Tuesday, November 30, 2004

TORB on the Parkerizing of Australia
Robert Parker Jr. recently released Issue #155 of The Wine Advocate (TWA) with a review of hundreds of Australian wines. As I have noted in previous posts Parker severely criticized much of the Australian wine industry for producing wines with:-

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”.

Ric Einstein (aka TORB) has recently posted his review of Parker’s assessment of the state of the Aussie wine industry. Ric’s comments have particular value as he has a lengthy experience with Australian wine and is passionate about his subject; who else would spend 3 days tasting their way around Wine Australia 2004? He makes some interesting observations on what may just be the rumblings of journalistic combat between Parker and Australian wine writers. Given the growing importance of Australian wine in the world it makes sense that Parker will try to position himself as the premier taster/writer on Australian wine.

There is also a very sharply focused discussion with Peter Taylor (Executive General Manager, Winemaking) of Southcorp about the criticism Parker leveled at the Penfolds and Rosemount brands. Acidity, anyone!

The most interesting point Ric raises is the one that I’ve obliquely addressed here previously, and that is the identity of the 70% of wines reviewed by Parker that did not make the grade. Ric’s comment on this! “When you knock back 70% of all wines reviewed, it is just as important for a ‘consumer advocate’ who, by definition, is meant to be looking after his customers’ interests, to let them know what should be avoided as well as what they should be looking to purchase. But is Parker all about being a ‘consumer advocate’ or looking after himself first and foremost? I would hazard a guess that his number one priority is selling his publications and being a ‘consumer advocate’ comes a distant second.” TWA #155 does not list how many wines were tasted or recommended. Previous Australian issues of TWA have done so; Issue#143, 535 out of 1,367; Issue #148, 636 out of 1,223. Ric indicates that “about 795” wines were rated in #155. That would mean that over 2,600 wines were tasted. Twice the previous tasting figures!

Ric notes that Parker has a rather limited experience with Aussie wine. “His Australian experience is not very lengthy. It only really surfaced and came to readers’ attention with the fabled 1998 vintage so he has only been reviewing Australian wines for about six years.” I can’t confirm this as I’ve not taken much notice of Mr Parker myself except for the last year or two (and I’ve been seriously collecting wine for over 25 years). However Parker himself does note in TWA #148 that he was buying Petaluma reds 20 years ago. Interestingly he decries those wines for their acid levels and calls them “nearly undrinkable” as they age.

And with that a final note. I'm continually surprised that so many take such single minded notice of one man's palate, irrespective of its consistency, or wealth of experience. In wine tasting class after wine tasting class, at the feet of all the experts, from cellar door and wine shop staff the world over, comes the mantra “don’t worry about what others might say, if you like the wine then that is all that matters”. Even Parker himself says “there can never be any substitute for your own palate nor any better education than tasting the wine yourself.”

I think its getting near time that I go back and review the scientific literature that shows just how variable we all are when it comes to tasting. But before that how about a vist to the Barossa Valley and a little wine tasting? Want to come along?

Friday, November 26, 2004

Thanksgiving - Celebrating with Gay Wine
What did you celebrate Thanksgiving with? We had our turkey with all the fixin's, wonderfully prepared by Miranda, with Russian Hills Estate 2001 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. But before sitting down to that we decided to get just a little bit gay and sample Pansy! Pansy! is a rose produced by Kim Crawford Wines of New Zealand to either thank their gay friends in the hospitality industry, or as a bit of fun, or both. In any event its an interesting little wine the composition of which seems to change from year to year; 2002 was predominately Merlot with Cabernet Franc and a little late harvest chardonnay, 2003 Pinot Noir, and 2004 again predominately Merlot this time with a little Malbec. It has a wonderful cherry soda color and is indeed a fruity little number, giving off aromas of strawberries and sweet candy. It finishes with a hint of sweetness.

Oh, go on! You know you really do want to try it!
Grange - the Flawed Champion of Australian Wine
"Grange is more the product of old vineyards and ultra-ripe Shiraz fruit made in a fashion by Max Schubert, and became a trademark of Penfolds, than it is of the places from whence it is derived", said Petaluma's Brian Croser speaking at the Wine Press Club Sydney, on the eve of Wine Australia 2004.

