Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Aussie Shiraz and a Nobel Prize
Its always cause for celebration when a Nobel Prize is won by Australian Scientists but the recent presentation of the 2005 prize for Physiology or Medicine to Professor Barry Marshall and Dr Robin Warren is of interest to this wine blog for several reasons. As Professor Staffan Normark said in the Presentation Speech of Marshall and Warren “Against prevailing dogmas, you discovered that one of the most common and important diseases of mankind, peptic ulcer disease, is caused by a bacterial infection of the stomach. Your discovery has meant that this frequently chronic and disabling condition can now be permanently cured by antibiotics to the benefit of millions of patients. Your pioneering work has also stimulated research all around the world to better understand the link between chronic infections and diseases such as cancer.”

I attended a scientific meeting in the mid-1980’s where data from the studies of Marshall and Warren was presented and I witnessed the dogma that was hurled at the idea that bacteria cause ulcers. It was not a pretty picture, certainly not a glowing indictment of the acceptance of innovative scientific investigation.

One other item stands out among the celebrations following the award of the 2005 prize to Marshall and Warren – the menu. Three wines were served. The Pommery Grand Cru Vintage 1995 Champagne, Le Dauphin de Guiraud 2002 Sauternes, and Penfolds RWT 2001 Barossa Valley. An Aussie Shiraz gets to share the celebrations! I’m sure that would have added to the pleasure of the two prize winners.

To my knowledge this is the first time that an Australian wine has been served at a Nobel Banquet, and it ends up being a Shiraz.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Happy Holidays
I would like to wish all of our regular (and irregular) readers all the best for the Holiday Season and 2006. We returned from Australia just before Christmas but, just like in Australia, time for blogging seems to be out of my reach. However as the year winds down I will be posting on our trip downunder, some amazing wines and the equally impressive winemakers that craft them. There will be notes on wines from the Mornington Peninsula, Barossa Valley, and some very interesting wines consumed with meals both grand and simple.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Downunder Bound
We are off to Australia on QANTAS Thursday night. First stop is Melbourne where I have to attend the Australasian Society of Immunology annual meeting. But before that starts in earnest we will take a trip out to the Mornington Peninsula to taste a few wines, mainly Pinot Noir. Visits are planned at Stonier Wines, Paringa Estate , Moorooduc Estate, Port Phillip Estate (and Kooyong) and then Dromana Estate. But Shiraz won’t be forgotten as we will be traveling to Adelaide late next week and have set up visits with Dutschke Wines and Winter Creek. We will probably drop in on a few other wineries as well, unannounced!

If things go as they have done in the past then my posts to Shiraz will be even more intermittent than usual as finding internet connections can be a problem. But this time I’m hoping to be able to add a few photos of our visit. I will also be posting personal diary-like notes to G'Day.
Wine Spectator 2005 Top 100
Another Top 100 wines of 2005 has hit my mailbox, this time it is from Wine Spectator. Their top wine is the 2002 Joseph Phelps Insignia from Napa. The 2002 Insignia is the wine that also came first in a recent tasting of Cabernet Sauvignon and blends held here in San Diego. Admittedly a much smaller tasting than the Wine Spectator has done over the last year, but it did show the quality of this wine.

But what about the most important wines? Well Australia had eleven wines in the top 100. Three were white wines (2 Chardonnay and 1 Riesling), with the remaining reds consisting of 1 Cabernet, 1 Grenache and 6 Shiraz. The listing is as follows

18 Thorn-Clarke Shiraz, Barossa Valley Shotfire Ridge 2003 $20USD (93 points)
21 Barossa Valley Estate Shiraz, Barossa Valley E&E Black Pepper 2002 $85USD (97 points)
28 Leeuwin Chardonnay, Margaret River Art Series 2002 $65USD (96 points)
32 Rosemount GSM, South Australia 2001 $30USD (93 points)
40 Two Hands Shiraz, Barossa Valley Bella’s Garden 2003 $55USD (94 points)
45 Wilson Riesling, Clare Valley Polish Hill River 2003 $19USD (92 points)
58 Greg Norman Estates Shiraz, Limestone Coast 2002 $16USD (90 points)
63 Forefathers Shiraz, McLaren Vale 2003 $23USD (91 points)
79 Evans & Tate Chardonnay, Margaret River 2004 $16USD (90 points)
87 Marquis Philips Cabernet Sauvignon, South Eastern Australia 2003 $18USD (90 points)
91 Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz, Victoria Billi Billi 2002 $15USD (90 points)

Notice anything unusual about this list? Except for the Leeuwin and Barossa Valley Estate there is a complete absence of the upper echelon of Australian wines, particularly Shiraz. A rather poor showing when you consider that this is the first year that Syrah/Shiraz or a blend containing the variety has dominated the Wine Spectator Top 100.

It is true that a number of other Australian Shiraz scored as well or better than some of the wines listed here, but they were not included in the Top 100. The selection of the Wine Spectator Top 100 is based on four criteria: quality (as represented by score); value (as reflected by release price); availability (measured by case production, or for international wines, the number of cases imported); and an X-factor called excitement.

These criteria can really make a significant difference in how a wine rates. For example the 2003 Tim Smith Shiraz, Barossa Valley scored the same as the Two Hands Bella’s Garden. Being cheaper you would think that it should easily make the Top 100 but the few cases imported (52) are no match for the 1,200 cases of the Bella’s. Availability may also have played a role in the 2003 Nurihannam Shiraz Barossa Scholar (93 points, $18USD) not making the list while the Thorn-Clarke Shotfire Ridge did.

A really obvious absence from the Top 100 is the Dutschke 2002 St Jakobi Shiraz from the Barossa Valley. This wine received 94 points, costs $40USD and had 900 cases imported. Its better value and should be equally as available as the Two Hands Bella’s.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Halliday versus Parker and Kramer
The 2005 Annual Wine Press Club of NSW Lecture was presented this year by wine commentator and author James Halliday. Mr Halliday discussed how wines commended and awarded in the Australian wine show system are in many cases quite different to those lauded by overseas critics.

Well at least that is how the Wine Press Club of NSW described the lecture. Reading through the speech (available as a PDF) you get the feeling that Halliday is hoping to defend Australian wines and wine judging in a forceful manner but his argument is flawed. Essentially Halliday uses Trophy results from the Sydney Royal Wine Show (2000 and 2005) to argue that 1) wine judges do not agree with Robert Parker on what constitutes Australia’s best wines, and 2) that Matt Kramer is wrong when he suggests that Australian wine styles are set by the big companies, and this is validated at wine shows where the big wine companies run fixed events.

There is considerable debate about the value of wine show results in Australia, but this is not something that is restricted to Australia. Only the naïve would believe that Trophy and medal winners have won against all comers; in truth many winemakers do not enter their wines. Wine show results should be viewed in the context of the wines that make up the competition, and the expertise of the judges.

So why aren’t Robert Parker’s favorite’s big winners at Australian wine shows? Halliday goes to some length to demonstrate that many of the wine regions not favored by Parker are the big winners, and that among red wines Cabernet Sauvignon, not Parker’s favorite Shiraz, wins most trophies. The relevant paragraphs are:

But what about the McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek and the Barossa Valley? Five for
McLaren Vale and two each for Langhorne Creek and – amazingly for some – the Barossa Valley.

These three regions are overwhelmingly the birthplace of the monstrous red wines so
beloved of Robert Parker, yet they are also outranked by the Riverina (6), the King Valley (5), Orange (4) and the Grampians (4). Sorry, Mr Parker, whichever way you want to look at it, the Australian show judges profoundly disagree with you.

All would be well and truly explained, including Kramer’s assertions, if Halliday had left it at that but then he writes the following (on page 7)

At the same time, the composition of the judging panels goes a long way to explaining why Parkeresque wines seldom achieve any significant recognition. Under the Chairmanship of Brian Croser, there has been an emphatic instruction to all judges to reward wines with finesse and elegance, and to penalise over-ripe, over-extracted wines. I can assure you there will be no change of policy under my forthcoming Chairmanship.

