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.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

War of the Beers, I mean Appliances
First there was the Big Ad, now we have the War of the Appliances. Where will it end? Hopefully it will be a clean fight.

Its a follow-up to the Tongue Ad.

Mondovino Downunder
Jonathan Nossiter's Mondovino has made its way to Australia and appears to be receiving positive reviews even though Australia was essentially ignored in the film.

In reviewing the film Philippa Hawker gets to the heart of the ethic of the film. Nossiter seems to have put his subjects at their ease. The most frosty and haughty patricians have let down their guard with him. People joke, confide and hold forth: they must have been sublimely unaware, at times, that the filmmaker did not and does not share their views.

There is a certain uniformity, it must be said, about Nossiter's approach, in that he knows which side he supports, and he's not really interested in teasing out the arguments that might be able to be presented in opposition.

In his review of Nossiter Damien Murphy gets several significant quotes from the film maker.

"It would have been great to have Australian wines in the film," he says. "The idea of a country where there is the same fearlessness to innovate that you have in America, without the imperial burden."

(I’ll have to view Mondovino again because I honestly don’t remember examples of fearless innovation that were portrayed by American winemakers in the film.)

"In the post-9/11, Iraq-war era, the film is considered by some a betrayal in a time of global conquest, and the fundamental notion that the acquisition of money and power is the only reason to exist on Earth is now the essence," Nossiter says.

"There's this wonderful throwaway line, (in which Parker) goes, 'You know, I brought an American sense of democratic values to wine.' And he says it with a sort of blithe assurance that, of course, everyone in the world will regard that as inherently positive. There is no notion that three-quarters of the planet is horrified to hear those words."

(After those comments I’m not sure who has the bigger ego, Parker or Nossiter?)

The Shiraz review of Mondovino is here.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Robert Parker’s Knowledge of Australian Wine
There is little doubt that Robert Parker, Jr. is the most influential wine critic currently plying that craft. Indeed the release prices of Bordeaux wines are almost entirely influenced by Parker's scores. Such power generates not only an almost worshipful following but also controversy. Typical of this ying and yang scenario is the reception Parker’s wine reviews receive down under. Andrew Caillard MW of the Australian wine auction house Langton’s has written “In Australian wine writing circles Parker is generally loathed, with a reputation not unlike Harry Potter’s nemesis Voldemort, no doubt inspired by a soupcon of jealousy and professional rivalry.” Caillard also noted “Whatever your perspective, Robert Parker Jr. is very powerful. He is the kingmaker whose pronouncements can change your fortunes in a very meaningful way.”

Much of the mumbled criticism surrounding Parker’s appreciation of Australian wine appears to center on his love affair with Australian Shiraz, particularly from the Barossa Valley. Some go as far as to call Parker’s favorites freakish, while others are content to argue that Parker only knows Shiraz and does not really have a good grasp of the complete Australian wine spectrum. It is true that, compared to French wines, Parker has reviewed relatively few Australian wines. His on-line site, which covers numerous vintages, notes that he has recommended more than 34,000 French wines, almost 16,000 US wines but only 3,331 Australian wines. Recommend wines are those that score 84 or greater on Parker’s 100 point scale. But how many wines does he actually taste? When I asked this question on ERPSupport the answer was that “no totally accurate record exists’ but “what is published represents approximately 25-35% of the total number of wines tasted.”

If we assume that 35% of tasted wines are recommended that means at least 9,500 Australian wines have been tasted. Incidentally the 3,331 recommended wines includes South Australia (2,468 wines) Victoria (396 wines) Western Australia (218 wines) Southeast Australia (99 wines) New South Wales (87 wines) Unclassified (49 wines) and Tasmania (14 wines). That big number from South Australia does suggest that he might like Shiraz! Of the recommended wines from South Australia 993 are Shiraz, 493 Proprietary Blends, 316 Cabernet Sauvignon, 143 Grenache, 125 Chardonnay, 93 Riesling, Merlot 71, Semillon 46, Sauvignon Blanc 39, Viognier 24, Pinot Noir 20, Zinfandel 17, Mourvedre 11, Port 10 , and another 17 varieties have less that 10 with 8 having one wine. Thirteen wines are unclassified. So while the focus is on Shiraz, Parker is clearly able to bestow his recommendation on a broad range of Australian varietals.

