Ricky Jean Francois is a veteran defensive end in the National Football League who just completed his second season with the AFC South Division Champion Indianapolis Colts. The defensive MVP of the 2008 NCAA Bowl Championship Series game for Louisiana State, Jean Francois was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 2009, and his arrival in Northern California sparked an interest in learning more about wine. On the eve of Super Bowl XLIX, which the Colts fell one game short of, Jean Francois talked about his motivation to learn more about wine, the Pinot Grigio that opened his eyes and who is teaching him the ins and outs of wine appreciation.
Wine Spectator: How did you get into wine?
Ricky Jean Francois: I went to LSU, and I got drafted by San Francisco—what I called the other side of the world—so I said I might as well pick up a new hobby, and the one thing everybody in California loves is wine. So I started then, tasting wine. I thought I was a pro, and I would try pairing wines with food. I'm still a rookie, because I haven't learned all the tricks to that one.
WS: What are your favorite wines? Have you had any enlightening wine moments?
RJF: Most people say Champagne, but I love another sparkling wine, Prosecco. There's an Italian wine, Cupcake Pinot Grigio, and when I tasted that one, it was like the grand finale. I was like "I love wine!” [After that,] I wanted to be taught about different wines.
WS: Do you have any favorite wine pairings?
RJF: I like pairing cigars with wine. I like cigars with red wine and drinking white wines with food.
WS: Do you regularly drink wine with any of your teammates?
RJF: [Colts defensive end] Cory Redding is a big wine guy. He's got a stock in his house, and he's one guy that has been teaching me. [Colts linebacker] Robert Mathis is another one. They're the two guys that have been teaching me what wines to pair with what. I'm still growing up. … If I get out to Napa [this offseason], I might learn a bit!
WS: How do you incorporate wine into a healthy lifestyle and staying fit?
RJF: They say red wine is healthy! A lot of people ask, "Why do you drink wine?" But I don’t want to drink hard liquor. We gettin' older! That alcohol can just put years on you, and beat you up when you're just trying to get into a laid-back mood. I drink wine about twice a week. I eat a lot of apples, grapes, peaches, pears, pineapple—fruit gives you more energy throughout the day, like coffee, except it doesn't pick you up and then drop you. It just mellows out.
WS: You'll be attending the Super Bowl this Sunday night. Are you going to be drinking wine?
RJF: I'm going to have to find some kind of wine at the Super Bowl. I'm going to have to!