Oops, I think someone just shot himself in the foot and then ever so adroitly stuffed it in his mouth! Of course Parker’s favorites are not going to be the favorites of the show judges if the deck is stacked in such a manner. Is this same emphatic instruction a reason why many wines are not exhibited? That would seem a reasonable explanation.

And what about Kramer’s criticsm? Well he was only slightly off target. Its not the big wine companies that set the wine styles its the chairmen of wine shows! And of course they don’t have an axe to grind do they?
James Halliday’s 2005 Top 100
Noted Australian wine critic James Halliday has released his list of the Top 100 Wines from Australia. The list, which is 101 strong, was chosen from a field of over 10,000 wines, although only 1233 had a chance of making it into the Top 100. What is interesting with the 2005 list is that preference was given to medium-bodied wines with alcohol level below 15%. Reading through the list it becomes quite obvious that this is not a list that you will see on wine store shelves in the USA. There are a few familiar faces like the Turkey Flat Shiraz 2003 (96 points) and the St Hallett Old Block Shiraz 2002 (96 points). But others like the Hewitson The Mad Hatter Shiraz 2003 (95 points) are not something I have seen. I’d also haven’t seen the Kooyong Meres Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2003 (95 points) or the Paringa Estate Pinot Noir 2003 (96 points). But if things go as planned I will be doing so in a week or less when I visit Mornington Peninsula in Victoria.

Its instructive to red both the Introduction and the Conclusion penned by Halliday on this years’ Top 100. The former has a little jab at Robert Parker (or the Parker Factor), while the latter is pointed at critics who argue that Australia has no terroir – a small attempt to put Matt Kramer of the Wine Spectator in his place.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

What Does The Average Wine Drinker Pay For Australian Wine?
Its very instructive to consider what the average wine drinker pays for a bottle of Australian wine. In a presentation to the Australian Winegrape Conference on November 17, 2005 Jamie Odell, Managing Director, Foster's Wine Estates, provided data on the breakdown of consumer spending on Australian wine in the USA and the UK.

The vast majority, 89% to be precise, of Australian wine sold in the USA sells for $6-8 a bottle. Six percent of wine sales are for wine in the $4-6 range, another 3% cost $8-10 and 1% of wine sales account for bottles costing $10-15. While its not stated in the presentation I assume that the remaining 1% are for wines that cost more than $15 a bottle. The average price paid by the consumer in the USA is about $7 in 2005, but that has fallen from $8 in 2001. The overall price the American consumer pays for bottled wine was about $5 in 2005.

What about the UK? It’s a similar story. Twenty-six percent of sales are for wine costing less than 3 pounds, 40% cost 3-4 pound, 22% 4-5 pound and 8% 5-6 pound. That leaves 4% of sales costing more than 6 pound ($10.32USD).

Joe Public obviously likes his wine cheap. Is it possible to get consumers to pay more for their wines? Educating people to appreciate quality wine is the key. But growing the top end of the market (above $25 a bottle) to any significant degree will not be easy.
Wine Industry Outlook Conference to Stress the Need for a New Model for Australian Wine
The 2005 Wine Industry Outlook Conference in Adelaide, South Australia will examine Creating The Competitive Advantage. The conference, to be held on Thursday November 24th, has set itself a lofty task.
It is timely for the Australian wine industry to examine its strategy for continued success. How competitive is the Australian wine industry across each price point in international markets? Are we in danger of being 'pigeon-holed' as makers of cheerful, consistent well priced wines at commercial prices only, or is this argument simply a smokescreen that ignores the success of Australian wine across all price points.

In any event, how can Australia expand its offering to capitalise on its broad consumer appeal but also offer opportunities for consumers to confidently trade up to super premium, ultra premium and icon wines. Since its inception in 1994 the Wine Industry Outlook Conference has set the agenda for winery executives, winemakers, marketers, strategists, stockbrokers, analysts and investors. The 2005 Outlook Conference will not only provide an invaluable update on industry supply and demand trends but change the way you think about your company as we look to the future.

The program will include eight talks. Two of the more interesting presentations are:
Noted winemaker Brian Croser’s talk, titled Wines of Distinction, will argue that Australia's premium wine producers must aspire higher, aim for greatness and use our natural advantages of ancient soils and varying microclimates to make the most distinguished, complex and sought after wines on earth.

Jamie Odell, Managing Director, Foster's Wine Estates, will discuss A Portfolio Approach: The Australian wine category has continued to grow well but value is trailing volume growth in key international markets. Developing the premium price point space for Australian wines is essential. Our whole portfolio will benefit if we are able to achieve valid recognition for our premium wines.

Croser has held his point of view for some time. Clearly the argument is to produce wines that will compete with the best from the rest of the world; which usually means Europe, especially France, and the USA. There is a significant problem in competing with Old World wines, and that is their ability to mature over decades. This is not the case for Australia. Very few top level Australian wines, especially those with the greatest popularity outside Australia, have been around for a decade or more. More importantly who defines the wines as great? Currently Robert Parker, Jr. holds sway over the fortunes of the greatest of the great – Bordeaux. He is an avowed Francophile and so is highly unlikely to ever place Australia above France.

Fortunately Parker is known for his love of Australian Shiraz, especially from South Australia. He does review more and more Australian wines every year but he is very consistent in rating less that 10% (usually around 6%) of the recommended wines as extraordinary (96 or more points). Fortunately over 40% of the recommended wines usually fall into the outstanding (90-95 more points) category. But Parker recommends less that 30-35% of the wines he tastes.

Given the above, one has to ask what Odell means by “valid recognition of our premium wines”. Does he want greater numbers of wine to be rated highly, or is their something else? There is an argument that wine critics, like Parker, appreciate a certain style of Australia wine. That style, called by some “sunshine-in-a-bottle”, by others “fruit bomb”, may have generated an unwelcome caricature of Australian wine, but it does not have to be a permanent negative. The real key to opening the markets necessary to expand the sales of “great” Australian wine is to educate the wine drinker. Those seeking the immediate gratification of sunshine-in-a-bottle need to be shown the delight that comes from letting the sun set, so that the wine can sleep, cast off its immaturity and awaken with the complexity that comes with age. And Australian wine makers need to have those wines available for the consumer to appreciate. A costly endeavor? Yes, but education of the masses is necessary if the market for expensive wine is to be grown

And this brings me to my final point. What definitions are being used to correlate price with quality? In the USA the range of wine levels and price points is approximately as follows: Value wines are those $3 and under, Standard wines (Everyday wines) are those priced between $3-$7 per 750ml, Premium wines are between $7-$15, Super-Premium wines are between $15-$25, Ultra-Premium wines are over $25. The recently released data from Constellation Wines USA Project Genome (sic) defined premium wine as wine costing $5 or more. Significantly 12% of the 3,500+ consumers questioned were defined as Enthusiasts, but 49% were not enthusiastic enough to have purchased a bottle for more that $15 in the past six months! This is one reason why [yellow tail] now sells a million cases a month in the USA. The average wine drinker does not see the value in spending money on “great” wine. They want to be able to drop by their local wine store or supermarket and pick up a bottle of pleasant wine that they can drink with dinner that night. Educating these folks to spend $50 on a bottle of wine that they will be advised to cellar for ten or more years is not going to be easy!

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Clarendon Hills Tasting (or Finding an American Syrah)
The Saturday $5 tasting at the local wine shop was supposed to be Argentinean wines, but as I was told by the shop owner last week there was a change and they would be pouring Clarendon Hills wines. This is the McLaren Vale winery that Robert Parker regularly anoints with overwhelming admiration. Parker’s publication, The Wine Advocate, has allocated a specific review to Australian wines in issues No. 143, 148, 155, and 161. The Clarendon Hills single vineyard wines have been reviewed in each of those issues and very few of the recommended wines have scored below 90 pints. The praise both for the wines and the winemaker has been effusive ; Roman Bratasiuk is one of Planet Earth’s greatest winemakers, Robert Parker, Wine Advocate #155 (Oct 2004).

