You Just Got…Jacked Up! The No Wine With Football Myth   Leave a comment

This is gonna leave a bruise.

 Caveat: Without apologies to any non-U.S. readers– this is not about Soccer or Fútbol.

Should we drink wine with football?  There are hard-core football fans out there who will tell you that wine has no place on Sunday afternoons during the football season.  No place at the Video Temple or at the Tailgate Party.  No place next to the buffalo chicken wings, hot dogs or nachos (the latter two being imports, by the way). 

But this sort of reverse snobbery by the beer-swilling hoard has some historical antecedents.  Herewith, a cursory, expurgated  and heavily opinionated view of this history.  How did beer get to be so closely associated with football?  How did wine get to be excluded and shunned? 

In Colonial times, ales, ciders and home-made hooch– being less expensive and more accessible to the Early American populace– were preferred.  And the wines that were acceptable at that time included the sweeter (and fortified) Madeira which seemed more in tune with the American palate.  Thomas Jefferson, who is indisputably the most wine educated president we have ever had– having travelled and tasted his way through Bordeaux and Burgundy as well portions of Germany and Italy– needed to fend off charges that he was too Frenchified in his manners, dress and tastes to be considered for the presidency.  While he did much to introduce wine to the U.S., T-Jef was also held up as an example of runaway connoisseurship and more than a whiff of wine-related elitism.  You see where this is going, don’t you? 

Jumping ahead to the 20th century, Prohibition also took its toll on the consumption and production of wine in this country.  During that 13-year period, vineyards were replaced with other crops– although individuals were permitted to produce wine for their own personal consumption.  And while wine was no doubt smuggled into this country, I have little doubt that you had to pony up some serious simoleons to get it in an unadulterated form.  It was much easier to get some illegal firewater from your local distiller.   And let’s face it, once Prohibition ended, the wines that were produced were of inferior quality to the more expensive imported stuff.  It was perhaps inevitable that the more consistent quality of domestic beer would easily win out and would be best positioned to accompany the Sunday Football Ritual in households across the Land.

The 1960’s gave us the golden age of the cocktail in America– Tom Collins, the Highball and of course the Martini, which fueled rise of the Mad Men and, naturally, the Three-Martini-Lunch.  I suspect that this shift in consumption habits toward elegant cocktails must have been a reaction to some degree to the fullness one feels after a few brews.  

Cinema also picked up on this and played a role in the acceptance of wine.  Aside from his signature shaken-not stirred beverage, James Bond was often overheard ordering bottles of vintage Bollinger champagne, usually to lubricate the skids leading to the efficient disrobing and debauching of his female companion of the moment. 

You can feel the momentum changing. 

But the late 1960s also gave us a conservative in the White House, Richard Nixon, who, as I have noted in these pages (, took elitism to a very different level.  Unlike T-Jef, who was generous with his wines to a fault, the Tricky One, was never one to put sharing at the top of his agenda.  Reportedly, on at least one occasion, pouring the very good stuff for himself only (while his guests unwittingly drank a lesser quality wine).  Imagine what those two late Presidents would have been like in a sand box.  Umm, let me see…

Like my shirt? So what do you have there?

Get your paws off my stuff, Dick!


But I digress.

Wine– the alcoholic beverage of the Counter-Culture?  In a reaction to the conservative values of the Establishment, Hippie culture embraced values and props that were a departure from the norm.  Such things included a rejection of the hard liquor concoctions of their parents’ generation and an uneasy acceptance of wine if we are to judge from some of the music of that time.  For example, War’s 1970 classic, Spill the Wine, speaks to the alien nature of wine with a sexual charge that could be discomforting:

I could feel hot flames of fire roaring at my back
As she disappeared, but soon she returned
In her hand was a bottle of wine, in the other, a glass
She poured some of the wine from the bottle into the glass
And raised it to her lips
And just before she drank it, she said:

Spill the wine and take that pearl, Spill the wine and take that pearl
Spill the wine and take that pearl, Spill the wine and take that pearl

And there is the lyric complaint intoned by Jimi Hendrix: “Businessman they drink my wine”.   But the counter-culture soon resolved itself in James Bondian fashion when the Rolling Stones sang on Pass The Wine (Sophia Loren):

I’m glad to be alive and kicking
I’m glad to hear my heart’s still ticking
So pass me the wine, baby, and let’s make some love

Acceptance of imported Portuguese roses and the Reunite on ice soon followed in the Disco Era starting in the middle to late 1970s seems almost preordained. 

And in America at this time, you could not really think of the rise of wine without mentioning the Tasting of Paris and Robert Mondavi.  A detailed examination of both subjects is beyond the scope of this post.  However, the Tasting of Paris ( was a game changer since it legitimized in the view of the world that American wines could be the equal or the betters of their French counterparts.  In the U.S., even people who had never tasted wine up to that time (that would include me) heard about this event and took a patriotic pride in that success.  Mondavi, for his part, worked tirelessly to promote the notion that American wines could be among the world’s greatest.  Ultimately, this led to the Opus One joint venture with Mouton-Rothschild (one of Bordeaux’ first growth producers). 

