Something that never occurred to me happened yesterday. An epistemological conundrum of great import, no less.

I found myself asking myself: How to you explain what a “tailgate party” is to an Italian? Or any European for that matter?

One of my colleagues at Scarpa and I were chatting about the Super Bowl, the uniquely American sporting event that takes place each January. And he was wondering if Americans drank wine for the occasion.

I started to tell him about the Super Bowl party phenomenon and its ubiquitous presence across the U.S. on game day. It’s mostly beer and grilling, I explained, and countless varieties of chips and snacks.

And then our conversation shifted to a subset of this singularly American cultural mainstay: The “tailgate party.” I knew that the hood on the trunk of a car or the hatch on a cargo space of an SUV is called a portellone in Italian. But, honestly, my Ph.D. in Italian notwithstanding, I didn’t know how to translate “tailgate,” the panel on the bed of the truck. (As far as I can tell, portellone is used in this case, even though classic American pick-up trucks are rare in Italy; Ford doesn’t even sell one there!)

I explained how fans set up grills, coolers, and lawn chairs in the parking lots of the football stadiums and hold pre-game parties where they drink and eat in excess (see the image from Wikipedia above, a photo taken at University of Texas Longhorns Game; my wife went to UT btw and attended many tailgate parties there).

“So they probably don’t drink much wine. Do they?” he asked. “It’s probably mostly beer, right?” I was quick to confirm his assumption. But then it got me wondering: Do people regularly drink wine at tailgate parties?

When I searched for tailgate wine on the Google, I was surprised to find that there were literally hundreds of posts on the best wines to serve at tailgate parties.

As I tinkers with the custom date settings in my search, I found that the earliest ones seemed to date back to 2010-2011. And I stumbled upon this one, where the writer declares that “wine has come of age” at tailgate parties.

“At Talladega, Alabama,” he writes, referencing another uniquely American, phenomenon, “NASCAR fans throw perhaps America’s biggest tailgating party, a weekend-long affair where wine has come of age. None other than Jeff Gordon is in the wine business with his Gordon’s Chardonnay on the market. Sonoma-based Ravenswood, widely known for it’s superb Zinfandel (the real thing is ruby-red and red meat friendly) sponsors a racing team and holds popular wine tastings at NASCAR events. Bennett Lane Winery owner, NASCAR celebrity Randy Lynch says ‘I want to turn beer guzzlers into wine drinkers — one race at a time.'”

The changing face of the American tailgate party came into sharp focus this morning when I sat down to write this post.

One of my best friends in Houston had sent me an email where he pointed me to a recipe for peposo, the classic Tuscan beef dish, stewed with wine and abundant freshly cracked pepper.

“As you know, I love cooking Italian food,” he wrote. “Peposo is my new conquest and I can’t wait to share it with you. This combines my love of food, wine and history. Serving Sunday at Super Bowl on Angel Hair pasta. This is a fabulous recipe.”

Who would have thunk it? Even just ten years ago, it was nearly unheard of that someone would be serving an esoteric dish like peposo — esoteric at least for football-loving Americans — at a Super Bowl party. I guess it’s not so esoteric after all.

What wine was he serving? I wrote back.

A California Merlot, he answered. Who needs beer?

As a famous American singer once sang, it goes to show you never can tell.

What wine are you serving at your Super Bowl party? (Our advice: Scarpa Barbera d’Asti Casa Scarpa!)

Jeremy Parzen