My first experience with Clarendon Hills was on March 15, 1997. That tasting was of eight different Australian wines, and included two Clarendon Hills wines; the 1995 Clarendon Hills Grenache Old Vines Clarendon Vineyard, and the 1995 Shiraz. At that tasting I had rated the Clarendon Hills wines highly putting the Grenache in second place, in front of the Shiraz but both behind the 1992 Seppelt’s Dorian Cabernet. In recent years (i.e. after beginning the Shiraz eBlog ) I have only tasted the Moritz and the Liandra Syrah, both from the 2002 vintage. Each wine had a fried tomato (or tomato paste) character that I found unattractive. But even with my experience of those 2002’s the chance to taste through close to $300USD worth of wine for $5 was too good an opportunity to pass up.

The wines were poured and described by David Turcan (National Account Rep for Commonwealth Wine and Spirits, Inc. of Mansfield Massachusetts). David was quite knowledgeable about the Clarendon Hills wines. He even knew that Shiraz reached Australia in the 1820’s, although he wasn’t sure exactly how; the first importation of Shiraz vines was most likely by John Macarthur.

The wines had been decanted about 90 minutes before the tasting began and were not poured blinded, unfortunately.

2003 Blewitt Springs Grenache $47.99USD
Cherry red with very faint orange tinge. Smoke, licorice and cherry are the dominant aromas. Medium to full bodied with an attractive licorice note to the palate. Soft and smooth in the mouth with very good balance. Firm tannins precede the lengthy finish. 2, 2, 4.1, 10.0 = 18.1/20, 90/100. 14.5% alcohol.

2003 Kangarilla Grenache $47.99USD
Cherry red with red edge. Pronounced pepper, faint tomato paste and pleasant aromatic character that became licorice with time. Full bodied with a soft and supple mouthfeel and fine tannins. Very well balanced wine. 2, 2, 4.0, 10.2 = 18.2/20, 91/100. 14.5% alcohol.

2003 Brookman Merlot $51.99USD
Cherry red with faint orange tinge. More restrained with oak, tomaoto paste, faint anise and cedar; I could easily have been convinced that this wine contained some Cabernet. Full bodied with a soft and supple entry, very fine tannins and with an excellent carry of flavors onto the palate and the lengthy finish. 2, 2, 4.0, 10.2 = 18.2/20, 91/100. 14.5% alcohol.

2003 Sandown Cabernet Sauvignon $55.99USD
Dense cherry red with a red edge with just a faint tinge of orange. Clearly evident tomato paste with pepper, dusty oak (almost sandalwood) and underlying complex aromatic aromas. Again a soft and supple entry but with more forward tannins and acidity. The least well balanced wine, being a little disjointed, and closing down to dusty oak during the tasting. 2, 2, 4.1, 9.8 = 17.9/20, 89/100. 14.5% alcohol.

2003 Liandra Syrah $68.99USD
Dense cherry red with a faint orange tinge. Dominant tomato paste aroma over faint pepper and shy fruit flavors. Full boded with excellent mouthfeel and presence of flavors on the palate. Excellent balance of clean acidity and fine tannins capped off with a lengthy finish. 2, 2, 4.3, 10.1 = 18.4/20, 92/100. 14.5% alcohol.

Once I had made my notes on the wines I let the glasses sit while I went through another seven wines made up of whites and reds from a hodgepodge of varietals and countries. The last wine in that group was the 2003 Cayuse Syrah En Chamberlin ($59.99USD) from the Walla Walla Valley in Washington. A dense cherry red with a red edge, the wine had tremendous complexity with aromas of stewed dark fruits, violets, faint pepper and stewed quince. All those flavors explode on the palate and provide an exceptional mouth pleasing experience. The length of the finish on this wine makes you believe that it has actually taken up residence. Beautiful wine! What was most interesting was that this wine had a faint tomato paste character but it melded with a subdued ethyl acetate (EA) aroma to produce a sweet aromatic flavor that was very pleasing. (That’s the flavor your looking for Roman!) 2, 2, 4.4, 10.6 = 19/20, 95/100. 14.8% alcohol.

Put your money where you mouth is Michael. So I bought bottles of the Cailloux (2002 and 2003), Coccinelle [Ladybug], En Cerise [Cherry], and En Chamberlin. Whether I’ll get any more is questionable. The mailing list is full, and the wine shop allocation was 18 bottles, total!

What happened to the Clarendon Hills? Actually something interesting! The wine I left in my glasses became much jammier especially for the two Grenache (strawberry), the Cab had even more oak and the Llianda became port-like. But when David let me smell the Lliandra directly from the decanter there was that ugly tomato again.
Houghton’s White Burgundy Gets a Name Change
Hougton’s White Burgundy was produced by Houghton Winemaker Jack Mann, and was entered into the 1937 Melbourne Wine Show where it was a hit with the judges. However it proved difficult to place in any of the styles available in Australia at the time. The wine was described as reminiscent of white Burgundy from France and so that name was chosen. Now some 69 vintages later Houghton’s is changing Burgundy to Classic in order to conform to the international trade agreement between Australia and the European Commission.

As shown on the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation site the date for the phase out of the use of (White) Burgundy was to be decided at the end of 1997.

Legal to use in Australia, until a date to be agreed:
(EU/Aust Wine Agreement aim was to determine phase-out dates by 31/12/97, but dates have still not yet been determined).
Burgundy, Chablis, Champagne, Claret, Graves, Marsala, Moselle, Port, Sauternes, Sherry, White Burgundy.
Ref: AWBC Reg 13. (Note: wine under these names may not be exported to the EU)

The new label will carry the name Houghton’s White Classic. The 2005 Houghton’s White Classic has been released in its home market of Western Australia, and will be available nationally with the 2006 vintage in June next year. No information was provided on when it will be released internationally! Press release.
Perfect Wines for Thanksgiving
Turkey day (Thanksgiving) is almost upon us here in the USA and so its time to start thinking about what wines to serve with your roasted big bird!

I’ve put an order in at my local wine shop for Clarendon Hills Grenache Old Vines Kangarilla Vineyard, but we will also have a bottle of Turkey Flat Rose that will be served chilled with appetizers just to whet the appetite.

There are lots of other suggestions, including those from the Sommeliers at Charlie Palmer restaurants. Their recommendations include Gewürztraminer, rustic Pinot noir, or Zinfandel for the sweet flavors of candied yams and cranberry sauce. To enhance savory dishes they suggest a fruity California or Australian syrah, a Grenache or a big Santa Barbara Pinot noir.

Hmm, maybe I’ll grab a bottle of Dutschke Ocsar Semmler Shiraz out of the cellar just in case the Clarendon Hills wants some company.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Why Wine Drinkers Need to Find a Reputable Wine Store
Typically, a single 50-gallon French oak barrel costs between $35,000 and $65,000, Winkler says. Burnt American oak barrels carry a $30,000 price tag. Oak barrels coopered in Australia--produced from a French oak forest replica (Australia is the first country in the world to successfully replicate a French oak forest, according to Winkler)--cost roughly $40,000. This is why wines fermented and aged in oak aren't cheap.

As we all know oak barrels are no where near that expensive. They sell for about $700-$1,100USD for French and $350-$550USD for American. But as the article shows there are people out there who tout this rubbish and unfortunately it seems that there are others who will readily accept it, and spend their hard earned cash buying wine presumably described under the same outrageous terms.

If you are a novice wine drinker and you don’t want to be led into wasting your money, please find a reputable wine shop. Visit more than one shop, compare prices, ask questions. If you get offers that sound too good to be true don’t bite, check it out first even if it means the offer might not be held, especially if it might not be held.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Realistic Flavor Descriptions

In a letter published in the November 30th issue of Wine Spectator a reader wrote asking why can’t tasting notes contain flavor descriptions that “we, the common people, can more readily understand and relate to.” This request came about because of descriptors like “suave toast”, “vanilla pastry”, and "buttered brioche” that have appeared in tasting notes in the magazine.

