Wine: Crowd pleasers

The football fan's cup runneth over.
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Indy Lifestyle Online
If you haven't yet booked your flight to go penguin-watching in the Antarctic or camping in the Kalahari for the next month, then it's a bit late to start now. With the inevitability of Beaujolais Nouveau, le Coupe est arrive. Even on the off-chance you've run for cover by touring vineyards, you may still not escape the tentacles of the World Cup. No fewer than 18 of the qualifying countries produce wine in some shape or form, among them Mexico, Brazil, Morocco, Japan and England.

If the Cup were to be decided on sheer wine volume, Italy and France would have to slug it out for champion du monde. Between them, the two giants of the wine world account for the equivalent of more than 15 billion bottles, which is getting on for half the world's total production. In a play-off for third place, Spain, with the largest vineyard area in the world, would just about beat Argentina, whose two billion bottles make it the world's biggest wine producer outside Europe. The United States follows, with wine production in some 46 states of the union, but most of it coming from the Golden State.

Then there's Germany, arguably uber alles in footballing and car manufacture, but woefully unter in wine. Understandably, perhaps, Germany is the world's biggest importer of wine, followed by the UK, yet, despite all that wine flooding into the UK, we still don't make the Top 20 wine-consuming nations. Compared with Portugal and France's 60 litres of wine per head, we only manage to swallow a relatively miserly 13. That's still more, however, than South Africa, Norway, the US, Tunisia, Brazil, Morocco, Japan, Mexico, Colombia and Russia.

Next to Europe, South America has the second-strongest wine-producing squad, with Chile and Argentina the continent's rising stars. In wine terms, Brazil is the Germany of South America: great footballers, big wine producer (more than Chile), but not much to show for it. Mexico's claim to fame is that it's probably the oldest New World wine-producing country, but this might be disputed by South Africa, whose wines, first harvested on 2 February, 1659, pre-date its improving football team by some distance.

It may be tempting fate to suggest that eastern Europe, like its football, still promises more than it delivers, with Romania and Bulgaria, respectively 10th and 18th in the world-producers league, the main culprits. The good news from the strife in the Balkans is that we've seen a lot less Lutomer Laski Rizling from Yugoslavia. Meanwhile, Croatia is as potent a wine force for the future as it's a threat to English hopes, assuming both countries reach the second round.

The World Cup Experience, as the BBC has dubbed it, is nothing if not a marketing opportunity. Supermarkets and high-street chains have a variety of wines designed, presumably, to hit the pockets of gullible beer drinkers. Let's hope for their sake they get through their allocations in time for the final, as it's hard to believe that wine drinkers will be rushing to repeat their purchase of any of the football wines currently on offer.

With its label shaped like a globe, or perhaps a ball, Victoria Wine's Football Red is as uninspiring as the name, a plain vin de pays d'Oc selling for pounds 3.99. The Football White, also a vin de pays, but from the Loire, is at least an inoffensive appley quaffer. Victoria Wine is selling a much better, elderfloral 1997 Domaine des Lions (three lions?) Sauvignon Blanc at the same price. It also has an official World Cup Champagne (pounds 1.50 off brings it down to pounds 17.49), designed, presumably, to be released in a spume of foam at the appropriate climactic moment, assuming there is one.

Safeway, too, has got in on the act, with an attempt to inject a bit of humour with its two Football Crazy wines. The joke doesn't end there. The white is an easily forgettable off-dry Chenin Blanc from the Loire, the red a tres ordinaire from Vaucluse, which would have trouble tackling anything. Even normally staid Waitrose has been bitten by the Cup bug, offering 12 bottles for the price of 11 in June on a pounds 3.79 1997 Unofficial Cup Red. Waitrose is also offering a World Cup Winners case of 12 bottles from seven World Cup countries, one of which is Hungary. Since Hungary failed to qualify, however, expect a last-minute substitution.

If you're lucky enough to have tickets, all well and good if you're heading for France's major wine-producing regions: that is, Nantes (Muscadet), Bordeaux (Bordeaux), Montpellier (Languedoc-Roussillon), Lyon (Beaujolais), Toulouse (South West) or Marseilles (Provence). The canny Grands Chais de France group has come up with a wine for each of the regions, including, stretching a point, an Alsace Sylvaner for Lens, a Bourgogne Passetoutgrain for Saint-Etienne and a Cotes du Rhone (!) for Paris. I'm not sure who the official rose, with its silk-screened floral print, is aimed at

Wines from World Cup venues

Montpellier Sainsbury's Cabernet Sauvignon, Vin de Pays d'Oc, pounds 2.99. pounds 1 off until 23 June makes this sweetly juicy, blackcurranty glugger from the Languedoc a steal.

Marseilles 1997 Safeway Young Vatted Syrah, Vin de Pays de Vaucluse, pounds 3.49. This youthful Syrah is sweetly spicy with suitably rough and ready rustic tannins. An affordable barbecue rouge.

Bordeaux 1997 Rivers Meet Sauvignon/Semillon, pounds 3.69, Kwik Save. Aromatic and crisply unoaked, this Bordeaux blend is a sweetly ripe mouthful of appetising fruitiness.

Nantes 1997 Domaine de la Roulerie Muscadet de Sevre et Maine sur lie, pounds 4.49, Victoria Wine. A mouth- watering, summer's day Muscadet with a refreshing lees-derived spritz and rich, tangy bone-dry fruit.

Toulouse 1997 Les Fleurs Chardonnay/Sauvignon, Vin de Pays des Cotes de Gascogne, pounds 5.99. Waitrose. Not a veiled reference to you-know-who, but a classy Gascon dry white with a fine bouquet and richly concentrated, grapefruit zesty fruitiness.

Lyon 1997 Fleurie, pounds 6.99, Marks & Spencer. From Paul Sapin, this is classic, silky-rich strawberry-fruity Beaujolais, Fleurie as we used to know and love it.

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