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Fan Fare: How to Eat and Drink Like a Fan on Super Bowl Sunday

We tackle pairing good-value wines with the distinctive local foods enjoyed by fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals

Robert Taylor
Posted: January 28, 2009

This year's Super Bowl can be viewed as a study in contrasts: The high-powered offense of Arizona versus the staunch defense of Pittsburgh; the Cardinals, one of the NFL's oldest and historically most inept franchises, making their first Super Bowl appearance versus the Steelers and their league-record five championships. And the cuisine each team brings to the table offers an equally striking dichotomy.

Every year, we pair wines with Super Bowl party fare. This time, we chose regional foods to represent the two conference champions. The classic sandwiches Pittsburgh is known for come from family establishments dating back to the 1930s, while for Arizona, we turned to the Southwestern dishes created for the menus at the new University of Phoenix stadium, which opened in 2006. If you celebrate this Sunday with the hearty, blue-collar sandwiches invented at Isaly's and Primanti Bros. or the bold Southwestern and Mexican dishes of Phoenix, you'll be a winner regardless of the outcome of the game.

There are 22 different sandwiches available at Primanti Bros.; each one is packed with fries and coleslaw.

Two of Pittsburgh's most beloved restaurants, Primanti Bros. and Isaly's, are each known for a unique sandwich. Primanti Bros. is the most widely known Pittsburgh deli, and their Pitts-Burgher Cheese Steak is the main attraction. Director of operations Marc Teklinsky says the famous sandwich dates back to the 1970s, when a trucker, worried the potatoes he was delivering had been frozen in transit, brought a bag into the restaurant and asked the chef to cut some up to find out. The chef was frying them when a customer said he'd like some with his sandwich. The chef put them on the sandwich, and the Primanti Bros. French fry sandwich was born. "We have 22 different sandwiches, and all of them come with French fries and cole slaw, but the most popular is the Pitts-Burgher Cheese Steak," says Teklinsky. "That's two thick slices of fresh baked Italian bread, a grilled sirloin patty with melted Provolone cheese on top, then comes a handful of our hand-cut fries, our homemade oil-and-vinegar-based coleslaw and two slices of tomato. When it's all mashed together you get the hot sirloin and melted cheese with the cold coleslaw and tomato—it really makes for a great sandwich." Teklinsky, a fan of Wine Spectator who has more than 200 bottles of wine cellared at his home, thinks a lot of wines would pair well with the Pitts-Burgher. "I could see a white, I could see a light red or even a fuller-bodied red," he says.

A lot has changed since the Steelers' first Super Bowl season in 1974, but not the chipped ham at Isaly's.

Pittsburgh's other dining institution is Isaly's diner, the original home of the Klondike ice-cream bar, which the family sold the rights to in the 1970s. It's also known for "skyscraper" ice-cream cones and triple-dip milkshakes, but its original creation was the Chipped Chopped Barbecue Ham Sandwich and the company now ships its unique chopped ham and barbecue sauce all over the country. While Isaly's president Tim Deily won't reveal the "secret ingredients" that make the ham taste more like a baked ham, other than to say that they use leaner cuts, he also attributes the sandwich's popularity to the special slicing method and the sauce's distinctive taste. "The Isaly's stores had special slicers, called 'chippers,' which had a sharper blade," says Deily. "The idea behind the chipping is that the thinner you slice something, the more of its surface area gets exposed to your taste buds." The barbecue sauce is thinner than classic versions, with a higher ratio of vinegar to tomato paste, and a slightly milder, sweeter flavor. The sandwich is served on a hamburger bun with chipped ham that has been cooked in a skillet with the barbecue sauce mixed in to taste. Deily says relish and shredded cheese are the most common additions.

On the other side of the line of scrimmage is the Southwestern cuisine of Arizona. The University of Phoenix stadium concession menus were put together by chef Sean Kavanaugh, a longtime Arizona resident, who focused on the region's distinctive flavors. "We used indigenous ingredients of the Southwest like agave syrup, different kinds of chiles and native seeds as well as ingredients from local farms," says Kavanaugh. The Touchdown Tortilla stand is one of the stadium's most popular concessions and features Navajo tacos made with Indian fry breads topped with a choice of three meats: Beef Barbacoa, a Mexican-style barbecue beef; Puerco Pabillo, slow-roasted, marinated pork butt; or Fajita Chicken. The tacos are topped with lettuce, onions, pico di gallo, guacamole, chipotle sour cream, rice, beans and green chile sauce.

What fun is watching the Super Bowl if you can't get your hands dirty?