But its not just the Wine Spectator that has fallen afoul of waxing lyrical over the wines they recommend. Here are some descriptors from another critic - "melted licorice, white flowers, crushed rocks, candied toffee, liquid minerals, spice box". What do these terms mean as descriptions of flavor? Presumably they signify something to the person who wrote the tasting note. But the problem is whether such a descriptor has a flavor connotation for anyone else? This is quite a serious problem because its often said, especially by those who decry awarding points to rate wines, and even those who don’t, that the description contained within a tasting note provides the most valuable information in terms of palate appeal. This is, of course, only true if the description has meaning to you. If you know what suave toast or liquid minerals means in terms of a flavor then you have a chance of appreciating the tasting note that contains those descriptors. But only if your perception of suave toast is the same as that of the individual who wrote the tasting note. How do you determine that? Some would say that you have to compare your description of the wine with that of the critic so that you can align your palates. Sounds like a useful exercise but do you write your tasting note before or after you read that of the critic? Chances are that if you write it after you may be influenced by the critic’s description. And what if you do detect a toast flavor that is just not quite true toast? Do you assume that the critic knows what he/she is talking about and put the slightly different toast flavor that you detect down to being suave toast? If so then let’s hope that the critic really does know what he/she are describing.

And that, of course, is the more serious problem. How confident can you be that the critic can correctly identify an individual flavor? It seems that for trained individuals its relatively easy to identify a single flavor in a mixture (Jinks and Laing, A limit in the processing of components in odor mixtures. Perception 28(1999) p395-404). However once a mixture reaches 16 components the ability to identify a single component falls to chance. What was also interesting from this study is that there were a number of “false alarms”; that is identifying the target odorant when it was not present. This failure to identify the target occurred in some cases when only one or two components of the possible 16 were present.

Fortunately most tasting notes contain fewer that 16 odor descriptors; many have less than half a dozen. That is an interesting finding as it has been shown that “only 3 or 4 components of a complex mixture could be discriminated and identified and that this capacity could not be increased by training” (Livermore and Laing, Influence of training and experience on the perception of multicomponent odor mixtures. J. Expt. Psychology: Human perception and performance. 22 (1996) p267-277). In this case the total number of odorants tested was seven and the total number in a mixture was five. Some of the participants in this test included professional perfumers and flavorists. So don’t be too alarmed if you can only give names to 3 or 4 flavors in any one wine. You are actually doing pretty well, as long as you are correctly identifying those odors. But beware the individual who reels off flavor after flavor in a description. In all likelihood its wishful thinking, either that or he/she has abilities outside that of trained professionals.

What does all this mean in terms of realistic flavor descriptors? Well clearly they are only realistic if they have meaning to those who have an accurate impression of that flavor. So the description of a wine may not provide any realism to many wine drinkers. Nonetheless describing wine using evocative, attractive, but yet obscure, flavor descriptors is a considerable gamble on the part of any wine critic. The possibility always exists that the reader will be more amused than impressed, more angered than pleased. And in the case of the individual who wrote the letter to the Wine Spectator, begin to ask for a more realistic approach to describing the flavors of wine. The problem is whether realistic flavor descriptors will have more meaning than the obscure descriptions that make wine sound so attractive.

Friday, November 04, 2005

A new wine blog has hit the blogosphere. Vinosense could end up being a fountain of useful information, especially for those with an interest in Australian and New Zealand wines. Why? Well Vinosense is run by David Brookes (AKA Matau on the WineStar forum). Dave has been in the wine industry for 15 years and as he notes “I have covered a few bases working anywhere from vineyard to vintage work at wineries to retail (some small, some large) and wholesale and I am currently working at Langtons Wine Auctions, in conjunction with Christies, in Sydney Australia and I’m a contributing writer to Campbell Mattinsons Winefront Monthly.” Unlike a lot of amateur wine bloggers (well me anyway) that is an impressive breadth and depth of vinous experience. Better make sure you add the site to your favorites, I’ve a feeling its going to get very popular.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Wine Advocate Reviews Australia
Well its out, or at least online. The annual Wine Advocate review of Australian wines by Robert Parker Jr. Some 852 wines are recommended which is less than 30% of the total tasted. That means that some 3000 wines were sampled for this report. Three received top marks of 100 - all fortified, and another three received 99 points. Fifty-seven (57) or 6.7% of the recommended wines received 96 points or better. That percentage is very similar to what Parker has found when his scoring is tabulated by vintage, as a shown below.

Parker Scoring of Australian wines by vintage.
1996 (recommended 200 wines) 12 (6%) 96-100, 85 (42%) 90-95
1998 (recommended 365 wines) 26 (7%) 96-100, 168 (46%) 90-95
2000 (recommended 380 wines) 2 (0.5%) 96-100, 146 (38%) 90-95
2002 (recommended 541 wines) 34 (6%) 96-100, 263 (49%) 90-95

As usual Parker makes some introductory remarks in a piece entitled Current Realities and Myths Surrounding Australian Wines. Let’s look at some of the comments.

Given the fact that I am an undeniable Francophile, Eurocentric elitists must be shocked to see the lofty ratings and high praise bestowed on many Australian wines. Robert Parker Jr. TWA #161.

This is certainly true, but what a great advantage for Australian wine to have Parker’s voice on your side. Many, including myself, complain that Parker’s scores only lead to inflation of the price of our favorite wines. In the USA there is also a certain greed that occurs when big scores are given which allows importers, distributors and retailers to boost prices. This is a much greater concern that Parker has no control over, and would still occur if it was only the Wine Spectator that was rating wines.

Australia’s finest glories, aside from the fortified wines of Rutherglen, are the great, classic old vine cuvées of Shiraz and Grenache from South Australia, particularly those from the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, and Clare Valley. Robert Parker Jr. TWA #161.

There will be foot stamping and crying in other regions of Australia, but its no secret that Parker favors South Australia. Its unfortunate that other regions don’t receive more press from Parker as Australian wine is much more than just the Barossa and Rutherglen. But as with most who are on the critical side of the issue I just hope that the US market continues to ignore Australia’s fortified wines.

….these wines have become more elegant and well-balanced over the last five years.. Robert Parker Jr. TWA #161.

I hope this is not a veiled attempt to claim credit for a change in Australian wines. Experienced wine drinkers will not agree that such an improvement has occurred. It may be more correct to claim that in the previous 5 years Australia has seen some very impressive vintages that have produced outstanding wines.

..over 70% of the wines I tasted for this report were not included because they were over-oaked, diluted, innocuous, or uninteresting offerings that represent nothing more than industrial swill. Robert Parker Jr. TWA #161.

This is in keeping with previous reports. I have not yet read the hard copy of TWA #161 to learn if Parker continues to be scathing in his assessment of producers like Penfold’s. There was no basis for the comments in the last Australian report and I hope the shrillness of those comments have not found their way into TWA #161.

Australia has been at the forefront of industrial viticulture….. Robert Parker Jr. TWA #161.

This has to be a pleasing statement for the Australian wine industry. It offers a validation (perhaps more correctly a realization) of the success of the industry in producing inexpensive, quality wines that are enjoyed by appreciative consumers worldwide.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of Australia is how good the dry Rieslings are. Another surprise is their unoaked Chardonnays……… Robert Parker Jr. TWA #161.

This is not new information to those of us who do actually drink Australia’s white wines.

The last comment I want to note concerns this point One of the perennial criticisms of these South Australian wines is that they are no more than one-dimensional fruit bombs that will fall apart with age. Robert Parker Jr. TWA #161.

Parker clearly does not agree with this criticism. To make his point he offers up Penfold’s Grange as an example of a wine that was initially decried as too rich, too concentrated, and port-like, only to become one of the few Australian wines with a history of aging well. I’m not sure I agree with Grange, as made by Max Schubert, being turned into the poster child of fruit bombs. As I noted in a previous post on October 25 Penfold’s Grange especially in its early years with Max Schubert was not an alcoholic monster like many of the fruit bombs of today. Indeed during its early vintages the alcohol level in Grange shows a slow but steady drop. Was Schubert responding to the criticisms? The more recent vintages have shown an increase in alcohol so that the wine now reaches 14.5%; a considerable increase over the levels Schubert sought. It would be unfortunate if Grange does join the ranks of the high alcohol, concentrated wines favored by the few who fail to appreciate that a bottle of age worthy wine does not need to be consumed as soon as possible after it is purchased.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Another Poodle Thought
" Where do you think we are?"
"Not sure. But there is probably a vineyard around here somewhere."
"Do you think there will be cellar dog?"
"Hope so, Grrrrrr."