His tasting notes for Australia go back to the 1952 vintage however these older wines are almost exclusively notes on Penfold’s Grange. A tally of the number of recommendations per vintage show that he favorably reviewed more than 10 wines from 1989 onward, and got over the 100 mark in 1995 (coincidently the same year that The Wine Spectator named the 1990 Penfold’s Grange as Wine of The Year.). The largest number of wines that Parker has recommended has been 541 from the 2002 vintage. This suggests that Parker has a fairly limited knowledge of Australian wine over the long term, as some 90% of his recommendations are for wines produced in the last 10 years. Still during that period he is likely to have sampled more than 9,000 wines. A feat very, very few Australian wine drinkers will have achieved.

The 2002 vintage is classed by some as one of the best in recent memory. How did Parker divide his laurels? By varietal 2002 breaks down into Shiraz 209, Propriety Blend 107, Cabernet Sauvignon 61, Chardonnay 38, Grenache 26, Riesling 23, Merlot 14, Pinot Noir 13, and Semillon 12. And the remaining 14 varietals have less than 10 with 6 being for 1 wine only. So there is that predilection for Shiraz again, but also there is appreciation of a great variety of wine styles.

By location 2002 breaks down into Barossa Valley 176, McLaren Vale 111, Clare Valley 34, Langhorne Creek 21, Adelaide Hills 20, Heathcote 17, Eden Valley 15, Margaret River 14, Yarra Valley 13, and Coonawarra 11. The remaining 18 regions have less than 10 (Hunter Valley has 8) with 11 having just 1. Seventy wines are unclassified as to region. Well we already knew that he favored wines from South Australia. Still wines from many of the top regions get a recommendation.

How about that love of Barossa Shiraz? The recommended wines from the Barossa Valley include 77 Shiraz, 54 Proprietary Blends, 14 Cabernet Sauvignon and 12 Grenache. But it’s McLaren Vale that he seems to favor for Shiraz; McLaren Vale 52 Shiraz, 16 Cabernet Sauvignon, 14 blends, and 12 Grenache.

What does all this tell us about Parker’s Australian wine knowledge? Well he clearly has tasted many more Australian wines than most. Other (Australian based) critics like James Halliday taste significantly more wines, but their sphere is limited to Australia. Does Parker have a handle on the broad spectrum of Australian wine? He clearly favors Shiraz but is this unusual? Shiraz is unmistakably Australian and Parker’s support of the style clearly indicates that he has recognized this. Does he understand other wines styles/varietals? Well he obviously appreciates the quintessential Australian dessert wines called Muscat. In addition as his recommendations indicate he does see merit in wines from many different varietals and from very different regions. One can argue whether this displays a thorough knowledge of Australian wine but it is clear that he has tasted across the spectrum and found good things. Others with greater amounts of time on their hands may be able to tease more from Parkers’ recommendations. How do they match with Langton’s classification, with Hallidays scores or with their individual palate?

My opinion is that I was pleasantly surprised by the number of varietals that he has found to recommend. True most are small in number and they do appear to not garner the high scores that many Shiraz wines do. But it does suggest that Parker has not limited his experience with Australian wine to just the obvious.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Defining the Australian Wine Palate?
There is a common, but debatable, impression that the American wine palate has been influenced by consumption of sweet carbonated drinks like Coca-Cola. This notion has even been implied in comments by Robert Parker; who also believes that the Japanese consumption of tea influences their preference of wine styles.

But what defines the Australian wine palate? Having been born in Australia and begun my wine appreciation there, but lived in the USA for the last 20 or so years, my own preferences seem to have changed. My early favorite wines were Penfold’s Bin 389 and Redman’s Claret (Shiraz). My memory of the latter is of a medium bodied wine with good Shiraz character and loads of acidity. When I first came to the USA (1982) my initial impression was that California wines lacked body, they were like diluted Redman’s! But I developed a taste for them as Aussie wines were few and far between in California wine shops in those days. Fast forward to the mid-90’s and the rise of Rosemount Shiraz. Others may know when the change occurred in this wine. Although others suggest that a special bottling is made for the USA. But what is clear is when I first tasted the wine in the USA it was vastly different from what I remember from Australia. All of a sudden here was a wine with ripe fruit flavors, in fact it smelled not unlike a glass of liquid blueberry/blackberry jam. It was a wine you could easily appreciate; the same is not so true of recent vintages.

The trend for these rich, ripe wines has continued to the present day as most Aussie Shiraz that reaches the USA are characterized by rich, ripe aromas backup up with the vanilla from American oak. Many say that these wines are made for the American market, but it is clear that the style is also favored in Australia. Critics like Halliday, Mattinson, and Oliver give many of these wines high points – it is not just a Parker phenomenon.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Trophy Win Launches Kim Crawford's New Wine Range
SHIRAZ is not limited to blogging about red wine, we like white as well. And there are few better whites wines than Kim Crawford's Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. We have even posted about his Pansy! Rose. The latest news is the release of Kim Crawford Small Parcels range. The press release makes it sound as though they will be hard to find wines but the effort might just be worth it!

