Friday, 14 October 2011

Rugby World Cup Semi Final Wine: France vs Wales

They’ve ploughed their own furrow throughout this Rugby World Cup, the French. Coach Marc Lievremont has baffled everybody with his team selections then the same teams have baffled their fans with their performances – falling short against the All-blacks – who they could meet again in the final – scraping through after losing against Tonga, then disposing of England with alacrity.

They plough their own furrow in the vineyards too. The wine shelves of my ‘local’ French supermarket tell the story, devoid as they are of almost any external influence in the form of foreign wine.

Yes, okay, there’s the odd bottle of Rioja and Chianti – bizarrely even a Chilean Merlot. But nothing sparkling at all. Pas une saucisse. No Prosecco nor Sekt. Rien. Pas une saucisse.

 A section of shelving is dedicated solely to the 'other' French sparkling wines, the cremant, mousseaux, blanquette et clairette but even these are kept well away from the Champagne.

With good reason. Because the French appellation system ensures even cheap non-vintage Champagne comes with its own guarantee of quality, almost every week you can find it on special offer somewhere and everybody is your friend when you've got some.

You must've experienced that?

You offer somebody a drink, meaning alcohol, and they say 'no thanks' and they proffer one of the usual excuses and explanations: I'm driving, I'm pregnant, I'm on antibiotics. 

Then when you enquire of the greater gathering whether it's Champagne all round? suddenly your teetotallers are sidling up to you as you fill flute after flute with the French fizzy stuff: 

Actually I think it's Clive's turn to drive today 


Well one won't hurt and some research did suggest light drinking in pregnancy could in fact be good for boys in the womb and I've got a feeling from the kicks this is an alpha male probably


It's not really the antibiotics per se, just doctor's orders 

accompanied by a knowing and conspiratorial wink from your dodgy uncle, or sometime 'uncle'.

Your best bet is to buy it in France of course, typically at around the £10-a-bottle mark 'everyday' (if only) Champagne can be found on the shelves of all French supermarkets but if that's not possible just keep an eye on the UK supermarkets by signing up for their email offers as they have the buying power when there's a glut. And there often is. 

No need to be embarrassed either. 

I have no qualms whatsoever about filling a trolley with NV Champagne and nothing else, and nor have my erstwhile wine merchant colleagues. 

On one occasion when word got around of a heavily discounted household name on offer at the local supermarket the shop manager urgently had to introduce a limit of five cases per person such was the rush of wine trade insiders and restaurateurs eager either to fill their boots or just cash in. 

What the former knew, wine buyers, traders and winemakers amongst them, was that even such huge volume, big brand non-vintage Champagne has one unheralded quality that earns it its place in many a cellar.

It gets better with age.

So much so that in just a couple of years or three it acquires qualities comparable with vintage Champagne.

Which means that when you do encounter a genuine bargain half-price offer you can afford to indulge yourself secure in the knowledge that you don't have to hurry to enjoy it by drinking it with every meal, marking obscure saints days or even share it with friends. 

Just keep it, open a bottle when you fancy it. Compare it with your tasting notes from 18 months ago. Have fun with the changing flavours and texture, the increased elegance then eventually the inevitable drift towards maderisation through oxidation.

Of course you could drink it to celebrate a French win in the rugby. But not against Wales.

Because the Wales team is the form team. Momentum is with them.

And they may have a surprise, literally in store, for us all.

Check out UK supermarkets Tesco and Waitrose online and you stumble across something remarkable. Each of them stocks Welsh wine.

Because they also make wine, the Welsh. Oh yes they do.

Sadly, Tesco only offers the one, Ty-Hafod Welsh Table Wine, a blend of Huxelrebe, Madeleine Angevine and Seyval Blanc, from the banks of the River Monnow just outside the town of Monmouth and only just inside the Welsh border with England.

It’s a beautiful place, the Monnow Valley, and I’ve often cast a fly over a trout down there but I never suspected I could be indulging another of my passions with a glass or two of locally made Welsh wine on the riverbank. 

It’s a lovely apple-y glassful too and just the thing to cut through the earthiness of a freshly caught brown trout.

Waitrose is another story.

They offer three – yes three, count’em – Welsh wines. The Monnow Valley Madeleine Angevine 2007, Glyndwr Red 2010 – an oak-matured blend of Rondo, Regent and Triomphe d'Alsace grapes from vines up to 25 years old, and a Glyndwr Sparkling Rosé Brut 2006.

These latter two originate from the some 6,000 vines that make up Wales’ oldest established vineyard grown on the traditional double Guyot system originally developed in the late 1800s and most popular in Burgundy.

So if the Welsh have cause to celebrate on Saturday night how better to do so than with a delightful pink sparkler blended from Rondo and Seyval Blanc with its typical biscuity nose and delicate red summer fruits.

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© 2011 John Alexander