Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Is Australian Shiraz trying to be Pomerol?
Dara Moskowitz of CityPages seems to think so. “Oaky, sweet Australian Shiraz is, in a very distant way, trying to be Pomerol. So is syrupy California Merlot. Coincidentally, to my palate, these are also the two wines on earth that have the most in common with Coca-Cola.” The reference is to Yellowtail, and so you have to wonder how much Aussie Shiraz this individual has actually tasted.

Much of the article is a review of the film Mondovino which the author has seen with several others. They include French wine importer Chris Osgood, who works for wine distributor Cat & Fiddle; and Jeanne Moillard, who lives in Burgundy and promotes the wines of her family company, Moillard.

As Moskowitz notes “Each of these people wanted to talk about something that is more about our lives than it is about the movie: They wanted to talk about how aligned American and Australian palates have gotten to the idea of wine as a sweet, vanilla-toasty beverage, and how difficult it makes their passion of selling more distinct wines.“

In reference to these sweet, vanilla-toasty beverages Osgood says “Every time I have one of these big American or Australian wines with a meal, I feel like I'm eating bites of a Snickers bar between bites of the meal. When I was 21 or 22, I definitely liked wines like that; I always thought, 'This is bigger than the last thing I tasted, therefore it's more memorable.' When you develop your palate you learn that bigger isn't necessarily better.”

The answer is, of course, the wines that Osgood and Moillard can supply. "Château Eugénie - This dark wine doesn't have the obvious fruit or friendliness of a wannabe Pomerol. Instead it has a strongly mineral nose, a scent of plums or prunes, and the funkiness of truffles, all hung upon a bracingly angular and stiff structure that cuts through the world like an axe blade." Or the Californian Smith Wooton Cabernet Franc. "It was bursting with the fragrance of violets and roses, real blackberries and raspberries, and a bit of the brambly scent of dried raspberry leaves and vines. It was very acidic and nicely knit, in the manner of a true food wine."

What is it about these wines that Moskowitz finds so intriguing? Well it seems that they “suggest something about the French palate and its love of structure, something a worldwide taste for Coca-Cola wines is threatening to destroy.”

Hmm, the interesting thing about structure is that it includes acid, alcohol, fruit, and tannins, and all those building blocks need to be in balance. Wines that have mouthwatering acidity are not necessarily well structured or in balance. But if your palate has been educated to believe that they are, then you might just think that a fruit forward Aussie Shiraz does taste like Coca-Cola. Personally I know the difference.

About the only really interesting comment Moskowitz makes is to suggest that we drink broadly and develop our own taste. Amen to that!

Friday, May 27, 2005

The Botanist and the Vintner
The lush green leafed rows of vines of a vineyard don’t call to mind a battlefield but in the late 19th century the vineyards of France were made up of “frail wooden frigates, lightly armored cruisers and unsinkable battleships”. This is a colorful and very telling description by Christy Campbell in his book The Botanist and the Vintner: How Wine Was Saved For The World as he illustrates the scale of resistance of various varieties and species of vine against the scourge of phylloxera. Vitis vinifera which had provided the grapes for the great wines of France were frailty personified while Vitis rotundifolia, also known as Scuppernong in its native North America, was resistant to the little insect; and so it should be, it had grown up surrounded by the bug.

Phylloxera was introduced into France in the early 1860’s by vines from New York and had infested virtually the whole of France by the end of the century. The cure was to use rootstock resistant to the insect, but even here battle lines were drawn between the américainistes who advocated the use of the resistant American rootstocks and the sulfuristes who preferred insecticides. But first the cause of the malady that made vines wither and die in the early 1860s would have to be identified and studied. The 19th century struggle against phylloxera is masterfully told by Campbell as he weaves considerable scientific detail into a story coupled with personal accounts of a number of the major players, all against a backdrop of French politics.