But wine , despite its success, here in America, is neither a drink of the masses nor a drink that is part of our everyday culinary culture.  By this, I mean that it would be found on the humblest of dinner tables the way one finds Coca Cola there.  It still has a long way to go before it can break the near-monopoly exerted by beer for the past 200 plus years.  Simply because it was late to the party, however, does not mean that it should be excluded from our culinary traditions.  

Example:  I recently watched an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show, No Reservations, where he hung out with a bunch of locals at a Provençal bar on a Sunday morning eating charcuterie (that’s processed meat products including all manner of sausages) and cheese accompanied by copious amounts of wine and a whole lot of crappy singing.  No one is standing around trying to pick out the scents of flower blossoms or garrigue in the bouquet of the wines being consumed.  It was just a bunch of guys finishing off a long night of partying with their buddies by drinking a few more toasts before heading home.  In America, we are a long way from that more relaxed approach to wine.  Pity us for that.

My good friend, B the Elder suggested to me that one has beer simply because that is what goes well with the cuisine served on Football Sunday.  That is a chicken and egg problem as I see it because it presupposes that we were eating chicken wings, nachos and hot dogs before beer was introduced.  The opposite in fact is the truth– the cuisines adapted to the beverage that was being drunk.   Had that beverage been wine, we might have very different food come Sundays in Autumn.  I’m thinking charcuterie again.  Now, I’m not suggesting a wholesale abandonment of beer.  Just that we have the choice of wine available as an equal on Sundays.

Is there any connection between Football and Wine that we can point to for inspiration and let’s face it– Legitimacy?  In fact there is.  Vince Lombardi with his trademark close-cropped haircut was not a Hippie.  Pretty much the anti-Hippie in his personal style.  In fact, a symbol, at least in his personal style of the conservative older generation of the time. 

We know Lombardi of the Championships.  We know the Lombardi Trophy awarded to each year’s Super Bowl winner.  Do we know Lombardi the restaurateur?  Well, there is this little establishment known as the Vince Lombardi Steakhouse in Appleton, Wisconsin which has been awarded a series of Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence since 2005.  Sounds good, so far.

But wait a minute, according to owner, Vince Lombardi, Jr.: 

“My father enjoyed eating out with friends. A great meal, good friends and a couple highballs of scotch were his main form of relaxation during the football season.  He would have loved this wonderful steakhouse.” 

All right, so the old man didn’t have anything to do with this restaurant.  And wine does not appear to have been his first choice– at least during the season.  And maybe he’s turning over in his grave contemplating the liberties Young Vince has taken.  We’ll never know.  But what we do know is that one of the greatest names in football history has rightly or wrongly become associated with fine wine.  Moreover, being of Italian descent, how could he not have enjoyed a few good glasses of wine?    Though, sadly, he died an all too early death from cancer, I have an image of him in his retirement watching a game in his wood-paneled living room while sipping on a fine wine with his stocking feet up on the furniture.  Maybe he’s doing that right now.

Then there is Don Shula– he of the “Perfect Season”.  His Shula’s Steak House has also won a number of the same Wine Spectator awards– and at least he’s still around to endorse the place. 

So we have a connection between wine and great football coaches.  Though these connections may be tenuous, I say it is enough to pop some corks come Football Sunday.  You see, I just need a small shove to fall into the abyss.

While not advocating the abandonment of beer, the beauty of wine is that one can drink it without getting that bloated sensation brought on by beer.  OK, so “beauty” is not a word that we should use in the context of football, unless one is referring to the Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders.  So let’s just say that this is one of wine’s strategic advantages. 

The matter settled, at least as far as I am concerned, what wine for football?  Red or White?  Easy—

Garçon, bring another Quarterback.

go with the color of blood. 

Domestic or Imported?  My gut reaction says buy American.  But if one can drink an imported beer during the game, why not an imported wine?  OK, maybe not French wine (apologies to T-Jef).  See, I can compromise.  Thus, I won’t turn up my nose at an import.  But an American institution calls for an American wine– a Napa Cab, a Dry Creek Valley Zin, a Washington State or Oregon Pinot Noir.  These are what I will be sipping.

But how to respond to the bold flavors of the Sunday Football Table?  Follow the Lombardi/Shula leads– Grill some thick freakin’ steaks.  Pile on some pomme frites–uh, French Fr– uh, — screw it, just nuke a potato.  Put some brocoli on the plate, if you must and be a man about it!  There’s blood being spilled on the gridiron.  There should be blood on our plates.  Keep your nachos!  By the way, if you want that beer, go ahead.  It will do just fine with the steaks. 

That goes for you ladies as well– unless, you’re sipping some vintage Bollinger.  In which case, I’ll see you at halftime.

An Eagles cheerleader in a bikini on the beach.
With Love from the City of Brotherly Love: A sandbox any of us would want to play in. Pass the Bubbly, please!


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Posted September 9, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

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