Friday, April 29, 2005

Pass The Plonk
A media release from my old stomping grounds notes that “Many of the slang words that make Australian English unique — including Aussie — come from war, according to Dr Bruce Moore, the Director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre, based at The Australian National University.”

Among the words is plonk, which is described as a common Australian slang term for wine that is thought to have gained currency during the First World War and is probably a corruption of the French ‘blanc’ as in vin blanc, or white wine.

Australia - the land of colorful slang and wonderful wines.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Value in Aussie Shiraz
With Shiraz celebrating 170 years of history in Australia I celebrated by tasting six inexpensive examples at the Aussie Values tasting at Vintage Wines in San Diego last Saturday. My tasting notes can be found here. For a more extensive look at Aussie Shiraz you might want to check out my notes on 2002 Australian Shiraz. The 2002 wines have been heralded as some of the best in recent memory, well that is until the better quality 2004s start to make an appearance!

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Australian Shiraz - 170 Years Old And Still Maturing
They came in 1788, many of them convicts, to the great southern land. They brought vines. The first vineyards planted in those early years around what is now Sydney were not great successes. It is believed that Shiraz vine cuttings were brought to Australia in 1832, from Montpellier in France, by wine pioneer James Busby. He was given a grant of land in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales. The property was called ‘Kirkton’. James Busby was not involved in the running of Kirkton. William Kelman, Busby’s brother-in-law, took care of the vineyards. Kelman is thought to have been among the first to plant vines in the Hunter Valley. George Wyndham planted vines in the Hunter in 1828. By 1835 Wyndham had planted the first commercial Shiraz vineyards at Dalwood in the Hunter Valley.

According to a recent Press Release the Dalwood vineyards are the first commercial Shiraz plantings in Australia. Wyndham Estate is Australia’s oldest continuously operating winery and its story can be viewed in a Promotional Video.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Decanting – Can Master of Wine Students Be Wrong?
In the Sunday April 17, 2005 issue of The Observer Tim Atkin reveals that he “opened a 2003 Doña Dominga Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenère from Chile and served two glasses, one decanted and one straight from the bottle, to six Master of Wine students. Without any prompting, they all preferred the decanted wine.”

Its not clear what the students preferred in the decanted wine, but Atkin goes on to note “In my experience, most red wines taste better decanted, especially if they are made from 'reductive' grape varieties such as Syrah/Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, Malbec, Carmenère and Grenache. Decanting these wines can be like opening a window in a stuffy room.”

If it was reductive character that was being removed by the decanting then perhaps a simple racking of the wine might have helped before it made it into the bottle. The question is whether the consumer has to decant in order to correct what should be being done in the winery.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Paul Hobbs Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
I’m not a big fan of Pinot Noir. Its not because I don’t like the grape, or the wine it makes, its just that I’ve never had a really good pinot. And its not that I haven’t looked, Australia, California, Pacific Northwest, and France have all been part of the search. OK, maybe I have not looked in the right vineyards and not spent the right amount of money to buy the pleasure of a great pinot. But I have never equated spending a lot of money on a bottle of wine as equaling quality, and particularly not the great pleasure that can come from drinking an unexpectedly good wine.

Unexpectedly good wine was what was in the glass of Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir that I sampled at the Vintage Wines Wine Bar on Saturday. I’d gone there for the Aussie Values tasting (more about that later in the week) and decided that I would try a few of the wines on the Wine Bar. Call it the SIDEWAYS effect, simple interest or just plain thirst, but I pointed out the Paul Hobbs as one of the five wines I wanted to taste. Among the other wines tasted were an Aussie Shiraz, a California Syrah and a Petite Syrah. Heavy-duty company for a delicate pinot!

Well maybe not so delicate! The 2003 Paul Hobbs Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is a slightly murky cherry red with a red edge; yes its unfiltered. A quick swirl reveals ripe fruit and wonderful spicy aromas that reminded me of ripe quince. In the mouth its medium bodied, very soft and supple with great balance. Others might say “velvety palate feel” but I’ve never tasted velvet. What is velvet is what the wine does in your mouth. If described in detail, it would probably be obscene in several countries. Those spicy, quince-like aromas expand and explode in wave after wave of intensity as you breathe out through your nose; its called retronasal breathing and this wine will give you the real deal! Bloody fantastic.

I bought a bottle for Miranda and me to drink at our leisure over the rest of the weekend. Opened on Saturday night, it was still going strong when I reluctantly finished the last few drops on Sunday night. An excellent Pinot Noir, and the best I can remember having. (2, 2, 4.2, 10.5 = 18.7, (93), 14.6% alcohol. $32.99USD. Tasted April 23-24, 2005.)

