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Beppi Crosariol on wine

These South African wines really score Add to ...

I am immersed in my Globe and Mail colleague John Doyle's new book about the joy and culture of soccer. It's called The World is a Ball. Among other things, it features a handy guide to this year's World Cup, which is how I plan to get in good with the neighbours this month.

My soccer-speak could use some honing, frankly, and on my new street I feel like an injured player on the sidelines. The Brazilian family across from me has not one but two Brazilian flags proudly waving from their minivan. The Portuguese kid next door, who plays in a league and often uses my dilapidated garage door as a practice "net," has already exhausted my grasp of World Cup trivia. For example, the only player I can name on Italy's blue shirts (and I have dual Italian-Canadian citizenship) is Gianluigi Buffon, the "pre-eminent goalkeeper in the world." (I have Doyle's book to thank for that tidbit.)

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Sadly, nobody on the street wants to talk about wine. Professionally speaking, for me the world has always been more bottle than ball. Uncorking wine can be akin to watching good soccer on television; it can give you an uplifting taste of another culture. And this month I'm thinking more than ever about South Africa, host country of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Canadians don't drink much South African wine, though the category is growing nicely, notably in Quebec. South Africa's share of the Canadian market is a mere 2.2 per cent by volume. In England, a country with deep historical ties to Bordeaux and other French regions, volume sales of Cape wines earlier this year stunningly surpassed those of France, according to market tracker AC Nielsen. Clearly, the English know something we don't. South Africa represents decent value - if you know how to shop.

There are three main strengths to South African wine, sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc and Bordeaux-style red blends based on cabernet sauvignon and merlot. But whites based on chardonnay and reds made from syrah or shiraz (same grape; different name) can surprise, as can pinotage, a quirky and robust local red.

One reliable brand to bear in mind if you don't know much about South African wine is Nederburg. Established in 1791, it's widely distributed across Canada. The wines tend to be classically styled, yet with fruit-forward flavours that should appeal to modern tastes.

Nederburg has just launched three commemorative products in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia under the officially licensed "Twenty10" logo. All are worth the money.

I particularly like Nederburg Limited Edition Twenty10 Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($14.95 in Ontario, product No. 187229; $14.99 in Alberta; slightly higher in B.C. at private wine stores). Light medium-bodied, it's nicely rounded, with plump tropical-citrus fruit and a grassy edge. Like many good South African sauvignon blancs, it's something of a middle ground between the punchy New Zealand and subtle Loire Valley styles.

Look also for the robust Nederburg Limited Edition Twenty10 Dry Rose 2009 ($14.95, No. 186932; $14.99 in Alberta; slightly higher in B.C. at private wine stores) and the opulent Nederburg Limited Edition Twenty10 Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($14.95, No. 187211; $14.99 in Alberta; slightly higher in B.C. at private wine stores). The latter is a big, berry-packed affair with notes of eucalyptus, coffee and smoke. There's also a hint of that radiator-hose quality typical of so many South African reds, subtle enough to be pleasant, though, not overbearing. Ideal for red meats, notably venison or bison.

The Vintages fine-wine department of the LCBO in Ontario today is releasing 16 limited-inventory South African products in tribute to the World Cup. What follows are my highlights. (The last wine is only available in B.C.)

Juno Cape Maidens Shiraz 2007 ($12.95, No. 148585). The bargain of the lot, this full-bodied red comes packaged with a striking reproduction of an oil painting by local Paarl artist and Juno Cape founding member Tertia du Toit. Dark-skinned berries and bitter chocolate lead the way, with notes of vanilla and black pepper and a spicy, crisp finish. Great for barbecued ribs.

Vergelegen Mill Race Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2006 ($17.95, No. 146530). A classic cabernet note of black-olive tapenade is uncanny in this full-bodied, bone-dry red. Perfect for steak.

Flagstone Dark Horse Shiraz 2007 ($17.95, No. 127654). Re-released for the World Cup launch, this full-bodied red should appeal to fans of fruit-forward Australian shiraz. Its jammy plum and blackberry essence gets a lift from white pepper and smoke. It should be nice with spicy sausages.

Leopard's Leap Family Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($18.95, No. 146886). Cross a gooseberry with asparagus and this is what it might taste like. There's a spicy finish in it that I love. Serve it with zesty salads topped with goat cheese.

Graham Beck Chardonnay 2008 ($14.95, No. 593475). Full-bodied, with a core of apple, peach and tropical fruit. There's a buttery quality and toasty essence from oak-barrel aging, but this white stays remarkably juicy thanks to crisp, balancing acidity. It would pair well with grilled or pan-seared salmon.

Delheim Gewurztraminer 2009 ($16.95, No. 146910). Textbook gewurztraminer notes of rose petal and lychee form the core of this dry white, which also displays notes of peach nectar and spice.

Graham Beck Brut ($24.99, No. 607747). Available in B.C., this dry sparkler would make a fine celebratory toast regardless of which team you support. Think of the bubbles as little soccer balls. Think of your mouth as the goal net. Because the world is a bottle - and a ball.

Picks of the week

Vergelegen Mill Race Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2006 ($17.95, No. 146530) is a classic cabernet note of black-olive tapenade is uncanny in this full-bodied, bone-dry red. Perfect for steak.

The bargain of the lot, Juno Cape Maidens Shiraz 2007 ($12.95, No. 148585), is a full-bodied red packaged with a striking reproduction of an oil painting by local Paarl artist and Juno Cape founding member Tertia du Toit. Dark-skinned berries and bitter chocolate lead the way, with notes of vanilla and black pepper and a spicy, crisp finish. Great for barbecued ribs.

I particularly like Nederburg Limited Edition Twenty10 Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($14.95 in Ontario, product No. 187229; $14.99 in Alberta; slightly higher in B.C. at private wine stores). Light medium-bodied, it's nicely rounded, with plump tropical-citrus fruit and a grassy edge. Like many good South African sauvignon blancs, it's something of a middle ground between the punchy New Zealand and subtle Loire Valley styles.

Follow on Twitter: @Beppi_Crosariol

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