Friday, 23 September 2011

Rugby World Cup Wine: Argentina vs Scotland

Think of the Argentinians and you think of beef. That’s what you expect in their restaurants, that’s what you expect in their rugby team and that’s what you expect in their wine.

Malbec is the wine Argentina does best of all. It's meaty like their famous steaks; it's muscular like any member of the Pumas’ eight and it’s memorable.

It can be lush, highly scented, packed with dark damson fruit. But it’s always powerful.

Stick to the 100% varietal too. No need to dilute or soften it with cheap Bonarda or Touriga Nacional as you can find 100% Malbecs at lower price levels anyway. That said, regulations allow up to 30% of blending grapes and you will find that the top quality premium versions often contain less than 100% Malbec, and at fine wine prices too. 

It's a terrific gluggable red. Malbec really is delicious. And it is so consistent. It's often deep purple red, intense, highly aromatic and plummy fruitful.  

Despite its powerful pack of alcohol, frequently up to 14%, it's much too temptingly drinkable, especially with barbecue charred and blackened red meat.

So watch out. Who finished third at the last Rugby World Cup in 2007? Argentina.

Maybe you didn’t expect that. No many people did.
Malbec maintains the standard. Argento and Graffigna each create reliable versions in several ranges at prices to suit most pockets.

If you prefer to drink white, and given the alcoholic strength of typical Malbecs, you might think daytime matches probably demand it, Torrontés is the often equally punchy peachy white alternative.

Torrontés is the white wine grape most closely associated with white wine made in Argentina, and Argentina is the New World winemaking country most closely associated with Torrontés. So it makes sense that to accompany any event with an Argentinian theme, Torrontés would be the only white wine of choice.

It's distinctly aromatic, typically heavy with fruits such as apricots and even lychees on the nose, sometimes with scents of roses, soft and smooth on the palate with low acidity but a weighty and flavoursome finish, often with quite an alcoholic kick.

Argento Reserva is as good a representative as many, born of grapes grown at over 5,500 feet in the premium Cafayate Valley of the prime Torrontés region of Salta, it's floral, spicy with menthol, peach and lemon zest and punchy with alcohol at well over 13%.

To reach the semi-final of the Rugby World Cup in 2011 the Pumas had to beat Scotland.

To my mind Scottish rugby has never recovered from the retirement of Gavin Hastings. At one blow they lost not one player but three, three of rugby’s greatest players: one of the greatest rugby fullbacks the sport has ever seen, one of its greatest goal kickers and one of the most inspirational captains ever to don the red shirt of the British Lions.

No wine compares to him.

But there is a wine associated with Scotland comparable to another former British Lions captain and Scottish rugby hero. Finlay Calder was a back row forward so renowned for playing offside that it was oft suggested his number seven should be sewn on the front of his shirt.

Buckfast Tonic Wine is his spiritual equivalent. It’s not made in Scotland, but in England, by the Benedictine monks of Buckfast Abbey in Devon.

Its association with Scotland came from a notorious BBC television programme that used the Freedom of Information Act to discover that Buckfast received a namecheck in over five thousand crime reports over a three-year period, averaging three crimes a day, of which one in ten was of a violent nature – the bottle itself actually featuring as a weapon on some 114 occasions.

This seemed to support research from an institution for young offenders, which reported that among young men who had been drinking immediately before their offence, over 40% had been drinking Buckfast.

According to scientists it’s not the wine itself that seems to be to blame, but the caffeine it contains – some 281 milligrammes per bottle that is equivalent to eight cans of big brand cola or three and a half cans of Red Bull.

So what’s it like? Effectively a mistella, originally using a Spanish red wine as a base, it now uses French and at 15% ABV it’s as strong as unfortified wine is allowed in the UK but well under the 20% limits for sherry and port. It’s dark and sticky, sweet, blackly fruity with warming leather. It’s like a big hit from Finlay Calder, when you never saw him coming, round the blindside. Feel the air empty from your lungs. Oomph.

Argentina 16 Scotland 21

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© 2011 John Alexander