Wine & Gaming Pairing; It’s About X-ing Time.

It was watching Blackburn Rovers hitting their third, and decisive, goal past my beleaguered Hull City side at just past midnight on one of those lockdown Wednesday nights that it hit me. Just after I took a sip of a very decent, sub £10 Chilean merlot. Why is no one talking about computer games and wine? Surely this is the artform of our age? 

Now this is a wine and archaeology blog (in loose terms, at least – when I remember to write it). So perhaps this doesn’t have a place here. But it got me thinking, and I really think it is an important point. Wine and gaming is a really, really important part of lots of peoples lives that we should actually be thinking about, seriously.

For most of human history, wine has accompanied some of the great moments of civilisation. Of relaxing, of coming together, debating, fighting, romance – everything. It’s a drink that brings out our emotions; it inspires passion in many of us who really take the time to think about it – and for casual drinkers it at least loosens tongues and breeds conversation. It also makes art and creativity really flourish, in our minds and in company. It’s always wine served at the opening of an art gallery, or poetry night, for instance. But there seems to be a black hole when it comes pairing it with the, I believe, the most important expressive industry of the 21st century. 

Gaming is now the biggest media platform in the world. It’s bigger and more profitable than books, films, DVDs, music streaming… everything. It’s only growing too, global videogame revenue is expected to surge 20% to $179.7 billion in 2020. It is, therefore, arguably the most important record of what is going on in our times. Over 100 million people pay to play the Call Of Duty franchise every single month alone. Another 350m play Fortnite. They’re just single games… and there are thousands. This is content millions, upon millions of people are consuming on a daily basis. So where are the articles on pairing Riesling with RTSs? Shiraz with ‘shoot-em-ups’? Why aren’t people trying to tap into the ‘roleplayer wine rack’?

The issue, I think is, simple. Gamers are still portrayed far too often as a bit odd, a bit geeky, spotty, light-deprived, teenage boys. With no money, and no taste. They’re not. We are not. 41% are women, for a start. The average age is 34 years old. These are prime wine demographics – and, I think, the industry hasn’t quite noticed. 

COVID has made this an even bigger part of many of our lives. For me, my main social activity for the last 12 months or so has been the Whatsapp group “Beeroes”. That’s Company of Heroes (a 2006 ‘retail time strategy game’) with beer. We ‘meet up’, almost every single night, to build anti tank guns, send forward legions of infantry, launch artillery strikes and chat about our days – over a beer/glass of wine/cup of tea. If you want to join, let me know – it’s a lot of fun. But bring a good bottle. 

Booze and gaming have been part of my life for well over a decade. I remember playing games like Fable, and matching my character drink for drink – mead, red wine, whatever. I remember getting my first headset, and meeting other characters in the taverns of Azeroth (World of Warcraft) or Bree in Middle Earth – where our avatars would down pints of fabled draughts whilst we knocked back supermarket lager and felt some connection to the Olde Worlde – and each other. I know I’m not alone in this too, as any quick Google of “online gaming pub meeting” will show you – lots of people do the same to this day. It was a huge part of my formative years, and more than likely played a crucial role in setting me on my future career. These days I will still settle down to a virtual session with a bottle of something good. It’s a connection I really, really cherish. And lockdown only intensified this.

The reason for me kicking off this article (aside from the infamy of losing to Blackburn on FIFA) was a simple thought. How does our environment, our activities and our ways of connecting to one another influence our drinks choice? People are paid a lot of money to understand this – to work out how some wines flop, and others thrive. And we are all missing a drink if we are not considering gamers. I’m just one example, and certainly not representative. But in the huge economies of sponsoring football teams, live events, music festivals etc etc – are we not missing the real media audience of the 21st century? 

History backs this up too (to get back to the point of this blog). When the ‘press’ – the first form of mass media communication – was invented; it made most sense to winemakers first of all. It was, after all, a recognisable device to anyone who had crushed grapes. Gutenberg had seen wine presses in action as his inspiration. The modern written word, and the pressed grape, have their origins in almost the exact same device. Here’s an example of wine being at the cutting edge of a new media genre from the off. Some of the earliest examples of advertising (and indeed the first ever trademark) were all for booze in print. Perhaps that’s why getting your teeth into a good book, with the ideal glass in hand, feels quite so right?

