World-class Wines For The World Cup

I had a bout of the flu last week, so I was bedridden for a bit. Not the best of times, but I did get a chance to catch up on some futbol!

In case you are not a big soccer fan, the greatest soccer tournament in the world is happening right now, with 32 countries vying for the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. This phenomenon happens only once every four years, and our own team USA is in the mix.

So, wine and futbol, anyone?


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An aerial photo of the Haras de Pirque Winery in Chile. Photos from Roberto Viernes

It turns out that not only is the World Cup a barometer for the soccer talent from each country, but also the ebb and flow of each country’s wine (and liquor sales) correlate to how well each team performs. You can imagine that, in order to celebrate properly, each country’s patriot would drink at least a bottle of their own domestic product.

So here are some of my favorites to go along with their country’s celebration, or perhaps in consolation.

Let us begin with the good old USA! Zinfandel is California’s official grape and rightly so. No other country does Zinfandel as good as — or like — us. You may be thinking, what about Cabernet or Pinot Noir? Or even Chardonnay, for that matter. There are plenty of classics from other countries of those noble grapes, so Zinfandel, to me, is a stronger unique character for the U.S. We also have the oldest vines of Zinfandel anywhere in the world. My recommendation would be 2012 Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel ($20). It has the full spectrum of preserved red berries, baking spices and rich, full body. It is not shy and has enough structure for grilled ribs slathered with barbecue sauce.

Chile is currently doing well in the tourney and, to me, nothing is more distinctly Chilean than Carmenere. Yes, it is a Bordeaux transplant, but Chile has grown more Carmenere than any other country. Think of Carmenere as a cousin to Merlot but with a slightly more savory, leafy tinge. It is often blended with other Bordeaux varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, for complexity, and I do believe that to be its strength. The 2006 Haras de Pirque “Albis” ($39) is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere, with lots of black currant and blackberry flavors laced with a good dollop of vanilla and oak. This wine has a lot of tannin and grip. I would like nothing more than to throw a slab of bone-in ribeye steak on a charcoal grill, rubbed with rosemary, garlic and thyme, done to perfection.

Allez les Bleus! That would be the French signal call at any soccer match. What to choose for France? Tres simple: Champagne. What other selection conveys the ebullience of their artistic and hedonistic culture? And to my experience, Champagne is still the greatest sparkling wine on Earth, and there are so many great wines to choose from! For the price of a regular Brut Champagne you can get the Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Rose ($49). This creamy, elegant and luxurious bubbly just glides down the palate with citrus and berry nuances. Oysters, a light salad, sushi and even triple cream cheese on your favorite cracker are simply a delight with this Champagne.

Italy seems to always do well in the World Cup, with a wealth of talent on the pitch, as well as in its hundreds of indigenous varieties. But for me, one stands above them all: That grape is Nebbiolo. Barolo and Barbaresco aficionados know what I’m talking about. One of the best values of this area has to be the 2009 Reversanti Barolo ($32), which just bursts with dried strawberries and wild cherry. There is depth here, as well, with floral and meaty earthiness inside. Better with stews and slow-cooked foods, but it would not be far-fetched to toss a platter of salami and cheese on the counter and have it disappear as you watch the game.

Germany is another powerhouse for soccer, and I would be remiss to not recommend one of my favorite German producers in the form of Fritz Hasselbach of Weingut Gunderloch. His 2012 Gunderloch Riesling Kabinett Jean Baptiste ($18) is a wine that just makes me happy! It has all the grapey, nectarine and peach fruit you could ask for in a Riesling, with just the perfect amount of sweetness — perfect balance. Curries or bratwurst with lots of onions and mustard all make this wine shine even more.

Whichever country you are rooting for, enjoy the matches and enjoy the wine even more.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier.
Twitter: @Pinotpusher