While the popular image of tailgate parties is grounded firmly in images of pony kegs and hot dog hibachis, anyone who has actually attended a football game in the past decade knows that the eating game has been elevated: There are some serious eats going down every week in America's parking lots. And so, joining Coors and Budweiser in the cooler are a dizzying array of not only craft brews but even (gasp) wine.
To the pros, this comes as no surprise. Americans have steadily increased their wine consumption for decades, and we now annually drain an entire gallon of wine more per person than we did 20 years ago – bumping us up to an average of 2.73 gallons consumed per person in 2013. "Wines are surprisingly great for tailgating," says Theresa Paopao, named Boston's best sommelier by 'Boston' magazine and current beverage director at Ribelle, in the Boston suburb of Brookline, Massachusetts. "The problem is that people overthink it. In general, wines that work particularly well for tailgating are totally crushable, light, and go well with salty food." Which means you don't have to forgo all the wings, burgers, dogs, nachos, sausage, and cornucopia of other artery-suffocating foods that define great tailgating.
Paopao notes that these easy-drinking wines also tend to be cheaper than their more complex counterparts. "There's no need to spend more than $15 to $20 on a wine that you're taking to a tailgate," says Paopao. "When you do that, you're either paying for more complex flavors, like oak, that don't actually go great with tailgate food, or you're drinking a wine that deserves more attention than just being a way to wash down wings." Here are Paopao's picks to go all the way at your next pregame showdown.
Pewsey Vale Riesling
"Most people are afraid of riesling because they think that every single one is going to be overly sweet," says Paopao. "It's important to know that a little sugar is a good thing, especially to balance salty or spicy foods." Not sure if a specific riesling is going to be too sweet? Just ask someone at the wine store, but offhand opt for ones from Down Under. "There are drier rieslings coming out of Australia that aren't sweet," says Paopao. Pair them with spicy wings or sausage.
Try: Pewsey Vale ($14.96). If you can't find that, Clean Slate is also a good (albeit slightly sweeter) pick.