The lists of practical remedies that were proposed for the 30,000 franc prize offered by the French Imperial Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce border on the ridiculous; marching bands to drum the aphid out of its root loving existence. However the most remarkable facet of the story is the considerable insight of individuals such as the Montpellier botanist Jules-Émile Planchon and Charles Valentine Riley an English-born entomologist from Missouri in realizing that the aphid was responsible for the disease and that it had come from America. And then there were the struggles faced in convincing vineyard owners to destroy their vines. Why destroy the vines when almost everyone seemed to have a concoction that would kill the pest? Besides there was money to be made in sulphur.

The Botanist and the Vintner is a compelling story and should find a place on the book shelves of all serious lovers of the vine and wine.

The Botanist and the Vintner: How Wine Was Saved For The World by Christy Campbell (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2005, 320 pages, $24.95USD, Hardcover).

Disclosure: A complimentary copy of the book was supplied to me by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.
2003 Australian Shiraz
Just started a new category over on Tasting Notes for 2003 Aussie Shiraz. There will be a few more additions to the 2002 Aussies as some of the wines that are held back are released, but the focus will now be on getting some notes on the 2003 wines and maybe a few from 2004 as well.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Put Some Fizz In Your Life
Red Fizz, Sparkling Shiraz, Aussie Champers, da, da, dada, boom boom! No it ain’t Texas tea. I’m talking about something that will get your lips smacking, and you don’t have to kiss a Cold Duck to do it!

Red frothy wine has been around for a while in Australia but its not seen very much in the USA. Fortunately that seems to be changing, at least according to an article by W. Blake Gray in the San Francisco Chronicle. There are even some Californian Sparkling Shiraz wines, made by Australians of course.

We tasted a few of these wines on our trip to the Barossa last December. The best was probably the Barossa Valley Estates 1999 E&E Sparkling Shiraz. What a treat! Dense cherry red, almost purple it gave off mountains of blueberry/blackberry and pepper notes. A truly mouth-filling wine, that carried its fruit flavors through on retronasal. Very well balanced with a lengthy finish. The only drawback was that the bubbles just did not last in the glass. (2, 2, 4.3, 10.4=18.7/20, 14.5% alcohol). Almost as good was the Seppelts 1994 Show Sparkling Shiraz, which is 10 years old on release. It had developed characters of earth and barnyard and was soft and elegant in the mouth finishing with firm tannins. Surprisingly good! (2, 2, 4.4, 10.2=18.6/20).

Monday, May 23, 2005

Australia is where it's at, number one, perfect
That’s what Matthew Jukes said at the recent launch of his list of 100 Best Australian Wines. Tasting something like 35,000 wines a year Jukes might just know what he is talking about.

"You guys don't need to refer to France anymore as the model - you guys are the model.”

"They are comparing themselves to you now - they're looking at you."

"Australians are amazing creatures - creatures that accept criticism as much as they accept praise," Jukes said.

"The speed at which you react is mind blowing.”

"It is a matter of your character, wanting to please, wanting to be gregarious.”

"The natural things we like about Australians come out in the wines." MORE->
Mondovino – The Dogs of Wine?
Miranda and I made our way to the Ken Cinema for the 5:30pm showing of Mondovino last Friday evening. I believe it was the first showing in San Diego but the crowd was small, maybe less than 30 souls. Without any real audience participation you have to form your own opinion of this movie, and even though my impression is clouded by the recent internet discussions one thing is painfully clear. The production is well below acceptable standards. Camera shake, poor focus and zooming techniques abound. And the subtitles can be frustratingly difficult to read.

But what about the movie? Is Nossiter the anti-Parker, the anti-Mondavi, the anti-Rolland, the anti-Globalist that he has been made out to be? Well in truth his opinion is never verbally presented in the movie. The way the movie is put together, the editing, the questioning, may reflect Nossiter’s opinion; indeed some have argued just that. But I found any unified argument poorly formed and presented.

