The Grape & The Grain: World Cup sparklers

PETER RANSCOMBE

One of my first footballing memories is Italia ’90, when Leighton, McLeish and co took on the might of Brazil, Costa Rica and Sweden. It was the tournament that brought us the excitement of Cameroon, the tears of Gazza and that strange mascot made up of the red, white and green blocks of the Italian flag.

But it also brought me my first – and so far only – Panini sticker album, complete with spaces for photos of individual players. The pages were graced with some weird and wonderful haircuts, as perms and mullets thankfully began to fade out of fashion.

So, in the absence of Scotland and to mark the opening match of Brazil 2014, I’d like to offer a footballing-esque selection of World Cup Sparklers – wines to toast victory or drown your sorrows if you’re cheering on one of the grape-producing nations.

Let’s start in goal with the ever-reliable Cava, Spain’s flagship sparkling wine. All the emphasis is on the fruit in The Society’s Cava Reserva Brut (The Wine Society, £8.50), with apple peel and candied pears on the nose revealing fresher red apples and floral notes on the palate. This is full of fresh acidity and is calling out for nuts, crisps or even some tapas.

Moving on to defence, where we’re looking for a solid back four. Putting Champagne into the mix felt a bit like placing Pele at the height of his powers into the Highland League, so I’ve opted for something different from France.

Blanquette de Limoux claims to be the oldest sparkling wine in the world, with monks having discovered the second fermentation taking place in the bottle in 1531. The wines are made mainly from the local Mauzac, with the 1531 Blanquette de Limoux (Tesco, £7.99 down from £9.99 until 1 July) delivering aromas of fresh peaches and red apples, which are joined by creamy notes of bread and butter on the palate, making a wine that’s smooth with a creamy mousse.

Perhaps there won’t be too many Scotland fans cheering on the ‘Auld Enemy’ in Brazil, but there will certainly be some fans of English sparkling wine, which has gone from being an oddity to becoming among the world’s finest fizzes. This Nyetimber Classic Cuvee 2009 (Majestic, £35.99 then £23.98 from 1 July to 4 August) vintage wine has an aged nose, with red apple skins, apple jelly, buttered toast and savoury notes leading on to complex baked fruits on the palate, with a mineral finish.

Sparkling reds may be unusual but this Syn Sparkling Shiraz (Great Grog, £13.09) shows that not all sparkling shiraz has to be cheap and nasty. There are lots of strawberry and raspberry aromas on the nose, followed by deliciously sweet raspberry jam flavours on the palate. The sweetness of the wine is enhanced by 2% Australian vintage fortified wine being added at the end of the production process.

Argentina’s football team may have been filled with some colourful characters over the years but the Chandon Brut Argentina (Majestic Wine, £16.57 until 30 June then £12.99 until 4 August) from Moet & Chandon is far more restrained. Moet opened its first vineyard in the country in 1959, with its wine making its debut in the UK in May this year. The fruit is restrained and subtle, with lemon rind and green apple to the fore on both the nose and palate. Notes of crispy toast and stale bread lead on to a savoury finish.

In midfield, I was looking for a bit more flair and some exciting game play, so I turned to the colourful wines of Italy. Prosecco may steal all the attention when it comes to Italian sparkling wines, but the Berlucchi Cuvee Imperiale Franciacorta Brut DOCG (Majestic Wine, £14.99) from neighbouring Lombardy really caught my eye. While most Italian sparkling wines are made in a tank to retain their fruity freshness, the second fermentation for Franciacorta that creates the bubbles takes place in the bottle, just like in Champagne. This produces an interesting and complex nose of lemons, bruised pears and buttered toast, with lemons dominating on the palate to produce a wine that’s far more exciting than your average wine bar Prosecco.

Winemaker Reed Renaudin is descended from Paul Levieux Renaudin, the famous founder of the Bollinger brand, but – unlike his illustrious French ancestor – he practices his craft in California. His Paul Levieux Renaudin Legacy Blanc de Noirs (Laithwaites, £19.99) is made with just red grapes – hence the name ‘blanc de noirs’ – and is rich and complex, with a lively fizzy mousse. There are red apples, bread and butter and even a hint of mushroom on the nose, leading to quince, marmalade and savoury notes on the palate.

Undurraga Brut (Majestic Wine, £8.49 then £6.66 from 1 July to 4 August) is bursting with fruity white peach aromas and flavours. The acidity is lively but smooth on the palate, with a long finish, making it very refreshing. The wine is named after Don Francisco Undurraga, one of Chile’s sparkling wine pioneers, with the second fermentation that creates the fizz taking place in a tank under pressure rather than in the bottle itself to retain all the fruity freshness.

Germany is the world’s biggest consumer of sparkling wines or ‘sekt’. Grapes from across Europe can be turned into sekt in Germany but the Philipps-Eckstein Riesling Sekt QbA Brut 2010 (Alpine Wines, £22.80) is made using only Riesling grapes from German vineyards. One the nose, it is packed full of fresh lime and lemon fruit notes, coupled with waxy aromas. In the mouth, the wine has a deliciously-delicate mousse and a long fruity finish.

You should always put your star strikers up front and the Luis Pato Maria Gomes Sparkling 2013 (Oddbins, £14.50) from Portugal was a real surprise for me. It has an exciting nose, bursting with green apples and ripe pears. It’s lively and fresh on palate, with the apples and pears joined by notes of lemons. Nicely rounded with a creamy mousse and an unexpected star for me.

If there was a Panini album of wines then the Coconova Sparkling Brut (Marks & Spencer, £8.99) would be the rare one that you’d want to swap your friends for. It’s hard to move along the supermarket shelves at the moment without tripping over bottles of sparkling Moscato from Brazil – straight-forward and simple sweet and fruit wines made from the Muscat white grape.

But this Brazilian wine from M&S is something a bit different – a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Verdejo that delivers pears, peaches and green apples on the nose, followed by a more restrained palate, with white fruit flavours of peaches and apricots and a steely minerality influenced by the Sauvignon Blanc, leading to a dry finish. Classy and a cut above the low-alcohol sparklers coming out of Brazil this summer.

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