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 cuvĂ©es 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.

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