The movie seems to be a series of badly stitched together segments involving battles for land between Mondavi and the French and later the Italians, intermixed with visits to South American peasant farmers. Are the latter to be the target of global wine market sharks like the Mondavis? Almost certainly, but that point it not made clear at all. In other segments families struggle to keep tradition alive, while Michel Rolland seems to want to micro-oxygenate everything in sight while making sure his clients don’t understand what he is doing; otherwise they could do it themselves. Robert Parker is there, stating yet again that all he wants to do is keep below the radar. He can sit at his desk in Monkton, MD and influence wine tastes in Tokyo, and he wants to keep below the radar! Parker’s statements I find troubling. He is an intelligent man and he knows his sphere of influence, and yet he seems to want to convince people that he is ignorant of that influence.

The most annoying and yet amusing aspect of the film is the constant panning of the camera to any dog that may be nearby even though an interview is taking place. Fortunately the dogs provide some of the more lighthearted moments in the movie without the need to strain to read subtitles.

What is also noticeable in the movie is wine nationalism and elitism. Most extreme is the French vigneron who does not want the Mondavi machine coming in and buying land but welcomes Gérard Depardieu and the conglomerate behind him. Not without fault are the Napa winemakers who place such high value on their Mexican workers that they reward them with T-shirts and other gifts, and even know their names; but don’t know if there are Mexican vineyard owners in the valley and don’t even seem to want to save their embarrassment by noting the growing wine industry that is just south of the Californian border.

After the movie we went for dinner at a Mexican restaurant across the street from the theatre and we were given a copy of FILM Magazine. Inside I found Nossiter’s explanation of his film. "And what’s happening is there’s a wine war going on right now across the globe, a war for wine’s survival. It’s a cultural, political and economic war. A war between countries, but also between and even within families. There are winemakers from the old world and the new fighting to preserve their individual personality, dignity and history (whether ancestral or recently discovered). There are also equally committed and outlandish characters, at home and abroad, looking to impose a dominant, homogenising style, and wipe out our historical memory and cultural diversity."

Well at least now I know what I was supposed to see!

Monday, May 16, 2005

Chardonnay In Australia
In an article that is sure to create more than its fair share of discussion Jeni Port has picked out five regions in Australia that produce quality Chardonnay. They are in no particular order of preference Margaret River, Adelaide Hills, Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Tasmania.

I’d agree with the first and the last having had excellent wines from both regions. Its been a while since I’ve seen a Petaluma chardonnay and I can’t say that any stand out in my memory. I guess the Hunter still just makes Semillon!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Who has the Oldest Commercial Vineyard in Australia?
Wyndham Estate recently celebrated the first commercial Shiraz plantings in Australia at their Dalwood vineyards, and has also claimed that they are Australia’s oldest continuously operating winery. Now I find that Schild Estate Wines has launched a wine called Moorooroo Shiraz with the claim that it is made with grapes from the oldest commercial vineyard in Australia. Their Shiraz vines were planted near Jacobs Creek by William Jacob in 1846. So they are 150 years old, more or less. Turkey Flat Vineyard also claims some of the oldest Shiraz vines in the world. Theirs were planted in 1847 and are still producing fruit.

Why is this of any interest? Well I’ve just finished reading The Botanist and the Vintner: How Wine Was Saved for the World by Christy Campbell. It is the story of how Phylloxera was introduced to Europe from America. It’s a great read and I’ll post a review some time soon. But after reading the book its obvious that Australia, thanks to James Busby, was blessed with original rootstock from the Old World. The question is how much of that original material has survived? How old are Australia's oldest vines? And where are they?
Changing the Smell of Wine
The smell of wine comes from the grapes right? After all Cabernet Sauvignon has a different flavor profile to Shiraz or Pinot Noir. Well the grapes certainly play their part but so does the wine making process and particularly the strain of yeast selected for the fermentation. This was dramatically demonstrated to me during our trip to the Barossa last December when winemaker Matt Wenk showed us barrel samples of his Smidge Wines 2004 Zinfandel that had been fermented with different yeasts. Although from grapes from Langhorne Creek and maturing in French oak the two wines could not have been any different.

At the Australian Wine Research Institute molecular biologist Jan Hentie Swiegers is looking a this very situation to see if he can select the right yeast to create aromas in wines that are more appealing to consumers.

