Competition between England and New Zealand ratcheted up ahead of their ICC World Cup Cricket clash, with teams already going head to head on Thursday (19 Feb) in the 'Battle of the Bubbles'.
International wine identity Oz Clarke went Down Under to lead a team of 12 English sparkling wines (11 players and a “twelfth man”) onto the field for the cricket-themed blind tasting. Opposing him was Master of Wine Jane Skilton, captaining a line-up of 12 New Zealand bubbles. England cricket all-rounder David “Bumble” Lloyd and former BLACKCAPS captain Stephen Fleming lent moral support for their respective sides.
The one-day wine ‘friendly’, played out at a waterfront venue in Wellington against a brilliant backdrop of harbour, cityscape and sky, yielded an early display of the gamesmanship typical of sporting encounters between the traditional rivals – without resort to sledging or underarm antics.
England and New Zealand both rose to the challenge of demonstrating that their cold-climate sparkling wines are world-class players, poised to take on the wine world’s heavy hitters.
Cultural and culinary capital acclaim
Meanwhile, the host city, nestled between two great New Zealand wine-growing regions, Marlborough and the Wairarapa, showed off the style that has won it international acclaim as a cultural and culinary capital. It’s no secret that Wellington loves to party, and the world’s coolest little capital was in sparkling good form. Its global billing as Wellywood, home to acclaimed filmmaker Peter Jackson and production capital for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies and other blockbuster movies, reveals the taste for drama, on and off the field.
It’s fair to say that the Battle of the Bubbles hit Wellington’s visitors for six. The captains and their fellow judges scored out of 20, competition standard, to select the best team from the 24 possibilities, and the player of the day.
Oz Clarke, sporting his Kings Canterbury school colours and Lord's Taverners tie, said he’d come to town with the spirit of fair play at the fore. The former Babes of Kent cricketer declared that “sparkling wine makes you feel witty and attractive and sexy – and that’s why you want to drink it”. He said New Zealand has become one of the world’s great wine nations, and he’d love to see England get to where New Zealand is today.
Former Briton Jane Skilton agreed the standard of the day’s play was extraordinarily high, and proved you should never under-estimate the opposition.
The official result: New Zealand and England are an even match – off the cricket field, at least. In what may prove to be a portend for what unfolds at the ‘Cake Tin’, as Wellington’s Westpac Stadium is known, the final result was declared a draw - the blind tasting had selected six wines from each side. The judges were stumped. It was, all agreed, not the result hoped for on the field!
Happily for the visitors, and with potential to put the Kiwis in a spin, the 'man of the match' was declared the Wyfold Brut 2010, from the Chiltern Hills.
Stephen Fleming insisted that result was a one-off, and would have no bearing on what happens on the pitch. But he said the side that’s least comfortable is most likely to prevail and the BLACKCAPS, with two wins already under their belt, are in a dangerous position. With England wounded and desperate to show a return to good health, the Kiwis will be vulnerable.
David “Bumble” Lloyd said he’d already seen an omen in the streets of Wellington. Earlier in the day, while out and about tracking down the city’s oldest pub, the Thistle, he’d been surprised to find his way to a street named Ballance. He therefore predicted Gary Balance will be top scorer in England’s winning result.
And, gazing deeper into his crystal ball, Lloyd announced that in his next life, he’s coming to live in New Zealand. He would never tire, he said, of the scenery, wineries, fishing, the lifestyle and the possibilities for playing sport. Napier was his city of choice, he said. A bystander was heard to mutter, “That would be on account of its short pitch.”
England takes on the BLACKCAPS at Westpac Stadium today (20 February at 2pm.
New Zealand wines will face off against an Australian team next week in Auckland.