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A wine drinker's guide to the NBA


By: Lyndsay Helfrich

The NBA season is long. It begins in October and runs, if you’re lucky, all the way until the summer. No matter who you cheer for, being an NBA fan can be an arduous task and emotional rollercoaster – your favourite team literally cannot win them all and a few teams even try to lose them all. 


NBA fandom also often means following off-the-court narratives like player movement, salary cap minutiae and petty arguments on social media about your favourite player’s minutes or shot attempts. However, it also often includes finding common interests with players who share personal parts of their lives. 


It is no secret the NBA is inextricably linked to wine. The league is chock-full of oenophiles. Numerous articles have been written about the expensive wines flowing at Spurs Coach Greg Popovich’s legendary team dinners, the myriad of players who have invested in or started wineries and even a catalogue of the wine brought to the Bubble in Orlando. I could wax poetic and rehash these stories but that is not what this article is about. 


Consider this your official pairing guide for the NBA season.


FAQ: 

What gives you the right to create this list? Nothing exactly, but I am not entirely unqualified either. Outside of sports coverage, I work in the wine industry and have specialized knowledge and experience. I do not have the budget or experience many NBA oenophiles have, but I love basketball and I love wine and often pair them together, so here we are. 


Why are you doing this? So you, dear reader, can watch your favourite (or least favourite) team(s) with the appropriate wine and get through the NBA season. Pairings will be reflective of the teams in recent years, not necessarily taking history into account. 


What if I don’t like wine? Drink whatever you want, but keep reading for the entertainment.


Around the Association in Thirty Wines

Atlanta Hawks 

Wine Pairing: Pinot Gris

Why: The Pinot Gris (or Pinot Grigio) is, if nothing else, a neutral style of wine. They are known for the fruit-forward flavours they boast with citrus and pear notes. They can be bright and fun but lack the unique flavour of other white wines like a Moscato or Riesling. Similarly, the Atlanta Hawks are the NBA’s most frustratingly neutral team. They are perpetually in the middle of the pack and while they can play a fun style of basketball behind lead guard Trae Young’s wizardry, they never seem to be able to rise to the level of others. 


Boston Celtics

Wine Pairing: Prosecco 

Why: Prosecco is a sparkling wine and bubbles are fun. They are crisp and flow easily like the Celtics when they are operating at peak efficiency. Bubbles are also a sign of success in the NBA; the Celtics have been one of the most successful franchises in NBA history. But only winners get champagne and the Celtics haven’t been able to get over the hump to win a title in fifteen years. Enjoy some prosecco until the parade, and then you can upgrade to champagne. 


Brooklyn Nets

Wine Style Pairing: Bordeaux 

Why: A Bordeaux is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec, making it a complex wine. The Nets are a complicated team, with a good mix of talent trying to figure out who they are. Rich in resources (like a Bordeaux is in flavour), the Nets present the image of wealth while not actually reaching the upper echelons of the league. 


Charlotte Hornets

Wine Style Pairing: California Chardonnay

Why: A Chardonnay from California can be an interesting wine, but many rely heavily on oak for their character. The Hornets rely heavily on LaMelo Ball in the same way. They can be fun and good but most of the time, you are getting something lacking depth in character. The Hornets have not been able to put anything meaningful together but are hoping the addition of young talent will help them reach a higher plane.


Chicago Bulls

Wine Style Pairing: Spumante Bambino

Why: This wine is cheap and comes in a large format, ideal for getting you through another cold winter of mediocre and more-than-a-bit frustrating Bulls basketball. It is a sparkling wine and will remind you of the days of winning championships, parades, and drinking champagne, but again, it is not the champagne we have established is only for winners. Bottle may explode like your temper after another loss to a bad team.


Cleveland Cavaliers

Wine Style Pairing: Syrah

Why: A Syrah is a bold, full-bodied wine that hits your palette with a punch and tapers off at the end, much like the Cavaliers in their current era. They are a big and physical team with exciting and bold young playmakers, but like a Syrah, they need some balance to truly succeed. 


