Monday, February 28, 2005

And The Oscar For Best Adapted Screenplay Goes To.....
When was it, sometime in late January I think, that we predicted that Sideways would win for its adaption of Rex Pickett's novel. It wasn't really a huge gamble. But what is disappointing is that Thomas Haden Church missed out on Best Supporting Actor. Some say he lost the female vote because of the character he played. If true that would be unfortunate as it does suggest that he did play a convincing role.

Local Wine Events Web Site
At a recent tasting here in San Diego I was told about a web site that listed the local tasting events. I usually get them by visiting the wine shops, their online sites or the local newspaper on a Wednesday. But this site,, is great. I was completely surprised to find that it is a worldwide listing. Take a look. I'm sure you'll find something close to where you live!

Thursday, February 24, 2005

John Duval Wines
John Duval used to be Penfolds chief winemaker and only the third maker of Penfolds Grange from 1986 until his resignation in mid-2002. He resigned following the merger between Southcorp and Rosemount Wines in 2001. Now he's making wines under his own name. John Duval Wines 2003 Plexus is a mix of Shiraz, Grenache and Mourvedre. A shiraz was made in 2004 as well as the Plexus. Its not a big gamble to say that they will be wines worth looking for. More->

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

We're going to be doing it vertically!
Wine tasting is all about being able to describe what you see, smell and taste. This thread contains some key phrases! Do you have any that you might like to add?

Friday, February 18, 2005

Just another visit to the wine store
Dropped by my favorite wine store (Vintage Wines) last night to do a tasting of “Super Italians”. Very nice line-up of eight wines plus a ringer but at $50-110USD/btl just a little too expensive for what was in the glass so I wandered around the shop to see if there were any bargains. Penfold’s Bin 389 2002 was there at $19USD so I grabbed a bottle to see if all the hype is just that. The Bin 28 Kalimna was there as well but it’s the 2001!!! Its $17USD/btl and will be on the wine bar this week so I’ll wait until I come in for the Saturday Zinfandel tasting before I try it. What this! Trevor Jones 2003 Virgin Chardonnay at $15USD/btl in screwcap – must have a few of these. Goundrey Offspring 2002 Shiraz, $11USD/btl. Hmm, haven’t tried it. Better get a bottle. Killibinbin 2002 Shiraz, $32USD/btl. Love Killibinbin, but I got just the one bottle to try because if its not as good as some of the other 2002s I have then I don’t really need more. Ah, Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Private Bin, $8USD/btl, always try that because it can be great value. OK I was pretty much done. But while I’m waiting to pay I asked about what will be in the Aussie Tasting next month. Burge’s Draycott , Elderton’s Command, and maybe Penfold’s Grange! That brings up the current hype about the recent Penfold’s releases, which leads on to other new releases that they have. Something called Old Vines at $150USD/btl! “Never heard of it, no thanks”. Red Nectar. “You have Red Nectar?”. Sure, the Stonewall. They have a six pack and when I see the bottle I know its Red Nectar. But there is some confusion by the shop staff. They don’t think this is the wine described as Kalleske Red Nectar that was recently rated by Parker. No, it’s the 2003 Stonewall Shiraz. Well, OK maybe they are correct but I thought there was just one Red Nectar and the bottle says that Tammy Pfeiffer is the vigneron and the winemaker is Troy Kalleske. A bottle had been opened for a customer to try but he turned the wine down in favor of some big point wine that cost $80USD/btl that he never even tasted! The open bottle is pulled from behind the counter and I get a pour. Day and a half old Aussie Shiraz. Not shy about being forward! All the right notes – chocolate, blueberry, licorice, and more. The palate is just as expressive but not as jarring as the Barolos I’d just tasted. Its all so well integrated, no tannins that rip at your cheeks on the finish. OK so it might not live for decades like a couple of the Italians probably will. But I swear that as I was driving to work this morning I could still taste that wine! I could hardly remember most of the Barolos. Anyway I got the rest of the six-pack at $40USD/btl. When I got it back to the counter the guy ringing up my bill tells me how I was doing so well on QPR. So I said “Well if it turns out to be crap I can always say I was drunk when I bought it.” Checked out the Red Nectar site this morning and its the wine that Parker rated 95 points. There is no Kalleske Red Nectar. I knew that. Its just that Barolo clouds the mind. I feel for the poor guy that spent $80 on other wines because he thought the Stonewall hadn’t been rated. Nah I don’t. If he couldn’t taste how good a wine the 2003 Red Nectar Shiraz is then he deserves to waste his money.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

I guess we'll never know!
Following on from the post below about whether wine critics should provide details of all wines tasted and not just those scoring above a particular point range or quality level, I asked a question on the Mark Squires forums of about the availability of information on the total number of wines tasted. Mr Parker was kind enough to provide an answer through his ERPSupport people. Mike, we checked with Mr. Parker who says: "No totally accurate record exists as we do not always record all of the wines rated below 84. In general, what is published represents approximately 25-35% of the total number of wines tasted."

