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Ready your palates for Game of Thrones Season 6...
Part of the genius of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series is the strong sense of family identity and allegiance that he’s written in to each of his characters. Like wines, which are unique individual expressions that also demonstrate the regional characteristics of the places where they grow, these personae all share distinct traits with their kin. In Westeros, it’s the noble Houses that carry their ancestral sigils like badges of honor as they battle over the Iron Throne. That same theme of group identity extends to the legions that guard The Wall and to those that live beyond it. They’re tied to their places of birth, which have climates and terrains as varied as the terroirs of the winegrowing world.
Here, the Game of Thrones characters – by House – and their wine equivalents:
House Targaryen: Tokaj
Why? The family’s rule over the Seven Kingdoms lasted three centuries before they were deposed during Robert’s Rebellion. Tokaji wines have had as long and as noble a history – once the beverage of choice throughout Europe’s royal courts. ‘Mad King’ Aerys II might have lost his grip on reality overindulging in the spicy-sweet succulence of an Aszú, like the 2008 Royal Tokji Wine Company 5 Puttonyos ($54), while the silver-white-haired heroine Daenerys would surely opt for the racy, dry style of a 2014 Samuel Tinon ‘Birtok’ Furmint ($30). Plus, the region’s ancient volcanic soils recall the dragon motif central to the Targaryen mystique.
House Baratheon: Northern Rhône
Why? The black stag sigil of House Baratheon is evocative of game – like the smoky, meaty expression of Northern Rhône Syrah – so it’s in a twist of irony that King Robert meets his end while hunting boar. Known for his excessive lifestyle that lands the Iron Throne deeply in debt, he most closely resembles bold, rich, full-bodied Hermitage Rouge, like the 2010 Paul Jaboulet Ainé La Chapelle ($250). Renly, who either charms or seduces almost everyone in his entourage, possesses the elegance and allure of a Côte-Rôtie tempered with floral-scented Viognier, such as the 2013 Domaine Philippe Faury ($54). Then there’s Stannis, the most underappreciated and variable Baratheon. He’s the Saint-Joseph of the lot – sometimes warm and endearing, sometimes austere, like the 2013 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave ‘Offerus’ ($31).
House Lannister: Bordeaux
Why? From their stronghold at Casterly Rock to the court at King’s Landing, the Lannisters owe much of their ascension to power to their extraordinary wealth. Tywin is the Pauillac of the family; the hard-nosed patriarch is firm in his resolve and in his designs for his children, recalling the concentration and tannic structure of the 2010 Château Lynch-Bages ($190). The twins command almost as much authority as their father, like the wines of the Right Bank that live somewhat in the shadow of the mega-famous Médoc châteaux. Cersei has the ambition and poise of a Pomerol like the 2011 Château La Conseillante ($122), while Jaime – The Kingslayer – has evolved and softened with age and experience, like the 2005 Château Canon Saint-Émilion 1er Grand Cru Classé ($123). Tyrion, their dwarf brother, is the most Sauternes-like Lannister. The sweetest by comparison, he also has a bacchanalian fondness for drink that suggests the decadence of a 2010 Château Suduiraut (a $54 half-bottle).
A Lannister always pays his debts…
House Stark: Rheingau
Why? Because Riesling might thrive in the cold, northerly environs of Winterfell as much as it does along the banks of the Rhine (both areas are known for notoriously short summers). Starks all possess an inherent fierceness, like the bone-dry wines the Rheingau is famous for – their virtuous leanings akin to mineral purity. Arya has the edge and energy of the 2014 Leitz Rüdesheimer Riesling Trocken ($19), which over-delivers for its price in the same way she exceeds expectations for her youth and seeming fragility. Sansa, the elder of the Stark sisters, is less dry in her demeanor and known for her classic beauty, like the 2013 Schloss Johannisberg Rotlack Riesling Kabinett ($32).
House Tyrell: Alsace
Why? The picturesque French region of Alsace is known for its gardens almost as much as for its wines, growing everything from roses to rhododendrons to acacias. The Tyrells of Highgarden, like the wines of Alsace, are pleasantly perfumed – Margaery exuding as exotic an air as a Pinot Gris, such as the 2010 Josmeyer Grand Cru Brand ($59). She’s also similarly versatile in her ability to pair, even with the spiciest of partners (read: Joffrey). Her grandmother Olenna, a.k.a. The Queen of Thorns, has the warm richness of fruit-forward Gewürztrainer. But it’s backed by spice and smoke – like a bottle of 2013 Domaine Weinbach ‘Cuvée Laurence’ ($37) – as is Olenna whenever anyone crosses her family.
House Martell: Rioja
Why? The Martells’ native Dorne is known throughout the Seven Kingdoms for its superior strong and sour red wines, so what better parallel than the tart, muscular, and ageworthy reds of Rioja? Sunny, dry summers in this region in north central Spain provide the optimum growing conditions for Tempranillo, just as the arid climate of Dorne’s desert makes it the perfect hardening backdrop for the Sand Snakes to train in combat. These seriously angsty ladies have the same youthful spark found in the 2012 CVNE Crianza ($13), while their father, Prince Oberyn, a.k.a. The Red Viper, is more likely to satisfy his thirst with the distinguished style of a 2005 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 ($52).
Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken
House Greyjoy: Scotch Whisky
Why? Okay, okay, it’s not wine region, per se. But it’s hard not to see the similarities between the Iron Islands and the Scottish Isles. Both conjure images of angry waves crashing onto rocky cliffs, the locals living in a perpetual cloud of fog laden with damp sea air and smoky-salty scents. Balon Greyjoy, the severe Lord Reaper of Pyke, embodies the intense, peaty style of the Laphroaig 10 Year from Islay ($51). His son Theon is somewhat gentler and more subtle, whether from his time spent living at Winterfell as ward of the Starks or from his ‘run in’ with Ramsay Bolton. So naturally, he’s a Speyside such as The Balvenie Double Wood 12 Year ($59).
The Night’s Watch: Madeira
Why? This military order is tasked with holding The Wall and protecting the Seven Kingdoms from all that lies beyond it. Sworn brothers that train for battle, they could be none other than fortified wine. Jon Snow is the brightest and driest of the bunch, with a wisdom beyond his years like a 1977 D’Oliverias Sercial ($166). His loyal friend Samwell Tarly has a heftier physique and is sweet to a fault, like Blandy’s 10 Year Old Malmsey ($44).
The Free Folk: Alto Adige
Why? Snowcapped mountains form the backdrop for both the alpine wines of Italy’s Alto Adige and the tribes who live north of The Wall, where it’s always winter. If the “wildling” spirit were a wine quality, it would be ripping acidity – present in both the whites and reds of the region. Although they have no kings and no titles, the feared leader Mance Rayder is the noblest, most distinguished of the bunch, like the elegant 2011 J. Hofstätter ‘Barthenau’ Pinot Nero ($77). Ygritte, the red-headed spearwife, is steely and cold upon first encounter, but we’re allowed faint glimpses of her feminine side as she warms up to Jon Snow, like the zippy, edelweiss-scented 2013 Alois Lageder ‘Haberle’ Pinot Bianco ($23).