Dallas Mavericks

Wine Style Pairing: Riesling

Why: Rieslings, like the Mavericks offence with Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, are sweet and intense. They are higher in acidity and full-bodied in flavour while remaining smooth and easy to drink, making it the perfect wine to accompany another Mavericks shoot-out. 


Denver Nuggets

Wine Style Pairing: Brut Champagne

Why: As has been established, champagne is for winners. Champagne is a coveted sparkling wine that adds luxury to any experience. It is made with the methode traditionelle (traditional method), meaning there is a second fermentation after the original to create bubbles. The Nuggets are built like a good Brut Champagne; a strong backbone (core), ripping acidity (fun), and careful, balanced sugar addition (i.e trading for Aaron Gordon) to create the perfect mix. The Nuggets, and champagne, are exciting at any time. 


Detroit Pistons

Wine Style Pairing: Boxed Wine

Why: Expectations are low here and the goal is quantity over quality with this suggestion. The Pistons have been in the basement of the league for several years now and being a fan requires enduring a lot of pain. Much like a good boxed wine, the Pistons do have some redeeming qualities in their young prospects, but also like a boxed wine, they provide you with basketball to watch (quantity), it’s just likely not to be the best you’ve ever seen (quality). 


Golden State Warriors

Wine Style Pairing: Chianti Classico

Why: This classic Chianti is a highly decorated wine with elegance and structure; the fruit, tannins and spices form a tightly woven balance and is an expression of excellence only produced in outstanding vintages, similar to the Warriors at their peak. However, like the Warriors, this wine has lost some lustre due to the rising popularity of other Italian wines. Despite this, both the Warriors and the Chianti Classico have solid cores and are never to be written off. 


Houston Rockets

Wine Style Pairing: Vinho Verde

Why: The Rockets are a team on the rise, boasting a lot of fresh and young talent. Vinho Verde is a Portuguese wine consumed with little aging and full of bright acidity, as well as a bit of carbonation. The Vinho Verde is a young and exuberant wine with a strong tradition to back it, similar to the Rockets' mix of young talent and important veteran additions, like Fred Van Vleet and Dillon Brooks.


Indiana Pacers

Wine Style Pairing: Tannat

Why: The Tannat is a bold and rich red wine that is intense and flavourful. It is audacious and requires some time to truly reach its peak, much like these young Pacers led by Tyrese Haliburton. The Pacers are a high-octane, hard-running team (when was the last time you could say that about the Pacers?) who put points on the board and worry about the rest later. Like the Tannat, they lean heavily into their boldness and will only get better with age. 


Los Angeles Clippers

Wine Style Pairing: Merlot

Why: The Merlot is a bit of a chameleon. It has a wide range from being fruity and easy-going to full-bodied and sophisticated. Merlot grapes are bold but smooth and often overshadowed by their half-sibling, the Cabernet Sauvignon. While the Clippers are not always a smooth-running offence, they have two of the smoothest talents in the NBA in Paul George and Kawhi Leonard and are a very talented group led by a bold owner in Steve Ballmer and coach in Tyronn Lue. Like the Merlot, they are often overshadowed by their arena-mates (the Los Angeles Lakers), but they are not to be underestimated.


Los Angeles Lakers

Wine Style Pairing: Zinfandel

Why: Much like the Lakers, the Zinfandel is foundational in California and exceedingly popular. Also like the Lakers, it is often frankly overrated. No matter the quality of the Lakers’ roster, they will always be an outsized portion of the discussion. The Zinfandel finds itself constantly in the conversation due to its use in blends and despite the excellent vintages that do exist, most Zinfandel’s are often overly ripe, overly oaked, and overly alcoholic. 


Memphis Grizzlies

Wine Style Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc

Why: The Sauvignon Blanc is a highly popular wine with an unmistakable style. It is a bright wine with tons of acidity, which gives it a bit of an edge, much like this gritty team from Memphis. It is a wine typically consumed “young” (without significant aging) which makes it lively and exciting to those who drink it. The name is likely derived from the French word “Sauvage,” meaning wild, which perfectly suits the vibes of the Grizzlies on and off the court, especially their star Ja Morant. 