The cute white one is Arwen (Winnie) Evenstar who is recovering from surgery to make sure she does not suffer from the more severe complications of bloat again. She is lucky her mum is a veterinarian and could assist the Emergency Center vet with surgery at midnight last Saturday. I was lucky. All I had to do was pace the waiting room for two hours with Mercy. The big black guy is Magic’s Handsome Strider, or just Strider - 'the greatest traveler and huntsman in this age of the world'.

Monday, October 31, 2005

A Poodle Thought on Halloween
Shiraz is supposed to be about wine. But wine is also about people. When I gather notes for my Wine Tasting eBlog I do it in one of two ways. A lot of my wine tasting occurs in organized gatherings or at wineries usually in the presence of a number of individuals that I really only know because they attend the same events. But my wine drinking is mostly done at home. In this environment I share space with one other human, my wife Miranda, and 7 want-to-be humans. Three of these want-to be's are pure bred Standard Poodles. None of them are serious wine tasters, but all three are currently studying English as a second language.

One of them, the 12 year old Mercy, is undertaking an advanced degree.

The other two, Strider and Winnie. I'll post on a later. But there was one other poodle that I did want to mention. This old guy was probably the least offensive dog I have ever known, unless you pushed him too far. I guess to other dogs he looked like a pushover, something that a lot of people seem to think about Poodles. Problem is that a Standard can be a 70 pound dog, and some approach 100 pounds. Magic was about 60 pounds of shy, retiring dog who loved to chase squirrels and do his own thing. And if other dogs left him alone he was happy. But insult him with a snap or a growl or a threatening sideways look and he'd have you on the ground in a flash.

Doesn't look all that tough, does he?

There will be groups of kids (with their parents in the background) knocking on our door tonight and the three poodles will be barking. We'll probably have to put Strider in the bedroom because he can be scary. He walks loudly, but I don't think he has anything to back it up. I was just thinking if I was a parent and I wanted to make sure my kids were OK on a night when some foolishness can occur I'd make sure they had a Magic with them.
Speed Tasting
Let me ask a question. Is it important to you to be able to identify a wine in less than a minute? If so then I have just the game to stimulate your competitive juices. Speed Tasting! Described as a new concept in wine enjoyment, Speed Tasting was introduced by Explore Wine late last week at The Wine Show, a three-day wine tasting extravaganza staged at the Business Design Centre in Islington (UK) on 27-30 October 2005. Contestants have to wear a blindfold and headphones and must identify color, grape, origin and age of three wines in less than a minute per wine in order to have any chance of wining the case of wine offered as a prize.

I’m certain that this is something I could not do. After all it would take me a minute to get the glass to my mouth, swirl, sniff, sip, and swallow. Think about the wine for a little, and then repeat the process just to make sure. And repeat again, etc. I’d probably win for the slowest time, provided that the glass was not drained before I reached a conclusion. It has happened.

While I applaud those who can identify a wine so quickly, I’m not sure I see this as positive development in wine tasting. Several Masters of Wine (MW) have taken the challenge, although their scores have not been revealed. And they don’t appear in any of the photographs of the winners! That is most likely because a lot of knowledge of wine styles would not be helpful in this game. The process of elimination used to reach a conclusion on the identity of a wine from a large database of knowledge does not lend itself to speed. But if you have a good knowledge of the Explore Wines portfolio, then you might have a chance. Why? Well Explore Wine invented the speed test because it claims that its wines are so distinctive.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

“The reds, however, were mostly the same old alcoholic, structureless Aussie swill.”

I was previously unaware of Who is winejoe? The website explains – “My name is Joe Coulombe. "" is my web nom de vin. I founded Trader Joe's Company in 1958 and ran it until I quit in 1989. Trader Joe's built its name first on wines, then on foods. During my years as Trader Joe, I tasted at least 100,000 wines. Most of them were not terrific, but on the other hand most samples were submitted by vintners who were desperate for money. That's how Trader Joe's got those low prices. That's also how I learned that a lot of wines that are marginal can be very good--if served with the right food.”

winejoe travels to distant places and often tastes the wine. I think he looks more for value than great wine – maybe its all those years as Trader Joe! But his anecdotes and descriptions make for interesting, and often amusing, reading. He certainly does not go overboard in his tasting notes - brief would be an overstatement.

winejoe has visited Australia a number of times and has tasted the wines in several regions - Margaret River of Western Australia, Tasmania, South of Melbourne in Victoria, and Orange and Mudgee in New South Wales. From the notes I have seen he seems to limit the number of wines he tastes, and I don't see any real attempt to seek out quality wines. Unusual because as the founder of Trader Joe's I'm sure he can afford just about anything he wants.

I wonder when he will visit the Barossa Valley and taste some serious “swill”.
“He is always causing trouble”
Tsk, tsk. Who’s a naughty boy? No its not Harrison, our six toed cat, who has taken to peeing everywhere but the litterbox. This naughty boy is Edgar Schätzler, a winegrower in Guntersblum in the state of Hesse in Germany. Schätzler, who is no fan of the wine regulations in Germany, filled his wine bottles with Hungarian Pinot Gris. And state experts ended up labeling it 'quality German wine' in official blind tastings.

“He is always causing trouble,” said Claudia Rehm, an official taster for the states of Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate. “Our job is to approve wines that have no fundamental flaws, not judge varietals or their origins.”

“Given the amount of winemaking styles these days, in Germany and abroad, it is not surprising that some official testers could be fooled into thinking that a Pinot Gris from Hungary – which has no fundamental flaws – could taste like a Riesling, perhaps a special style of 'Riesling' and one that may not be particularly good, either,” added Rolf Rehm, another official state wine taster.

Not particularly good! Sounds like someone is miffed at being shown they don’t know their Riesling. Pinot Gris [PEE-noh GREE] is grown in Alsace as well as in Austria, Germany, Hungary, and Rumania. In Italy its called Pinot Grigio. In Germany its ruländer. I’ve never had a Hungarian Pinot Gris so I’m not certain whether confusing it with a German Rhine Riesling is all that difficult. But I’ll bet that you could make an awful lot of money putting cheap non-German wines into fancy German Riesling bottles, and then having a state official call it Qualitätswein.
Top 10 Sources for Wine News and Commentary
Shiraz has made a Top 10 list! Unfortunately its not the kind of exposure that might come from being in a Letterman Top 10 list, but it is in the area that this eblog represents – Wine News and Commentary. That makes all the time spent putting some of the posts together worth it. Thanks guys!

Exactly how the top ten blogs in Wine Commentary and News were chosen by Top 10 Sources is not clear. But the idea behind the Top 10 Sources site is to “find the ten best sources on the Net on that topic that offer news feeds- whether they're blogs, mainstream media, or anybody else publishing great stuff online.” Included among the topics are Wine Reviews and Regional Wine. And Harry Potter!

A button to get you straight to the Top 10 Sources for Wine News and Commentary has been added to the sidebar (right hand side of the page). Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Essential Wine Tasting Guide
Glen Green is smelling his way to success. Well, that is not entirely true. What Glen is doing is providing a guide so that wine drinkers can put a name to the myriad of smells that are found in wine, and smell their way to wine stardom. OK, maybe not stardom but you will, at least, be able impress family and friends with your newfound ability to “name that smell”. And you can do it without being discovered as his Essential Wine Tasting Guide is little bigger in size than a credit card. That is until you unfold it! Then it becomes a sheet containing 34 mini-pages of wine tasting information.

Included among the features are the following:

  • Sparkling, white, red, dessert and fortified wines including Brandy, Madeira, Tokaji & Sherry
  • Major and emerging international wine grape varieties & wine styles
  • Over 1,000 tactile and varietal wine aroma descriptors
  • Wine descriptor groups
  • Wine color comparison guide
  • Faults in wine
  • Scoring wine
  • Temperature serving guide
  • Neutral white background for wine color assessment

A link to the Essential Wine Tasting Guide has been part of the Shiraz Resources list for some time; its the only resource the site lists! But I’ve never found the time to talk about it. That’s a pity as I have both the Australian and American versions autographed by Glen, and I’ve also given autographed guides out as gifts. Editions are also available for Canada, South Africa, United Kingdom/Ireland, and a Japanese language version. Other Editions to be made available include: Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal/Madeira, and Spain

As practical as it is, the guide could also become a collectable as a number of wineries in Australia sell them imprinted with their winery logo.

