and an astonishing talent for hockey. On the ice,
he was known as a consummate artist, approaching the sport with a quintessential
Russian mindset, blending beauty and brains with grace and gumption, force
"He sees the ice so clearly. It's like a sixth sense."
His wines show the same chutzpah, tantalizing the five senses. Hattrick offers complex cassis and blackberry notes in a refined but forceful package that takes full advantage of sweet Napa fruit and a judicious period of French oak barreling.
The twin shiraz offerings are ripe, aggressive and spicy, showing off Kevin Mitchell's signature style, which has been lionized by Robert Parker with consistent scores in the 90s out of 100.
All three are, by design, food friendly. At a tasting earlier this year, celebrity chef Keith Famie ("Survivor: The Australian Outback" and the Food Network's "Keith Famie's Adventures") paired the cabernet blend with an elegant trio of beef tenderloin, ostrich filet and butternut squash, which settled in nicely against the silken backdrop of black fruit and cedar.
Famie matched the shiraz with osso buco, mirroring the earthiness of the wine with dried porcini mushrooms and roasted veal shank.
The reserve is made of pretty stern stuff, and should be afforded a few seasons of aging before it will truly come into its own. Two years would be fine, but this wine has sufficient backbone that, if cellared properly, could conceivably last as long as Larionov's professional hockey career ... 27 years.
When Larionov directs his full attention to any subject, wine especially, his eyes widen, his brow veins begin to throb and his cheeks turn a remarkable shade of burgundy.
At these moments, his legendary intensity percolates quickly to the surface and a closer peek at his face reveals a professional athlete's legacy. There's a serpentine scar slithering across his upper lip and traces of a split ear, the result of a blow from Chris Pronger, the behemoth St. Louis defenseman.
Fair to say, few professors boast such war wounds.
Such passion and focus have been the cornerstone of Larionov's many career high notes, from Red Square to the Red Wings and currently, to red wine.
Now, that's a heck of a hat trick.