Wine & the Six Nations

Christmas is fading in the distance, New Year a recent blur.  We’ve had blue Monday where we’re supposed to hit rock bottom and so that can only mean one thing – it’s Six Nations time!

For those who do not like rugby I make no apologies about this particular post.  However, rather than an indulgent piece about how Scotland look rejuvenated with Glasgow playing so well and that France look more like France should under Guy Noves, this is definitely a wine blog (with one notable deviation) with a Six Nations theme.

The plan was simple – take the six countries that participate in the tournament and select a wine from each to accompany the viewing as they all chase the silverware at the end of the winter.  The execution not so easy – but we’ll come to that later.

We’ll begin with France as the obvious selection due to its wine heritage.  Should be easy right?  Not really – what to choose from the vast array on offer.  Well, in honour of Les Bleus head coach Noves who hails from Toulouse, I have selected a wine from that city – a wine from the Fronton appellation.  Fronton wines can only be called as such if they contain 50 – 70% of the ancient local grape; Negrette.  This is a grape that is straight forward to grow and yields well, perhaps too well so that wines with 100% Negrette can lack a little in the finished product.

For that reason, most producers blend with a dash of Cabernet (Sauvignon or Franc), Malbec or Syrah and the final wine will often exhibit a combination of violets and liquorice.  The thin skins give a deliciously deep purple colour to the wine but little tannin.

Try Chateau Le Roc 2014 Cotes du Frontonnaise Classique & a plate of Cassoulet as Le Marsaillais rings out!

Chateau Le Roc 2014 Cotes du Frontonnaise Classique

Image result for chateau le roc fronton

Another benefit of the Championship is that Italy are taking part and that gives us the excuse to open something grand.

Italy’s opening game is at home in Rome against Wales.  Rome is in the region of Lazio but it is the neighbouring region of Tuscany where I’m focussing for my Italian pick.

In Tuscany, the Sangiovese grape reigns supreme and wines from the Chianti DOC must have 70% minimum in their blends with Classico DOCG upping that to 80%.  Gone are the days of the old squat, straw covered fiaschi bottles and now the high shouldered Bordeaux-style ones that tend to indicate higher quality wines are more favoured.

Characterised by a red and black cherry character, the wines typically show notes of wild woody herbs, mint and spice.  The Chianti Classicos are similar in charm to the wines of the medoc and a great match with good steak.

Try this Classico with a good T-bone and sit back to watch the Azzuri battle Wales:

Peppoli Chianti Classico DOCG Antinori 2014

Antinori Peppoli Chianti Classico

Delicious red cherry fruit with chocolate and vanilla undertones leading to silky tannins on the finish.

England begin the 2017 Six Nations as defending champions and are looking for back to back titles as well as targeting New Zealand’s world record of unbeaten games.  For the English representation, it seems appropriate to celebrate the success of English Sparkling wine in recent times.

World class and Champagne-beating vineyards now exist in counties such as Sussex, Kent and Hampshire with heavyweight names such as Ridgeview and Nyetimber.  However, it is to Cornwall that I look to provide the accompanyment to watch the men in white defend their title.

The world famous Camel Valley vineyard run by the Lindo family sits on the outskirts of Bodmin in the heart of the valley and near the head of  the Camel Estuary.  However, there is a new kid on the block a little further west, near the village of St Merryn, in the form of Trevibban Mill.  This little jewel nestled in the countryside and is producing limited quantities of red, white & sparkling wines as well as a wonderful dry cider.

But it’s the sparkling wine I’m focussing on here.  It’s a wine made from 100% Seyval Blanc and is a really fresh citrus sparkler that is not too dominated by the traditional biscuity, bready taste that affords a lot of these types of wines.

Yellow stone fruit, a delicate mousse and a background floral tinge mean this is the perfect aperitif that would accompany some nibbles as England lock horns with France in their opening game of the tournament.

Trevibban Mill Sparkling White Brut

Wales is producing less wine in terms of quantity than its close cousin, but there are pockets of greatness being under-covered in this rugby-mad nation.

From Celtic Country Wines over in Pembrokeshire to Parva Farm Vineyard in the shadows of Tintern Abbey, Wales is producing top quality wines that are winning favour with experts across the globe.

The interest in Welsh wine stretches into the traditional enclaves of Bordeaux with orders being placed for Ancre Hill wines near Monmouth.  Indeed, the Monmouthsire area with its good drainage and sheltered areas is said to provide ideal conditions for growing both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes.

It’s one of their wines I would recommend to drink whilst watching Wales’ final game against the French – how poetic – and their Chardonnay is the perfect ‘match’.

Ancre Hill Estates Chardonnay 2013

Ancre Hill Chardonnay

Inviting nose of citrus and bright minerality, together with discreet vanilla notes. Opens into a palate of grapefruit, wet stone and a hint of vanilla cream. This wine will continue to benefit from bottle age, drink now to 2020.

I have to admit to not knowing of any produceable wines coming from Scotland and so I’ve cheated slightly and slipped in that most famous export from our old neighbours – Whiskey.

Now, I’m not a whiskey drinker and it would be disingenuos of me to simply skip over this fact and say that any good aged single malt scotch wwould be good drinking.  Instead, I’ve deferred to my friend Mike from Bin Two in Padstow and his team to provide more guidance than I could hope to provide.

Their pick is the lovely Asyla Whiskey.  Asyla is a blended Scotch from the Compass Box Whiskey range, named after the plural for asylum. The makers feel a word with such ambiguity suggests a delicate balance between madhouse and sanctuary, perfect for this blend.

It’s aged in new American oak casks giving it a much richer, sweet vanilla character than many Scotch whiskeys which are generally aged in pre-used casks. It’s light, elegant and refined with fruity, sweet notes making it the perfect choice for an easy drinking yet luxurious whiskey and has been known to convert multiple non-whiskey drinkers in BinTwo.

Try a wee dram when singing along to Flower of Scotland!

Asyla Blended Scotch Whiskey

Last but by no means least, we have Ireland.  I could cheat again here and suggest no drink from Ireland comes close to a pint of Guinness but that would be both lazy and unfair!

Whilst producing wine in the Emerald Isle is not without its challenges, it can be done and David Llewellyn is doing just that from his small vineyard in Lusk, just north of Dublin.

He mostly grows Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Rondo grapes on his 0.5 acre piece of land, with the latter of those grapes seemingly the most successful for the climate and the growing conditions.

Its hardy dark-skinned attributes mean that having been producing since 2005, David at last feels he has got to the stage where he is producing pretty good red wine.

You may be in a position to see Ireland complete a Grand Slam in the final game of the Championship and if so, what better way to do it than with a bottle from one of their own.

Luska Cabernet/Merlot

Available from www.fruitandvine.com

Whatever your tipple to see you through, by the time the tournament has finished we will be well and truly knocking on the door of spring which is enough to cheer everyone up.

Talk soon

Steve