Riding the sweet smell of success Glen was recently interviewed in The Detroit News Wine Report. Well done Glen.

    Tuesday, October 25, 2005

    Alcohol Creep
    Has there been an increase in alcohol levels in recent years? Unless you have access to the technical information on individual wines going back several decades it is hard to determine the changing fortunes of alcohol levels. Added to this is the fact that most wineries do not archive technical data for their wines on their web sites.

    But there are some exceptions. Penfold’s does keep archived notes on its flagship Grange all the way back to the first (experimental) vintage of 1951. A graph of the alcohol levels in Grange seems to bounce all over the place, unless you consider the tenures of the winemakers. Grange owes its origins to Max Schubert who was Chief Winemaker at Penfold’s until 1974. Schubert kept alcohol levels at 13.5% or below. On close inspection he seems to have been trying to reduce alcohol over time, and only the 1951, 1954, 1963, 1965 and 1966 vintages were above 13%. When Don Ditter took over in 1975 alcohol levels jumped up to 14% but then progressively fell until 1980 when they again increased and the first 14.5% wine was made in 1984. John Duval began to make the wine in 1986 and he seemed content to maintain alcohol at 13.5% until the last few years of his tenure when 14.5% was reached again. Peter Gago took over in 1998 and has kept things at around 14%. Breaking alcohol levels down to how many vintages/decade were greater than 13% reveals that there were two in the 1950’s (’51 and ’54), three in the 1960s (’63, ‘65’ and ‘66), four in the 1970s (’75, ’76, ’77 and ’78), eight in the 1980s (all but ’80 and ’81), and all wines in 1990’s were above 13%. Is this evidence of increasing alcohol levels? It appears so, especially if you consider the period from 1970 onwards.

    What about another wine? Moss Wood in the Margaret River Wine region of Western Australia makes one of the better Australian Cabernet Sauvignon wines. The first vintage was in 1973, but archived notes only go back as far as 1983. The data on alcohol levels in the Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon indicate a very clear increase in alcohol levels over the period 1983-2002.

    While this is not a big sample of Australian wines, it does suggest that alcohol levels in two of Australia’s premium wines have been increasing over the last 20-30 years.

    Monday, October 24, 2005

    Sixteen Percent Alcohol - That's Wimpy Wine
    There have been several books written on the history of wine in Australia. Some have been mentioned in a recent post, but if you don’t have the time or stamina to read a whole book then this short review is ideal reading material. Written in 1979 by Gerald Walsh it covers the period from the first settlement to 1979. As Walsh makes clear the planting of vines has been attempted in Australia since 1788, and successful vineyards were in many parts of the country by the 1840’s.

    And some of the wines were not lacking in alcohol. The incursion of Australian wine into the Old World was not without its difficulties. There was much prejudice, indeed suspicion sometimes of the origin of the 'colonial' product which was usually forced to compete in a special section; there were also objections about the strength of some Australian wines. The fermentation of musts was incompletely understood a hundred years ago and the fact that some Australian wines were naturally over 26 percent proof spirit led to allegations that they had been fortified. Controversy raged but as in the case of a disputed dry red Hermitage from Bendigo alleged by the judges at Vienna in 1873 to have come from the Middle Rhone, the colonials won. Overall, Australian wines fared indifferently at these exhibitions but at least such showings brought attention to the product from the antipodes, which was the result of much dedicated effort. (Bolding my emphasis.)

    I’d say all the talk these days about the new era of high alcohol wines is a little behind the times, don’t you think?

    (Edit: Let me make one point clear here. I'm not confusing 26% proof with 16% alcohol by volume, but at the same I obviously have not fully explained the point that this post is trying to make. By today's standards 16% (by volume) is considered high, certainly compared to wines from the Old World (e.g. France). The same situation also existed over 130 years ago when Australian wines were being considered high alcohol because they were reaching 26% proof. Eactly what 26% proof was in the 1800's is a little difficult to accurately establish. "A "proven" solution was defined as 100 degrees proof (100°). This has since been found to actually be at 57.15% ethanol." Today a convenient conversion is 1 degree of proof is equal to about 0.571% alcohol by volume. Twenty-six percent proof would be 14.85% alcohol by volume today (conversion calculations are here).

    Wednesday, October 19, 2005

    Romeo Bragato and Australian Shiraz
    “…the syrah - or the shiraz - in both your countries, it is because of the Italians. Did you know that?"

    Actually no, I did not know that. But apparently Ben Canaider, of The Age, and his New Zealand compatriot think they do. Granted they were answering a question from a lecturer at the Conegliano School of Viticulture and Oenology, one of Italy's most respected wine schools. They may have felt the need to give the expected answer of Romeo Bragato because this is the school where Bragato was the only one to stand up when his professor asked who would go to Australia to ply their trade (1).

    Who is Romeo Bragato? Well he is the fellow that Canaider, and obviously some Italians, want us to believe is responsible for the importance of Shiraz in Australian and New Zealand viticulture. Given Bragato’s history it is possible that he can claim some responsibility for Syrah in New Zealand as he was the New Zealand Government Viticulturist with the Department of Agriculture from 1902 until 1909. Although he left disgruntled with the level of support he had received for his efforts. Still his role in New Zealand wine is celebrated by the Bragato Study Exchange Award, a student exchange program that exists between New Zealand and Conegliano, and the annual Bragato Conference that is held in Blenheim.

    But what did Bragato do for Shiraz in Australia? The available information suggest very little. Bragato came to Australia in 1888 and offered to instruct the Rutherglen and Murray Valley wine growers on vine growing and making wine (2). But his role in Australian wine history goes unmentioned in Nicholas Faith’s Liquid Gold: The history of Australian wine and its makers and John Beetson’s A Concise History of Australian Wine.

    Bragato does appear in David Dunstan’s Better than Pommard: A history of wine in Victoria as he was appointed Viticultural Expert to the Board of Viticulture of Victoria in November 1889. He advised Victorian vignerons for ten years before his move to New Zealand. He was designer of the winery and cellars attached to the College of Viticulture at Rutherglen opened in 1897 (3). As part of his work he advised Glenlinton Vineyard at Whittlsea to plant Semillon, Shiraz and Cabernet (4). However there is no evidence that Bragato had a role in Shiraz finding its home in South Australia. Shiraz vines date back into the mid-1800s in the Barossa. Turkey Flat Vineyard claims some of the oldest, and one of the newest wines, Kalleske’s Johann Georg Shiraz, comes from vineyards planted in the 1870s.

    1) Better than Pommard: A history of wine in Victoria. David Dunstan, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Victoria, Australia, 1994. p165.
    2) Ibid, p165.
    3) Ibid, p166.
    4) Ibid, p 206.
    The (Sickly) Taste of Success
    Bill Calabria, of Westend Estate in the Riverina region of NSW, Australia, has a serious problem with winemaking – it makes him sick! But that has not stopped him from taking out the top young red trophy at the 2005 NSW Wine Awards. Then as a cure for any winemaker's hangover Calabria's 2004 Richland Shiraz bested 676 other wines, including reds, whites and bubblies to win best in show. Forty wines made it into the last grouping before the final winner was picked.

    As reported by Jeff Collerson in the October 20, 2005 edition of The Daily Telegraph, Mr Calabria believes his acute sense of smell compensates for him being allergic to alcohol.

    "When I'm blending wine after vintage I smell them, taste them, then spit them out," Calabria said yesterday.

    "But after a long blending session, even without swallowing, I feel sick and have to go and rest."

    That is one problem that I could do without.

    Thursday, October 13, 2005

    Tyson Stelzer is on the Hunt
    Widely known for his support of screw caps as a viable replacement for cork, Tyson Stelzer has just opened a new web site where he offers you the rewards of his hunt for the best wines in Australia and New Zealand.

    At present the site lists over 1600 wines in a free, searchable format. A feature that will be added soon is the ability to download to your mobile phone - Never again be stuck for options in a bottle shop or restaurant! Whether that will be available here in the USA is not clear, but I like it when a site tries to use current technology to make life a little easier. You can also sign up to receive updates on new content.

