Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Downunder Bound
We are off to Australia on QANTAS Thursday night. First stop is Melbourne where I have to attend the Australasian Society of Immunology annual meeting. But before that starts in earnest we will take a trip out to the Mornington Peninsula to taste a few wines, mainly Pinot Noir. Visits are planned at Stonier Wines, Paringa Estate , Moorooduc Estate, Port Phillip Estate (and Kooyong) and then Dromana Estate. But Shiraz won’t be forgotten as we will be traveling to Adelaide late next week and have set up visits with Dutschke Wines and Winter Creek. We will probably drop in on a few other wineries as well, unannounced!

If things go as they have done in the past then my posts to Shiraz will be even more intermittent than usual as finding internet connections can be a problem. But this time I’m hoping to be able to add a few photos of our visit. I will also be posting personal diary-like notes to G'Day.
Wine Spectator 2005 Top 100
Another Top 100 wines of 2005 has hit my mailbox, this time it is from Wine Spectator. Their top wine is the 2002 Joseph Phelps Insignia from Napa. The 2002 Insignia is the wine that also came first in a recent tasting of Cabernet Sauvignon and blends held here in San Diego. Admittedly a much smaller tasting than the Wine Spectator has done over the last year, but it did show the quality of this wine.

But what about the most important wines? Well Australia had eleven wines in the top 100. Three were white wines (2 Chardonnay and 1 Riesling), with the remaining reds consisting of 1 Cabernet, 1 Grenache and 6 Shiraz. The listing is as follows

18 Thorn-Clarke Shiraz, Barossa Valley Shotfire Ridge 2003 $20USD (93 points)
21 Barossa Valley Estate Shiraz, Barossa Valley E&E Black Pepper 2002 $85USD (97 points)
28 Leeuwin Chardonnay, Margaret River Art Series 2002 $65USD (96 points)
32 Rosemount GSM, South Australia 2001 $30USD (93 points)
40 Two Hands Shiraz, Barossa Valley Bella’s Garden 2003 $55USD (94 points)
45 Wilson Riesling, Clare Valley Polish Hill River 2003 $19USD (92 points)
58 Greg Norman Estates Shiraz, Limestone Coast 2002 $16USD (90 points)
63 Forefathers Shiraz, McLaren Vale 2003 $23USD (91 points)
79 Evans & Tate Chardonnay, Margaret River 2004 $16USD (90 points)
87 Marquis Philips Cabernet Sauvignon, South Eastern Australia 2003 $18USD (90 points)
91 Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz, Victoria Billi Billi 2002 $15USD (90 points)

Notice anything unusual about this list? Except for the Leeuwin and Barossa Valley Estate there is a complete absence of the upper echelon of Australian wines, particularly Shiraz. A rather poor showing when you consider that this is the first year that Syrah/Shiraz or a blend containing the variety has dominated the Wine Spectator Top 100.

It is true that a number of other Australian Shiraz scored as well or better than some of the wines listed here, but they were not included in the Top 100. The selection of the Wine Spectator Top 100 is based on four criteria: quality (as represented by score); value (as reflected by release price); availability (measured by case production, or for international wines, the number of cases imported); and an X-factor called excitement.

These criteria can really make a significant difference in how a wine rates. For example the 2003 Tim Smith Shiraz, Barossa Valley scored the same as the Two Hands Bella’s Garden. Being cheaper you would think that it should easily make the Top 100 but the few cases imported (52) are no match for the 1,200 cases of the Bella’s. Availability may also have played a role in the 2003 Nurihannam Shiraz Barossa Scholar (93 points, $18USD) not making the list while the Thorn-Clarke Shotfire Ridge did.

A really obvious absence from the Top 100 is the Dutschke 2002 St Jakobi Shiraz from the Barossa Valley. This wine received 94 points, costs $40USD and had 900 cases imported. Its better value and should be equally as available as the Two Hands Bella’s.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Halliday versus Parker and Kramer
The 2005 Annual Wine Press Club of NSW Lecture was presented this year by wine commentator and author James Halliday. Mr Halliday discussed how wines commended and awarded in the Australian wine show system are in many cases quite different to those lauded by overseas critics.

Well at least that is how the Wine Press Club of NSW described the lecture. Reading through the speech (available as a PDF) you get the feeling that Halliday is hoping to defend Australian wines and wine judging in a forceful manner but his argument is flawed. Essentially Halliday uses Trophy results from the Sydney Royal Wine Show (2000 and 2005) to argue that 1) wine judges do not agree with Robert Parker on what constitutes Australia’s best wines, and 2) that Matt Kramer is wrong when he suggests that Australian wine styles are set by the big companies, and this is validated at wine shows where the big wine companies run fixed events.