Miami Heat

Wine Style Pairing: Grenache

Why: Similar to the Miami Heat, Grenache is the toughest grape in the wine world, surviving and thriving in difficult situations (HEAT CULTURE!).  Grenache’s are strong wines that are often underappreciated and undervalued despite producing exceptionally bold and vivacious flavours considering the climates they grow in – they are often hidden in a blend rather than appreciated for what they are on their own. As Vintners would be wise not to write off the Grenache, it is always wise for the NBA to never write off the Heat.


Milwaukee Bucks

Wine Style Pairing: Port

Why: Port is a fortified wine with strong alcohol and rich, sweet flavours. While most port that is available is of average quality, a truly fine port is smooth and complex in its palette and highly coveted. It is an aged wine, similar to the Bucks’ roster, which lacks youth, and is a highly unique wine, like Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. At their finest, the Bucks are a highly efficient, finely-tuned machine that makes sweet basketball music for their fans, like a fine port will do for the drinker.


Minnesota Timberwolves

Wine Style Pairing: Petit Verdot

Why: The Timberwolves are a promising team who appear to be hitting their stride after years in the shadows, much like the Petit Verdot. In the past, Petit Verdot’s have often been a minor blending grape in more famous wines – like Wolves star players leaving for championships elsewhere – but recently are being coveted as standalone wines. They are bold and boisterous wines with a strong backbone, embodying the swagger brought by the Timberwolves’ young star Anthony Edwards. 


New Orleans Pelicans

Wine Style Pairing: Godello 

Why: The Godello is a rare grape with great potential. On the nose, it delivers enticing fruity aromas and on the palate, it carries a satisfying medium-body with high acidity to make it refreshing. The New Orleans Pelicans also have great potential in the NBA. They boast one of the most unique superstars in the league in Zion Williamson but a variety of factors have kept them from reaching that potential, such as injuries. Health has been a problem for the Godello as well, leading to its near extinction in wine until relatively recently. It cannot be mass-produced due to low yields but in the right conditions the grape will thrive – it is a difficult product but is as satisfying as watching Zion fly through the air for a windmill dunk. 


New York Knicks

Wine Style Pairing: Cabernet Sauvignon

Why: The Cabernet Sauvignon and the Knicks both boast a rabid fan base all over the world, as some of the most consumed wine and basketball teams respectively. Unlike the Knicks, the Cabernet Sauvignon did not have a long period of ineptitude, so this comparison is based mostly on recent iterations of the team. The Knicks play on one of the biggest stages in the world and have a persona of being hardworking and gritty while simultaneously being glamorous, a lot like the coveted Cabernet Sauvignon. 


Oklahoma City Thunder

Wine Style Pairing: Pinot Blanc

Why: Pinot Blanc is an extremely versatile wine at the table. It has a bright acidity that will cut through fat and buttery sauces while its herbal characteristics make it a nice pairing with any food with the same. The Oklahoma City Thunder have one of the more versatile rosters in the NBA and can do just about anything; they score at a high clip while having one of the better defences in the league. 


Orlando Magic

Wine Style Pairing: Gewurtztraminer 

Why: The Gewurtztraminer is a very aromatic wine and often intense with a wide range of styles. Though not the case until recently, the same could be said of today’s Magic. Like Orlando, the Gewurtztraminer is big and full-bodied, while also fresh and well-balanced (or mostly well-balanced if you are the Magic), and ranges from dry to sweet. It is enjoyable while young, like this Magic roster, but the finest Gewurtztraminers are capable of aging well – Magic fans are hoping their team will do the same. 


