World Cup wines
After many years of watching the quadrennial World Cup games with slight interest and even less comprehension, something unexpected happened to me this year: Suddenly, early during the monthlong games in Germany, like a light bulb clicking on, I started to get it.
By last week, when I should have been working, I had spent way too much time glued to the television instead; and there was no way to tear me away from the semifinals on Tuesday and Wednesday as Italy beat Germany with two incredibly exciting goals in the last three minutes of overtime, and France edged Portugal in a 1-0 heartbreaker that helped me understand why, in soccer, a low-scoring game is not boring.
I guess you know where I plan to be on Sunday afternoon. No, not Berlin, where the final is being played. But nobody had better interrupt me during the game on television.
I love both countries and both teams, so it's not going to be easy to decide which shade of blue to cheer for. My heart says Italy's Gli Azzurri, but there's a lot to like about France's Les Bleus. Maybe I'll yell for both teams, depending on who has the ball.
From a wine lover's standpoint, though, getting around to the point of this column, it's particularly nice that the finalists - all four of them, in fact - represent many of the major wine-producing countries of Europe.
Just to enhance the World Cup mood, we opened rustic country red wines from both France and Italy with dinner tonight. Let's wrap up this pre-game report with short-format tasting note on both wines. If I had scored them on points, it would have been a draw, with no extra time or penalty kicks. Both went well with a Mediterranean-style dish of duck breast, green peppers, onions and mushrooms in a light bechamel over penne pasta.
Santa Lucia 2003 Vigno del Melograno Uva di Troia Castel del Monte Rosso ($14)
The Italian wine, my second Uva di Troia in recent weeks, is a sturdy red from Puglia's Castel del Monte. It's a clear, dark ruby color that shows glints of red against the light. Forward aromas of plums and spice add a perceptible whiff of the characteristic violets of the Uva di Troia grape. Ripe and full, black-fruit flavors are well balanced by mouth-watering acidity; sweet oak and soft tannins persist in a long finish. Some oak presence and forward fruit sketch a wine in a somewhat "international" style, a common trait from shipper De Grazia. But it's well-handled, an appealing, food-friendly wine. U.S. importer: Vintner Select, Mason, Ohio, and other regional importers; from Marc De Grazia. Website: http://www.vinisantalucia.com (July 6, 2006)
La Sauvageonne 2001 "Les Ruffes" Coteaux du Languedoc ($9 in 2004)
The French entry, purchased during wine maker Gavin Crisfield's visit here and last tasted on Feb. 10, 2004, is a very dark reddish-purple color, almost black. An unoaked blend of 40 percent Syrah, 30 percent Grenache, 15 percent Cinsaut and 15 percent Carignan, it's holding up well after 2-plus years, retaining its original red-fruit aromas but showing a bit more smoke and meat nuances and more than a little more "horsey" Brettanomyces wild yeast character. It's still a delight on the palate: red and black plums, "sweet" fruit and earth and zippy acidity in balance, juicy fruit and lemons in a long finish. Old World and rustic, it's not for those who demand a "squeaky clean" wine, but I like it, and it's great with the duck dish. U.S. importer: Vintner Select, Mason, Ohio, and other regional importers. (July 6, 2006)
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Speaking of World Cup, how about some world music? I've been giving a lot of playtime recently to a review copy of an intriguing CD that's wine-related, sort of, and good listening without a doubt.
The recording, released Wednesday, is wrapped in a colorful wine-country cartoon featuring young lovers, a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and a casual gent strumming a violin, surrounding a red-checked picnic tablecloth with vineyards and an imposing chateau in the background. The ad copy declares it "A full-bodied selection of songs from the world's premier wine-producing countries." Quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson's memorable "music and wine are one," it goes on to say, "No matter where grapes are grown, wine is enjoyed or songs are sung, it's undeniable that one complements the other."
Makes sense to me. I'd describe the songs as "pop world music," sufficiently easy listening that you can turn it down and use it as background music for a wine party; interesting enough that you can turn it up and pay attention.
Thirteen songs represent 11 wine-producing nations (Italy and Spain get two each, plus france, Portugal, the U.S., Argentina, Greece, Chile, Germany, South Africa and Australia), totaling about 40 minutes of music. It's a bit of a short measure, and the wine connection becomes a little tenuous in some cases. The U.S. selection, for instance, Alison Brown's "Look Left," is no California ballad but Bluegrass music from the Southeast. (The liner notes draw a connection with the native Scuppernong, not a fruit that most wine enthusiasts consider a source of great wine.) Each song gets a brief paragraph - in English, French and Spanish - offering short factoids about the country's wine history.
It's fine music, though, from a Portuguese fado to an Argentine milonga, and I've played it again and again. A portion of proceeds from its sale will go to Slow Food in support of its Terra Madre World Meeting on sustainable food production. And as usual with our Amazon.com links, if you choose to buy the CD using the link provided, we'll get a few pence to help pay the rent at WineLoversPage.com.
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Friday, July 7, 2006