Simon Burnton analyses Italy’s wine making pedigree and their chances in the 2014 World Cup
Catenaccio. Italy’s great contribution to the footballing lexicon. It translates literally as door bolt, and refers to a highly tactical method of ensuring that entire matches pass by with no goalscoring chances being created whatsoever. This is their gift to the game. England is the home of football, Brazil play with smiles on their faces, Germany win on penalties, but Italians are the great tacticians. Bear with me here, there’s a mildly desperate wine analogy just around the corner.
Where football has tactics, wine has structure. A combination of tannin, acidity and, well, various other bits and bobs – flavour comes into it somewhere – it is structure that gives a wine its capacity to age. But tannins soften and fade over time, and wines designed to be drunk years or decades after their release often aren’t an enormous amount of fun when they’re first made. They are kind of like Italy’s 2006 World Cup winners, initially undelightful, whose achievements will become more appreciated over time.
Italian World Cup Successes…
Italy’s great red wines – Barolo from Piedmont in the north, Brunello from Tuscany’s heartland and the Supertuscans from Bolgheri near its Mediterranean coast – fit this mould to the tee. Like the nation’s great club and national sides, these are expensively put together, technically immaculate, and enormously and deservedly successful. As Dino Zoff, the goalkeeper who won the 1982 World Cup at the age of 40, said during that competition: “Goalkeepers are like the wines from my country. Some you keep in the cellar and when they get old they’re better. Their quality is greater.”
As it happens, Nereo Rocco, the Italian who brought catenaccio to Italy and duly won two league titles and two European Cups with Milan in the 1960s, was a great winelover. It’s not surprising, as Italy is the world’s second-greatest (in quantity, at least) wine-growing nation, after France. The vine’s tendrils are long enough to touch most branches of Italian life, and football has not been immune. Andrea Pirlo is perhaps the team’s most famous winelover, with a family vineyard near Brescia. “I’ve always drunk wine, ever since I was little,” he says. “I like to read about wine, to understand it, to try wines from other regions, other labels.” There’s plenty of competition from current and former players, even if the Paolo Rossi who makes wine in Tuscany, including Sting’s Chianti, disappointingly appears to be unrelated to the 1982 World Cup top scorer.
In modern World Cups Italy have tended to either massively disappoint or ridiculously overachieve. In 2006 and 1982 they were not considered likely winners but ended the tournaments bathed in glory, while their efforts in 2010 and 2002 were brief and inglorious, featuring respectively a draw against New Zealand followed by defeat to Slovakia, and group-stage defeat to Croatia followed by an ugly, ill-tempered and highly embarrassing failure against South Korea.
Italian World Cup Failures…
It’s the unpredictable swinging between explosive activity and long periods of dormancy that makes the national football team’s ideal wine match not one of Italy’s great classics but something from the foothills of the volcano Mount Etna, a historically obscure winegrowing region which currently finds itself the centre of the Italophile wine-hipster’s attention. Frappato, one local grape, makes wines that can be delicious, if a little lightweight. As it happens Etna recently exploded into its first major eruption since 1992, but whether Cesare Prandelli’s side will blow hot or cold against England and the rest next summer remains emphatically uncertain.
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