The Wine World Cup Final: It Should be a Grape Game
It’s occurred to me rather late in the day that a committed wine-drinking footballing blogger could have had a field day (pun fully intended) predicting this World Cup.
Look at the countries left behind in the Group State and you’ll see that there was barely a respected wine nation in there. (The USA are the obvious exception that proved this rule.) Think then about the results in the Second Round and tell me that every game didn’t go in favor of the greater wine nation. Argentina over Mexico; Germany over Sweden; England over Ecuador; Portugal over Holland; Ukraine and Switzerland battling souleslly through their mutual lack of wine repute until penalties settled the score; Italy in a suitably close win over up-and-coming wine nation Australia; France ultimately seeing off Spain in a battle of two wine-producing powerhouses; and Brazil suitably trouncing Ghana.
In case you wonder, England and Brazil both produce reasonable wines (read my reviews here and here), but on reflection, it was perfectly obvious that these two nations would have to go out in the Quarter-Finals to the infinitely superior vignerons of, respectively, Portugal and France. Likewise the Ukraine against Italy and, in a fiercely fought battle between Old World and New World, Argentina’s entertaining upstarts against Germany’s freshly marketed traditionalists.
The semi-finals brought us down to four of the greatest wine nations but ultimately played out to form. For while German Rieslings are without parallel in the white wine world, and while Portugal has an entire style of wine named after it, neither country will ever win a substantial taste test against the two biggest wine-producing and wine-consuming nations on earth: Italy and France, who will duly face each other in the Wine World Cup Final this Sunday July 9.
Had I thought up this formula prior to the World Cup I could have made an absolute fortune at the bookies. Unfortunately, I was trying to judge teams by their footballing skills, which is why I’ve called almost every game wrong so far.
Picking a winner out of Italy and France, then, focusing on the grape rather than the ball, is difficult. Going by the last statistics I could find, France is the global #1 in wine production and consumption, Italy remains close behind at #2. Italy grows a wider variety of grapes for its wines than any other nation; a higher percentage of these grapes are indigenous than any other nation can claim (think Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Dolcetta, and Ribola for starters ); and, certainly, when it comes to enjoying the great wines of Barolo, Barbaresca and Chianti, it’s momentarily impossible to think of anywhere better on this fair earth.
Until one thinks of France, that is. France is the spiritual home to all the world’s most traveled grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Viognier to name but a few. Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhone and Champagne have set standards for terroir that the rest of the world will likely never emulate; and even though the French are drinking less wine these days and selling less of it too – blame all those exciting imports from the New World – the words “French” and “wine” go together as naturally “Zinedine” and “Zidane”.
I love Italian wine. But I feel like I still have a lifetime’s education ahead of me before I can fully claim to understand and appreciate it. Whereas with French wine, I feel like I already have a certain appreciation and knowledge. Perhaps this is just because I’ve been to several French vineyards whereas I haven’t been to Italy in twenty years. Maybe it’s because the grapes grown in France are grown all over the world, whereas most of those grown in Italy remain so stubbornly regional. Maybe it’s marketing. Maybe it’s history. Maybe it’s terroir. And maybe it’s taste.
But for all those reasons and more, I’ll tip France to win on Sunday. Yet if Italy squeezes in with the last drop, I’ll raise my hat – and my bottle-opener – to a nation raised on wine, football, women and song. It should be a grape game.