Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Six nations - wine-ing about rugby

Rugby – “A hooligan’s game played by gentlemen” The Times, January 30, 1953

England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France and Italy: what on earth do these gladiatorial teams have to do with a wine column, you may ask. Surely rugby men are renowned for their beer drinking prowess rather than what some might consider the rather more elegant practice of savouring wine? Read on, there is a connection......

France and Italy are the two biggest wine-producing nations in the world and are, therefore, scarcely in need of any wine recommendations from us, as they will have been weaned on wine from their own region from their earliest years.

If you have a sneaking admiration for “les bleus” and want to show your support from the sofa, you could do worse than a wine produced by former French international Gerard Bertrand. His family business was wine-making long before he represented his country on the rugby pitch and since hanging up his boots he has been making a suitably muscular range of hearty reds in the Languedoc region of southern France. Waitrose stock Gerard Bertrand Minervois red for £6.99.

Leaving these wine-making giants to one side, we are going to suggest wines inspired by the national characteristics of the English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish sides.

In my time, I’ve had my knee out, broken my collarbone, had my nose smashed, a rib broken, lost a few teeth, and ricked my back; but as soon as I get a bit of bad luck I’m going to quit the game”. Jason Robinson

England: Well we do have a bit of help here already as there are lots of vineyards that have developed over the last twenty odd years in the south of this green and pleasant land. In Surrey itself we have Denbies vineyard, whose Surrey Gold white wine is served in the House of Commons (I wonder which party partakes the most?).

If there is cause for celebration at an England performance this season, then popping the cork on something fizzy and English would be entirely appropriate. Ridgeview, based in Sussex, make an impressive array of Champagne-style sparklers, available from Waitrose starting at around the £20 mark. Nyetimber, based near Chichester, have the distinction of their wines being served at official banquets at Buckingham Palace. If it’s good enough for her Maj… Nyetimber Classic Cuvée is £24.99 at Waitrose.

With the effects of climate change and warmer weather our vines should produce more and higher quality fruit, making England a real contender on the international wine stage. Sadly, our native English oak is, apparently, too tightly grained to make barrels in which to age wine. However, there are adventurous souls willing to have a go at making wine in the most unlikely of places.

Watch our for HA's upcoming report of a tasting at The Urban wine company in Wandsworth, London, which is showcasing wines made from grapes grown in individual gardens, allotments and window boxes in inner London and which are, apparently, more than drinkable. Dig for Victory for the 21st century.... Come on England!

Ireland: To match the lyrically inclined, silver-tongued Irish we have to go for something really smooth, with a charm that trips off the tongue, travels well and can compete with Guinness. It has to be a deep ruby-coloured Shiraz, slightly spicy and ideally biodynamic to match the green-ness of the “emerald Isle”. You could tackle Yalumba's Organic Shiraz 2008, £7.99 from Waitrose for a full-on red wine experience. Or you could demonstrate your allegiance by winkling out a bottle of syrah-dominated Domaine des Anges 2007, £11.75 at, made in the Ventoux region of the southern Rhône by Irishman Ciaran Rooney.

Wales: Land of leeks and dragons, choirs and coalmines, and of course fiercely patriotic and passionate men in red. The Welsh team may show their loyalty to Brains beer on their shirts, but we think the clever money is on sauvignon blanc as a wonderfully harmonious match with leeks in Caerphilly cheese sauce. South Africa makes some great sauvignons, giving you a non-partisan option for the Six Nations, and Majestic's current offer on Danie de Wet Sauvignon Blanc 2009, bringing it down to £5.99 a bottle if you buy two, makes it unbeatable. A song of a wine.

Scotland: Better known for its long standing affair with fiery whisky, which is really the only drink that could stand up to the rigours of the Scottish national dish of haggis, neeps and tatties. But other native produce (no, not deep-fried Mars bars) is very wine-friendly: grouse, partridge and pheasant, and of course venison. Game is showed off to good effect by the silky skills of a perfumed pinot noir. Jackson Estate Vintage Widow Pinot Noir 2007, £14.99 from Waitrose, has all the haunting perfume you would want, with an elegant, muscular structure. Not cheap, but then supporting the Scottish rugby team demands nothing if not commitment.

The only trophy we won this day, was the blood and sweat we left on the pitch.....and it was enough”. Anon

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