It's funny...I don't go out of my way to watch much soccer. However in the 2018 World Cup, I (along with any of you who care) was rewarded with some very exciting games in the group stages. I couldn't get enough of it, and when I attach something like adult beverages to the games, I become that much more riveted. As of today, we are sixteen teams lighter, and with today being an off-day I have the chance to catch my breath and assess where we are with the teams that have qualified for the knockout rounds.
I have to tell you, if you are a wine fan you have a lot of teams in which to hitch your wagon. Traditional Old World European producers France, Spain and Portugal are all still alive. Malbec-lovers are thrilled Argentina escaped by the skin of its teeth. The emerging wines of Uruguay made things look fairly easy in advancing to this point. If you are fortunate enough to find and enjoy wines from Croatia and Switzerland here in the states, you can love their unique styles made from old, local grape varieties.
But it's also not just about wines here. Love caipirinhas? Brazil is here. Margarita fans, rejoice: Mexico got some help from South Korea to move on. Are you into sake and whisky? Japan is here to serve you in both categories.
How about the Scandinavian countries? Grain-based products are going to be your best option, with vodka being the big one in Sweden and Akvavit in Denmark, however there is a chance you could find some good ciders and beers here, too.
Speaking of beers, how can we forget Belgium and the dizzying range of styles available worldwide? England has plenty of strong, malty beers to choose from, but also don't forget London Dry gins! I spoke of Russia in my last post, with vodka and beer being at the forefront there. Finding Colombian products in the U.S. gets easier as you get closer to Florida, where there is rum to be found, but the fiery brandy known as aguardiente is increasingly becoming available to us nationwide.
So with all of that said, here are some specific examples of beer, wine, and spirits to look for, where there is a decent chance you will have these available in your local market.
France: Domaine Houchart Provence Rose, $14. Fruity, delicate, and refreshing. Red grapefruit, strawberry, and thyme.
Argentina: Amancaya Reserve Red Blend (Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon), $18. Deep, dark, and densely concentrated, its black fruit and spice notes are great with grilled red meats.
Uruguay: Bodegas Carrau 1752 Gran Tradicion Blanco, $16. A cool blend of grapes called Petit Manseng and Sauvignon Gris (two old southwestern French varieties) that make an unoaked, light, citrusy and floral wine that is perfect for light appetizers.
Portugal: José Maria da Fonseca Ripanco, $15. A blend of Syrah, Aragonez (a.k.a. Tempranillo), and Alicante Bouschet (a savory, dark-colored grape variety) that is not over-the-top in body or alcohol, making it a friendly summertime red that is honestly enjoyable on it's own or with a burger.
Spain: Baron de Funes Garnacha Rosado, $10. An easy-drinking, full-bodied and fruity dry pink wine, loaded with strawberry and watermelon flavors. You can even turn this one into a sangria as well.
Russia: Stolichnaya Gluten-Free Vodka, $22. Authentic Russian vodka, versatile, and now available gluten-free. An easy way to spike your favorite juice or lemonade.
Croatia: Maraska Slivovitz, $24. Slivovitz, a plum brandy, is the national drink of Croatia, and the brand you would most likely encounter is Maraska. It is fragrant, fiery, and would make an interesting substitute to for pisco in a Pisco Sour cocktail, or perhaps in a Slivopolitan.
Denmark: Carlsberg Lager, $30ish for a 24-pack. This is the national beer of Denmark. Pale, crisp, and low in alcohol at 4.5% abv, what else do you need to watch the game on a warm summer day?
Brazil: Avua Prata Cachaca, $35. If you are backing Brazil, you are drinking caipirinhas. Even if you aren't backing Brazil, you should drink the cachaca-based cocktail anyway as it's a great way to beat the heat. More and more cachaca (cane juice rum) is becoming available, and Avua is emerging as an outstanding option.
Mexico: Bozal Ensamble Mezcal, $42. Tequila is terrific, and we love it, but if you want to try something different, the Bozal Mezcal is a great way to get introduced to this smoky, old-school spirit. Tropical fruit and a waft of smokiness, try this in a Bloody Mary with a chile and salt-rimmed glass.
Belgium: Saison Dupont Farmhouse Ale, $10 (25 oz bottle). I love Saisons and Belgian sours. I'm being honest with you. The Dupont was the first Belgian beer I ever had and will happily go back to this anytime. Start your Belgian beer journey and branch out from here.
Japan: Nikka Coffey Grain Whiskey, $65. With many Japanese whiskies patterned after the malt and sometimes smokiness of Scotch, this grain whiskey is very Bourbon-like, since its foundation is corn. Again, taking into account that we are watching World Cup in the summertime, I tend to favor Bourbon at this time of year and the Coffey Grain gives me a solid Japanese take on it.
Sweden: Brannland Pernilla Perle Cider, $14 (750mL). Let's get a sparkling cider in here! This is a semi-dry cider that works as an aperitif, but will also counter spicy, exotically spiced Asian cuisine or richer pork dishes.
Switzerland: Chateau d'Auvernier Blanc, $25. Swiss wine will be on the expensive side. It just is, because there is a lot of demand for the wine domestically in Switzerland. But, if you can get your hands on this wine based on the local variety Chasselas, you will get a feel for what Swiss wine is all about. It's a great light seafood wine that is very refreshing.
England: Gin Lane 1751 London Dry Gin, $26. A good, versatile, straightforward London Dry style gin that is not over the top in the juniper department, but not so faint it loses its identity in a cocktail. With many craft gins creeping up in price, the Gin Lane example is more than fair to your wallet.
Colombia: Ron Viejo de Caldas 8 Year, $20ish: Colombian rums that we have access to have a bittersweet and fiery flavor that is good for mixing, rather than sipping neat. This example from Ron Viejo de Caldas has more richness and a smoother texture than the very youthful 3 year old, but still a fine accompaniment in a fruity tropical cocktail like a frozen daiquiri.