Such was the constant drama of last weekend’s Rugby World Cup quarter-finals that fans of the countries involved – victorious or not – could have been forgiven for pouring themselves a stiff drink on the final whistle. This weekend’s semi-finals will have to go a long way to deliver the same intensity. But, with the draw having thrown up what many see as two rather mismatched ties, added intrigue comes in finding a wine from the competing nations to complement each contest – and an excuse, if one were needed, to enjoy a more relaxed glass or two while watching the games.
All four remaining nations can draw upon a proud, if contrasting, heritage in winemaking (as well as with the oval ball). And, just as New Zealand and South Africa are favourites to progress on the field, the two countries’ vineyards are very much the more established of the quartet.
New Zealand is best known for its perennially popular sauvignon blanc. With its signature lemongrass and gooseberry tones, it’s a wine that is eminently quaffable – if not always memorable – on a summer’s day. However, it’s less suited for dark autumn nights, unlike the best examples of the country’s pinot noir – to my mind, a far more interesting wine – which yield the perfect blend of savoury fruit and earthy spice. Greywacke’s 2020 Pinot, made by Kevin Judd, the former winemaker of the country’s trailblazing Cloudy Bay, is a fine example, with a slightly darker fruit profile of black cherries studded with nutmeg and clove.
The All Blacks’ opponents, Argentina, are on the up, both from a rugby and wine perspective. In the past, its wines were somewhat one-dimensional – bold malbecs that were as uncompromising as the team's prop forwards. But, in the same way its national XV has developed more of a free-flowing, all-round game, the reds of Mendoza are showing signs of evolving into more rounded, balanced wines. Achaval Ferrer’s 2020 Quimera is a fine example of this progress, blending malbec with the other Bordeaux varieties, notably cabernet sauvignon, for an elegant, layered wine that harnesses French (rather than American) oak for a spicy (rather than sweet) body.
In the opposite half of the draw, holders South Africa are undoubtedly the team to beat as they look to claim two titles in a row. In similar fashion, the Cape has a strong case for being considered the most exciting wine country on the planet over the last 10 years, be it via its sophisticated syrahs or sculpted chenin blancs. For an example of its versatility, consider the 2019 Metis Sauvignon Blanc from the storied Klein Constantia, a producer better known for its revered Vin de Constance sweet wine. Made with wild yeast and a small proportion of oak ageing for a fuller, fatter profile than can be the case with this often lean grape variety, it’s a wine that exposes the limitations in New Zealand’s somewhat simplistic renderings.
It would be a huge shock if England were able to overcome the Springboks – akin to an English wine coming out on top on the world stage, perhaps. It might seem rather presumptuous, then, to pop a cork off an English fizz at kick-off. But, sparkling wine is where England has made its reputation with sommeliers both at home and now further afield, and a wine such as Busi Jacobsohn's 2019 Cuvée Brut shows why. Made with the same grape varieties and techniques as Champagne, it is lent a little extra toasty richness by spending a short time in oak, thereby complementing its inherent racy acidity.
Plus, of course, if Messrs Farrell, Smith and Itoje were, somehow, able to turn over South Africa, you’re going to want to celebrate in the appropriate fashion…
Want more wine content? Read our review of the Errazuriz, Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve, Aconcagua Valley, Chile 2018…
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