At the stadium's luxury suites, fans are offered more upscale fare on the Loft menu. The signature dish is the Puerco Pibil, which is Yucatan-style, slow-roasted pork served with fry bread, onion, cilantro, shredded cabbage, lime, peppercorns, jalapeño, salsa and cream. Other Southwestern-themed stadium snacks include Queso Fundido—melted Chihuahua cheese with roasted Poblano chiles, chorizo sausage and fire-roasted tomato salsa served with tortilla chips—and of course their version of the ultimate Super Bowl dish, Chipotle-Honey Chicken Wings. Michael Sternberg of the National Restaurant Association and a partner of Centerplate, the company that oversees the stadium's concessions, thinks both red and white wines can pair well with the Southwestern flavors. "I would counter the heat of the peppercorns and jalapeños and complement the spices and citrus flavors with a wine with decent complexity, a touch of sweetness and a sense of refreshment, like Gewürztraminer," Sternberg said. "However … a good red with light, smooth tannins, a lot of juicy, berry flavors and a simple rustic-ness to match the food in character but with enough muscle not to get overwhelmed [would be appropriate]. Petite Sirah came to mind."

To come up with a list of wines suitable for all this Super Bowl fare, we turned to senior editor James Molesworth, who shares his philosophy on Super Bowl wines: What's great about many classic comfort food dishes is that not only do they beg for wine, but there are two ways to go about it.

If you want to play a smash-mouth, power running game, Rhône varietals work well: Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. These full-bodied reds can handle richer food and an array of spices, from a little bit peppery to pretty darn hot.

But if you want to play a finesse-style, vertical passing attack instead, you'll need some whites from varieties such as Gewürztraminer or Riesling. These wines will allow football fans to take a different tack—they're lighter in body and alcohol, and rather than mixing it up with the food, they provide more of a foil to all those jalapeños and ancho peppers.

Here's a selection of 22 wines (one for every player on the field), from Rhône-style reds to off-beat whites. They cover a wide range of regions, from the Rhône itself to the Arizona Cardinals' home state. The best part? They all cost less than $20 a bottle.

ANDRÉ BRUNEL Côtes du Rhône-Villages Cuvée Sabrine 2005 Score: 91 | $18
A beefy style, with dark currant, coffee, fig bread and grilled game notes, followed by a slightly briary edge on the finish. A chewy, mouthfilling style. Cellaring should help this settle in. Best from 2009 through 2012. 500 cases imported. Red. —J.M.

INNOCENT BYSTANDER Shiraz-Viognier Victoria 2006 Score: 91 | $20
Effusively peppery, with tremendous black and white pepper aromas that lace through the vigorous blackberry, currant and floral flavors, finishing with impressive vibrancy and length. Best from 2009 through 2016. 750 cases imported. Red. —H.S.

LEASINGHAM Riesling Clare Valley Magnus 2007 Score: 91 | $12
Impressive for its harmony and seamless structure, offering a joyous mouthful of lemon curd, quince and lime on a steely frame. The flavors just don't quit. Drink now through 2015. 2,500 cases imported. White. —H.S.

GEMTREE Shiraz McLaren Vale Tadpole 2007 Score: 90 | $13
Supple, ripe and generous with its blueberry, blackberry and plum fruit that rides easily on a light carpet of fine tannins, lingering on the juicy finish. Drink now through 2011. 5,000 cases made. Red. —H.S.

KILIKANOON Shiraz South Australia Killerman's Run 2006 Score: 90 | $20
This is smooth and graceful with oomph of tannins and acidity behind the licorice-accented cherry and blackberry flavors. Yet finishes harmoniously. Best from 2009 through 2015. 4,000 cases imported. Red. —H.S.

DE MARTINO Syrah Choapa Valley Legado Reserva 2006 Score: 90 | $16
This is alluring, with shaved vanilla and cocoa powder notes followed by a ripe beam of focused black cherry and currant fruit. The long, fine-grained finish stretches out nicely. Drink now through 2010. 6,000 cases made. Red. —J.M.

NOVY Syrah Sonoma County 2006 Score: 90 | $19
This is notably peppery, but joined by fresh plum and wild berry fruit that's supple, graceful, complex and spicy, gaining length and traction on the finish. Drink now through 2012. 1,385 cases made. Red. —J.L.

PURE LOVE Shiraz Barossa Valley Layer Cake 2006 Score: 90 | $16
Smooth and round, with plenty of personality, offering juicy raspberry and plum flavors, shaded with granite and mint character weaving through as the finish rolls on nicely. Drink now through 2016. 18,000 cases made. Red. —H.S.

