The EURO 2012 soccer tournament is officially underway. What a great time of year for sports fans everywhere. Like the World Cup, we are only treated to the EURO tournament once every 4 years, where anticipation and excitement culminate in 4 incredible weeks of soccer. Loyalties to one’s home country are at an all time high. Soccer fanatics are braced for triumph and defeat and debates over who will prevail are everywhere. Then of course there are the office pools, where fans will do a copious amount of research to decide who will advance and eventually take the tournament.
Then there’s me…. You see I like soccer. I don’t follow the game closely or study the players or teams, but I certainly enjoy the sport. So once every couple years I get to enjoy quality soccer in the form of either the World Cup or the EURO tournament and I go along for the ride. But as I just said I only “like” soccer… I “love” wine. So like many others I decided to join my office pool. I put my $10 down and submitted my bracket. But unlike many others I did zero soccer research. I don’t know a single player on any team. I know which countries are supposed to be good, and I know which countries are perennial contenders, but none of that factored into my decision making at all. I picked my entire bracket based on wine regions and my take on who is producing the best quality wine in Europe.
So ladies and gentlemen I give you the projected winner of the 2012 EURO soccer tournament… ITALY!!!
Let me break it down for you in true expert analysis fashion.
Coming out of Group A: Greece & Russia.
Group A is by far the lightest on quality wine producing regions but Greece and Russia emerge. Admittedly I don’t have much knowledge or experience with Russian wine (Vodka yes) but I did a bit of research and they are 11th in the world in wine production. Good enough for me to come out of a group that also features Poland (not even in the top 50) and the Czech Republic (32nd in the world, right behind Canada). Not the toughest group to get out of. Greek wine on the other hand is something we see in Canada from time to time. They rank 15th in the world in total production and have three phenomenal and popular noble grape varieties in Assyrtiko (white), Xinomavro (red) and Agiorghitiko (red). They are excellent food wines with Greek cuisine and you should expect to see more and more of them available in the Canadian marketplace in the years ahead.
Coming out of Group B: Germany & Portugal
The so called “group of death” is perhaps the toughest group from a soccer perspective. With the 4th ranked (favoured in many circles) Netherlands team and 10th ranked Denmark in addition to Germany and Portugal. From a wine perspective however, this is another no brainer with Germany and Portugal prevailing. The Germans produce some of the finest Rieslings anywhere in the world and are universally recognized as such. Plus they are now producing some interesting red wines with Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir) emerging as their #1 red. Portugal is another easy pick as not many countries can boast having an entire classification of wine style named after them. Port wine is popular around the globe and comes from one of the oldest and most beautiful wine regions anywhere (The Douro Valley). Sorry to the heavily favoured Dutch, but this one is no contest.
Coming out of Group C: Italy & Spain
If my bracket was based on Beer I would possibly have Ireland winning it all, but with all due respect to the Irish and the Croatians they don’t hold a candle to the wine regions of Italy and Spain. Two of the 3 old world giants (along with France) Italy and Spain are dominant on the world wine scene. Italy ranks second in terms of wine production and houses some of the most famous wines around from regions like Barolo, Chianti, Valipolicella and on and on. Spain ranks 3rd in terms of wine production producing some of the finest Grenache and Tempranillo based wines anywhere in the world. If I’m not mistaken these are also two pretty good soccer countries every year so perhaps this strategy is going to work out.
Coming out of Group D: England and France
France is an absolute lock to come of this or any group. The #1 wine country in the world in terms of production. With regions like Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne, France features some of the most established and recognized wines ever to be produced, commanding some of the highest price points. So France is a done deal. For the second seed however we have England, Sweden, and the Ukraine. Believe it or not the Ukraine is actually the highest of the 3 in terms of total production at #19. However none are really that well recognized for quality wine production. So here is why England comes out of the group for me. The English are some of the largest consumers of wine (#9 in the world), with many of the most notable wine critics being English. Plus the WSET wine curriculum (which I happen to be a student of) is the most well recognized wine education around the world. That curriculum is established and based in London. Good enough for me.
The Quarter Finals:
Greece vs. Portugal
The classic old world Port wines versus what I would consider to be an up and coming European wine country in Greece. As I mentioned above Greek wines can be of exceptional quality and may soon be more prevalent on the world scene. But Portugal is a wine powerhouse. Anybody who knows anything about wine has heard of Port which by law can only come from Portugal. Unfortunately at this point in time the Greeks are nowhere near that status. This one goes to the Portuguese.
Spain vs. England
Though for me England escaped the first round on an education technicality they have no business even being in a wine match-up with Spain. This one goes to Spain in a blow-out. The soccer equivalent of a 6-0 loss.
Russia vs. Germany:
See the Spain vs England clarification above. The only difference being this one probably scores more like 8 or 9-0 in favour of Germany.
Italy vs. France:
Wow! This match-up would be reserved for the finals in any other wine based argument. The two most powerful wine countries in the world, even if you expand this beyond just Europe, and I have them meeting in the second round. You have Bordeaux, Burgundy, The Loire, Rhone, Champagne, Cognac, and the Languedoc facing off against Chianti, Barolo, Brunello, Valipoliocella, and Amarone. As far as total wine production is concerned Italy and France jockey for the #1 and #2 spots every single year. The same is true if you look at total exports and total consumption around the world. Not sure which team is better on the soccer field but in the wine world this match-up definitely goes down to penalty kicks and extra penalty kicks at that. It’s such a tough call I have no choice but to lean totally on personal preference. Though I love French wines, I slightly prefer Italian wines. I have declared Chianti (and the Sangiovese grape) to be one of my favourite regions anywhere in the world. Plus as an added bonus I largely prefer Italian cuisine to French cuisine, and wine and food go hand in hand for me. So the edge goes to Italy.
Portugal vs. Spain:
From a Soccer perspective this stands to be a pretty good game… I think. Portugal is ranked #5 in the world and Spain is the top ranked team in the tournament. So perhaps this wine logic is not such a bad way to pick a soccer bracket. Here we have a classic old world match-up of neighbouring countries producing very similar wines in many ways. The River Douro even extends into both countries with top wineries parked along the river on both sides of the border. For me Portugal hangs its hat on Port wine as I have mentioned. They do produce quality red and white wines, but they are not overly common in North America. Spain on the other hand produces tons of quality wine and gets the edge on the world scene simply based on quality. This is by no means a blow-out, but Spain is heading to the finals.
Italy vs. Germany:
Another absolutely classic match-up of two European wine powerhouses and I give full credit to Germany. If you compared the two based on white wine and sweet wine then Germany wins by a landslide. But as soon as you factor in red wine Italy dominates. There is no question. Plus once you have taken out France in a wine battle you are going to be tough to beat. Italy is heading to the finals.
Spain vs. Italy:
So there you have it after a long and thoughtful deliberation process I have determined the two top wine producing countries for EURO 2012 to be Spain and Italy. If I didn’t make this bracket based on wine but based on soccer, this might still be a pretty good final. However based solely on wine it’s an excellent final. I love Spanish Grenache and in terms of total bang for your buck you would be hard pressed to rival Spain, save maybe Chile and Argentina, but they’ll come up when we analyze the World Cup in two years. But at the end of the day bias shines through. Italian wines are the king of Europe in my eyes and for that they are officially towineman’s 2012 EURO champions!!
Side Note: Germany takes the consolation prize for third place with their victory over Portugal.
Stay tuned to the tournament to see how this plays out. I will certainly post the results when the tournament ends on July 1st.
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