Croser pointed out, there was a whole generation of ultra-ripe Shiraz wines "riding the wave of high scores with the all-powerful Robert Parker who loves the ultra ripe wines of any part of the world". Croser added: "They are legitimate fine wine expressions, even though not terroir driven.''Croser called on the industry to recognise Australia's great terroir aspects, such as very old geology and soils, long intense sunshine hours and clean, dry air – "don't let the apologists claim those differences as disadvantages in the quest for the world's finest; they are an essential part of our uniqueness". MORE->

Its been my impression that the big push toward fruit forward wines was simply an attempt to Grange-ify Aussie wines; especially after Wine Spectator made it Wine of the Year in 1995. I wonder which Aussie winemakers will sit up and take notice of Croser? More importantly which ones will thumb their noses and argue that their premium wines do express terroir?

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Something (Relatively) Old, Something New
Twelve Staves McLaren Vale Shiraz 2002 $29.99USD
Cherry red with pink edge. Initially quite closed. Inky, caromel, earthy notes opening to stewed blackberries. Full bodied, very chewy with persistent tannins. Well balanced with an extra long finish. 2, 2, 3.6, 10.2 = 17.8. 15% alcohol. Tasted November 10.

The inky, earth notes of the Twelve Staves put me in mind of (poorly) aged Penfolds St Henri shiraz and seeing as how I have so much of the stuff sitting in the cellar with the corks crumbling I decided to pull out a bottle to compare. What did I do to the wine Gods? This time the cork comes out in one piece!!

Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 1992 $21.99USD
Light cherry red with faint orange edge. Initially faint caromel and kerosene! Developed into minty, resinous, licorice notes. Medium weight but not carrying completely across the palate. Otherwise structurally sound with a solid backbone of tannins and good acidity. Persistent finish. 2, 2, 3.4, 9.5 = 16.9. 13.5% alcohol. Tasted November 10.

Comparisons, comparisons!!
In color the St Henri is not a lighter red hue its a lighter brown hue compared to the Twelve Staves. Up against the St Henri the Twelve Staves is all chocolate and on the palate much richer and more seductive. The inky, earthy notes are still there but now the differences between the two wines are more evident. In contrast the St Henri is clearly lacking the fruit forward character of the Twelve Staves but the palate is full and holding its own. Certainly not as rich, and perhaps a little sour acidity does show through, but not as badly behaved for a 12 year old as I had expected.

The take home message? Whenever you get the chance, compare wines.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Psst, wanna buy Kalleske? Cheap!
Kalleske is probably the best, and certainly the most recent, example in my experience of the consumer being taken to the cleaners by retailers. If you do a search using Wine Searcher you never find very many retailers listed as dealing in Kalleske wines. What you do find is significant price differences. The most reasonable is Cork and Bottle - sold out of the not yet released 2003 shiraz at $45USD/btl. Old Town Wine Co will give you a discount of 1 cent from $100USD for the same wine (presale). And Cripes, I mean, Grapes The Wine Company - "founded in the fall of 1997 with the intention of making the world´s greatest wines more accessible" wants $125USD/btl for the 2003 Kalleske shiraz. Even with the current exchange rates these prices make the $80AUD starting prices on Wickman's Fine Wine Auctions seem reasonable. Additionally you also have to weigh these outrageous USD prices against the simple fact that there is just so much excellent Aussie wine available. Then there is the overwhelming amount of local stuff, and all that French, Italian, German, etc., etc. The supply never really ends here in the USA. The fortunate thing for the retailers who do sell at these high prices is that, especially on the East Coast, the market is a bottomless pit for low production, high scoring wines. They can charge almost anything and someone will pay it.

Whether the folks who buy these wines have a history of buying Aussie wines, whether they will drink the wine, and whether they will then actually talk about it is another matter. Check out Ric Einstein's note about Hill of Grace on his Drops 'n Dregs page at Torb Wine. Ric found very few tasting notes on HoG, most were from the USA, and most from first time drinkers. Its probably reasonable to argue that we may never get a real idea of how some of these new low production wines from Australia, like Kalleske, age simply because they have gone into the cellars of people who are collecting these wines based on points and not for what they represent. Hopefully the winery, or some of the more affluent serious Aussie shiraz drinkers, are laying a good number aside so that they can be assessed in 10, 20, 30, 40 years!