ST.-COSME Côtes du Rhône 2007 Score: 90 | $16
Nice wild aromas of garrigue and olive give way to a silky palate of dark plum, loganberry and iron notes, with a long, fleshy finish. A nice character-filled wine. Drink now through 2010. 1,500 cases imported. Red. —J.M.

ARIZONA STRONGHOLD Nachise Cochise County 2007 Score: 89 | $20
Ripe and smoky, but there's a very tasty, pure core of cassis and blackberry fruit underneath, along with additional spice, licorice and mineral notes. This has a solid grip. Like a Châteauneuf. Impressive. Syrah, Grenache and Petite Sirah. Drink now through 2010. 978 cases made. Red. —J.M.

BARREL 27 Syrah Central Coast 2005 Score: 89 | $18
Well-proportioned, ripe and juicy, with supple wild berry and blackberry fruit that's smooth and elegant, ending with a nice dash of spice and herb. Drink now through 2012. 5,000 cases made. Red. —J.L.

COLUMBIA Gewürztraminer Columbia Valley 2007 Score: 89 | $12
Bright, zippy and off-dry, with tangy grapefruit, nectarine and pineapple flavors that show restraint even as they linger on the expressive finish. Drink now. 16,500 cases made. White. —H.S.

HELFRICH Riesling Alsace 2007 Score: 89 | $13
A pretty, floral Riesling, with a creamy texture and hints of lychee to the yellow peach and light mineral notes. Lively and clean, with a light smoky finish. Drink now through 2013. 5,000 cases made. White. —A.N.

MONTGRAS Syrah Colchagua Valley Antu Ninquén 2006 Score: 89 | $20
A ripe, juicy style, with lots of blackberry, briar and sweet spice notes that push through the medium-weight, nicely structured finish, where black tea and fruit echo. Drink now through 2010. 3,000 cases imported. Red. —J.M.

CHARLES SMITH Riesling Columbia Valley Kung Fu Girl 2007 Score: 89 | $12
Tangy, lively and juicy with refreshing acidity, offering lime, grapefruit, green grape and peach flavors in a nicely focused beam that shines through the vivid finish. Drink now through 2013. 10,000 cases made. White. —H.S.

BOEKENHOUTSKLOOF Syrah Coastal Region Porcupine Ridge 2007 Score: 88 | $13
Well-focused, with juicy plum and blackberry fruit backed by hints of spice and licorice. Medium-weight finish has a nice minerally tang. Drink now. 2,500 cases imported. Red. —J.M.

CHATEAU STE. MICHELLE Riesling Columbia Valley Cold Creek Vineyard 2007 Score: 88 | $14
Soft and ripe, this is definitely sweet but balanced with a refreshing zing of lemon to go with the generous apricot and apple flavors. Drink now. 4,500 cases made. White. —H.S.

DOS CABEZAS El Norte Cochise County 2006 Score: 88 | $22
Shows weight and focus, with good red and black cherry fruit layered with incense, bacon and fig bread notes, followed by a supple, fleshy finish. Nicely done. Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah and Petite Sirah. Drink now through 2010. 650 cases made. Red. —J.M.

DR. KONSTANTIN FRANK Riesling Finger Lakes Dry 2007 Score: 88 | $17
Quite taut, despite a marzipan edge running through the tangy green apple and lime notes, which linger on the petrol-tinged finish. Has some mature hints already, but it's fresh and long, and should age well. Drink now through 2009. 4,500 cases made. White. —J.M.

HOGUE Gewürztraminer Columbia Valley 2007 Score: 88 | $10
Soft, slightly sweet and crisply balanced to show off its rose petal-tinged grapefruit and lychee flavors. A fine wine for sipping on its own. Drink now. 9,046 cases made. White. —H.S.

S. MICHAEL-EPPAN Gewürztraminer Alto Adige 2007 Score: 88 | $19
Light aromas of blanched almonds and lemons follow through to a full body, with an oily texture and a tropical fruit flavored finish. Dense and rich. More than straightforward, giving you what you expect. Drink now. 90 cases imported. White. —J.S.

DOMAINE DE MOURCHON Côtes du Rhône-Villages Séguret Tradition 2006 Score: 88 | $16
Dark and juicy, with a core of plum, currant and blackberry fruit layered with notes of bittersweet cocoa, fruitcake and hoisin sauce. There's also a nice bit of briary grip on the finish. Fresher and purer than the Family Reserve. Drink now through 2009. 3,000 cases made. Red. —J.M.

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