Oh, you want to know what Robert Parker, Jr. says about the wine? “The 2003 Pinot Noir Russian River (1,178 cases) shows deep ruby color and a big, sweet nose of cherry jam, intermixed with a hint of rose petals, earth, Allspice, and some wood. It is ripe, medium-bodied, and fruit-driven. Drink it over the next 3-4 years.” Wine Advocate #157 (Feb 2005) 89 Points.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Shiraz Whipped Potatoes
(From The Wichita Eagle)
You need:
2 lbs. Yukon Gold or baking potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 ½ cups shiraz
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 tablespoon minced garlic
½cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped chives

Put potatoes in a large pot of lightly salted water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until potatoes are tender.

Meantime, combine the wine, shallots and garlic in a small non-corrosive saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook 7 to 8 minutes, until the liquid is reduced to about 1/3cup. Set aside.

Drain the potatoes and return them to the pan. Stir over medium-high heat for about 1 minute to dry them out.

Add the reduced red wine mixture and mash the potatoes with a fork or potato masher, mixing in the wine. Heat the cream in a saucepan over medium-high heat until scalded but not boiling. Add the cream and butter to the potatoes, and salt and pepper to taste, and mash with fork or potato masher until smooth. Stir in the chives. Serve immediately, or keep warm until ready to serve.

Recipe by Peter Moretti of the Marriott for a dinner featuring wines from Australia.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

100 Women in Wine
Journeys and Inspiration in Wine and Life
To be published by Carneros Press later this year 100 Women In Wine: Journeys and Inspiration in Wine and Life is a book that will focus on the life stories and accomplishments of 100 women in the wine industry. Gregory S. Walter (Author and Publisher) is collecting histories and stories and soliciting suggestions for inclusion.

You can nominate a candidate, or submit a profile. Pre-orders are also being taken for the book. Cover price will be $39.95USD.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Aussie Shiraz Sponsors Pontiff's New Values
Could this be the future of Australian wine? "McWilliam's shiraz: Heaven in a glass".
Santa Barbara Goes Sideways
You can't blame them, I guess. Sideways has been a great hit. So why shouldn't Santa Barbara ride its coat tails. But I'm not sure they really know what sideways really means, other wise they wouldn't be asking you and me to "Get SIDEWAYS in Santa Barbara County". But just in case you want to visit Santa Barbara and experience a little of the travails of Miles and Jack there is SIDEWAYS:The Map either as a PDF online or you can request one by snail mail. But if you can't make it to Santa Barbara then maybe you might want to buy some of the wine from the movie? The SIDEWAYS Wine Club is the spot for you. Too expensive! Then how about The Sideways Guide to Wine and Life. It lists all the wines shown in the movie, "some of the movies most memorable quotes, as well as tips for how to best enjoy wine - some tips are useful, others humorous, all are enjoyable".

I could be wrong, but I get the feeling that the SIDEWAYS effect is getting just a bit, sideways!

Friday, April 15, 2005

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Decanting - Day 9
This topic has been allowed to breathe for too long! The previous post in this series, Day 8, on March 23rd provided a link to a Q&A in Scientific American. “How does decanting red wine affect its taste? And why is it suggested for red wine, but not white?” The answer was provided by Andrew L Waterhouse, a Professor in the Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California at Davis and author of the book Red Wine Color: Revealing the Mysteries. Professor Waterhouse notes “From the perspective of modifying the taste or appearance of a wine, the decision about whether or not to decant is based largely on two criteria, although the amount of published literature on the topic is very limited.” After searching far and wide for any literature I can agree with the last part of this statement!

In answering the question Professor Waterhouse makes sure that the reader is aware that his response will include several terms “that are not based on measurements, but are descriptive terms conventionally used by wine drinkers”. Those terms are “closed”, “breathing”, “softens”, and “bottle bouquet”. This is an important point. As much as you (or I) may think we experience these phenomena, our description does not provide any measurement. And even though they may seem like simple terms their (subjective) measurement may be extremely complicated to quantify.

The two criteria that Professor Waterhouse comments on are decanting to accelerate the “breathing” process to increase the wine's aromas, and decanting to “soften” the taste of the tannins that cause harshness and astringency in young wines. Let’s talk about the second point first, and we’ll get to the “breathing” issue in another post. As Professor Waterhouse notes chemical analysis has determined no changes in tannins after decanting, and yet it is often noted that a wine “softens” with time once exposed to air. So what explains the phenomena? Well let’s backtrack a little here. What actually happened with this story is that I sent out a question which asked “do you know of any published work that supports the notion that decanting for several hours softens tannins in bottled wine?” to several academics who I thought might be able to provide an answer. Professor Waterhouse was one of the individuals. He was kind enough to reply that there is “Little evidence of actual changes in tannins.” And provided a PDF of the Scientific American commentary. (I found the Scientific American piece independently during a literature search. Oddly enough the direct link to the magazine is a more extensive answer than the material in the PDF.)