There is considerable debate about the value of wine show results in Australia, but this is not something that is restricted to Australia. Only the naïve would believe that Trophy and medal winners have won against all comers; in truth many winemakers do not enter their wines. Wine show results should be viewed in the context of the wines that make up the competition, and the expertise of the judges.

So why aren’t Robert Parker’s favorite’s big winners at Australian wine shows? Halliday goes to some length to demonstrate that many of the wine regions not favored by Parker are the big winners, and that among red wines Cabernet Sauvignon, not Parker’s favorite Shiraz, wins most trophies. The relevant paragraphs are:

But what about the McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek and the Barossa Valley? Five for
McLaren Vale and two each for Langhorne Creek and – amazingly for some – the Barossa Valley.

These three regions are overwhelmingly the birthplace of the monstrous red wines so
beloved of Robert Parker, yet they are also outranked by the Riverina (6), the King Valley (5), Orange (4) and the Grampians (4). Sorry, Mr Parker, whichever way you want to look at it, the Australian show judges profoundly disagree with you.

All would be well and truly explained, including Kramer’s assertions, if Halliday had left it at that but then he writes the following (on page 7)

At the same time, the composition of the judging panels goes a long way to explaining why Parkeresque wines seldom achieve any significant recognition. Under the Chairmanship of Brian Croser, there has been an emphatic instruction to all judges to reward wines with finesse and elegance, and to penalise over-ripe, over-extracted wines. I can assure you there will be no change of policy under my forthcoming Chairmanship.

Oops, I think someone just shot himself in the foot and then ever so adroitly stuffed it in his mouth! Of course Parker’s favorites are not going to be the favorites of the show judges if the deck is stacked in such a manner. Is this same emphatic instruction a reason why many wines are not exhibited? That would seem a reasonable explanation.

And what about Kramer’s criticsm? Well he was only slightly off target. Its not the big wine companies that set the wine styles its the chairmen of wine shows! And of course they don’t have an axe to grind do they?
James Halliday’s 2005 Top 100
Noted Australian wine critic James Halliday has released his list of the Top 100 Wines from Australia. The list, which is 101 strong, was chosen from a field of over 10,000 wines, although only 1233 had a chance of making it into the Top 100. What is interesting with the 2005 list is that preference was given to medium-bodied wines with alcohol level below 15%. Reading through the list it becomes quite obvious that this is not a list that you will see on wine store shelves in the USA. There are a few familiar faces like the Turkey Flat Shiraz 2003 (96 points) and the St Hallett Old Block Shiraz 2002 (96 points). But others like the Hewitson The Mad Hatter Shiraz 2003 (95 points) are not something I have seen. I’d also haven’t seen the Kooyong Meres Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2003 (95 points) or the Paringa Estate Pinot Noir 2003 (96 points). But if things go as planned I will be doing so in a week or less when I visit Mornington Peninsula in Victoria.

Its instructive to red both the Introduction and the Conclusion penned by Halliday on this years’ Top 100. The former has a little jab at Robert Parker (or the Parker Factor), while the latter is pointed at critics who argue that Australia has no terroir – a small attempt to put Matt Kramer of the Wine Spectator in his place.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

What Does The Average Wine Drinker Pay For Australian Wine?
Its very instructive to consider what the average wine drinker pays for a bottle of Australian wine. In a presentation to the Australian Winegrape Conference on November 17, 2005 Jamie Odell, Managing Director, Foster's Wine Estates, provided data on the breakdown of consumer spending on Australian wine in the USA and the UK.

The vast majority, 89% to be precise, of Australian wine sold in the USA sells for $6-8 a bottle. Six percent of wine sales are for wine in the $4-6 range, another 3% cost $8-10 and 1% of wine sales account for bottles costing $10-15. While its not stated in the presentation I assume that the remaining 1% are for wines that cost more than $15 a bottle. The average price paid by the consumer in the USA is about $7 in 2005, but that has fallen from $8 in 2001. The overall price the American consumer pays for bottled wine was about $5 in 2005.

What about the UK? It’s a similar story. Twenty-six percent of sales are for wine costing less than 3 pounds, 40% cost 3-4 pound, 22% 4-5 pound and 8% 5-6 pound. That leaves 4% of sales costing more than 6 pound ($10.32USD).

