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(Dmitry Naumov/Stock photo | Getty Images | iStockphoto)
(Dmitry Naumov/Stock photo | Getty Images | iStockphoto)

New Zealand and France match up in rugby and wines Add to ...

Are you following the rugby? Most Canadian sports fans would rather watch football or hockey right now, I know, than the Rugby World Cup. But the event comes around only every four years, this time in New Zealand. Plus, there’s the high-stakes drama of top-class global competition. Go, Tonga! Canada is there, too, among the top 20. Our boys meet highly ranked France on Sunday (early in the morning, alas).

All that brawn and punishing contact is a gripping sight, an Absorbine Jr. ad made in heaven. No helmets, no shoulder pads, no fear. Despite the bone-crunching collisions, it rarely breaks out into brawls because the players have biceps the diameter of a sequoia and can shake off the tackles like a minor nuisance. Pain is the game, or at least an impressive part of it.

It’s the one sport I get a kick out of watching despite having no clue of the rules. I suspect few fans can adequately explain them. I can recall watching a few games of Australia’s 2003 World Cup on the telly over morning sherry while staying with a rugby-mad uncle and cousin in England. “Why are they rolling the ball between their legs?” I would annoyingly ask. “Why not just grab it and run like hell?” Seldom did I receive a satisfactory answer.

Another cool thing about rugby is that it’s like wine in a sense. Team rankings are more strongly tied to the sport’s geographic evolution than to the deep pockets of heavily industrialized and populated countries. Wales and Samoa are ahead of the United States and Russia in the world standings. New Zealand’s No. 1-ranked All Blacks likely won’t be trembling as they face No. 14 Canada on Oct. 2.

It’s a good reason to knock back a glass or two of New Zealand’s finest. Some people believe the country makes the best sauvignon blancs and pinot noirs outside France, a country, incidentally, with the No. 4-ranked team, which plays New Zealand Sept. 24. I’ve got my money on the underdog. The wine-producing underdog, that is.

Dog Point Chardonnay 2008 (New Zealand)

SCORE: 90 PRICE: $39.95

Full-bodied yet tangy, this white from the Marlborough region of the South Island shows notes of tropical fruit, citrus and caramel. There’s lots of smoky, luscious oak here, owing to 18 months in barrel, but the other flavour components keep it reasonably well-balanced. Try it with lobster or squash soup.

Churton Pinot Noir 2008 (New Zealand)

SCORE: 90 PRICE: $36.95

There’s good concentration in this Marlborough pinot, which offers up plum jam, cinnamon and an attractively earthy character along with fine tannins. Try it with grilled salmon or pork.

Terravin Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (New Zealand)

SCORE: 89 PRICE: $29.95

This white, some of it fermented in oak, comes from a very good winery in Marlborough, showing a sweet, fruit-filled core and dusting of fresh herbs. It would be a fine match for pan-seared fish fillets.

Oyster Bay Chardonnay 2010 (New Zealand)

SCORE: 89 PRICE: $18.95

From the country’s big-kahuna producer, this medium-bodied white is deftly balanced. The texture is silky-creamy, supporting fresh peach, subtle oak and zippy green-apple acidity. It’s versatile and could span the gamut from shellfish to salmon to roast chicken to grilled pork chops.

Mount Riley Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (New Zealand)

SCORE: 87 PRICE: $15.95

Classic Marlborough flavours of wet grass and asparagus skew this white strongly to the herbaceous side. Then the balancing sweetness rises up in the form of passion fruit. Serve it with grilled shellfish topped with a squirt of lemon.

Mud House Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (New Zealand)

SCORE: 87 PRICE: $15.95

Light but with a punch of lime, kiwi and fresh-cut grass, this is a good value. Try it with the aforementioned grilled shellfish.

Maison Roche de Bellene Vieilles Vignes Gevrey-Chambertin 2009 (France)

SCORE: 91 PRICE: $47.95

Very good concentration here, with a flavour of dark-skinned fruits, chewy raspberry, violet and substantial, mouth-parching tannins. Decant it and try it with seared duck breast or cellar it for up to six more years.

Domaine Grand Veneur Clos de Sixte Lirac 2009 (France)

SCORE: 92 PRICE: $23.95

The Lirac district of the Rhône Valley tends to be overshadowed by Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas, but this full-bodied red delivers impressive complexity for the money. Packed with succulent dark fruit that’s never thrown off balance by the 15-per-cent alcohol, it finds structure in overtones of roasted herbs and a tight tug of tannic astringency. Decant it if you can and serve it with braised beef or age it for up to eight more years.

Domaine Parent Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2009 (France)

SCORE: 88 PRICE: $19.95

France is not the place generally to start your search for under-$20 pinot noir, but every now and then it can surprise. Here’s a medium-bodied effort with a pleasant essence of berry candy, good ripeness and concentration and fine, dry tannins. Match it with pork tenderloin.

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