Excerpts from Scoop Independent News article.
Wednesday, 31 August 2005,
Press Release: Kim Crawford Wines

Kim Crawford Wines are launching a new premium wine range, Kim Crawford Small Parcels, with instant success, taking the Trophy for Best Sauvignon Blanc at the 2005 Bragato Awards. Unique in New Zealand, the Bragato Wine Awards, recognise grapegrowers, the vineyard and excellence in viticultural practice.
In addition to the Sauvignon Blanc, the Kim Crawford Small Parcels range includes a Gisborne Gewurztraminer, Waipara Riesling, Hawkes Bay Te Awanga Merlot and a Marlborough Pinot Noir, like the trophy winning Sauvignon Blanc from the Comely Bank.

Last week Kim Crawford Wines announced a major win in North America, securing national listing with Marriott. Company Principal and co founder, Erica Crawford said “Our wines are now going to be served by the glass on every single wine list in three hundred and eight Marriott properties as part of the Marriott International Gold Standard Beverage Programme. It's a very exciting relationship for us and sees fine NZ wine served up in North America’s finest hotels."

In total four Kim Crawford wines have been selected by Marriott International Inc. Kim Crawford Marlborough Pinot Noir 2003 and Kim Crawford Marlborough Dry Riesling 2004 are joined by Kim Crawford Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2004 and Pansy! Rose 2003. Each of the four Kim Crawford wines selected are listed for a minimum initial period of twelve months.

Kim Crawford Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was this year also the only New Zealand wine to be selected by influential US wine magazine, Wine Spectator, for it's Top 100 Wines of The World.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Emperor Has No Clothes?
Mike Steinberger, writing in SLATE, has used his review of Elin McCoy’s The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker Jr. and the Reign of American Taste to voice his own opinion on Robert Parker, Jr. Seems Mr Steinberger thinks that Parker’s “palate doesn't quite command the authority it once did.”

To prove his point Steinberger drags up all the old news on Parker like Tony Hendra’s myopic diatribe, the attention catching excerpts from Hugh Johnson's upcoming memoir, Wine: A Life Uncorked, and Jonathan Nossiter's Mondovino. He then adds that Parker was slow to realize the potential of California Pinot Noir. And that he is now outsourcing his reign among people like Pierre Rovani (who has responsibility for the Burgundy, Loire, Alsace, New Zealand, and the Pacific Northwest), David Schildknecht (Germany and Austria), and Daniel Thomases (Italy).

Plus Parker is approaching 60 raising concerns not only about his ability to continue his mammoth work load, but also whether his palate may be suffering. According to Steinberger “Many oenophiles, as they get older, tend to gravitate toward more subtle wines, but Parker appears to want them even brawnier and bawdier. His growing predilection for freakish wines (Australian Shirazes with 15 percent alcohol and the consistency of sludge) and freakish vintages (the 2003 Rhones, the product of a lethal heat wave that nearly turned the grapes into raisins) has raised eyebrows even among some of his most slavish followers.”

While I have been concerned about Parker’s sometimes scathing criticism of certain Australian wineries (viz. the acidity in Penfold’s wines in the last WA to focus on Australia) I don’t believe his love of the essential character of Barossa Shiraz is freakish. I don’t believe that Australian Shirazes with 15 percent alcohol are freakish. Simply put, 15 percent alcohol is not something limited to Australian wines. And I have yet to find a wine, anywhere, that has the consistency of sludge. Could it be that someone slipped Mr Steinberger a glass of motor oil in the guise of an Aussie Shiraz? Or perhaps he is confused between Shiraz and Muscat. The latter has loads of alcohol and can look like motor oil. To the uninitiated the wonderful complex aromas of raisins, toffee, caramel and coffee and rich, seductive taste might appear freakish. Parker certainly gives the wines high scores, so I guess they must be freakish, freakishly outstanding!

Steinberger’s comments are really those of yet another devotee of “subtle, distinctive reds and whites” who seems to think that Parker, by favoring wines with flavor, has tilted wine in the wrong direction. However the last time I looked grapes were a fruit, a flavorful fruit that with care and attention can be turned into something with extraordinary aromas. I say leave subtle and austere to the old world of wine making.

Yes I have read The Emperor of Wine, and yes there will be a review posted in the near future.