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Teach Me Something: Pairing Wine with Game-Day Foods

Two San Diego wine experts weigh in on what goes best with burgers, fries, and barbecue
Courtesy of Vino Carta
Pairing wine with game day foods - Vino Carta

Boutique wine shop Vino Carta in Little Italy

Courtesy of Vino Carta

Wine’s association with sports is—not intuitive. Nothing against beer, but the sports-drinks experience really should be an open relationship. Because there’s an entire universe of wine that can and does pair well with game-day foods.

“We don’t always need a heavily produced moment to enjoy wine,” says Patrick Ballow. He’s co-owner of boutique wine shop Vino Carta in Little Italy and—as of last October—Solana Beach, which includes seasonal plates by chef duo Long Story Short. The shops aim to stock wines from organically farmed vineyards when possible, but not always, Ballow says, “because of the specifics to the environment.”

Pairing wine with game day foods - Cassandra Schaeg

Cassandra Schaeg, owner of SIP Wine and Beer in Escondido

Courtesy of SIP Wine and Beer

As for tailgate parties, when you’re often presented with a bevy of heavy, thuddish food options, “a lot of the canned wines and spritzers will have that acid to break down what you’re eating,” says Cassandra Schaeg, founder of SIP Wine and Beer in Escondido. SIP emphasizes wines made or founded by women and BIPOC individuals, like McBride Sisters (I like their red blend—juicy and velvety).

Plus, canned wine touts a portability factor, and its quality has improved in recent years. Same goes for boxed wine.

Ballow and Schaeg are here to illuminate the world of wine and game-day food pairings just in time for Padres season, San Diego Wave’s inaugural soccer season in May, to close out the Legion’s rugby season, or for whatever reason you grill and gather.

Wine and Game-Day Food Pairings

The canned wine category is booming. The global market was $211.4 million in 2020, and according to Grand View Research it’s expected to grow more than 13% annually through 2028. Wine Industry Network reported that demand for canned wines saw a sharp uptick during the lockdowns. Schaeg says many of San Diego’s wine producers haven’t made the leap yet, mostly because they’re either too small to justify a commercial run, or the cost of canning is too high. 

But one local woman-founded company, Sipwell Wine, launched its entire business in 2021 with a lineup of canned wines in spunky names like Tiny Victories, a sparkling white, and That’s the Jam, a still grenache. They’re available at Schaeg’s shop and tasting room in Escondido, and she likes to pair their Rock Steady with barbecue. “When you have smoked foods and this crisp, sparkling rosé,” she says, “It all works.” 

Canned spritzers (essentially wine and sparkling water) also work, and Mira Mesa–based Charlie & Echo offer two kinds—lemon and grapefruit. 

Pairing wine with game day foods - SIP Wine and Beer

Pairing wine with game day foods – SIP Wine and Beer

Courtesy of SIP Wine and Beer

Wine and Fried Foods Pairings

Fried foods are often front and center at game-day gatherings. And sparkling wines hold their own with, say, fried chicken or disco fries. For bites involving a lot of condiments, Ballow recommends something that keeps pace with the acid content in ketchup and mustard, like barbera. Barbera, an Italian grape, is typically medium-bodied with red and black fruit aromas like cherry and blackberry. Try it with a cheeseburger.

“If I want something red, I’ll drink grenache in a can,” Schaeg says.

Likewise, something smoky and fatty like carnitas does well with what Ballow calls “chillable reds,” like pinot noir. On a hot day, these lighter-to-medium-bodied red wines may benefit from a brief blast in the fridge or cooler. 

In San Diego, of course, there’s a decent chance we’re staring at a fish taco. Seafood’s delicate flesh might pair better with a crisp white wine like albariño, with its classic characteristics of stone fruit and minerality.

Of course, there’s no “right” way to do any of this—they’re just ideas from people who really, really know wine. “It all goes back to this music analogy,” says Ballow. “What one person likes to listen to on their drive to work in the morning is not the same as so many other people, and it changes from Monday to Friday.” 

Just be mindful of consumption, as some of these canned wines and spritzers pack as much as 13%–14% alcohol by volume. One can is equivalent to two conventional glasses of wine. So if it’s a hot day, canned wine “is light and refreshing, but it’ll put you on your ass,” Schaeg says. And depending on how many wine drinkers are in your group, Ballow suggests buying a magnum.


By Ligaya Malones

Ligaya Malones grew up in Kaua’i, Hawai’i and is a San Diego-based writer covering the intersection of food, travel, and culture. Her work has appeared in publications including Food52, Condé Nast Traveler, Lonely Planet, and Salt & Wind Travel.

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