"The aim is not necessarily to pump up the aromas every time," Dr Swiegers said. "It's about giving winemakers the knowledge to be able to create the aromas that the market responds to and usually associates with a wine style."

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Extreme Crystal for Extreme Aussie Shiraz
With the help of Penfold’s Wines Riedel has made a Vinum Extreme Shiraz glass. In the words of Mr Georg Riedel the aim was "to create the missing link in the sequence of a wine's journey from the earth to the palate".

"These are made for more powerful wines with the aim of providing more balance for the consumer," Mr Riedel said. "A lot of your wines are consumed at a relatively young age and the glasses can play an important role."

A Vinum Extreme Shiraz glass will set you back about $30USD ($54AUD). I guess that Styrofoam cup I’ve been using is getting just a bit passé.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Sideways Crush
The San Diego Reader is one of those free weekly publications that seems to survive solely on advertising. Miranda picks it up each week and I go straight for the Restaurant section and Crush. I read little else in it. Crush is penned by Matthew Lickona and delves into local wine stories. And Lickona finds some pretty interesting vignettes on wine in San Diego. Last week he gave us a little of the inside on Sideways from Julian Davies an Englishman who, it appears, taught Rex Pickett quite a bit about wine. Davies worked in a wine shop just around he corner from Pickett. In 1998, Pickett and Gittens ‘took a road trip up to the Santa Ynez Valley to taste some wine and play some golf. "He was a long time divorced," says Davies, "but he had learned that his ex-wife was about to remarry." (Gittens says that Davies was invited on the trip but had to work; Davies has no memory of this.) The trip started Pickett on a novel, and in '99, he showed Davies the manuscript, then entitled Two Guys on Wine, "which was a horrible title. He used it because they stopped at Fess Parker winery, and Fess actually signed a magnum to Two Guys on Wine."'

Fast forward to today where Gittens and Davies hold Irregular Wine Tastings at the Echo, a Los Angeles nightclub. And yes they have done a Sideways tasting. They have just done one in San Diego for the WineDining club. Matthew Lickona will tell you all about it.
Aussie Wine Best of Show
The San Diego International Wine Competition was held on April 23 and 24 at the Westgate hotel in San Diego. The results have not been organized into anything like a coherent fashion, simply an alphabetical listing of the wines and what result they achieved. In the A-C group a stand out is the 2004 Angove's Nine Vines Rośe, Grenache Shiraz ($10USD) which was Awarded “Best of Show”. An Aussie Rośe Best of Show, wonders will never cease.

The 2003 Wyndham Estate Bin 555 Shiraz was also voted Best of Show.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Open Your Mind to Australian Wine
The global advertising campaign of the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation was unveiled in Sydney on May 3rd.

General Manager of the Australian Wine Export Council, Jonathon Scott said he hopes the campaign will help Australia's wine industry overcome emerging challenges.

"We are facing global competition from other wine producing countries," Mr Scott said.

"Our challenges include an oversupply of some grape varieties and global rationalization of producers, distribution channels and retailers.

"To maintain our markets and, importantly, to grow beyond our current levels, we need to go beyond our existing market boundaries."

"Our sector – which comprises more than 1,800 wineries and 7,000 grape growers – has the capability to reach $4 billion in exports over the next five years.

The advertising campaign will debut overseas next week at the London International Wine and Spirits Fair. It will be available on CD-ROM and online.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Value in The Aussie Shiraz?
Its 100% shiraz but the 2000 Penfold’s Grange comes from one of the worst vintages in South Australia in memory, and yet consumers can expect to pay up to $700AUD/bottle. That is if they can find a bottle. The quantity made is only about 25% of the 1999 vintage and the availability is the lowest since the 1960s. Winsor Dobbin, writing in the Sydney Moring Herald, described how several local wine shops were dealing with the limited supply. "Dan Murphy's liquor chain is selling the wine at $499 a bottle with a limit of one bottle per customer, Vintages Cellars is asking $499.99 but says some shops will have just one bottle, while Kemeny's at Bondi says it will sell the wine for $700 a bottle. "