With my suspicion of celebrity labels and limited interest in blokes kicking a bladder around a field, the offer of catching up with All Whites captain, Ryan Nelsen for the launch of his "RN Wines" wasn't an immediately exciting proposition.

However, I decided to put my preconceptions and lack of love for soccer aside, accepted the invitation and presented myself at the Fine Wine Delivery Company for lunch with Nelsen and his wines.

As proceedings kicked off, it was announced that the star of the soccer field - both here and in Britain where he plays for premier league Queens Park Rangers - was not in the building.

In fact, he wasn't even in the country as his British team had barred him from travel following a knee injury, which had not only scuppered his wine's media launch, but potentially the games he was booked to play, in Tahiti and his original hometown of Christchurch.


Not an auspicious start if Nelsen wanted to win me over to his vinous cause, but the wines were there for the tasting and his business manager Hamish Miller and Jeff Poole from the Fine Wine Delivery Company - a partner in this joint venture - were there to explain the missing links between football and wine.

It's not the most obvious combination. Having grown up in football-mad Britain myself, as far as I was aware the alcohol with which the game was most regularly associated was beer, with the wine connection that first sprang to mind being the glamour model, Chardonnay Lane-Pascoe, a character in the trashy TV drama, Footballer's Wives. So what was behind the creation of this footballer's wines, and why had the sport and its fans suddenly got wine savvy?

Nelsen's first foray into wine with Chairman's Reserve while playing for Blackburn was employed to help shift perceptions of the club away from its blue collar roots, Miller tells me.

Clubs like Manchester United and Chelsea get through "staggering amounts" of wine in their corporate hospitality, he said, with the new breed of soccer player increasingly likely to invest some of their sizeable incomes into imbibing more sophisticated libations.

Nelsen joins the swelling ranks of celebrities who have put their names to wines: from fellow sportsman Greg Norman - whose Australian label has been one of the most successful - to some more incongruous ventures, such as Motorhead Shiraz, which was banned by The State Alcohol and Tobacco Company of Iceland due to the heavy metal band's links to the excessive consumption of more illicit substances.

In some cases, these labels are simply an extension of a celebrity brand or a romantic vanity project. However, in the case of Nelsen, whose sister is a viticulturalist, it would appear to come from a genuine interest in wine, developed from the time he spent in the US and Britain, which awakened an interest in the wines from his home nation.

"This isn't a sportsperson thinking they have value in their brand so is sticking their name on a wine label," Miller explains "It came from his own passion and inspiration from his sister, Kirsten."

In creating "RN" wines, Nelsen - who was uncomfortable with splashing his name across the brand - would appear to have got serious about creating a wine brand with some longevity. He's hooked up with the respected Fine Wine Delivery Company, had input into the styles and wines themselves and is embarking on long-term partnerships with a selection of leading wine producers around the country who make the different varieties under the label. The ultimate proof of the validity of the project lay with the wines in our glasses, which, I can report, were no own goal.

RN Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011 $19.99
You don't need to be on premier league wages to afford the wines in Nelsen's good value range, such as this fragrant sauvignon, with its classic notes of succulent passion fruit, lime and Mediterranean herbs. (From Fine Wine Delivery Company.)

RN Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2011 $25.99
Rich notes of nectarine fruit and butterscotch are underpinned by a citrusy freshness in a chardonnay that's way classier than the variety's namesake in Footballer's Wives. (From Fine Wine Delivery Company.)

RN Central Otago Pinot Noir 2011 $29.99
Tangy cherry and plum fruit combine with notes of smoke, spice, thyme and earth in the light bright red of the range. (From Fine Wine Delivery Company.)