Everyone knows that wine and football go together like, oh I don’t know, Posh Spice and a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Which is to say, not at all. Undeterred, I shall press on in my mission to tie together the fruit of the vine and the beautiful game.
Over the coming weeks, you can drink along-a-football with my handy guide to footballing nations and their vinous claims to fame. With apologies to Chris Evans, Vassos Alexander and Radio 2 (ie please don’t sue me), here’s my Top Tenuous of World Cup and wine.
At Number 10 – England. I know we did win it once but the brutal truth is that we don’t look likely to do so again anytime soon. Our wine fortunes, however, have been looking up in recent years, so now you can be proud to toast the success (or, let’s face it, probably lack of it) with some top flight English fizz.
Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009: winner of a Gold medal and the English Sparkling Wine Trophy at this year’s International Wine Challenge. It shows that we do know how to be world beaters at something. £35.99, down to £30.58 a bottle if you buy two at Majestic; £27.50 from The Wine Society and £31.99 from Waitrose.
A surprise package at number 9 is Switzerland, notoriously the target of a barb from Orson Welles, playing Harry Lime in the film The Third Man: “In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love…500 years of democracy and peace and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
The comment is hardly fair or accurate: they produced Swiss Army knives too didn’t they? Unbeknownst to many of us they have also been making wine for quite some time, but tend to drink most of it themselves.
Look out for weighty, complex whites made from Petite Arvine and reds from Humagne Rouge. Alpine Wines (formerly Nick Dobson Wines) is the UK Specialist.
France appears at number 8. After their World Cup win in 1998, there have been mixed fortunes for France, both as a footballing and wine producing nation: domestic wine consumption is falling and increasing competition in export markets has put the squeeze on French producers.
There is no doubting the class of French wines, and any wine lover is spoilt for choice when it comes to wine styles. From bone dry whites, to full bodied reds via lipsmacking rosés and not forgetting Champagne, there really is something for everyone. But please, spend over £7 if you want to find something worthwhile.
In at number 7, Portugal’s football fortunes are essentially dependent on whether Cristiano Ronaldo has his goal scoring boots on. Wine-wise, Portugal has a much broader team to draw on, with a vast array of unique native grape varieties. Winemaking techniques have caught up with the quality of the raw materials, making this one of the world’s most exciting wine producers.
Thrilling, complex reds from the Douro Valley. Crasto Douro Red is £10.99, or £9.34 if you buy 2, at Majestic. Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Douro red is also made by the same producer and is £8.25.
Italy, at number 6, can never be ruled out of the running when it comes to football, and the same holds for its wines. Second only to France in the global wine production stakes, we have probably all had our fair share of disappointing reds and mind-numbingly dull whites from Italy in the past. The quality revolution has come here too though, so dip your toe in and you could find yourself charmed by an Italian all over again.
Fiano makes juicy stonefruit-tinged whites. Look out for Tesco’s Finest Fiano, currently down from £7.99 to £5.99.
Number 5 brings us to the Netherlands. Consistent performers on the pitch, they are also, surprisingly, a wine nation, albeit a small one.
You’re unlikely to find any Dutch wine here in the UK, so probably best to stick with beer.
A shudder goes through the English at the combination of football and the country at number 4 – Argentina. Hand of God and all that. Best leave it at that and concentrate on their wine-making abilities.
It’s all about Malbec isn’t it? Bags of fruit, barbecue and meat friendly: perfect summer red. I have a fondness for the greater refinement and Messi-like silky skills of Pulenta Estate’s Gran Cabernet Franc - £25-28 at Berry Brothers and The Good Wine Shop.
For England there’s no getting past the country at number 3 – Germany. So often the team who lead to England’s footballing downfall, they seem full of confidence and technical ability. What of German wines though?
It’s time we overcame our prejudices and had another go at German wines – many more Trocken (dry) whites from Riesling are now available, which should help to convince us that German wine doesn’t have to taste like dolly mixture.
Louis Guntrum Dry Riesling, £8.95 from The Wine Society
At number 2, Spain, the current cup holders, are sitting pretty. It seems unlikely that they could triumph again, but they are certainly easy on the eye on the pitch.
Spain’s wines are pretty easy on the palate too – who doesn’t love the mellow fruitiness and hint of shoe polish of a Rioja Reserva?
Great value Rioja Navajas Crianza from The Wine Society – textbook smooth and sleek Rioja style for £7.75 a bottle.
And at number 1 – home nation Brazil may be more known for rain forests, poverty, those buttock-revealing bikinis and (possibly related) frankly dodgy body grooming practices. But it is also a wine producer and the UK is now its biggest export market, which leads me to conclude that I wasn’t the first person to hit on this wine and football connection.
Carnival Sparkling Moscato NV £9.99 or Coconova Sparkling Brut £8.99, both from Marks & Spencer for some frothy fun.
As they say in Brazil, tim tim! Which must be Portuguese for “Come on Tim!” – how nice of them, if a little out of date now.