Joe Public obviously likes his wine cheap. Is it possible to get consumers to pay more for their wines? Educating people to appreciate quality wine is the key. But growing the top end of the market (above $25 a bottle) to any significant degree will not be easy.
Wine Industry Outlook Conference to Stress the Need for a New Model for Australian Wine
The 2005 Wine Industry Outlook Conference in Adelaide, South Australia will examine Creating The Competitive Advantage. The conference, to be held on Thursday November 24th, has set itself a lofty task.
It is timely for the Australian wine industry to examine its strategy for continued success. How competitive is the Australian wine industry across each price point in international markets? Are we in danger of being 'pigeon-holed' as makers of cheerful, consistent well priced wines at commercial prices only, or is this argument simply a smokescreen that ignores the success of Australian wine across all price points.

In any event, how can Australia expand its offering to capitalise on its broad consumer appeal but also offer opportunities for consumers to confidently trade up to super premium, ultra premium and icon wines. Since its inception in 1994 the Wine Industry Outlook Conference has set the agenda for winery executives, winemakers, marketers, strategists, stockbrokers, analysts and investors. The 2005 Outlook Conference will not only provide an invaluable update on industry supply and demand trends but change the way you think about your company as we look to the future.

The program will include eight talks. Two of the more interesting presentations are:
Noted winemaker Brian Croser’s talk, titled Wines of Distinction, will argue that Australia's premium wine producers must aspire higher, aim for greatness and use our natural advantages of ancient soils and varying microclimates to make the most distinguished, complex and sought after wines on earth.

Jamie Odell, Managing Director, Foster's Wine Estates, will discuss A Portfolio Approach: The Australian wine category has continued to grow well but value is trailing volume growth in key international markets. Developing the premium price point space for Australian wines is essential. Our whole portfolio will benefit if we are able to achieve valid recognition for our premium wines.

Croser has held his point of view for some time. Clearly the argument is to produce wines that will compete with the best from the rest of the world; which usually means Europe, especially France, and the USA. There is a significant problem in competing with Old World wines, and that is their ability to mature over decades. This is not the case for Australia. Very few top level Australian wines, especially those with the greatest popularity outside Australia, have been around for a decade or more. More importantly who defines the wines as great? Currently Robert Parker, Jr. holds sway over the fortunes of the greatest of the great – Bordeaux. He is an avowed Francophile and so is highly unlikely to ever place Australia above France.

Fortunately Parker is known for his love of Australian Shiraz, especially from South Australia. He does review more and more Australian wines every year but he is very consistent in rating less that 10% (usually around 6%) of the recommended wines as extraordinary (96 or more points). Fortunately over 40% of the recommended wines usually fall into the outstanding (90-95 more points) category. But Parker recommends less that 30-35% of the wines he tastes.

Given the above, one has to ask what Odell means by “valid recognition of our premium wines”. Does he want greater numbers of wine to be rated highly, or is their something else? There is an argument that wine critics, like Parker, appreciate a certain style of Australia wine. That style, called by some “sunshine-in-a-bottle”, by others “fruit bomb”, may have generated an unwelcome caricature of Australian wine, but it does not have to be a permanent negative. The real key to opening the markets necessary to expand the sales of “great” Australian wine is to educate the wine drinker. Those seeking the immediate gratification of sunshine-in-a-bottle need to be shown the delight that comes from letting the sun set, so that the wine can sleep, cast off its immaturity and awaken with the complexity that comes with age. And Australian wine makers need to have those wines available for the consumer to appreciate. A costly endeavor? Yes, but education of the masses is necessary if the market for expensive wine is to be grown

And this brings me to my final point. What definitions are being used to correlate price with quality? In the USA the range of wine levels and price points is approximately as follows: Value wines are those $3 and under, Standard wines (Everyday wines) are those priced between $3-$7 per 750ml, Premium wines are between $7-$15, Super-Premium wines are between $15-$25, Ultra-Premium wines are over $25. The recently released data from Constellation Wines USA Project Genome (sic) defined premium wine as wine costing $5 or more. Significantly 12% of the 3,500+ consumers questioned were defined as Enthusiasts, but 49% were not enthusiastic enough to have purchased a bottle for more that $15 in the past six months! This is one reason why [yellow tail] now sells a million cases a month in the USA. The average wine drinker does not see the value in spending money on “great” wine. They want to be able to drop by their local wine store or supermarket and pick up a bottle of pleasant wine that they can drink with dinner that night. Educating these folks to spend $50 on a bottle of wine that they will be advised to cellar for ten or more years is not going to be easy!