I also asked Professor Bruce W. Zoecklein of the Department of Food Science and Technology at Virginia Tech. Professor Zoecklein, who oversees The Wine/Enology - Grape Chemistry Group, replied “I do not know of any publication which reports that aeration of bottled wine softens tannins. That could happen as a result of oxidative polymerization. Naturally, how much polymerization and the sensory impact would be dictated by the phenol make-up of the wine. Oxidative impact is much greater in fermenting and very young wines which contain a higher concentration of monomeric phenols-notable pigments.” So it’s a possibility that oxidation might affect tannins in very young wine, but there is no published experimental evidence for bottled wine.

OK, so let’s think about this in another way. Why does a softening of the tannins in wine have to involve an effect on components in wine? After all, astringency is detected in the mouth. What is astringency? All of the explanations I have found are essentially similar. The most interesting comes from Simon et al (Biochemistry 42 (2003) p10385-10395). “This sensation, earlier considered by Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) as a taste, was described in physicochemical terms by Joslyn and Golstein in 1964 as the result of a strong interaction between tannins and salivary proteins. The formed tannin-protein complex aggregates, thus reducing the lubricating property of saliva. A dry, rough, and pucker sensation is then perceived as a diffuse stimulus in the entire mouth.” In essence polyphenols (tannins) interact with proline-rich proteins (salivary proteins).

In reviewing polyphenols, Lesschaeve and Noble (American. J. Clinical Nutrition 81 (2005) 330S-335S) make a number of interesting points. The tactile sensation of astringency is thought to be perceived through touch, while an astringent is defined chemically as a compound that precipitates protein. Alcohol levels can affect bitterness but not astringency. Astringency increases and bitterness decreases with the degree of polymerization. Adding acid to wine increases astringency. Eating chocolate increases perceived astringency of red wine, with dark chocolate producing the largest effect. Although studies are conflicting there is evidence that astringency perception may be influenced by salivary flow rate. The faster you can restore saliva (salivary protein) the less astringency you will experience. Wine consumers often confuse bitterness and astringency; bitterness is used to express dislike and often associated with acid or astringent characters.

How does any of this explain how decanting “softens” the taste of the tannins? Well I doubt that there is any experimental work that addresses the question directly but my point is quite simple. As a research scientist I’m certain I could make a much more credible case for salivary protein levels influencing tannin perception, as opposed to oxidation affecting tannin chemistry. More to the point, tasting a wine and perceiving changes in the qualities of that wine over time is more complex than just the interaction of air with the wine. There are so many variables to be considered that they render anecdotal description of the effects of aeration meaningless.

If the question is ever completely resolved it is likely that the final answer may well involve chemical (oxidation) and physiological (astringency perception) explanations, but as it stands right now there is no unequivocal evidence that aeration due to decanting “softens” the taste of the tannins.

Hmm, I wonder if the perceived increase in a wine's aroma during aeration might be explained by physiological responses as well.

I want to acknowledge the kind assistance of Professors Waterhouse and Zoecklein in taking time from their busy schedules to answer my questions and permitting me to quote from their replies.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Mondovino Madness
Wine Business Online has put up a link to the Open letter to Robert Parker and his readers from Jonathan Nossiter that was posted on the forum (see my post from yesterday for the link). Also included is a link to a comment on the same letter in the wine magazine Decanter. Decanter's take on the Nossiter letter? "The director of Mondovino has accused Robert Parker's partner Pierre-Antoine Rovani of cynicism, McCarthyism, Orwellianism and all-round bad faith in an 8-page open letter to Parker."

And another link is to the April 12th NPR segment on Mondovino. (The new documentary Mondovino turns the camera on the wine industry. It caused a sensation when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival with its depiction of globetrotting consultants and corporations eager to appeal to the widest possible market. It also describes established wineries trying to hold onto traditions. Beth Accomando of member station KPBS reports.) If that gets too heavy there are other wine related stories at the same page.

Oddly enough the Daily Wine News section of is supplied by, yes that’s correct, Wine Business Online!

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

BlogShares is a fantasy stock market for weblogs. Players get to invest a fictional $500, and blogs are valued by incoming links.

What agreat idea! And what is even more exciting is that there is a maket in Wine Blogs. Shiraz ranks 20th out of the 116 blogs in the category. It seems like we have been subject to a profit play with our share price being built up by one player and then sold off on March 29th.
Open Letter
From: Jonathan Nossiter, director of Mondovino
To: Robert Parker and his readers

I've been reading a lot about the movie Mondovino, but I have to wait until May 20 before it gets to a theater in San Diego. While I wait I can read the letter to eBob from the director of the movie.

For balance here is the Pierre Rovani post that prompted Jonathan Nossiter's letter.

