ATLANTA – The Burgundy Boys got a drink on Friday night. Inside the Atlanta Braves dressing room, six glasses sat breathing as they waited for one of the founding members of baseball’s most exclusive wine club. He had chosen the bottle, a $ 1,200 Bordeaux, appropriate to celebrate the occasion when he pitched five no-hitter innings in a World Series game. When he arrived, they raised their glasses, clinked them in the middle, and toasted the hero of the night.
“By Ian,” they said.
Ian Anderson is 23 years old. He doesn’t look like a college student who forgot to shave. Since joining the Braves in late August 2020, he has impressed his teammates in multiple ways. The most obvious is with his right arm, which displayed a wild and wildly effective series of straights, swings and curves in the Braves’ 2-0 win over the Houston Astros in Game 3 of the World Series, putting Atlanta in advantage two games to one. The other is like a connoisseur of fine wines. Behind the baby’s face and beard is a budding oenophile, whose propensity to learn on the go is translated from mound to glass.
“He’s an old soul,” Atlanta reliever Luke Jackson said, “and he has a good palate.”
While, of course, baseball has traditionally been more of a beer sport, the Braves, an 88-win team now two wins shy of their first championship in more than 25 years, are used to subverting expectations. What started as a hobby of Braves special assistant Eddie Perez and Jackson became more formal when, shortly after his debut on Aug. 26, 2020, Anderson began to think about wine. This year, they planned which bottles they would take on road trips. The teammates asked if they were starting a wine club.
“And then we said like, yeah,” Jackson said, “we’re the Burgundy Boys.”
There are certain rules that the Burgundy Boys, including Anderson, Perez, Jackson, pitcher Drew Smyly, outfielder Joc Pederson and the occasional outsider, have to abide by. The first and most important: you drink only after winning. If Anderson hadn’t come out and finished the game with five no-hitters, just the second time in World Series history that a pitcher had left a game after holding an opponent hitless for so long, along with the game. Don Larsen’s perfect 1956 bottle, the 2015 Chateau Lafite Rothschild bottle would have been corked.
Other traditions are also important. Calvin Minasian, the Braves’ dressing room manager, prepares the glasses and, if necessary, gets a decanter. (“Most Bordeaux’s open pretty fast,” Jackson said, so they didn’t need one after Game 3.) Perez, a veteran coach with a 1,200-bottle cellar at home whom Jackson calls “our sommelier,” always serves six glasses.
Anderson savored his pour on Friday. With just a full season in the majors under his belt as he is still being classified as a rookie, he added one more tidbit to an already impressive postseason resume. In eight postseason starts, Anderson has posted a 1.26 ERA, the third-best for anyone since 1912 in that same span of starts to start a playoff career. Manager Brian Snitker took Anderson out after five innings and with his pitch count at 76 because only 39 of the pitches were for strikes and, with a light drizzle spitting in Truist Park all night, control, typically one of the hallmarks. Anderson badges, it was hard to come by.
When it came to Friday’s bottle selection, his goal was sure. Braves closer Will Smith offered Anderson his choice of three bottles. Anderson chose the Lafite, a cousin of the 2006 Chateau Mouton Rothschild who drank after their Game 1 win.
There’s a reason these seasoned oenophiles trust Anderson’s judgment on such an occasion: He didn’t exactly make it to the big leagues as a novice wine drinker.
Two off-seasons ago, Anderson’s twin brother Ben, a minor league pitcher in the Texas Rangers organization, started working at a liquor store. While his parents were enjoying the occasional bottle of Apothic, which costs roughly one hundredth the price of a Rothschild, Anderson learned from his brother what was good and what was not, impressing his wine sensei.
Since then, Pérez and Jackson have also helped educate him. Pérez introduced him to Spanish wines, Pérez’s favorites. Jackson’s tastes traveled the world, although he had a special fondness for wine from Mendoza, Argentina, where his father cultivated a small vineyard. One offseason, Jackson spent two months there, making malbecs and blends, becoming an amateur winemaker.
“It’s an art,” Jackson said. “It’s not just, ‘Oh, let’s bring some wine and have a good time at dinner.’ There’s a story behind every bottle.”
The story behind the Game 3 bottle was simple. Anderson handcuffed the Astros’ powerful lineup, struck out four and walked three. AJ Minter and Jackson followed with perfect innings to keep the no-hitter intact until the seventh inning. Tyler Matzek and Smith each conceded one hit, but neither hurt, and Atlanta weathered the weather to take the series lead.
“This was a great win for us, for the pitching staff,” Anderson said. “I wanted Luke to be able to enjoy it. Will bought it, and he got the last out. And it was a good bottle, so that helps.”
Joctober – winetober. pic.twitter.com/Wx9JNkdWpA
– Maria Martin (@Ria_Martin) October 24, 2021
Word of the Burgundy Boys is starting to spread. There are always intruders in the club looking to meander that sixth glass. Perez attends an off-season wine tasting every year to help the Braves choose what they will serve at the stadium next season. This year, he asked if Anderson and Jackson could attend and they said yes.
“Guess what we’re talking about,” Perez said as Snitker checked after Game 3.
“Came?” Snitker said.
“Yes!” Perez said.
“He’s a good guy to talk to,” Snitker said.
The Burgundy Boys jerseys arrived on Friday, and Jackson said he plans to wear them during pregame warm-ups before Game 4. Pederson’s friend Eric Jensen, owner of Booker Vineyard in Paso Robles, California, also sent a Package to Truist: A few celebratory bottles of his wine, which consistently scores a high of 90 on the 100-point rating scale.
However, those will wait for another time. They already have their next two picks, both from Bordeaux, their postseason good luck charm. If all goes well, they will uncork the last bottle and, as everyone around them is opting for champagne, they will raise their glasses one last time and toast “The Burgundy Boys – world champions.”