Did you catch soccer fever during the World Cup this summer? That there's a large wine-loving contingent among the players shouldn't be a surprise. After all, many soccer hot spots overlap with major wine-producing regions: among the countries home to the sport's top booters, Argentina, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain are all home to world-class wines as well. With the Major League Soccer season now in full swing, associate editor Robert Taylor checked in with two American soccer stars to learn how they got interested in wine and how playing soccer has introduced them to some of the world's best wine regions.
Three-time World Cup Team member Brian McBride played for the U.S. National team from 1993 to 2006, appearing in the World Cup in 1998, 2002 and 2006. In 2004, McBride and his family moved to England, where he joined Fulham of the English Premier League, arguably the world's most competitive soccer league. He is currently a forward for Major League Soccer's Chicago Fire.
Wine Spectator: How did you become interested in wine?
Brian McBride: I was doing strength and speed training [in the late '90s with the MLS' Columbus Crew] and it was a Friday, and the trainer invited me to join him at a wine bar. I wasn't into wine, but I tagged along. We had Seaview Shiraz. I was like, "Wow, this is good; this is different."
WS: How did moving to Europe affect your wine interests?
BM: Here I was, getting pretty comfortable with my knowledge of California Cabs, and then we moved to England. I knew nothing about French and Italian wine, but I got experience with them, which was pretty neat. We also started enjoying some really nice restaurants in England; our favorite by far was Nobu in London.
WS: What's in your wine collection?
BM: We've got over 600 bottles of wine. Right now it's mostly California Cabs, but I've been getting into Syrahs like Saxum, James Berry Vineyards. And we have birth-year Bordeaux for my daughters.
All-time American scoring leader Landon Donovan is perhaps the most celebrated American soccer player ever, and has been a member of the U.S. National team since 2000. He first played professionally in Germany at age 17. Currently, he plays forward for MLS' Los Angeles Galaxy, a position he's held since 2005. He is the all-time leader in both goals and assists for the U.S. National team, the most recent of which was a breathtaking extra-time strike against Algeria to give the United States team both the victory and its first-ever first-place finish in a World Cup group stage.
Wine Spectator: You began playing internationally before you turned 18. Did you get a lot of exposure to wine?
Landon Donovan: My first wine experience was not the best. I was coming home from Argentina and had a little too much wine on the plane, got sick. I told myself I was never going to drink wine again. When I first went to Germany ... meeting kids my age [around 17] was interesting because in America, alcohol is so taboo, but in those European cultures, even with the kids, they're not out getting wasted; there's not a big mystery to it like there is here.
WS: What was your first eye-opening moment with fine wine?
LD: My first real wine experience happened in a meeting with Tim Leiweke, who is the owner of [the Galaxy]. We met at the Ritz-Carlton in Marina Del Rey about a contract, and Tim is a big Opus One fan, and he kind of turned me on to wine that night, because I never realized how good it could be.
WS: What are you drinking these days?
LD: When we go out as a team, more often than not it's a steak house, and bottles of Jordan and Cakebread are big favorites with all of us.