Thursday, 10 June 2010

World Cup Wines: The Opening Match

Setting myself the task of recommending one or more national styles of wine to drink with each of the World Cup football matches was easy. We can all dream after all.

Fulfilling the brief made things a bit harder but then I decided that what's good enough for one of the World's greatest ever footballers, must also be good enough for me. So I'm just going to copy living footballing legend Diego Maradona and blatantly cheat. Although the only mind-expanding substance I'll be enjoying is alcohol.

To the wines then.

The very first match of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, to be played for the first time on African soil, features  South Africa, making it a straightforward fight between this host nation's inky rubbery characteristic red wine and Mexico's Cabernet Sauvignon; robust and rustic in equal measure. 

South African Pinotage is as distinctively different a red wine as you can ever imagine. A cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault its conception as the answer to South Africa's demanding scrub and contrasting weather has been realised in a wine that divides opinion almost like no other.

It's ruby red to deep brown depending on age, strong examples cloying to the sides of the glass. It comes banana-scented or ripe with burning rubber on the nose. It's typically rough in texture, deeply plum and damson on the palate, toasty tough and mouth-puckeringly tannic. Gluggable, if you can get it down.

It's oenological Marmite - you either love it or hate it. 

That virtually nobody else really grows it - except maybe as a novelty - tells you as much as you need to know. Like most freaks and weirdos, it is found in California. Rumour has it Chile, New Zealand and of course Australia (they'll try anything once) are experimenting with it. Like Dr Jekyll I presume, creating monsters?

Look out for Beyerskloof at one end of the quality spectrum and Citrusdal at the other. Remember too that the more you pay, the less typical it is, the less characteristic. Smoother, even silky, with less burnt rubber,  and, truth be told, less South Africa.

Mexico offers something wholly different. It began with the Spanish of course and in La Laguna region, in the Parras Valley, boasts the New World's oldest winery in Casa Madero, founded as Hacienda San Lorenz in 1597, which still produces quality reds. The country offers a range of varietals but unlike South Africa with its Pinotage, Mexico doesn't really have a grape to call its own. 

It does have all the Bordeaux varieties, including the classic Cabernet Sauvignon, and this is the grape I find Mexico handles best, albeit predominantly, but not exclusively, in a kind of rough and ready manner. No harm in that. 

Baja California is the principal quality region, where LA Cetto and Monte Xanix each produce good Cabernet Sauvignon, while the former also offers Petite Syrah and the latter a Cabernet Merlot blend. 

Whites haven't made a very good impression in either country. Pun intended.

Expect a home victory.

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