Watching polo players and ponies thunder down emerald fields is an exhilarating experience. Tailgaters and fans line the boards to take in fast-paced action as they enjoy a feast for the eyes, as well as for the palate. Mallet blankets and picnic baskets dot the sidelines and are filled to the brim with tasty appetizers, snacks and bottles of wine. Silver goblets sparkle in the sunshine as spectators enjoy an afternoon of Sunday polo and fine wine.
Nicknamed “The Sport of Kings,” polo draws a sophisticated group of players and spectators from around the globe. Understandably, wine is a favorite refreshment at polo games, and any proper polo match demands the traditional champagne divot stomp at halftime.
With Temecula Valley’s wine country about an hour’s drive from Palm Springs, local wines produced by family-owned wineries are a favorite among the polo community at Empire Polo Club in Indio (81800 Avenue 51). The popular halftime divot stomp features complimentary champagne and sparkling wine from Temecula-based Wilson Creek Winery. Divot stompers can sample almond champagne or Grand Cuvee champagne, or try one of the winery’s sparkling wines, Peach Bellini or Orange Mimosa, as they tread in the divots.
Another historic tradition associated with the sport of polo is tailgating. Since many polo fields are located in rural areas at private clubs, players often pack a picnic lunch or supper and head to the club for the day. Even at public clubs, polo players spend the day there and don’t want to leave the polo grounds for meals. This has made tailgating a big part of the polo experience.
Wine goes hand in hand with a polo tailgate party. Here are suggestions on what to pack in your basket. Temecula Valley wines pair well with a variety of polo picnic menus. Try coupling a 2009 White Feather Chardonnay produced by Longshadow Ranch Winery, or Ponte Winery's 2010 Vermentino, with slices of mild cheddar cheese, tangy olives, and smoked salmon.
If you enjoy reds, the Monte De Oro 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon is a perfect match to sharp cheddar or bleu cheese on slices of crispy French bread or crackers. If you’re grilling on the sidelines, a 2008 Falkner Cabernet or 2007 Driveway Red, a Bordeaux-style blend produced by Hart Winery, will bring out the flavor in steaks or gourmet hamburgers.
Grilled chicken pairs well with Wiens Family Cellars 2009 Viognier, a white wine with aromas of pear, apricot, and honeysuckle with a nice, slightly sweet finish. You might also try a Baily 2009 Riesling, with aromas of apples and spice with your grilled chicken. It’s described by Baily Vineyard & Winery as “a wonderful picnic wine.”
With more than 30 wineries and 30 growers in the Temecula Valley, there are many options for your polo picnic wine pairings. A quick day trip to Temecula is a great way to get familiar with the local wines, or spend the afternoon at Empire Polo Club on Jan. 29, as Temecula Valley wineries come to the desert for the annual Empire Polo & Wine Festival. Tasters will have the opportunity to sample handcrafted wines from more than a dozen Temecula wineries.
Empire Polo Club 81-800 Avenue 51. Indio, CA 92201
Temecula Valley Wine Country, Exit I-15 at Rancho California Road in south Riverside County
Less than 65 miles from San Diego, Orange County and Palm Springs; 90 miles
Temecula wineries have received top honors at more than a dozen major wine competitions—including more than 100 Gold, Double Gold and Best In Class awards in 2010 alone. As a result, the Temecula Valley has become widely known as Southern California’s premiere winemaking region, featuring the following: Baily Vineyard & Winery, Bel Vino, Briar Rose Winery, Callaway Vineyard & Winery, Churon Winery, Cougar Vineyards & Winery, Danza del Sol Winery, Doffo Vineyard & Winery, Falkner Winery, Foot Path Winery, Frangipani Winery, Hart Winery, Keyways Vineyard & Winery, Leonesse Cellars, Longshadow Ranch Winery, Lorimar Winery, Maurice Car'rie Vineyard & Winery, Miramonte Winery, Monte de Oro Winery, Mount Palomar Winery, Oak Mountain Winery, Palumbo Family Vineyards & Winery, Ponte Family Estate Winery, Robert Renzoni Vineyards, South Coast Winery Resort & Spa, Thornton Winery, Van Roekel Winery, Villa di Calabro Winery & Olive Oil Co., Vindemia Vineyards, Wiens Family Cellars, Wilson Creek Winery