So now you know!

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Hearts and Hands
At the end of the Charlie Rose interview with Robert Parker Jr there was mention made of a culinary arts book called Hearts and Hands. This is a limited-run, first edition, book published by the Sir Peter and Lady Michael Foundation to raise money for cancer. All net proceeds from book sales and fundraising events will be donated to fund prostate cancer research and patient care, as well as other cancer causes.

The book is being offered in two editions — a linen, cloth-bound edition and a signed, leather-bound collector's edition. Both include descriptions of fifteen of the world's finest chefs and thirty original recipes for appetizers, entrees and desserts, as well as wine matches from the The Peter Michael Winery. Parker wrote the Preface to the book.

A very worthy cause.
“its really a 50 to 100 point system”
The title of the post for today is a quote from Robert Parker, Jr. during his interview on the Charlie Rose Show on Monday February 14, 2005. I saw a repeat last night and jotted the quote down, replayed it to confirm, and then re-confirmed it from the transcript that has been put up on the Mark Squires forum associated with Don’t want to do a Jamie Goode!

Why is this quote of interest? Well its important because it does put more meat on the bones of the Parker scoring system which gives every wine 50 points for just being wine. Thus the given scores can never be less than 50. In practical terms, that is for readers of the The Wine Advocate, or subscribers to, its really not even a 20 point system because a wine has to score around 84-85 to be recommended (i.e. written-up) in The Wine Advocate. This has not always been the case . If you look back through the Vintage Guide in the online site you can find wines scored down into the 60’s. However this seems not to be the case in recent times even when the whole vintage, like 2002 in Italy which was rated at a 75, has scored poorly. For Piedmont only six wines were recommended from the 2002 vintage, while for Tuscany thirty wines received scores of 85 or better.

Most scoring systems, whether they are 20 point, A through D, stars, puffs, etc. are similar. They rarely, if ever, use their full range. Or, more correctly, the consumers reading the reviews put out by the wine critics using these scoring systems rarely, if ever, see the list of all the wines reviewed and the scores given. To some extent this is again a practical point. Parker, for example, tastes thousands of wines each year. If he were to publish all of them in The Wine Advocate then it would certainly cost significantly more to publish. However he must write notes on all the wines he tastes, even if its just the description of the wine and a score, and this could be easily put on-line. This would provide a full listing of all wines tasted and their scores.

If the consumer is to be truthfully served by wine critics then full disclosure of what wines have been tasted and how they rated should be the goal of the critics. Not whether a wine scored above 85 points. By limiting their published critiques to descriptions of wines that score high points wine critics do not function as consumer advocates. Instead they provide winemakers with great advertising material. That's the tail wagging the dawg!

Monday, February 14, 2005

Friday, February 11, 2005

Oxygen Not Necessary for Ageing Bottled Wine
In a Press Release Allen Hart, Southcorp's Research & Development Winemaker, described a study that has concluded that closures which allow very little oxygen to enter bottled wine do not affect the maturation of the wine. Hart concluded: "From this study it is apparent that oxygen was not a vital component for the ongoing evolution and maturation of these red wines after bottling. It is clear that access to small but measurable amounts of oxygen (eg synthetic closures), will accelerate the evolution and maturation of red wine through oxidative reactions. However, red wine will continue to evolve without measurable oxygen ingress via a closure, primarily through what is assumed to be anaerobic reactions. Some bottled wine may express "reductive" characters in such an anaerobic environment, in contrast to the wine developing oxidised characters in a more aerobic environment (but the rankings indicated that these) are not considered commercially unacceptable."

These observations are very similar to the studies of the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) reported by Tyson Stelzer. Stelzer expanded on the Southcorp Press release in a post to the Mark Squires Bulletin Board of See here. Several points bear noting. One of the wines used was the 1996 vintage of Penfolds Bin 389, a wine that can age for at least a decade and often longer. Various analyses (chemical, spectral, sensory) were done at 2.5, 4.5 and 6.5 years post-bottling. The data collected suggest that in wine bottled with ROTE (roll-on tamper-evident) or screw-cap closures, “the phenolic reactions that influence wine colour are still progressing even in the practical absence of ongoing oxygen for reaction. This allows the wines colour and tannin structure to continue to evolve with time."

So is wine development really a reductive process after all? You would think that we would know this by now. But we’ve never had a really efficient closure system to limit oxygen access before, unless you want to put your cellar under vacuum!

Thursday, February 10, 2005

A Dinosaur Roars
On the Mark Squires Bulletin Board (part of eRobert Jamie Goode of posted a note about comments apparently made by Michael Broadbent MW including the comment “What concerns me is this ‘global taste’ being forced on us”. This generated considerable discussion. Now Mark Squires is certainly no lover of British wine critics like Jancis Robinson or Broadbent and he posted this

“To me, Broadbent is a dinosaur. He has long since reached a point where his views seem reactionary. I wonder at this point how effective his tasting is. We were talking in another thread about the science of smell--that maybe 50% of the people over 65 lose 50% or more of their sense of smell. Maybe there is a reason why he remembers the '40s fondly.

