It’s that time of year again. The time when rugby fans from all over the world unite to support whoever’s playing England. The BBC is allowed to air an actual sport (one that doesn’t boil down to who’s the best at exercising). Welsh fans do their best impression of England football supporters by losing all sense of reality. Journalists coo over an ever improving Scotland team’s ability to pass the ball from one side of the pitch to the other (bravely). Everyone unites in describing the French as being bursting with elan and unpredictability despite having for some years been international rugby’s most predictably one-dimensional and boring team.
It’s all great fun. No competition in world sport consistently attracts as many fans to games with stadia sold out tens of times over. Even Sky Sports News takes short breaks from analysing the move of Norwich City midfielder Tyrone Leroy to Stoke FC on loan to report on whatever inflammatory cricketing analogy Eddie Jones has made about Scotland’s front row.
Alcohol and rugby go together very well indeed. This is partly because you have to be half in the bag to cope with the prospect of your team losing to Wales which will result in a year’s worth of grief from the office’s secret Welshman (who’s lived in London his whole life and supports Man Utd). It’s also because unlike football fans, when rugby fans get shedded it’s bawdy fun and no one gets beaten up (unless you find yourself queuing for a cash point outside Jumping Jacks in Cardiff at 3am in an England jersey and chinos). Anyway, in the spirit of the symbiotic relationship between alcohol and egg-chasing I have devised a definitive which-rugby-team-would-be-what-sort-of-wine-list-thing:
- Scotland – Chianti Classico
For years Chianti was bland, unsuccessful and a bit sour. In recent years, the region’s researchers such as Dave Renniso have been able to identify the clones of Sangiovese which produce the best quality wine (Stuart Hogg 2AB and Finn Russell 167), which means that today the great majority of Chianti is almost unrecognisable from the pale, sour plonk of old. Using New Zealand oak has also been a great help. Personally I think people are getting a bit carried away but I’ll be shot for saying so.
- Wales – Red Burgundy
In its best incarnations, Red Burgundy is hard to beat. Archetypically it has flair, elegance, power and finesse and a history which can’t be argued with. It is capable of producing experiences in wine that cannot be replicated anywhere else. However, its source material is capricious and the end product is often a catastrophic disappointment, probabaly because the vigneron has refused to adopt modern techniques and training methods. Vintage variation is a massive problem. Still, Burgundy fans swear their wine is the greatest in the world and discount their last dozen experiences with the wine in the never ending expectation their next bottle will encapsulate those peerless memories of misty yesteryear.
- Ireland – Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon
Having recently emerged from relative obscurity Margaret River is now consistently producing some of the best Bordeaux Blends in the world and has the trophies to back this up. Tend to be powerfully structured with great precision, satisfying attack, elegance and an excellent all round kicking game. Superb winemaking with the best personnel and modern techniques has led to great reliability. Possible question marks over ability to travel and are best experienced at the source. The best have a capacity to age gracefully and go on to present alongside John Inverdale on BBC Grandstand (Paul O’Connell 1979)
- England – Claret
Many like to knock it as overrated and overpriced but Red Bordeaux is Europe’s greatest wine. Rightly judged sternly by critics given its reputation and resources and doesn’t always hit the mark. Now returning to its classic style after the Robert Parker (Stuart Lancaster) effect saw it stripped of its identity. Chateaux are often accused of being stuffy and arrogant compared to winemakers from other regions who are just jealous. The best incarnations are powerful and balanced with great depth but this vintage has been challenged by frosts that reduced crop by up to 80%. Well structured with a great finish but can take time to open up (see last 20 minutes against Australia). Foreign expertise and modern training methods have helped improve quality.
- France – Real Natural Wine (not biodynamic/organic)
Well known for being unpredictable but 9 times out of 10 it’s a stinky mess that that tastes like flat homemade cider. Lots of people get excited about it but only romantics take it seriously at the moment.
- Italy – Prosecco
Put it away and have a beer instead. Preferably Georgian.