Dining in the paddock doesn’t mean you have to dumb down your palate
Spending time with friends in the paddock after a day behind the wheel is what the Sports Car Club of America is all about. The camaraderie, the bench racing, and the storytelling all make the time off the track every bit as memorable. That said, trackside dining can be hit or miss – after all, not every track offers food like you’ll find at Road America’s Gearbox. But, thankfully, a portable grill and a few simple tips can keep even those with the most sophisticated trackside palates happy.
Further enhancing dining at the track begins with the right choice of beverage. For advice on that, we reached out to Mario Mazza, General Manager and Enologist at Mazza Vineyards. Mazza Vineyards was founded in 1972 by Robert Mazza, an SCCA competitor and member since 1996, and Mazza Vinyards is the official sparkling wine of the Tire Rack ProSolo, Hoosier Super Tour, and the National Championship Runoffs.
The rules for wine pairing almost read like the event Supps, so instead of breaking out your reading glasses once more, forget what you know about fine dining and follow along with our guide.
When it comes to pairing wine with your trackside barbeque, it’s okay to color outside of the lines. “Parings are subject to taste,” Mario reveals. “There is a right pairing mentality with some people, and they believe that you only pair this wine with this food. I want to say that there is a little bit of a caveat; if you like it, and you like how it works, that’s great. I’m not one to say there are super strict, hard-and-fast rules.”
It turns out, your flavor palate is more important to your beverage choice than a traditional list of pairings. “There are some good guidelines,” Mario points out. “There are general rules for pairing wine, beer, or spirits, even just different flavors in general. You want to think about various things, like do you want something that complements and reinforces the flavor, or do you want something that contrasts?”
Additionally, the style and preparation of what you are cooking has a big impact on the pairing. “For spicy dishes, I might do something like an aromatic white wine,” Mario says. “A Grüner Veltliner is one of the ones we make that is really great with spicy dishes, like Asian, Latin, and fusion style; those work really well with that wine. It’s a very versatile wine – if you have some spicy barbeque meats, that wine is going to work phenomenally well.”
Climate can also dictate choice. “On a hot day, if you just got out of the racecar, you aren’t going to want a big, bold, heavy, rich red wine; instead, you might want something a little bit lighter,” Mario notes. “If someone is more of a red wine fan, I would say a little lighter in the summer would be more appropriate. On the East Coast, we make a variety with grapes that are native to Austria called Blaufränkisch, and you can pop it in the fridge for 10-15 minutes just to cool it down slightly, and that is a really refreshing red that is very versatile and will work with a lot of foods.”
With those general guidelines established, it was time to talk specifics. “With chicken, a lot of it is going to be dictated by the sauce,” Mario explains. “If you’re doing something smoky, I might veer toward a lighter style red wine. That being said, if you are doing something dry rub or lemon zesty, the Grüner is a great option. A Riesling would work really well, or a dry rosé. We have a couple different dry rosés in our portfolio, and those are super versatile; kind of the quintessential summer wine in a lot of ways.”
If you are a red meat fan, the natural pairing is a red wine – but don’t be afraid to switch it up. “Some people think red wines with red meats, and that fits, but if you start putting a lot of different toppings on that burger, it might change it a little bit,” Mario says. “If it’s not really hot, or it’s in the evening, you can go with a Merlot, or maybe a Cabernet Franc if you like something with a little more structure. If you’re having that big, juicy burger, going with that red makes sense, but depending on the sauce and the style, there are some white options that work really well, too.”
If your time on track didn’t go to plan, bringing your own sparkling wine can often cheer up the mood. “Sparkling can be a very food friendly wine,” says Mario. “In the U.S., the mentality here tends to be that sparkling is for special occasions, and that’s not the case for other cultures – we’ve missed the joys of how versatile sparkling wines are.”
Indeed, this is motorsports, and since we’re often grilling up everything from brats to burgers and serving everything on plastic plates while sitting atop a pile of competition tires, many of the traditional food and beverage pairing rules don’t necessarily apply. But no matter whether you’re dining at the track using the sparkling wine that came courtesy of your most recent win or you’re pulling out a beverage from your ice chest, perhaps the most important pairing rules are to not burn the food, to drink responsibly, and (importantly) share with your friends.