Monday, November 22, 2004

Shiraz, the ideal Christmas (Cake) Wine!
It is their love for both products that inspired a Wellington family to pair fruitcake and Shiraz as perfect partners for a special tasting experience. Their concept was awarded a Cape a la Carte Legend Award 2004 for the most memorable way in which the product was introduced. MORE->

One way to have your cake....and your shiraz!
James Hallidays 2004 Top 100 Australian Wines
From 1258 wines James Halliday has chosen his annual Top 100. And yes, you guess it, the Jim Barry 2002 The Lodge Hill Shiraz has been included in the wines under $20.
The National Wine Show of Australia
Results have been announced for the 2004 National Wine Show with the Trophy Presentation Dinner being held on the 18th of November 2004 in The Great Hall, Parliament House, Canberra. The results can be found here. Ric Einstein has also resorted some of the more interesting results on his Drops 'n Dregs page. Check out the awards given for the 2002 and 2003 shiraz, and compare them with the high flyers in Robert Parker, Jr's recent Wine Advocate. What, you don't find any similarities? That's strange! I wonder why that is?

Oh, and that Jim Barry 2002 The Lodge Hill Shiraz keeps on rising to near the top in the important tests, doesn't it?

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

PLoS Biology a peer-reviewed, open-access journal published by the Public Library of Science has had two pieces on taste in recent months. Taste Perception: Cracking the Code by Jane Bradbury looks at how researchers are beginning to unravel the mechanisms and connections that begins with taste buds and ends in the brain. The second article The Human Sense of Smell: Are We Better Than We Think? is by Gordon M. Shepherd. Two paragraphs are especially interesting for us wine lovers.

Being carried in with inhaled air (the orthonasal route) is not the only way for odor molecules to reach the olfactory receptor cells. Odor molecules also reach the olfactory receptor cells via the retronasal route, from the back of the oral cavity through the nasopharynx into the back of the nasal cavity. Although the orthonasal route is the one usually used to test for smell perception, the retronasal route is the main source of the smells we perceive from foods and liquids within our mouths. These are the smells that primarily determine the hedonic (i.e., pleasurable or aversive) qualities of foods, and that, combined with taste and somatosensation, form the complex sensation of fl avor. It is likely, for several reasons, that this is an important route for smell in humans.

So, all you hedonists, remember to breathe out through the nose when tasting wine, or anything for that matter.

Describing a smell or a taste in words is very demanding. A professional wine tasting, for example, requires many steps: analysing both orthonasal and retronasal perception, comparing the two in memory with each other and with all other wines to be compared, identifying the constituent properties separate from the hedonic qualities, and finding the words to describe the process as it unfolds, leading to the final formulation to characterize the quality of the wine and identify it as distinct from all others. It may be characterized as hard cognitive work that only a human, among all the animals with olfactory organs, can do. It may be argued that this is what humans are adapted to do.

We evolved to describe what we taste in wine. Well that's what this eBlog and most especially this one are for.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

There was virtually nothing from ...........Australia.
Robert Parker was recently interviewed by Ed Sands and Tom McKnew for the the Calvert-Woodley Fall 2004 Catalogue (November, 2004). The last question, No. 13, was, "What change in the world of wine in the past 25 years do you think has been the most profound?".

The answer? "There have been many changes over the last 26 years in the wine world, but I think the extraordinary proliferation of quality wines in all price ranges from so many different places in the world is the single greatest change. If you think back, 26 years ago, virtually all of the wines that were represented were from France and California, with only a tiny percentage from Spain and Italy. There was virtually nothing from South America or Australia. Today, there is such an extraordinary number of high quality wines, high quality importers, and educated consumers that it is exciting to realize just how far the world has progressed in a quarter of a century."

Maybe there was virtually nothing from Australia in the USA in 1978, but in Oz there was excellent wine covering both low and high end spectrums. Yes there has been improvement and a significant growth in the number of vineyards and wineries since then. But Oz has been making excellent wine for quite some time, just in case you might not have been aware RMP, Jr. Here are some links to Oz Wine Industry History!

