Pinot Noir (1) vs. Sangiovese (8)
Heavily favored Pinot Noir goes up against the underdog Sangiovese in the most lopsided matchup we have in the starting round of red wines. Sangiovese is a primary component of Chianti, so these two wines trying to go it alone this year was a risky choice. Powerhouse Pinot Noir should have no problem knocking out.
Zinfandel (4) vs. Syrah (5)
Syrah, not to be confused with minor-league Petite Sirah, is in a close battle with Zinfandel in the first round of our drink-off. Here we'll see if Zinfandel can overcome its identity struggle to define itself separate from its more popular sibling, White Zinfandel, or if Syrah will move on to round 2.
Malbec (6) vs. Cabernet Sauvignon (3)
Number 2 Cabernet Sauvignon is up against the up & coming Malbec in what's sure to be a close battle. Cabernet Sauvignon has routinely been in the top few spots in recent years with its bold flavor, dominating the competition. Will the high altitude training that Malbec has been putting in help them overcome the long-time favorite?
Chianti (7) vs. Merlot (2)
Chianti is representing their hometown in central Tuscany without the help of the Sangiovese defectors in a fight against Merlot. With only 30% of their bottle, er, team remaining loyal, Chianti has a tough battle ahead. Expect to see Merlot ease through round 1.
Chardonnay (1) v. Gewurztraminer (8)
Clearly the favorite in this whole competition, Chardonnay is matched up against the much less popular Gewurztraminer (did someone just sneeze?). Most of the time when you order the house white at a restaurant, you get a Chardonnay. There's a reason for that—it's popular. I like a good Gewurztraminer (Bless You!), but the Chardonnay is just more versatile with different types of food or even on its own and will easily carry this match up.
Pinot Grigio (4) v. Sauvignon Blanc (5)
If we are going to see an upset in a match up, I think this will be the one. While Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris is more anecdotally popular, Sauvignon Blanc gets more search traffic, which means people want to know a lot about it. I've seen them both show up equally in wine clubs that I have joined. Sauvignon Blanc may have the numbers behind it, but I am sticking with the favorite, Pinot Grigio (primarily because I'm the one who decided it would be the favorite).
Pinot Blanc (6) v. Riesling (3)
I've fought before on this site on behalf of Riesling (Why Everyone Should Give Riesling a Chance), and I will fight for it again now. Riesling is one of the fastest-growing wine varieties in terms of sales and is produced all over the world. It pairs well with many foods and is liked by pretty much all white drinkers. I may have even seeded it a little higher. No offense to the Pinot Blanc (or to the Riesling-hater Todd), but I just don't think it has the same recognition. Riesling will win this one for sure.
Moscato (2) v. Viognier (7)
Moscato would not be ranked this high based on my own personal preferences, but it is definitely popular. Wine Spectator reported last year that it was the third most popular white wine consumed in the United States. It's a sweeter wine for the most part, and that seems to be appealing to a lot of wine drinkers these days. Viognier is a little more to my liking, but it is not nearly as recognizable and too close to a Riesling to gain much popularity. I don't have to like a winner to know one when I see it—advantage goes to Moscato in this round.
Decide Who Advances
We've narrowed down the field to 16, seeded them, and given our analysis. Now it is your turn to decide who advances. Here's how it will work:
- Leave a comment below with as few as 1 or as many as 8 picks (one for each match up).
- You can pick just your favorite wine or one for each pairing.
- We'll tally up the scores and the top 4 Reds and top 4 Whites will advance to the Elite 8.
Settle in and watch some basketball with your favorite wine this weekend and we'll see which wines continue through the Madness next week!