Even without a vintage England, football lovers – and widows – can still be full of cheer, writes Christine Austin.
Have you lined up the sofa in front of the TV? Bought in sufficient stocks of beer, wine, crisps and pizzas? And most importantly, chaps, have you taken your loved one out for a good dinner before this football frenzy starts? Don’t forget it is the loved ones of this world who will be topping up supplies, cooking suppers and generally clearing up while the post-match celebrations or commiserations take place.
And while supermarkets have stacks of beer at bargain prices, a few strategic drinks could add enjoyment to the games, even if the goals don’t always go in the right net.
For a start you will need a good supply of wine and spirits to act as backdrop to the matches. Tone up your taste buds before each match with a caipirinha, a refreshing, thirst-quenching cocktail made with Brazilian spirit cachaça (Velho Barreiro brand available at Latitude in Leeds at £19.99). Cachaça is made from distilled sugar cane and you need to practise making a caipirinha to start off each match session. First roll a lime across a firm surface to help release the juice, then cut off both ends, and quarter the lime. Place the lime pieces in an old-fashioned glass, add two teaspoons of demerara sugar and muddle into the lime until the sugar is dissolved. Add two shots of cachaça and top up with small cubes of ice. Serve with a straw.
To add more Brazilian atmosphere, stock up with a selection of the new Brazilian wines that are now on the shelves. Brazil has 83,000 hectares of vineyards which is slightly less than Germany and just a few more than Bulgaria, although many produce table grapes rather than wine grapes. The main wine region is in Rio Grande do Sul, 640 miles south of Rio de Janeiro in the hilly area known as Serra Gaúcha. This is the region that was settled by Europeans from Italy and Germany in the mid-1800s and there are even pockets where old dialects of German and Italian are still spoken. It is the influence and skills of these people which developed the wine industry, although their choice of a region at fairly high altitude and with very high rainfall sets its own particular challenges.
Now some of the big companies have moved in, such as Chandon and Martini & Rossi and recognised grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay are being grown. The sparkling wine industry is particularly well established and that is reflected in some of the wines available in our supermarkets. I ♥ Moscato (Tesco, £9.99) is full of fresh tasting, apple and floral fruit with lively, frothy bubbles. Medium sweet, it is the perfect wine to pour as you welcome friends and neighbours to watch the games. Marks & Spencer also has a juicy, fruity, sweet-tasting Carnival Sparkling Moscato at £9.99, which will go down well with puddings. For drier tastes, try Coconova Brut (M&S, £8.99) which comes from the new wine region of Val do São Francisco in the tropical north where vines manage to produce two crops a year. This is made from a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Verdejo and it has light, crisp, peachy fruit with touches of lemony freshness.
For afternoon barbecues and late night matches I recommend Intenso Teroldego 2013 (M&Sr, £9.99) which packs typical Teroldego lush blackberry fruit with soft tannins. These vines really reflect the north Italian heritage of the Serra Gaúcha region.
Waitrose Brazilian Merlot 2013 (£8.99) is fairly light in style but can cope with pizza and sausages. Miolo Riqueza Cellar Pinot Noir 2012 from the Vale dos Vinhedos (Waitrose, £11.99) is made from hand-harvested grapes from the Seival estate where international wine consultant Michel Rolland has been steering viticulture and winemaking. The result is a light, perfumed wine with definite cherry and strawberry fruit and a gentle finish.
Of the whites, my vote goes to Casa Valduga Leopoldina Chardonnay 2013 from Serra Gaúcha for its light, fresh, melon and peachy fruit and the merest touch of oak (Waitrose, £13.49). Although it is expensive, it will lend an air of authenticity to your World Cup party.
So with the basics sorted, now is the time to finesse your drinking with a selection that reflects the players on the pitch and this afternoon’s match between Colombia and Greece could be accompanied by a glass of crisp, grapefruit and apple blossom flavours in Sillogi white 2011 from Paros Island in Greece (Field & Fawcett, £11.50). Follow on to the Uruguay-Costa Rica game with Pizzorno Merlot/Tannat 2010 blend from Uruguay (Waitrose, £8.99) for its chunky, chewy, black fruit flavours.
These are mere warm-ups in advance of England’s showdown with Italy tonight and while the late kick-off means that mugs of cocoa may be the best accompaniment you can keep the flag flying with a glass of English wine. Marks & Spencer has a new addition to its range from Denbies Estate made from a blend of Chardonnay, Seyval Blanc and Muller Thurgau. English White Lily 2013 (£9.99) is an odd name for a wine but it is crisp, light and zippy, which is just what we need from the boys on the pitch.
Next Thursday’s England-Uruguay clash is perfectly timed for an evening in front of the TV and while an English wine might be your first choice, there really should be no problem supporting our team with a glass of something South American, especially if that country isn’t in England’s group. Majestic has a terrific range of Argentinian Malbecs including Viñalba Reservado Malbec 2012 at a bargain £7.99, down from £11.99. This is one of my favourite Malbecs, full of ripe, plummy fruit with chocolate undertones. It will go well with a steak supper or a sausage sandwich. Don’t forget to have a bottle of English fizz available to celebrate every success. Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009 is down from £35.99 to £30.58 on multibuy at Majestic. This wine won a trophy in the 2014 International Wine Challenge. Wouldn’t it be good if the England team also won a trophy? We can but hope.