Thursday, November 11, 2004

SONOMA COUNTY, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Nov. 11, 2004--The 2004 California-Australia Wine Shootout results can be viewed at Affairs of the Vine. Over 250 wines were critically reviewed. A panel of 14 wine professionals tasted the venerable California and Australian wines. Affairs of the Vine and Wine Works orchestrated this comparative judging.

California took top honors in six of the eleven categories and Australia in five. Australia prevailed in the Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah/Shiraz, Other Reds, and Dessert categories. California won top honors in Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Red Blends, Sauvignon Blanc, Sparkling Wines, and Other Whites.

Australia was the big winner in the Bang for Your Buck Wines - (72 wines selling for under $15) - the top 3 are Australian!

All results can be found here. I should note that Patrick Melley, Russian Hill Winery, Winemaker was on the Shootout Tasting Panel. Patrick knows his Syrah/Shiraz, no wonder the Aussies won. We won't hold him responsible for our favorite, the 2002 Jim Barry Lodge Hill Shiraz, coming in last in the Syrah/Shiraz group behind such notables as Yellow Tail, Lindemans Bin 50 (the Winner), or even Black Opal. Well, at least not until we've given him another chance to taste it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Gift of the Gods
Gatineau, Quebec, November 4, 2004 — Gift of the Gods: The Art of Wine from the Ancient World to Canadian Vineyards, a sensuous exhibition that explores the remarkable role of wine in culture, art and celebration in Western Europe and the New World, will open at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec on November 5, 2004.

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto organized Gift of the Gods to help visitors learn more about the myths, symbols and traditions associated with wine, wine drinking and their 7,000 year history. This richly textured story is brought to life by 250 outstanding wine-related artifacts, the majority from ROM collections, with additions from the collections of Brock University and Wilfrid Laurier University. The following are highlights of all the areas of the exhibition developed by the ROM. MORE->

Good old Dionysos, the god of wine and its pleasures for the Ancient Greeks, runs rampant throughout the exhibition. Which is only right for a such a sensuous exhibit.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The Miles and Jack Wine Tour, AKA The SIDEWAYS Wine Tour
Take a trip through Santa Barbara Wine Country. Follow the path explored by Miles and Jack in SIDEWAYS. Its all here. You also might want to look at Santa Barbara CA, and Santa Barbara County Vintners' Association.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Did You Know?

  • More than 100 new wine producers open their doors in Australia every year. (Even more wine to buy!)
  • The indent you see on the base of most wine bottles is called a punt. (I thought to punt was to kick a football, or place a bet, oh well so much for the Aussie slanguage.)
  • The belief that wine is a living thing is a fallacy. (That takes all the joy out of it, doesn't it?)
  • More than 700 chemical compounds in wine have been identified and named. (Now that's what I call a flavor library.)
  • Moderate wine drinking decreases both the risk of coronary heart disease and mortality rates in people over 40. (Praise be, and pass the bottle.) MORE->

Friday, November 05, 2004

"I like to think about the life of wine -- how it's a living thing"
"I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing, how the sun was shining that summer.... I think about all those people who tended and picked the grapes... I love how wine continues to evolve, how every time I open a bottle it's going to taste different than if I had opened it on any other day. Because a bottle of wine is actually alive -- it's constantly evolving and gaining complexity.... And it tastes so f ---ing good." MORE->

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Sideways Clips
Clips for the movie Sideways are available on Yahoo! Movies. There are seven of them. Enjoy!
"May the world go from mines to vines."
This is an apolitical eBlog, but some things in the world of wine cross borders to impact seemingly distant spheres of life, such as this humanitarian effort.

Nov 2, 2004 RUTHERFORD, Calif. (AP) Heidi Kuhn tasted the fruits of her labors in September when she visited Croatia and sampled the first harvest from a vineyard that used to be a minefield. "We ate the grapes," she says. "We tasted peace." Kuhn is the founder of Roots of Peace, a humanitarian organization that is working to clear land mines and turn the earth back into farmland from Cambodia to Croatia -- a project that has drawn the support of several Napa Valley vintners. MORE->