I say that partly in jest--but partly not.

What is clear to me is that the Old School, best epitomized by a few British M.W.s., is dug in hard and tries to make the rules for everyone. Anyone who departs from them is a heathen. Their frustration is that Parker has pretty ignored them--and succeeded in influencing people more than they have.”
(The full post can be found about a third of the way down this page.)

Things seemed to have gone quiet, and then a post appeared (on the top of this page) from Bartholomew Broadbent containing a reply from his father. The Dinosaur roared and while Squires may be unrepentant he certainly got chewed around the edges. At least Squires can now say that Broadbent finally knows who he is. Its just a guess but I’ll bet that Mr Squires thought that Mr Broadbent already knew all about him, what wif ‘im bein’ RP's lacky an all.

Monday, February 07, 2005

The "pseudo-scientific tyranny of wine ratings"
Neil Pendock seems to have gotten into a right tizzy doesn’t he? He hopes that people like Roger Scruton will bring sanity to wine appreciation, which he believes as been "hijacked by Robert Parker, Wine Spectator and a band of sensory accountants determined to condense a glass of wine into a score accurate to the third decimal point". Scruton, who describes drinkers of Australian wine as morons, has very questionable ethics. Hardly the sort of personality you want beating the drum "against pseudo-scientific wine appreciation, with its dissertations and exams, faux-academic 'qualifications' and non-reproducible wine ratings out of 100".

What is pseudo-scientific about wine appreciation? As a scientist I’m almost certainly biased, but I find that the more attention I place on examining the color, smell and taste of a wine the more I am able to appreciate, or understand, a wine. The ability to appreciate color, smell and taste are attributes that the majority of us have, although not in equal measure; we can be grouped according to our innate ability. More importantly while novice wine drinkers may be able to say that they “like” a wine they are very often hard pressed to describe what it is that they “appreciate” about the wine. Experience, particularly in the ability to describe what is being ”tasted”, is part of acquiring true wine appreciation.

The question then becomes is such leaning a pseudo-scientific process? Well understanding the physiological processes involved is certainly not pseudo-science. The major organs concerned (eyes, nose, and tongue) are capable of amazing discrimination, although it may take training in order for any group of individuals to reach a consensus on, for example the color magenta, or the odor of lime; this happens, more or less successfully, in wine appreciation classes all over the world resulting in what Pendock would probably call faux-academic “qualifications”.

Why is it necessary for us to learn to appreciate wine? Well the simple answer is that not all wine is created equal. And while anyone can drink whatever wine it is within their means to obtain, why would they want to drink poor quality wine? After all there is an almost endless supply of wine and a new vintage almost every year. It is not so much a matter of tasting from one bottle to the next but deciding which bottle to taste! It is this step in the process that has people like Pendock and Scruton screeching from their pulpits, because it is here that the masses, who mostly want to have a nice bottle of wine with dinner, must rely on a few individuals who taste and pass judgment on countless thousands of bottles of wine.

Next: Which Sensory Accountant Should The Masses Use to Fill Their Cellars?
Meanwhile check out the link to a discussion of a 1,000 point scoring system.

Friday, February 04, 2005

The Philosopher’s Stone, Newton, Rowling, Scruton, & Parker
Wine writers can certainly draw together unusual mixtures of people. And the idea that the bath is important for their ideas is interesting. Maybe that’s why B&B’s in the Barossa have such large spa baths!!!

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Wine and Unusual Animal Mating Rituals
Australia's Black Swan Vineyards has partnered with the Los Angeles Zoo to donate two Australian black swans and fund the creation of the Zoo's first-ever black swan habitat, marking the first time in the Zoo's 39-year history that black swans will reside at the Zoo. The black swans, who mate for life, will officially arrive just in time for Valentine's Day 2005. Among the activities being planned are a discussion and slide presentation by L.A. Zoo General Curator Mike Dee, who will examine romantic and unusual animal mating rituals. The event will also feature the opportunity to name the Zoo's two new Australian black swans with an auction benefiting GLAZA's animal "adoption" program. GLAZA is the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association. MORE->

Can’t say that I’ve tasted, or even seen these wines in any shops. But the web site is certainly one up on a lot of wine sites I’ve seen recently.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The Pirie Hypothesis
How can you tell if its going to be a great vintage? Well there is no foolproof way. But Andrew Pirie, who earned Australia's first PhD in viticulture in the 1970s when he conducted studies throughout Australia that led to his identification of Pipers Brook as a suitable vineyard site, has an idea from those old days as a student. "It was to do with how much sugar got into the berry each day just after colour change," he says, referring to veraison, the period when the grape begins to ripen. "I still haven't come up with a better idea than that, because that is the critical period when the berry's machinery is fed by sugar from the leaves and the machinery is only in operation for a couple of weeks. "If you were able to plot that, you would probably find that it did help to describe what made a great vintage." More->