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Clarendon Hills Tasting (or Finding an American Syrah)
The Saturday $5 tasting at the local wine shop was supposed to be Argentinean wines, but as I was told by the shop owner last week there was a change and they would be pouring Clarendon Hills wines. This is the McLaren Vale winery that Robert Parker regularly anoints with overwhelming admiration. Parker’s publication, The Wine Advocate, has allocated a specific review to Australian wines in issues No. 143, 148, 155, and 161. The Clarendon Hills single vineyard wines have been reviewed in each of those issues and very few of the recommended wines have scored below 90 pints. The praise both for the wines and the winemaker has been effusive ; Roman Bratasiuk is one of Planet Earth’s greatest winemakers, Robert Parker, Wine Advocate #155 (Oct 2004).

My first experience with Clarendon Hills was on March 15, 1997. That tasting was of eight different Australian wines, and included two Clarendon Hills wines; the 1995 Clarendon Hills Grenache Old Vines Clarendon Vineyard, and the 1995 Shiraz. At that tasting I had rated the Clarendon Hills wines highly putting the Grenache in second place, in front of the Shiraz but both behind the 1992 Seppelt’s Dorian Cabernet. In recent years (i.e. after beginning the Shiraz eBlog ) I have only tasted the Moritz and the Liandra Syrah, both from the 2002 vintage. Each wine had a fried tomato (or tomato paste) character that I found unattractive. But even with my experience of those 2002’s the chance to taste through close to $300USD worth of wine for $5 was too good an opportunity to pass up.

The wines were poured and described by David Turcan (National Account Rep for Commonwealth Wine and Spirits, Inc. of Mansfield Massachusetts). David was quite knowledgeable about the Clarendon Hills wines. He even knew that Shiraz reached Australia in the 1820’s, although he wasn’t sure exactly how; the first importation of Shiraz vines was most likely by John Macarthur.

The wines had been decanted about 90 minutes before the tasting began and were not poured blinded, unfortunately.

2003 Blewitt Springs Grenache $47.99USD
Cherry red with very faint orange tinge. Smoke, licorice and cherry are the dominant aromas. Medium to full bodied with an attractive licorice note to the palate. Soft and smooth in the mouth with very good balance. Firm tannins precede the lengthy finish. 2, 2, 4.1, 10.0 = 18.1/20, 90/100. 14.5% alcohol.

2003 Kangarilla Grenache $47.99USD
Cherry red with red edge. Pronounced pepper, faint tomato paste and pleasant aromatic character that became licorice with time. Full bodied with a soft and supple mouthfeel and fine tannins. Very well balanced wine. 2, 2, 4.0, 10.2 = 18.2/20, 91/100. 14.5% alcohol.

2003 Brookman Merlot $51.99USD
Cherry red with faint orange tinge. More restrained with oak, tomaoto paste, faint anise and cedar; I could easily have been convinced that this wine contained some Cabernet. Full bodied with a soft and supple entry, very fine tannins and with an excellent carry of flavors onto the palate and the lengthy finish. 2, 2, 4.0, 10.2 = 18.2/20, 91/100. 14.5% alcohol.

2003 Sandown Cabernet Sauvignon $55.99USD
Dense cherry red with a red edge with just a faint tinge of orange. Clearly evident tomato paste with pepper, dusty oak (almost sandalwood) and underlying complex aromatic aromas. Again a soft and supple entry but with more forward tannins and acidity. The least well balanced wine, being a little disjointed, and closing down to dusty oak during the tasting. 2, 2, 4.1, 9.8 = 17.9/20, 89/100. 14.5% alcohol.

2003 Liandra Syrah $68.99USD
Dense cherry red with a faint orange tinge. Dominant tomato paste aroma over faint pepper and shy fruit flavors. Full boded with excellent mouthfeel and presence of flavors on the palate. Excellent balance of clean acidity and fine tannins capped off with a lengthy finish. 2, 2, 4.3, 10.1 = 18.4/20, 92/100. 14.5% alcohol.

Once I had made my notes on the wines I let the glasses sit while I went through another seven wines made up of whites and reds from a hodgepodge of varietals and countries. The last wine in that group was the 2003 Cayuse Syrah En Chamberlin ($59.99USD) from the Walla Walla Valley in Washington. A dense cherry red with a red edge, the wine had tremendous complexity with aromas of stewed dark fruits, violets, faint pepper and stewed quince. All those flavors explode on the palate and provide an exceptional mouth pleasing experience. The length of the finish on this wine makes you believe that it has actually taken up residence. Beautiful wine! What was most interesting was that this wine had a faint tomato paste character but it melded with a subdued ethyl acetate (EA) aroma to produce a sweet aromatic flavor that was very pleasing. (That’s the flavor your looking for Roman!) 2, 2, 4.4, 10.6 = 19/20, 95/100. 14.8% alcohol.