    Naturally its not a perfect site, but then what is! The search format, according to Tyson "only functions according to the words in each of the fields in each review". So its difficult to find all Barossa Shiraz for example. But you can download lists of wines from 2003 and 2004 grouped by score, or varietal, or winery. You can then go back and search the site for Tyson’s tasting note on that particular wine. You can also search by price, but only in Australian dollars. Another feature is the ability to search for wines that Tyson loves or likes at least in 2005. Its not obvious what defines like or love as the scores do overlap. Also the listing of wines by year is for the year they were tasted in, and not the vintage of the wines.

    But these are little problems that I’m sure will be solved or explained as the site matures. Get on over there and find a few wines.

    Wednesday, October 12, 2005

    Europeans to Terroirize Wine Buyers
    I’m all for the internet providing information on all aspects on wine. And I certainly don’t begrudge the Europeans their long wine history, tradition, and culture. But as Jancis Robinson pointed out in her recent piece in the San Francisco Chronicle it’s a myth that Eurpoean wine is more pure, noble and artisanal. So excuse me for being skeptical about a new website, called the Center for Wine Origins, that promotes only Champagne and Port.

    The Center has launched a three- year "location matters" campaign, which states “When it comes to wine, there is no ingredient more important than location. The land, air, water and weather where grapes are grown are what make each wine unique. That’s why great names like Port and Champagne are more than just types of wine; they’re from specific regions in Portugal and France.”

    The campaign is financed by the European Union, the Comite Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), the Instituto dos Vinos do Douro e Porto (IVDP). Fedejerez, representing the producers of Sherry in Spain, will join the campaign in 2006.

    Now maybe I’m just plain naïve but I thought land, air, water and weather were important for wine production world-wide. More importantly very few places experience the same land, air, water and weather and so the same grape variety grown in the Rhone River valley produces a different wine from that made in the Barossa Valley or Sonoma County. Whether these fine wine regions will get their chance to be listed on the Center for Wine Origins site is not clear.

    But I’m not holding my breath. Why? Well the Center is “a central part of the European participation in the name protection campaign” launched on June 26, 2005. However the campaign was initiated by the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) out of a concern over mislabeling and the lack of legal protection for place names in the United States. A declaration to this effect was signed by the NVV and wine makers from Oregon and Washington State. To read the full text of the declaration, click here.

    Given that representatives from Champagne, Port and Sherry also signed onto the declaration one might expect that the American Viticultural Areas would be part of the Center for Wine Origins site. But no it appears that the Europeans want to continue to go their own way.

    But what really ticks me off about this site is one of their PDFs that is entitled "Where does your wine come from?" On page six it says "The concept of misrepresenting location isn’t a hard one to grasp. " and then gives examples of misrepresentation. A couple are "Champagne not from France? " and "Napa wines from China?" Another is "Bordeaux from Australia?" Oh really! And just want are the examples of Australian wines that are actually labeled Bordeaux?

    For those who want to make the effort to find out about Australian Wine Law, Making and Labelling I suggest you read this. Under Register of Protected Names is the following "Please note that it is illegal to use protected names in the description and presentation of wine in any context whatsoever, even in an otherwise true statement in textual form on a back label (eg. ‘this wine is made from a typical Bordeaux blend of grapes’,..." That seems pretty clear to me!

    So Center for Wine Origins I suggest that you correct your mislabeling!

    Tuesday, October 11, 2005

    Well Said!
    There are hundreds of similar examples of total commitment to handmade wines throughout the New World, even in wine regions commonly thought to be inhabited only by well-heeled glitz-seekers such as the Napa Valley. Hands-on Mount Veeder vintners Bill Jenkins of Wing Canyon Vineyard and Steve Lagier of Lagier Meredith Vineyard know every single one of their vines themselves.

    Those comments came from an article by Jancis Robinson, MW in the San Francisco Chronicle of October 6. Entitled An Engish Defence of the New World, Ms Robinson clearly states her concern regarding "the completely false impressions being peddled about the wines and winemakers of the New World to and by the French."

    There is a lot to be said in support of her comments. The idea that "all New World wine is 'industrial,' made from factory-farmed grapes transformed into wine in massive volumes on soulless production lines" is myopic in the extreme. But the Old World, or at least the French, do gain solice in "their view of themselves as sole upholders of the noble, atavistic traditions of handmade wine production in an increasingly wicked world. "

    It is almost too easy to cite example after example of winemakers who produce outstanding hand crafted Shiraz/Syrah wines. Only a couple of examples are given in the article. If you check the right hand column of this eBlog you will find a few more. A trip to Tasting Notes will provide even more names. The Barossa Valley is covered with small wineries doing exceptional things. Dutschke, Heathvale, Kalleske, Winter Creek, the list goes on and on.

    In the competitive marketplace of the modern world of wine it is not good enough simply to be French.

    Monday, October 10, 2005

    Notes on Some Aussie Shiraz
    I've added a few more tasting notes on Australian Shiraz from the 2002 and 2003 vintages to my Tasting Notes eBlog. The pick was definitely the 2002 Penfold’s Magill Estate Shiraz which has complex aromatics that include prominent toasted coconut and blueberry followed by cherries and pepper with an underlay of dark caramel and earth. Its a wine of great structure with excellent depth and complexity across the palate, and should live for several decades. Another interesting wine from 2002 was the Deisen Barossa Shiraz. It has flavors of blueberry/blackberry and liqueur cherry over chocolate, but is still a little disjointed and will need a few years to settle down. It should drink well for 5-10 years after that.

    Shiraz from the 2003 vintage continue to impress me. Torbrecks The Struie from the Barossa Valley is a mouthfull of bold Aussie Shiraz that will live for many years. The Two Range Barossa Valley Shiraz follows on from their impressive 2002 bottling, and The Colonial Estate l’explorateur is also worth seeking out. I'm less willing to suggest the Burge Family Barossa Valley Draycott. Although well made its not a wine that will impress many with its barnyard-like funky aroma.

    Wednesday, October 05, 2005

    “Thank You Mr. Evans and Sorry Mr. Parker”
    The Wine Press Club of New South Wales (Australia) will hold its 2005 Annual Wine
    Press Club Lecture at the Australian Maritime Museum in Sydney on Friday 25 November. The 2005 Lecture is titled “Thank You Mr. Evans and Sorry Mr. Parker”. Keen to see positive reform in the Australian wine judging system, Mr. Halliday will discuss how wines commended and awarded in the Australian wine show system are in many cases quite different to those lauded by overseas critics. So whom do we believe??

    Following the Lecture, WPC President Darren Jahn will host the President’s dinner where James Halliday will be guest of honour. The four course dinner will be accompanied by a selection of James Halliday’s highest scoring (95-97 point) wines from his recently released 2006 Australian Wine Compendium. One of the guest speakers will be Wine Press Club Patron Mr Len Evans AO OBE.

    Press Release (PDF)

    Monday, September 26, 2005

    What is Your Opinion?
    Wine Opinions states that it is “a research provider to the U.S. wine industry, and is the only Internet research organization devoted exclusively to wine.” So their findings should be of interest to the wine blogoshpere, right? Well maybe. Their site summarizes their findings, and then directs you to their on-line store which asks $295USD for their report “A Consumer Perspective on Wine Styles”. I’m sure some individuals are willing to part with such a sum, but not I. However I was interested to see one of the findings from their study which indicates the publications regularly read by their “Core Consumer Segment”. If I’m correct this represents the preferences of 307 consumers. What is so interesting about this information is that (leaving aside newspapers) the most popular of the 8 publications listed is Food and Wine (57%), with Wine Spectator (19%) a distant second, followed by Wine and Spirits (18%). In equal last place with The Wine News is “Parker” (presumably The Wine Advocate).

    Why is this interesting? Well is it not fascinating that the most influential voice in wine ranks so low on the scale of publications? Does it mean that his influence is waning? I seriously doubt it. What it does suggest is that most consumers are likely to read magazines more orientated to lifestyle than The Wine Advocate, which is an extremely specialized wine publication. From the point of view of influence it might have been more informative for Wine Opinions to have asked what do consumers use in deciding what wines to buy. Maybe it is points, and then maybe its a pretty label!

