It’s time once again for one of the annual parties in our household: The Eurovision Song Contest. What could be better? Food, wine, songs to sing along to (or laugh at), and more sequins than you can shake a stick at. We always make our own score sheets. We go way beyond the BBC score sheet
, adding or deducting points for whatever we particularly like (Greece may get extra points this year for having a trampoline) or dislike (emo hair, winks at the audience, self-tanner overdose, etc.). Poland could also lose (or gain?) a point for the butter churn.
We are a Eurovision party house now, but bear in mind Janet is American. Her first few Eurovisions were hard. She would start off positively enough, but then begin to suffer from power ballad fatigue and an extreme aversion to glitter and wind machines. She was eventually cured by a lovely horse. Really, everything you need to orientate yourself to Eurovision is the “Father Ted” episode — and sufficient wine on the night, of course.This year we are adding to the fun by choosing five favourite performances ahead of time and learning something about the wines of each country to match each song with a wine. Oh, it was tempting to choose countries we particularly like for wine — Germany? Portugal? What were they thinking this year? — but we kept it honest, whatever the consequences. Daniel did have a head-in-hands moment when he realised two of our picks were way above the 50th degree of latitude.
So on to the scores! “Hello? Good evening from Winetuned. What a wonderful show you have put on this evening. Here are the votes from the Winetuned jury.” [Read in the thick accent of your choice.]
Iceland’s entry this year is a band called Pollapönk. They’re brightly coloured, hairy, and more than a little quirky. We like a little of that in our Eurovision contestants, so we found “No Prejudice” appealing. It’s a song with a message, as you can tell from the title, and while that can be a bit self-important for a Eurovision performance, is it any worse than the gibberishy love lyrics most of them belt out? We think not.
Finding an Icelandic wine is a challenge. The country is well outside the range for grape-growing, but the Icelanders have made a fruit wine from their native crowberries since the island was first settled. Crowberries thrive in bogs, heaths, high mountains and tundra, and far to the north in places like Scandinavia, Alaska and the Yukon. They grow close to the ground, and they are rather like sloes in that they aren’t eaten raw, but always used to make cordials, jellies and also wines and liqueurs. The only version of crowberry wine currently sold commercially is Kvoldsol, which means “evening sun,” and it’s made from crowberries with smaller amounts of rhubarb, blueberries and Icelandic herbs added to it. You won’t find this wine outside of Iceland, but should your travels take you there, you should make an effort to try some.
Sweden’s Sanna Nielsen is a favourite to win, and she made our shortlist too. Her performance isn’t as flashy as some of the other contestants, but a good song and a good voice do make you stand out in this year’s competition. Janet didn’t fancy Sweden’s chances until she caught herself humming “Undo” while making coffee one morning, and then she could imagine it.
We could mention more berry wine, or mead (something we both love), but we also discovered Sweden’s Blaxsta winery and vineyard, which is Sweden’s oldest. It grows about 5500 vines of vitis vinifera, as incredible as that sounds in such a climate. Over 80% of the vines planted are Vidal, but Blaxsta also grows Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. We were particularly tempted by the sound of the Vidal Blanc 2007 ice wine, perhaps because the description makes it sound a bit like mead, with notes of honey, vanilla, apricot and nectar. We also had no idea that you could make an ice wine out of frozen apples, but Blaxsta apparently make a lovely one from local Åkerö apples.
France’s Twin Twin is made up of three mismatched hipsters (shades of the three Thompson Twins, anyone?) who sing about wanting a moustache. It’s bouncy, zany, and light, and Daniel thinks he might just end up giving this song higher marks than the UK entry — provided there’s no winking.
We aren’t just going to match any French wine to this song: We have found a wine called French Moustache with a peel-off sticker of a moustache on the label. It’s from French Tonton, a self-professed “négociant militant” in the Côtes-de-Gascogne IGP, and is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot. You will never find a wine with more hipster cred. If you don’t believe us, check out French Tonton on Pinterest.
Paula Seling & OVI may look familiar to you, if you saw the 2010 Eurovision Song Contest. They sang a song called “Playing with Fire” that came third overall, and that we liked better than the song that actually won. We aren’t just including them in the list because they were robbed four years ago, though. This year’s song, “Miracle,” is good stuff.
Romanian wine has an ancient history, but winemakers are only just coming into their own again after decades of struggle. After the fall of communism in Romania, the wine industry didn’t just have to change to an entirely different economic model, but also had to address the problem of vineyards that had been nationalised under Ceausçescu. As was the case for so much of Europe, many vines were lost to Phylloxera in the 19th century and popular French varieties were replanted rather than native ones. Post-Ceausçescu this trend has been reversed, with indigenous varieties such as Frâncuşă, Fetească Albă, and Tămâioasă for whites, Fetească Neagră, and Băbească for reds taking their place alongside the most popular French grapes and a selection of German-style aromatic whites.
If you haven’t tried any Romanian wines, Prince Stirbey could be a good place for you to start. The Stirbey family specializes in native varieties and grows them in the foothills of the Transylvanian Alps. Try the Prince Stirbey Tamâioasa Româneasca Sec
, particularly if you would like to try a native variety and enjoy a dry muscat.
Malta’s Firelight is described as a “country folk pop band,” which tells you precisely nothing. They are sometimes compared to Mumford & Sons, and are very different to the standard-sounding pop tunes so many countries send to the competition, which we found appealing. Douze points!
Maltese wine dates back two thousand years to the Phoenicians, and the country’s wines compete with the best in the world. There are only two native grape varieties, Gellewza (red) and Girgentina (white), but both are overshadowed by popular international varieties that thrive in the country’s quintessentially Mediterranean climate. There are only a handful of wine producers, but the quality can be exceptional. Delicata’s 2013 vintage Medina Rosé Grenache
, for example, just won a bronze medal in Bordeaux at the 2014 Challenge International du Vin. The Grenache Noir grapes used for this wine are picked from selected family-run vineyards and make a delicate, dry, fruity wine suitable for drinking chilled, on its own or with food.
And that’s the lot!
Tune in on Saturday night to see Poland single-handedly saving the butter churn industry, a back-up dancer trapped in the hamster wheel of death, a lady with a beard, and a cheeky bit of whistling. It only comes around once a year!