I must admit, beyond a surface-level understanding of how it’s played, I don’t know much about football. I was a “Star Wars” nerd from a very early age, and in high school, music and theater were my jam. Back then, the closest I came to the sport was being bullied by the crowd that played it, or doing detention-worthy activities under the bleachers of the football field. More recently, my career in wine has just about filled up my ADD brain — meaning I rarely have the time or energy to focus on a football game for extended periods of time.
Though I’m far from a sports fanatic, I do have some fond memories of football (or rather, the food that goes with it). As a kid growing up in 1980s Tallahassee, Fla., I remember tailgating in the Sun Bank parking lot with my family and friends before every Florida State Seminoles home game. I never knew what was going on once we got into the stadium, but I always looked forward to the food. Next door to the Sun Bank was a Church’s Chicken, and even though everyone brought their own dishes to contribute to the festivities, we always ordered up a bucket or five of hot, crispy, and juicy fried chicken. Drumsticks were my go-to.
In the early aughts, when the popularity of wine in the U.S. was skyrocketing due to the organic movement (plus a movie about two loathsome dudes in Santa Barbara wine country), my wine knowledge suddenly became invaluable to my group of friends. I owned a wine shop at the time, and was often invited to game- day soirees by friends and customers who knew I’d come bearing wine. Pairing wines with their game day food offerings proved a fun new challenge — and even though I still didn’t understand the sport, I enjoyed hanging out with friends, eating game-day food, and, of course, testing out new pairings.
As we go full-hog into football season, I’ve decided to share some of the fun ideas I came up with over the years. From bubbly to sip with all things fried and spicy; to dark, medium reds for meat lovers, these wines are the perfect pairings for all your favorite game-day cravings. And from experience, I can say that a couple glasses will keep even the least enthused or most confused tailgaters entertained. Just remember to keep the red wine in hand, and away from the living room victory dances.
Sparkling wine with fried chicken and spicy dips
A nice, round bubbly like the Blanc de Noirs from New Mexico-based Gruet family is the perfect match for the salty crunch of fried chicken, and a straightforward Prosecco like the Nino Franco Rustico will calm the heat of jalapeño poppers, a spicy guac, or even hot spinach dip.
Chilled, light reds with burgers and pizza
A juicy, drippy burger is best enjoyed with a light young red with a slight chill (20 to 30 minutes in the fridge) like The Pinot Project Pinot Noir. This bottle has a little weight to help it hold up to meat and good acidity to complement the fixins. For hot, gooey pizza with all the toppings, go Italian with Tommasi Raphael Valpolicella Classico Superiore. It’s a lot to say, but so damn easy to drink. Give this bottle a chill, and you’ll @me to thank me.
No-oak whites with nachos
Loaded nachos deserve to be tasted! No need to oak out your palate and miss all those versatile flavors. A young, refreshing, no-oak white like Hanna Sauvignon Blanc will do the job. It has bright acidity to hold up to the salsa and guac, with a slight weight to match the sour cream and queso. It’s also a bit peppery to match the onions and, well, the peppers. You can also go Grigio, but it should have some character to hold up to all that awesomeness. Choose something like the legit Jermann Pinot Grigio.
Inky reds with wings, ribs, and sliders
These righteous game day staples are all about the slathered-on sauce. Inky reds that are not overbearing are key here. The Intrinsic Red Blend is a workhorse for any BBQ sauce — vinegar-based, molasses-centric, or otherwise. It has just the right amount of weight to match the density of the sauce, and the right acidity and residual sugar to match the quiet heat (you can chill this as well). Also one of the most case buy-worthy Malbecs on the market is the Familia Zuccardi ‘Zuccardi Serie A’ Malbec, which will pair so well with these platters you’ll miss a play while zenning out.