Those of you who love wine and football know the bittersweet taste that comes this time of year—nail-biting NFL games, blowing your vocal cords out cheering your favorite team on to victory and…the awkward stares you get from your friends when you show up to the tailgate party with a bottle of vino.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though.

Despite the fact that beer seems to have more of a lockdown on tailgating than the Steel Curtain had on quarterbacks in the ‘70s, wine can fit into your football party action—it just takes a little bit of pregame planning. You can take it from me, or you can take it from Rick Mirer, a former NFL rookie quarterback sensation who is now the purveyor of a silky, rich, steakhouse-style Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley, Mirror Wine.

In his first year in the NFL, Mirer set rookie passing records for attempts, completions and yards that took the likes of Peyton

Manning to break. If wine can appeal to a guy like that, it ought to have some pull among your football-lovin’ buddies.

“I spent 12 years in the NFL, traveling a lot, visiting different cities and restaurants,” Mirer told me, “and I was exposed to some pretty cool wines. Spending two years with the San Francisco 49ers and the next two years with the Oakland Raiders and having training camp in Napa kind of sealed it. Jump forward three years out of football, I needed a business to work on and I like to be able to make my own hours, and I could do the wine thing on my own terms.”

It was Napa Cabernet that hooked Mirer (“the key person and the key wine is Jeff Smith and a 1998 Hourglass; Jeff’s got this infectious personality and great wines, and if there was one wine that put me over the top, that was it”), though that might not be the best choice when you’re trying to pop some corks in hostile beer territory. It’s worth the battle, though, not just for your own satisfaction, but also in having a classy alternative for the ladies who might not want to fill up on brewski during the game.

“Beer is such a natural fit for football—the convenience of it, the time of day, since I’m not breaking out the best bottles at noon; that’s more of a dinner thing,” advises Mirer. “I like beer, but depending on the time of day and the type of spread, evening games might make more sense for wine. There’s glassware, too—it’s got to be a nice glass for wine, and it’s hard to compete with the convenience of beer when you’re standing in a parking lot and you don’t have the good stuff. I guess it depends on how bad you want it. But in San Francisco and Oakland, wine is definitely up in the [stadium] suites.”

To compete with the frosty mugs, the best bet is to think outside the box. Wines that are interesting but not too demanding (nobody wants to hear you wax philosophic on the merits of a special vintage when the game’s tied and there’s a third-and-ten with under two minutes left) so they can be enjoyed and appreciated without dominating the way you want your team to do on the field. In reds, robust and plummy Argentine Bonarda fits that bill nicely, as does Dry Creek Zinfandel from California, which often combines jammy fruit with hints of spices. For white football-related vino, try Viognier from South America, Santa Barbara and Australia (think Chardonnay-like tropical fruits, only with more floral action).

If it’s a big game, though, don’t forget the celebratory juice: stogies and tawny port make for a crazy good postgame matchup, and nothing quite says we-totally-stomped-your-asses-and-are-superior-to-the-losing-team-in-every-conceivable-way like popping a bottle of bubbly.

During Mirer’s NFL days, “wine was definitely a celebratory thing. It’s fun to break out a special bottle, and when you win it’s kind of nice to have a special treat. That was certainly the case for me.”

Finally, Mirer has some great advice for those who are bitten by the wine bug like he was: focus on the people and experience as much as on the juice.

“Personally, I appreciate the wines where I got to meet the people behind it who can tell you about the history and the family and the place,” he told me. “I’ve got great loyalties to those kinds of experiences; to me it just tastes better. I believe in collecting the stuff that you have a connection to and the people who you get a chance to meet. A lot of people go by scores, but you can’t go strictly off that, because I just really appreciate relationships. I always thought it was cool to have the wines that not everybody knew about, that maybe weren’t quite discovered yet, but the people were great and you could share it with a friend who appreciates wine and tell them that you’ve got something they don’t, the ones that have their own kind of personality and a more interesting story.”

Sage advice for cracking the tailgate code—after all, it’s not about you so much as it’s about bringing that wine joy to everybody else at the party…

About the Author: Want to learn more about maximizing your wine pleasure? Visit Joe Roberts’ award-winning website, where you can find him regularly roasting wine’s sacred cow (and pairing it with robust, obscure red). Joe is a certified wine geek and has been called “an original” by media maven Gary Vaynerchuk, “provocative” by the *Seattle Timesand “a Robin Hood in the exclusive world of vineyards and corkings” by The Urban Grocer. His wine knowledge has been tapped by the L.A. Times, *New York Times,, Mutineer Magazine, and Washington Post.