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Jets And Wine

 

In Mangold, Jets Have Connoisseur at Center

By GREG BISHOP

 

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The large man entered the small California winery in early October 2008. Nick Mangold wore blond hair past his shoulders and a scraggly beard. He stood 6 feet 4 inches, weighed more 300 pounds and looked, as one teammate said recently, as if he ran a biker gang.

 

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Al Pereira/New York Jets

Nick Mangold stores more than 200 bottles reserved for special occasions in his makeshift wine cellar.

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Mike Mccarn/Associated Press

Center Nick Mangold (74) is the Jets’ go-to guy when it comes to wine. Quarterback Mark Sanchez and lineman Rob Turner have called him for a recommendation before a date.

Mangold traveled to Napa Valley during the Jets’ bye week to explore his interest in wine. So there stood perhaps the best center in pro football, inside Vineyard 29, swishing and swirling, an oak tree of a man with an interest in oak tones.

At closing time, Mangold and his wife, Jenny, sat on the patio, overlooking the valley, sharing a bottle of cabernet. He had struck employees at the winery the same way he strikes teammates.

“He seemed really curious,” said Holly Anderson, the winery’s national sales director. “He really wanted to see the whole process, to connect with and understand it.”

As the Jets readied for Sunday’s game against Denver, teammates described Mangold, 26, with words rarely associated with offensive linemen. These included cerebral, complex and intricate, although sarcastic — “incredibly sarcastic, amazingly sarcastic” guard Matt Slauson said — won the most votes.

Mangold’s approach to life is in his Twitter biography, where he writes, “I try to find the humor in everything while promoting the virtues of being manly.” Thus his hobbies include grilling, golf, fine dining, video games, the Dave Matthews Band and classic cars.

Yet Mangold also loves his wine. Sure to go over well inside the locker room was this statement: “I’m a cabernet guy. I’ve enjoyed blends. When you start mixing different things, like when you get a cab sav and then a cab franc together with a little merlot, it’s excellent.”

Mangold did not grow up in Napa Valley, surrounded by crushed grapes. Instead, appropriate to his position, he grew up in Centerville, Ohio. While his parents sometimes drank wine with dinner, Mangold consumed pickle juice before football games to prevent cramping. From pickle juice to the finest blends, his palate developed over time.

At Ohio State, Mangold occasionally ordered wine with dinner once he turned 21. But after the Jets selected him in the 2006 draft, he started dining in Manhattan, where he befriended the sommelier at BLT Steak. That led to the Napa Valley trips during successive bye weeks in 2008 and 2009. (Mangold will instead travel to Ohio next week, where his Archbishop Alter High School team will be honored.)

On those California trips, one couple from Hong Kong recognized Mangold and asked for his autograph, amazed by the lineman at the winery. But it was mostly Mangold who was awed. Anderson could tell the year and make of the wine simply by smelling it. She showed him how the wine was made, under the old-world process known as elevage, raised with as much care as a newborn.

Mangold visited a dozen wineries in 2008, mostly smaller ones that required an appointment. He met winemakers. He tasted wine straight from the barrel, and tasted the grapes while they were fermenting. He learned the proper tasting technique.

“I watch him at dinner,” his teammate Brandon Moore said. “I’m like: ‘You’re supposed to be the best, toughest, meanest center in the game. And you’re smelling wine and taking trips to Napa?’ But that’s him.”

Mangold realized he loved wine — really, really loved it — when he opened a 2005 cabernet from his trip to California and was transported back to Napa Valley with one sip. He decided to learn more after that but resolved to never become what he called a wine snob.

In one corner of his basement, Mangold built a makeshift wine cellar, where he stores more than 200 bottles reserved for special occasions. He supplements that supply with weekly trips to Gary’s Wine & Marketplace, of which Mangold said: “Apparently, I go there way too much. It’s like my Cheers. There’s a real possibility I’m Norm.”

Teammates may tease Mangold the wine connoisseur — “Sometimes, I’m like, ‘Dude, you’re an offensive lineman,’ ” Slauson said — but they ask for advice. Quarterback Mark Sanchez once called Mangold before a date, as did lineman Rob Turner, who married the woman to whom he served Mangold’s recommended bottle (a Napa Valley merlot, 2006).

In the wake of receiver Braylon Edwards’s arrest on suspicion of drunken driving this season, Mangold stressed that his wine consumption was a hobby.

During an interview last week in the Jets’ cafeteria, Mangold said that if the Jets won the Super Bowl, he would celebrate with Vineyard 29’s cabernet. But for his last meal, he would try Screaming Eagle, which he never purchased because it costs several thousand dollars a bottle.

Eventually, Mangold wants to make his own wine, even in small quantities. Until then, he hosts the occasional tasting for teammates and always orders for the offensive line at dinner. (One infamous story among the Jets is that offensive tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson did not appreciate Mangold’s choices when stuck with one hefty bill. Mangold said he did not expect Ferguson to pay.)

Last year, Mangold did a vertical tasting, trying the same Silver Oak blend from 1998 to 2004. His party of 10 offered several opinions. Mangold stood alone.

“I was off the chart,” he said. “I was the weird one.”

Teammates would agree. Mangold spent his formative years as a freestyle swimmer. He does not care for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an organization he insults playfully on Twitter. He even started an account for Moore with a colorful user name that incorporates his nickname, Meat.

Moore countered with critical accounts of Mangold’s storytelling ability, mentioning long tales that lacked punch lines followed by “silence, crickets — lots of crickets.”

Mangold drew the bulk of his personality from his parents. From his father, Mangold took a humorous approach to life (but not his father’s storytelling ability, Moore said).

From his mother, Mangold took the most even of temperaments. Much like with his wines, Mangold called this “a nice blend.” His teammates, for instance, have never seen him mad. Well, maybe once last season against Atlanta. But nothing beyond that.

This personality lends itself to football. Most centers fall into one of two categories: physical or smart. Mangold, blending again, is both. Slauson said Mangold sometimes looked like a karate master, a giant Bruce Lee in shoulder pads, who defeated defensive tackles with leverage, incredible hand speed and the occasional judo chop. But Mangold is also notable for how his mind works. He processes information faster than most linemen, so fast, in fact, that he takes on some responsibilities usually reserved for quarterbacks.

“With so many things happening at once, Nick has the uncanny ability to decipher,” the offensive line coach Bill Callahan said. “When all hell’s breaking loose, he’s calm.”

Most teams double-team premier defensive tackles, but the Jets can leave Mangold alone against them. In that way, he is like cornerback Darrelle Revis, deserving of his own island, Mangold Island, if you will.

“That would be a rusty, filthy island where people wear ripped jeans and stay in hotel rooms that are half price,” tight end Dustin Keller said. “But they would serve wine, and only the finest for Nick Mangold.”

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