The Rugby World Cup is in full swing and though wine pairs with almost everything, it is especially good with rugby. In my wine career I have been surprised by how many professional rugby players love it, collect it, and even get into the wine industry themselves. When filming a series in the Rhone one of my co-presenters was Andrew Sheridan, ex-England player who gained his Diploma in wine and moved to France after retiring.
Praising the underrated Côte du Rhone whites for their lower alcohol levels and freshness and the Southern Rhône reds for their fruit driven robustness, Sheridan believes the northern Rhône has the best Syrah in the World. “Certainly the French think so, although the Aussies might not be in agreement! One of my favourite wines is Côte Rôtie – for me it can feel a little like a Burgundy that’s hit the gym and put on a bit of muscle”.
If you want to drink like this hearty prop then try some of his favourite producers, Jean-Michael Gerin and Domaine Jamet, both available from Berry Bros & Rudd. “I find you tend to not be disappointed with any of the wines from Chapoutier, too” he adds – good news for bargain hunters as the Chapoutier Cotes Du Rhone Villages is currently available on the high street (£11 Tesco). Another great find is Famille Perrin, often referred to as a “baby” Châteauneufdu-Pape with its rich, slightly spiced sumptuousness (£9.99 Waitrose).
England player Joe Marler invited me on his podcast to talk about wine, an incredibly amusing on-air tasting, even if he did get me to blind-taste the cheapest wine he had been able to find that day at the train station. Though playing in the Rugby World Cup right now, he took time to let me know his preference for a fruity, fullbodied red, in particular those from South Africa. South Africa offers incredible quality for affordable value and is, I believe, the most exciting wine country right now. Marler enjoys quaffing a Malbec or Pinotage, the latter a grape invented and mainly grown in South Africa.
His personal recommendation for match-watching is the Bordeaux-inspired blend, Nebukadnesar. The top wine by South African Babylonstoren, this is an intensely rich red with layers of violet petals laced with tobacco smoke (£33 Wanderlustwine.com). It seems rugby players favour full-bodied reds, but if you are after a white that can hold its own then try a generous style like Little Giant Chardonnay with its full-bodied, bold fruitiness (£12.99 Waitrose).
Of course, we are all hoping for something to celebrate, and what better to pop than Digby, one of the most awarded wineries in England. Happily for us, this Sussex based house has just released their newest premium wine, the Blanc de Blancs 2013 (£65 Harvey Nichols), a blend of grapes harvested by hand a decade ago in Hampshire and Dorset to create an elegant English sparkling wine – perfect for toasting a win for England this Rugby World Cup!
Here’s where to watch the Rugby World Cup, which is on now