Put your money where you mouth is Michael. So I bought bottles of the Cailloux (2002 and 2003), Coccinelle [Ladybug], En Cerise [Cherry], and En Chamberlin. Whether I’ll get any more is questionable. The mailing list is full, and the wine shop allocation was 18 bottles, total!

What happened to the Clarendon Hills? Actually something interesting! The wine I left in my glasses became much jammier especially for the two Grenache (strawberry), the Cab had even more oak and the Llianda became port-like. But when David let me smell the Lliandra directly from the decanter there was that ugly tomato again.
Houghton’s White Burgundy Gets a Name Change
Hougton’s White Burgundy was produced by Houghton Winemaker Jack Mann, and was entered into the 1937 Melbourne Wine Show where it was a hit with the judges. However it proved difficult to place in any of the styles available in Australia at the time. The wine was described as reminiscent of white Burgundy from France and so that name was chosen. Now some 69 vintages later Houghton’s is changing Burgundy to Classic in order to conform to the international trade agreement between Australia and the European Commission.

As shown on the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation site the date for the phase out of the use of (White) Burgundy was to be decided at the end of 1997.

Legal to use in Australia, until a date to be agreed:
(EU/Aust Wine Agreement aim was to determine phase-out dates by 31/12/97, but dates have still not yet been determined).
Burgundy, Chablis, Champagne, Claret, Graves, Marsala, Moselle, Port, Sauternes, Sherry, White Burgundy.
Ref: AWBC Reg 13. (Note: wine under these names may not be exported to the EU)

The new label will carry the name Houghton’s White Classic. The 2005 Houghton’s White Classic has been released in its home market of Western Australia, and will be available nationally with the 2006 vintage in June next year. No information was provided on when it will be released internationally! Press release.
Perfect Wines for Thanksgiving
Turkey day (Thanksgiving) is almost upon us here in the USA and so its time to start thinking about what wines to serve with your roasted big bird!

I’ve put an order in at my local wine shop for Clarendon Hills Grenache Old Vines Kangarilla Vineyard, but we will also have a bottle of Turkey Flat Rose that will be served chilled with appetizers just to whet the appetite.

There are lots of other suggestions, including those from the Sommeliers at Charlie Palmer restaurants. Their recommendations include Gewürztraminer, rustic Pinot noir, or Zinfandel for the sweet flavors of candied yams and cranberry sauce. To enhance savory dishes they suggest a fruity California or Australian syrah, a Grenache or a big Santa Barbara Pinot noir.

Hmm, maybe I’ll grab a bottle of Dutschke Ocsar Semmler Shiraz out of the cellar just in case the Clarendon Hills wants some company.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Why Wine Drinkers Need to Find a Reputable Wine Store
Typically, a single 50-gallon French oak barrel costs between $35,000 and $65,000, Winkler says. Burnt American oak barrels carry a $30,000 price tag. Oak barrels coopered in Australia--produced from a French oak forest replica (Australia is the first country in the world to successfully replicate a French oak forest, according to Winkler)--cost roughly $40,000. This is why wines fermented and aged in oak aren't cheap.

As we all know oak barrels are no where near that expensive. They sell for about $700-$1,100USD for French and $350-$550USD for American. But as the article shows there are people out there who tout this rubbish and unfortunately it seems that there are others who will readily accept it, and spend their hard earned cash buying wine presumably described under the same outrageous terms.

If you are a novice wine drinker and you don’t want to be led into wasting your money, please find a reputable wine shop. Visit more than one shop, compare prices, ask questions. If you get offers that sound too good to be true don’t bite, check it out first even if it means the offer might not be held, especially if it might not be held.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Realistic Flavor Descriptions

In a letter published in the November 30th issue of Wine Spectator a reader wrote asking why can’t tasting notes contain flavor descriptions that “we, the common people, can more readily understand and relate to.” This request came about because of descriptors like “suave toast”, “vanilla pastry”, and "buttered brioche” that have appeared in tasting notes in the magazine.