Mondovino, The Emperor of Wine, and replays of the Sideways DVD. 2005 looks like an exciting year. I hope I get to taste wines that are as varied!
Murray - The Ultimate Nose
It was purchased from the winery and stored in my cellar under flawless conditions. It should have been hedonistic and mind-blowing. Instead it was corked beyond all recognition. I will never doubt Murray again.

Monday, April 11, 2005

On Being Bounty Hunted
One of the things I try to avoid is unwanted mail. But if you subscribe to hardcopy or online magazines or vendors lists you always seem to end up getting more than you bargained for. I knew that was the case when I received in the mail a brown covered booklet describing itself as “The Continuing Adventures of Napa Valley’s BOUNTY HUNTER And His Relentless Quest for the Finest RARE WINE & PROVISIONS”. I don’t really know why I deserved this particular catalog. I’ve never heard of the Bounty Hunter!

The brown booklet I received was the Spring/Summer 2005 Catalog and the cover cried out for you to “Discover your own cult wine”® inside. The catalog does contain a small but international listing of wines. The problem is that those that I would be interested in purchasing (mainly Australian) can be obtained elsewhere for quite a few dollars less per bottle.

  • Groom Barossa Shiraz 2003 $42.95 versus $34.99
  • D'Arenberg 'Dead Arm' Shiraz 2002 $64.95 versus $53.99
  • Cloudy Bay Chardonnay 2003 $29.95 versus $24.99
I can’t help but wonder if the Bounty Hunter shouldn’t be hunting better wine deals before hunting for buyers?

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Lagier Meredith Vineyards Syrah
After you have been instrumental in identifying the origins of some of the greatest old wine varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Syrah, and most recently Zinfandel what do you do for an encore? You help your significant other make wine! The Lagier Meredith Vineyards produce just Syrah. Their first commercial bottling was of the 1998 in 2000. A grand total of 78 cases. With a vineyard that is at 1,300 foot elevation and a wine making process that uses old French oak barrels there is heavy emphasis on making sure that the grapes provide a lot of the flavors. Production is limited, just 550 cases of the 2002, and most sales are via mailing list. They are definitely wines worth seeking out. My tasting notes for the 2001 and 2002 Lagier Meredith Syrahs are here.

A thread on has tasting notes on all vintages.
Saltram Australian Wine Communicator Award
The inaugural award was made at a presentation dinner in Sydney, Australia on April 6th. And so we await the results with interest. Rumors have the winner as Campbell Mattinson of Winefront Monthly.

Developed by the Wine Press Club of NSW and sponsored by Saltram Wine Estate “The Saltram Australian Wine Communicator Award seeks to encourage excellence and innovation in Australian wine communication, recognizing high quality writing, the presentation of new ideas and well-argued positions assisting the development of the industry.”

The winner receives the Saltram Australian Wine Communicator Award Trophy, a $10,000 travel grant donated by Saltram Wine Estate to either California or Italy and $1000 spending money from the Wine Press Club of NSW. The trip will include a visit and tasting at either Beringer or Castello de Gabbiano winery.

The Saltram Wine Communicator Award for 2004 was open to a piece of work by an Australian author published or broadcast between 1 January 2004 to 31 December 2004. For the purposes of this Award “a piece of work” was defined as a published piece of work on wine by one or more authors and could take the form of any of the following:

• Newspaper or magazine article in public or trade publications
• Web-sites
• E-newsletters
• Television and radio programs or segments
• Winery newsletters or publications produced by wine companies

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

On Bullshit
Harry G. Frankfurt a retired professor of philosophy at Princeton, has had a little essay he wrote in 1986 put into book form. The essay attempts to define bullshit, hence “On Bullshit”. Why publish this book now. Is bullshit more prevalent? Timothy Noah says yes, and thinks “The obvious answer is the communications revolution. Cable television and the Internet have created an unending demand for information, and there simply isn't enough truth to go around. So, we get bullshit instead.”

Its an interesting opinion. I wonder how much bullshit there is on the internet in relation to wine? Hmmm!

Need to hear what bullshit is? Here you go.

Monday, April 04, 2005

I am busy with non-wine stuff, but I couldn't let this go by. A post on eBob has described yet another method of decanting to aerate wine. This method is completely new to me. It concerns a wine made by Merus Wines.

"If you open a bottle within the next 12 months: Counting six to eigth hours backwards from the time when you want to serve the 2002 Merus, decanter vigorously (we point the bottle directly upside down) into the decanter, and gently slosh the wine around. Using a funnel, put the wine back into the bottle. Place the wine back into the wine cellar (cork in or out makes no difference), and take out 90 minutes before serving."

I'm sure the winery has done extensive studies to arrive at this method and it is most probably wine specific so please don't try this with just any wine, please!