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)