But its not just the Wine Spectator that has fallen afoul of waxing lyrical over the wines they recommend. Here are some descriptors from another critic - "melted licorice, white flowers, crushed rocks, candied toffee, liquid minerals, spice box". What do these terms mean as descriptions of flavor? Presumably they signify something to the person who wrote the tasting note. But the problem is whether such a descriptor has a flavor connotation for anyone else? This is quite a serious problem because its often said, especially by those who decry awarding points to rate wines, and even those who don’t, that the description contained within a tasting note provides the most valuable information in terms of palate appeal. This is, of course, only true if the description has meaning to you. If you know what suave toast or liquid minerals means in terms of a flavor then you have a chance of appreciating the tasting note that contains those descriptors. But only if your perception of suave toast is the same as that of the individual who wrote the tasting note. How do you determine that? Some would say that you have to compare your description of the wine with that of the critic so that you can align your palates. Sounds like a useful exercise but do you write your tasting note before or after you read that of the critic? Chances are that if you write it after you may be influenced by the critic’s description. And what if you do detect a toast flavor that is just not quite true toast? Do you assume that the critic knows what he/she is talking about and put the slightly different toast flavor that you detect down to being suave toast? If so then let’s hope that the critic really does know what he/she are describing.

And that, of course, is the more serious problem. How confident can you be that the critic can correctly identify an individual flavor? It seems that for trained individuals its relatively easy to identify a single flavor in a mixture (Jinks and Laing, A limit in the processing of components in odor mixtures. Perception 28(1999) p395-404). However once a mixture reaches 16 components the ability to identify a single component falls to chance. What was also interesting from this study is that there were a number of “false alarms”; that is identifying the target odorant when it was not present. This failure to identify the target occurred in some cases when only one or two components of the possible 16 were present.

Fortunately most tasting notes contain fewer that 16 odor descriptors; many have less than half a dozen. That is an interesting finding as it has been shown that “only 3 or 4 components of a complex mixture could be discriminated and identified and that this capacity could not be increased by training” (Livermore and Laing, Influence of training and experience on the perception of multicomponent odor mixtures. J. Expt. Psychology: Human perception and performance. 22 (1996) p267-277). In this case the total number of odorants tested was seven and the total number in a mixture was five. Some of the participants in this test included professional perfumers and flavorists. So don’t be too alarmed if you can only give names to 3 or 4 flavors in any one wine. You are actually doing pretty well, as long as you are correctly identifying those odors. But beware the individual who reels off flavor after flavor in a description. In all likelihood its wishful thinking, either that or he/she has abilities outside that of trained professionals.

What does all this mean in terms of realistic flavor descriptors? Well clearly they are only realistic if they have meaning to those who have an accurate impression of that flavor. So the description of a wine may not provide any realism to many wine drinkers. Nonetheless describing wine using evocative, attractive, but yet obscure, flavor descriptors is a considerable gamble on the part of any wine critic. The possibility always exists that the reader will be more amused than impressed, more angered than pleased. And in the case of the individual who wrote the letter to the Wine Spectator, begin to ask for a more realistic approach to describing the flavors of wine. The problem is whether realistic flavor descriptors will have more meaning than the obscure descriptions that make wine sound so attractive.

Friday, November 04, 2005

A new wine blog has hit the blogosphere. Vinosense could end up being a fountain of useful information, especially for those with an interest in Australian and New Zealand wines. Why? Well Vinosense is run by David Brookes (AKA Matau on the WineStar forum). Dave has been in the wine industry for 15 years and as he notes “I have covered a few bases working anywhere from vineyard to vintage work at wineries to retail (some small, some large) and wholesale and I am currently working at Langtons Wine Auctions, in conjunction with Christies, in Sydney Australia and I’m a contributing writer to Campbell Mattinsons Winefront Monthly.” Unlike a lot of amateur wine bloggers (well me anyway) that is an impressive breadth and depth of vinous experience. Better make sure you add the site to your favorites, I’ve a feeling its going to get very popular.

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 cuvées 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.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Another Poodle Thought
" Where do you think we are?"
"Not sure. But there is probably a vineyard around here somewhere."
"Do you think there will be cellar dog?"
"Hope so, Grrrrrr."

The cute white one is Arwen (Winnie) Evenstar who is recovering from surgery to make sure she does not suffer from the more severe complications of bloat again. She is lucky her mum is a veterinarian and could assist the Emergency Center vet with surgery at midnight last Saturday. I was lucky. All I had to do was pace the waiting room for two hours with Mercy. The big black guy is Magic’s Handsome Strider, or just Strider - 'the greatest traveler and huntsman in this age of the world'.