    What is this magazine Food and Wine? The first time I realized Food and Wine existed was when I found that Robert Parker was expanding the staff on his on-line site to include Lettie Teague Executive Wine Editor of Food and Wine. More recently Parker was interviewed by J. F. Chaigneau for Paris Match. When asked about the importance of the internet to the sale and development of wine information Parker commented (in part) that the internet “is the future”. Could it be that he also thinks that associating with the most popular wine magazine is also a good thing?

    Tuesday, September 20, 2005

    Best in the Last Thirty Days
    Cam Wheeler at Appellation Australia has invited me to follow on from him in a meme for the wineblogosphere started by Beau at Basic Juice. The idea is that you nominate the best wine that you have had in the past 30 days and then pass the baton on to a fellow wine blogger as well as a food blogger.

    Well I can’t top Cam’s tasting of Seppelt’s 1905 Para Liqueur Vintage Tawny. That is a rare and wonderful privilege that few experience. However over on my other blog, Tasting Notes, I have been putting up notes on some recent and very special Shiraz wines from the 2003 vintage in Australia. So far the highest scoring wine has been Torbreck’s The Struie, so that should rate as the best but its not a reach to say that The Struie is a bottle full of outstanding wine. Let’s be a little more selective. If I was allowed to go back 60 days I would pick Winter Creek’s wonderful single vineyard Shiraz. A truly excellent example of Barossa Shiraz kissed with French oak, which is how Aussie Shiraz should be kissed.

    I can hear others saying. “Please keep within the 30 days”. OK, in that case the wine has to be the Tim Smith Wines Barossa Valley Shiraz 2003. While not inexpensive at $39.99USD it is not a lot to pay for something special from downunder. The wine is made with bunch fermentation, lees aging, and some barrel fermentation. The color is a dense cherry red with red edge. The aromas are rich and ripe with notes of blackberry, vanilla and coconut; there is a little ethyl acetate (EA) but it does not detract from the wine. On the palate it’s full bodied with excellent depth, clean acidity and fine tannins. A toasted note tops the finish. Flavors of toasted coconut, blackberry and vanilla carry extremely well onto the palate and integrate with the sweetness of the fruit. By savoring the wine I was able to taste it over 5 days. At 24 hours the acidity was a little more biting but it was still a very impressive wine with more flavors on the palate than nose. A glass tasted after five days was port-like with burnt, tarry almost camphor characters; very attractive and still intact. 18.5/20, 93/100. 14.5% alcohol. Tasted August 24-29, 2005.

    To pass the meme on I nominate from wine blogging Jathan from Wine Expression and for food blogging Anthony at spiceblog.

    Monday, September 19, 2005

    Marquis Philips and Grateful Palate –Australian Wines for the American Palate?
    Sarah and Sparky Marquis, in partnership with their importer, Dan Philips of the Grateful Palate, are responsible for the Marquis Philips range of wines. With the exception of the Integrity Shiraz these are relatively inexpensive offerings, only the Shiraz 9 and Cabernet Sauvignon S2 are priced over $30USD. A recent tasting of the 2004 Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sarah’s Blend, and Shiraz showed them to be ripe styles that provide plenty of flavor and reasonable value. The 2003 Shiraz 9 is an expressive version of South Australian Shiraz, although it’s not the “classic South Australian Shiraz” that Robert Parker describes it. There are other wines from 2003 that are considerably better attempts at Shiraz, and some are better value.

    Dan Philips imports more than just Marquis Philips. Last week I tasted through just shy of a dozen of them. There was more variety and variability than the Marquis Philips wines. But oddly enough the best demonstration of the tasting was the 2004 Marquis Philips, Holly’s Blend. This started out with very unpleasant sulphur stink that finally blew off to reveal some pleasant fruit aromas from this Verdelho based wine. The only two reds that I would recommend are the 2003 Lengs & Cooter Shiraz and the 2001 Scarpantoni, School Block. That’s not to say that the remaining wines have serious faults. It was only the 2003 Paringa, Cabernet Sauvignon that fell into that category. The Lengs & Cooter and Scarpantoni offer better value than the others. The surprise of the reds was the 2003 Henry’s Drive Shiraz. This is the third time I have tasted this wine in the last six months and while its always a pleasant wine to drink, it is never the same. It is not a wine that I have added to my cellar, but I always look for the Henry’s Drive wines because they are an interesting experience in what is popular in the American wine market.

    The wine of the Grateful Palate tasting was the 2002 Lillypilly Noble Blend from the Riverina region of New South Wales. This region is perhaps better known as the home of Casella Wines, the makes of Yellow Tail. However Riverina wineries are establishing themselves as makers of sweet white (dessert) wines, the best known being De Bortoli Wines Noble One. The Lillypilly is an excellent example of what is happening with this wine style in Australia, and at $12USD is outstanding value. Chase it down!

    Saturday, September 17, 2005

    Wine Spectator Reviews Aussie Reds
    The October 15, 2005 issue of Wine Spectator devotes a significant number of its pages to The Best of Australia with sections on

    ABCs of Its Wines and Terroir
    Great Aussie Reds: 633 rated
    Top Hotels, Restaurants

    Harvey Steiman provides the tasting reports on Australian wines for WS. In this issue he rates Shiraz vintages from Barossa/McLaren Vale as follows

    1999 88 Uneven, drink
    2000 85 Uneven, drink or hold
    2001 92 Hot vintage, drink or hold
    2002 90 Cool vintage, hold
    2003 94 Ripe intense wines with impeccable balance, hold
    2004 90-94 Clear, pure flavors and open textures, hold

    For comparison Parker rates Southern Australia (Barossa/Clare/McLaren Vale/Langhorne Creek) vintages as follows: 2003 a 90 (early maturing), 2002 a 95 (tannic, slow to mature), 2001 also 95 (tannic, slow to mature), 2000 gets an 88 (caution may be too old), and 19991 gets an 88 (early maturing).

    While those vintage ratings will probably generate a fair amount of discussion, I was more interested to see what wines had and had not been rated. Steiman notes that he tasted 850 red wines for his report and that 633 were rated. That’s 74.5%, a very high number! But its hard to figure out what defines a rated wine as some have scores in the 70s. According to the WS 100 point scale such wines would be considered average and might have minor flaws. Maybe that is why the subtitle to Steiman’s article Australia’s Big Red Engine is “There is plenty of power coming from Down Under but beware the misfires.” The vintages of the wines rated range from 1999 to 2004 with the majority of wines coming from the last two vintages. When you look through the scores 544 wines received 84 points or better. That’s 64%, still a high number. If you are looking for value in among the points then 192 of the wines (35.3%) receiving 84 or more points cost less than $20USD. Impressively there are 24 wines costing less that $10USD that received 84 or more points. About 1 in 4 of the rated wines receiving 90 or higher.

    Unlike Parker’s review of Australian wines in The Wine Advocate there are no tasting notes in the Wine Spectator tasting report on Australian Reds. The tasting notes do apparently exist either on-line or in the Buying Guide in individual issues of the magazine. There are a number of reviews of Australian wines in the October 15 issue. This is a problem with all the tasting reports in the Wine Spectator and says a lot about how the magazine views the importance of a point score.

    How did some selected Aussie reds do in the points battle. The two shiraz from Dutschke scored over 90. Only three of the Penfold’s wines scores 90 or better and all are from 2002 (RWT, 707, Magill). Both Torbreck and Two Hands did well with a number of wines in the 90 and above group. But there were also a number of wines that scored poorly. Some examples. None of the Kalleske wines got better than a 89. None of the 2002 Kay’s Amery scored above 89. The Burge Family 2003 Draycott received less that 80 and the Tait Basket Pressed 2002 Shiraz less than 85.

    Without seeing Steiman’s tasting notes its difficult to see how he gave some of these wines such low points. The Kalleske’s certainly deserve better. Having just retasted the Draycott one could argue that it is a weird wine, but less than 80 is pretty severe and the Tait is at least a 90 in my book. Still like any list of impressions (which is the value of any point score system) its easy to find scores that are either agreeable or disagreeable in terms of my own experiences with some of the wines. And that is why I certainly don’t recommend anyone place too much faith in the impressions of a single critic.