Sure, it seems as if beer might be the most obvious libation for watching sports, but an argument can be made that wine makes a fantastic option as well. Wine pairs beautifully with a number of popular game day foods and offers a wide variety of choices for everyone participating. Whether it’s a few glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon with friends while cheering on your team, celebrating with some bubbly after a friendly pickup game, or enjoying a chilled Pinot Noir and a hot dog in the stands, fine wines aren’t just for white tablecloth occasions.

Many major stadiums have upgraded their food and drink offerings to include wine on tap or in bottles, often from local producers — there are sometimes even more high-end labels available in the luxury boxes and suites. A popular upscale New York City restaurant used to supplement its annual Kentucky Derby Day mint juleps with plenty of red and white options, while a Greenville, S.C., craft wine and beer spot encourages soccer fans to drink from a porrón — a sort of wine flask/decanter with a pour spout — offering a deluxe shot for each time a favorite team scores a goal.

“On game day Sundays, I typically do Mimosas [which include sparkling wine],” says Sam Slaughter, lifestyle writer and author of the ’90s-themed cocktail book “Are You Afraid of the Dark Rum.” “Canned wine, which has gotten increasingly legit, is great for tailgating.”

Of course, numerous athletes across pro sports have put their names behind wine brands. Heck, in 2018, the New York Jets even partnered to create a signature wine commemorating their most recent Super Bowl victory (although that would be Super Bowl III in 1969 if you’re keeping track). The fact is, wine and sports are increasingly intertwined, especially as both fans and players look beyond beer for everything from refreshment to investment.

“I see good wines more and more at stadiums,” says Slaughter, “and I’d rather spend my money on those than a tall boy of some random light beer.”

Winemaker James Macphail.
Winemaker James Macphail.

Longtime CBS Sports commentator Jim Nantz has a similar point of view. Ten years ago, he partnered with wine industry veteran Peter Deutsch to create The Calling, a collection of premium wines coming out of California. Not simply another personality looking to put his name on a random bottle, he says he and Deutsch started “from the ground up,” seeking out the right vineyard partners (Dutton Ranch in the famed Russian River Valley, for example) and the right winemaker in James MacPhail. The Sonoma-based winemaker describes himself as a perfectionist and has had a hand in crafting more than 100 highly acclaimed Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. The goal, from the beginning, was to craft beautiful wines by partnering with the best growers and vineyards in California and relying on the renowned expertise and creative brilliance of MacPhail.

The wine’s name reflects “a more spiritual vibe about inspiring consumers to unlock their calling and pursue their interests in life,” Jim said during a Wine.com online tasting. Now, he hopes you will find your calling while enjoying the wine.

Ready to dive in? Here are some hints and tips for making the most of your sports and wine pairings.

Peter Deutsch and Jim Nantz.
Peter Deutsch and Jim Nantz.

Start at Home:

Maybe it’s too much to give up the cold beer and hot pretzel at the stadium, but consider offering up perfect pours at home. You’d be surprised how many game day foods work well with wine. Pizza and pepperoni line up nicely with the plum fruits found in a Pinot Noir, like The Calling’s 2019 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($37), which cuts through a cheese-and-sausage combo with hints of bing cherry and orange zest. Popcorn and a crisp Chardonnay or sparkling wine are a winning combination. Cabernet Sauvignon and barbecue? Fuggedaboutit. Liz Barrett, a wine fan from Chicago, says she pairs her ballpark peanuts with a local IPA when at Wrigley Field, but with sparkling wine when watching the games at home.

Wine Offers Variety:

Sure, beer is available in a range of styles, but most ballpark selections are fairly narrow in scope. From smoky, dark reds ripe with bold tannins and dark fruits, to bright, citrusy whites and everything in between, wine really does offer something for everyone in your crew. You’ll find more than just the standard 750-milliliter bottle: splits, magnums, cans, you name it. There’s a size for every occasion.

An Ideal Outdoor Drink:

Rosé-style wines have been at the top of everyone’s summer list the past several years, and there’s a good reason. They’re refreshing, crisp, and light. “Rosé is easy to drink in the sun,” says Slaughter. It’s perfect for when you’re outside watching the ponies or at the U.S. Open (tennis or golf). A chilled rosé and a spicy pizza or grilled chicken caps off the afternoon perfectly.

Consider Making Wine the Focus:

Just as there are often a ton of non-sports activities outside stadiums (food trucks, beer gardens, carnivals), you can take a break from the play-by-play and spend a moment savoring your glass of Cab. Samantha Sieverling and her husband attend “paint-and-sip” events in bars throughout Seattle, allowing them to keep an eye on the Mariners or Seahawks while mastering the perfect landscape. Amy Gutierrez, a former sports reporter and current social media ambassador for the San Francisco Giants (known to fans as Amy G), hosted online tastings with the team’s players and coaches during the early days of the pandemic. Consider hosting your own wine-and-cheese tasting during the game, and perhaps even offer different flights for each quarter or half.

Affordable Luxury:

Every game day should be a special day. While most beers —name brand or specialty — run within a few bucks of each other in cost, wine ranges from $5 into the hundreds (or more). Yet, you can score extremely high-quality wines for under $100, which makes watching your alma mater taking down its rival even more significant. Nantz says that as he and Peter Deutsch began discussing a wine label, they decided to focus on the luxury and premium market, rather than simply throw his name behind a mainstream wine label. “This wasn’t some ego trip,” he says. “I don’t need publicity. I wanted to create the next great American premium wine brand.” The Calling’s currently available portfolio of wines range between $35 and about $70, ideal for that final showdown.

The Calling Wine
This article is sponsored by The Calling.