Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Seventy Percent of Australian Wines Do Not Make The Grade, According to Robert Parker, Jr.
In his comments on Australian wine under the title Australia: Thunder From Down Under Robert Parker Jr. notes in Issue #155 of The Wine Advocate that 70% of the wines he tasted “did not make the grade”. The reasons listed were

1) “to much American oak obliterating any fruit or charm,
2) chemistry class wines with so much added acidity they were undrinkable because of tart, clipped, and shrill personalities, and
3) industrial, diluted, manufactured wines of no depth, character, or soul”.

The winery that bore the brunt of this verbal assault was Penfolds. Parker declined to recommend the 2002 Riesling Reserve Bin, 2001 Bin 407, 2000 St Henri, 2001 Bin 389 and Bin 128 “because their acid levels were beyond acceptable ranges (for my palate)”. In reference to the 2001 Chardonnay Yattarna Penfolds wine makers were accused of producing “muted, acidified, industrial, wine selling at an absurd price”. Penfolds winemakers were described as “oenologists connecting the dots and making wines by the numbers”. The wines that were reviewed, 2001 RWT, Magill, and Bin 707 were also roundly criticized as overly acidic and all received 87 points. Only the 1999 Grange scored above the magical 90 points.

Is Parker correct in his assessment? What do others say of the Penfolds line-up? Wine Spectator gave the 2001 Yattarna a 93, the 2001 RWT a 94, the 2001 Magill a 91, the Bin 707 a 91, the 2000 St Henri a 91, the Bin 389 a 88, the Bin 128 a 89, and the Bin 407 a 87. Now, of course the tired old argument will go up that Wine Spectator always gives higher points than Parker. But that is easily countered by a simple comparison of the numbers. The Kalleske 2002 shiraz received 88 from WS, but 96 from WA, 2002 Clarendon Hill Liandra Syrah received 89 from WS and 93 from WA, 2002 Mitolo Shiraz Jester received 85 from WS and 90 from WA, 2002 Henry’s Drive Shiraz received 88 from WS and 93 from WA. Oh, you want more! OK, how about D’Arenberg 2002 Galvo Garage 82 versus 91, 2002 Sticks and Stones 83 versus 93, 2002 Ironstone Pressings 87 versus 93+.

I could do this all day, but I think the point is made. There are differences in palate preference between the two publications, and that’s why the numbers differ. What is more to the point is that the Wine Spectator tasting notes (Sept 30, 2004) on the Bin 707, RWT, Magill, and St Henri, do not mention excessive acidity. Ric Einstein, who has been tasting Australian red wine for so long that he no longer sees white, recently assessed many of the Penfolds wines and did not come away complaining of overly acidic wines. Having tasted the 2001 RWT myself, I can only echo his assessment of this excellent wine.

So where do these divergent opinions leave the rest of the wine world? Well, the next time you are in your local wine shop and you see those lonely bottles of Australian wines that have been relegated to the corner of the store because they didn't make it into The Wine Advocate, walk on over and pick one or two up and take them home. You make the decision whether they have any depth, character or soul.

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