Philadelphia 76ers

Wine Style Pairing: Pinot Noir

Why: No wine embodies the Philadelphia 76ers like Pinot Noir. The Pinot Noir inspires intense passion in its fans more than almost any wine, in part due to being such a difficult varietal. It is known as the “heartbreak” wine, as the Pinot Noir grape is an especially finicky one to grow and is no stranger to failure (like any Philadelphia 76ers fan). When it does work, though, it can produce some of the most coveted wines with unrivalled depth. Like the Sixers, it is complex and prone to drama. 


Phoenix Suns

Wine Style Pairing: Super-Tuscan 

Why: The Super-Tuscan is an interesting (and delicious) wine from Tuscany. Like the Suns, it is a blended wine that boasts talent (grapes) from outside of its original region (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot) that pairs nicely with the original talent produced in the region (Sangiovese). Like the Italian vintners who created this wine, the Suns made bold moves bringing in Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal to partner up with homegrown talent Devin Booker, and they are hoping it produces a fine basketball product worthy of this sophisticated pairing. 


Portland Trailblazers

Wine Style Pairing: Malbec 

Why: The Malbec is one of the most universally enjoyed wines due to its rich, dark fruit flavours and smooth chocolatey finish. Malbecs, however, are a traditionally difficult grape to grow – they have poor resistance to bad weather and pests and need substantial sunlight and heat to fully mature. Rebuilding a team into a championship contender, like the Blazers are trying to do, is equally as difficult, as young players are susceptible to the NBA's inherent adversity and require the right conditions to blossom. The Malbec found its ideal growing conditions in Argentina, which allowed it to become one of the world’s most popular wines. The Trailblazers are hoping to provide those same conditions to their young stars like Scoot Henderson.


Sacramento Kings

Wine Style Pairing: Beaujolais

Why: This fruit-forward French wine gives jammy berry flavours and high acidity. The Beaujolais is different than other French wines because it can be consumed immediately after producing, has a cheerful reputation and does not take itself too seriously. The Sacramento Kings have not always matched this vibe, but the Beam Team Kings are different from past iterations. 


San Antonio Spurs

Wine Style Pairing: Amarone 

Why: The Amarone, or Amarone della Valpolicella, is one of the most unique wine styles in the world due to the method used to produce it. The Apassimento method requires drying the grapes first before turning them into juice to produce wine, meaning Amarone takes time to make. A good Amarone will age for a minimum of 2-4 years before being bottled, while a fine Amarone will age for decades. The Spurs are one of the most unique teams in the NBA, having had the longest-tenured coach in the league by a wide margin and boasting an exceptional prospect in Victor Wembanyama. Like the Amarone, the Spurs will require some time to fully hit their stride. 


Toronto Raptors

Wine Style Pairing: Rosé

Why: Roses are one of the styles of wine most subject to variance, which can make drinking rose a fabulous but fraught experience. Rose wines are blends, and numerous types of blends exist, with each blend offering something different – there are even pink wines masquerading as rose, to add to the confusion. The Toronto Raptors are the epitome of basketball frustration and variance – from night to night it is difficult to know what to expect. The Raptors have big potential but like the Rose, finding the right blend is key to success. 


Utah Jazz

Wine Style Pairing: Low-Alcohol Wine

Why: Utah being a relatively dry state lends to this pairing with a low-alcohol wine. The Jazz lack the punch of a good basketball team, like this wine lacks alcohol, but do just enough to keep you entertained. They look poised to create a bit of drama on the trade market too.


Washington Wizards

Wine Style Pairing: Concord 

Why: The Concord grape is primarily grown in the Northeastern United States and is primarily used for juice. While it is possible and done on occasion, the Concord is not a widely enjoyed wine in part due to its overwhelming grape-y flavour (think adult grape juice). Like the Concord, the Wizards are unserious and lack complexity and while winning games is technically possible and occasionally done, it is not common. 


Now that you have a wine to pair with your favourite, or perhaps your least favourite, NBA team, I hope your viewing experience has been enhanced. Maybe you can feel classy with your bubbly or feel the promise of a young or unique wine, or maybe you can ignore that you’re drinking glorified grape juice while wishing it was champagne. 



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