There is also reems upon reems written about the connection between music and wine. Some famous examples include the playing of Baroque classics to vineyards in South Africa, or the use of Gregorian Chant in Montes Winery, Chile, to “ help the wine through vibrations to achieve a better quality while maturing in the barrel.” There is even an MW study paper from 2021 which seeks to clarify the effect of classic music on NV champagne maturation. This is a real avenue of discovery, and why not? Even if the science is still up for debate, it *feels* right

For wine drinkers, you can also find plenty of advice on how the match your music taste to your wine choice too. Plenty of journalists and bloggers prescribe to this, and from my own experience I have known critics come to tastings with their earphones in and a choice playlist on, to get them in the right ‘zone’. And in ancient times, it didn’t stop there. You could commission special poems in Hellenistic Greece to match your wine, and the original wine merchants were all composers of sonnet. Tasting the right wine, with the right piece of music or words in your ear, resonates. It does now, as it has throughout history. 

And as for literature, where to start? Well, here’s a good place. I won’t attempt to pair classical novels with wine styles, so here’s one from Wine Enthusiast instead. https://www.winemag.com/2019/08/09/classic-books-wine-pairings/

Gaming is not going anywhere. It’s a medium we have to consider, in the same way we do art, music, writing – and the truth is it’s been that way for some time. If these are all fair game for wine pairing; then so should matching a night on Skyrim, or The Sims or, yes, even FIFA. History has told us that being on the front foot with new trends as an industry has born fruit. Making sure that when people embrace a new medium, which helps them to relax and be creative, having the right glass of wine in hand makes it all the more special. And creates a connection which could last for longer than the latest COD release. It’s a living, archaeological record of what people enjoy – just as wine is itself.

Try these wines and games together, and see what you think…

Skyrim

This epic RPG set in a cold, Scandinavian-like landscape where heroes have to battle dragons and navigate political intrigue is absorbing as it is beautiful. I spent many a happy night with a glass of something as bright and crisp as a blanket of snow on the peaks of Mount Anthor; like a Clare Valley Riesling or Alto Adige Pinot.

FIFA

FIFA is, in many ways, the fast food of the gaming world. Always comforting, always a good option for an hour or two of downtime. There’s nothing better than kicking back with a couple of take away pizzas, a group of friends and a customer tournament. Ideally, grab a bottle of something juicy, easy to drink and Italian. Lambrusco is a good shout here, it’s fun, light, frothy and juicy. You don’t need to think too hard, and it’s quenching in small, quick sips at regular intervals for throwings or between (the all too frequent) moments you concede.

Command & Conquer

This classic real time strategy game is responsible an entire generation of young gamers into armchair generals. Set in an alternative universal, where Hitler has been killed by a time travelling Albert Einstein setting off a chain of events which has plunged the world into a all-too-hot Cold War; gathering resources and building armies is key to overwhelming the devious forces of the pig-ignorant Capitalists/mind-washed slaves of Communism (delete as appropriate). It’s big, brash and brilliantly over-acted cut scenes are iconic. Don’t think too hard, just go for something a bit sweet and easy to comprehend – like a decent oaked New World Chardonnay (Californian, for preference) or a simple, fruity Pinot Noir from the former Eastern Bloc.

Total War

If C&C is your entry level chardy, the Total War series is primetime Grand Cru Chablis. You’ve got a range of options here (depending on which version you’re playing). For the original Rome, you want to go something which really evocates the ancient trading routes of the Mediterranean – like a Greco or Fiano from Southern Italy. For Napoleon/Empire, it has to be fortified. Something to toast the new emergence of America (Madiera) or a decent Port as your armies march across the Iberian into the belly of Napoleon’s beast.

Witcher

A game which actually features wine as a key plot point (in the Blood & Wine expansion at least). Here you can even visit mythical vineyards (pictured above). It’s a bloody, regal RPG with the brooding White Wolf glaring his way through a series of encounters and choice-based scenarios. The beautiful renderings of Medieval villages puts you in mind of France in the 13th Century – and I think a smart, Syrah with its peppery, herby, hug in a glass nature is the wine you want by your side as you navigate this cracking game.