New Zealand vs Mexico: Whatever’s best, right now, is all that matters.
England invented the game of football, and some would say their team should be treated with a little deference as a result. Instead, big-headed Swedish strikers strut about scoring 40-yard overhead kicks against them. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s wondergoal in last year’s friendly was a brilliant but fundamentally disrespectful act, like drawing a particularly intricate phallus on the forehead of the pope. Meanwhile Spain are venerated, despite having won nothing but a distant 1964 European Championships, a curious little competition in which they hosted the final rounds and Luxembourg – Luxembourg – beat the Netherlands on their way to the quarter-finals, before their blossoming over the last decade. Whoever’s best, right now, is all that matters.
Wine, like football, has little regard for history. They have been growing grapes in Mexico since at least 1521 and continue to do so, mainly in the very north of Baja California, the little bit that drops down their west coast like an icicle from a snowman’s nose, but even though it was Europeans who first planted them, we’re no longer very interested in what the Mexicans make with them.
Just like with footballers – who have played in 14 World Cups and last failed to qualify for a tournament they were actually allowed to enter back in 1982 – they’ve been producing decent stuff for years, we just don’t see a lot of it over here. Javier Hernandez, permanently about to blossom at Manchester United, the ultimately-disappointing Arsenal wonderkid Carlos Vela, a glimpse of late-career Jared Borgetti at Bolton: the list of recent successes is horribly short and their wines are even harder to find, although a red blend called Estapor Veneer – “full-bodied, liquorice-filled and velvety on the finish” – is available in the UK about £11 if you hunt around, and a producer called L.A. Cetto has a variety of wines that you can find with a little hunting, starting at £7.95.
Decent Kiwi footballers are even rarer and less successful than Mexicans, though the All Whites were led in the last World Cup by Rory Fallon, then of Plymouth and now of St Johnstone, and the latest star of their front line is Chris Wood, upon whom Leicester lavished £1.5m last January. The two countries’ wine-making histories are even more of a contrast: New Zealand got their first grapes in 1881 and introduced Sauvignon Blanc into Marlborough in 1973. A my-history’s-longer-than-yours brag-off between them would be a total mismatch: half a millennium plays 40 years. But from your local corner shop to the most serious specialist, there’s not a person in this country who sells wine and doesn’t have a Kiwi sauvignon or 10 in their line-up.
The New Zealand sauvignon blanc is the great entertainer of the wine world, the go-to choice of the British wedding organiser, the vinous equivalent of the Scandinavian central midfielder in the early years of the Premier League: not enormously expensive, guaranteed to do the job on the big occasion. The recent success of their wine industry has been down to natural gifts, innovation, clever commercial decisions and technical proficiency, as they’ve come from nowhere to become serious players both locally and internationally. In terms of desperate wine-football analogies, which is something of a speciality around these parts, they’re something of a Swansea City.
The football teams of Mexico and New Zealand are about to play off for a single World Cup place: El Tri (that’s Mexico, by the way) are the overwhelming favourites, though their qualification campaign so far has been so ludicrously hapless that anything could happen. Whatever the result, whoever’s on the pitch, when people throw their World Cup parties next summer, I know what they’ll be putting in their glasses. And it won’t be liquorice-filled Baja Californian red blends. Whatever’s best, right now, is all that matters.
View all Simon’s Footballers’ Wines blogs here