Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Off Your Tits On Screwed

I rarely buy wine from supermarkets. Miranda, my wife, would probably add that I rarely buy anything from supermarkets; she does it all. Even so I was the one pushing the shopping cart around Henry’s last weekend as she made her selections. Naturally I was drawn to the wine section, just on the off chance that there might be something interesting on the shelves. The first thing I noticed was that there weren’t any shelf-talkers extolling the virtues of some 90 point plus wine. There weren’t even any simple tasting notes or recommendations tacked up that might indicate a worthy choice. There was a magazine rack with Bon Appetite, Wine and Food, and Wine Spectator but no one was sneaking a quick look in hopes of finding a few pointers about what wines might be good value.

As I stood there leaning on the shopping cart it suddenly occurred to me that unless I knew what I was after how was I going to choose, assuming that I was going to buy wine? A lot of the wine labels didn’t even look familiar. OK, don’t panic. Let’s be sensible about this. You have walked into a store looking for a bottle of inexpensive wine. Find a bottle of wine. It can’t be that hard, after all you are supposed to know a little bit about the subject. A sign said Shiraz. I know what that is! Familiarity does breed contempt. They all seemed to be from places other than Australia. None looked familiar. Several were from California, some of which were even called Shiraz but most were labeled Syrah. Well I could be adventurous but I had seen the ubiquitous [yellowtail] Shiraz when we had come into the store so I knew there was Aussie wine here somewhere. Let’s go with what we know best. But where were they? Ahh huh, over there under the sign Australia.

Like most supermarkets Henry’s does not carry a large or expensive selection of wine in any category. Still inexpensive Aussie wine is the flavor of the month and so there were several dozen reds to pick from; I didn’t to an actual count. Keeping to the plan I checked out the Shiraz lineup. The usual suspects were there including [yellowtail], Rosemount and Jacobs Creek. There was also a Deakin Estate and something called Red Knot. Pretty label. Hmm, made by the Davey Family Wines from McLaren Vale. They make Shingleback Shiraz which is pretty good wine. But I’m supposed to be playing the part of an average consumer who knows that Australian Shiraz is good wine, not what Australian Shiraz wines are better than others. OK, what else is there. Alice White Shiraz! Sounds like something made by the girl next door, or maybe the old guy next door acting as though he’s a girl!

What’s this? Screwed Red Wine from McLaren Vale. Another Davey Family Wines product. At $8.99USD a bottle Screwed is a blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo. Screwed is part of Precept Brands; which I’m presuming owns Davey Family Wines. The back label reads “Your alarm doesn’t go off and you wake up an hour late…you try to open a bottle of wine and the cork breaks…get to the airport and you realize that you forgot your passport…you’re totally screwed! Unscrew yourself by unscrewing a bottle of screwed red wine from Australia’s famed Mclaren Vale. This rich and vibrant red wine has blackberry aromas and flavors. With just a touch of vanilla oak for a smooth finish. And no corkscrews involved for the accident prone.”

This could be a bit of fun. The name is topical, fitting in with the new drive to screwcaps as well as the obvious sexual connotation. If it turns out to be swill we can still get a few laughs from the label, and who knows what else a few glasses might lead to?

Tasted along with some salsa and corn chips the wine was quite attractive with aromas of cigar smoke over sweet oak, faint pepper, cola and dark fruits. Certainly confected and fruit forward. The palate was medium weight with bright acidity and soft tannins. The flavors carried well and provided nice length to the finish. However there was little depth or complexity to the wine. It scored a 16.1/20 or 81/100 from me.

How successful was I at selecting a wine? Well given that I went for something that I thought might be more fun than quality it turned out reasonably well. But I don’t envy the novice wine drinker the task of making a serious choice from the Henry’s wine selection. The lack of shelf talkers or even any staff recommendations makes wine selection difficult. The lack of information on their shelves is unfortunate given that their web site does make an attempt to introduce the consumer to wine. Dare I venture into any more supermarket wine aisles?

Oh, would I get off my tits on Screwed? That would depend on what you think getting off my tits means!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Pricey Grange

Mark Wickman of Wickman’s Fine Wine Auctions has sent out a press release questioning the asking price of the 2001 Penfolds Grange. How much do they want? A paltry $600AUD/bottle. Mark thinks that just a little too much, and I’m inclined to agree. While Grange is unique in terms of the iconic wines of Australia and there is a market for the wine locally it can be quite difficult to get access to bottles of Grange. This is due to allocation of the wine which is based on sales of quantities of other Penfolds wines. Thus a fine wine store selling St Henri, RWT and Magill etc may get a smaller allocation than a supermarket selling larger quantities of Koonunga Hill, Thomas Hyland and the Rawson’s Retreat range.

To read what other think about the price of Grange check out the Auswine forum thread.

The Wickman Press Release is copied below.

Auction expert questions pricing policy of the imminent Penfolds Grange release and urges collectors to consider recent performance before making any buying decisions.

Adelaide, Australia - March 21, 2006 -- Every year, the release of Penfolds Grange sparks excitement among wine drinkers who want to ensure they don’t miss out on their share of Australia’s most prestigious wine.

Penfolds has announced that this year’s release date will be May 1st and asking prices for the 2001 Grange are estimated to be as high as $600.

But according to Mark Wickman of Wickman’s Fine Auctions, paying that much for a bottle of 2001 Grange upon release makes little sense.

“I believe Grange is overpriced at that price and predict that while this new release will sell at a premium initially, it will then drop back below $400 within a year or so,” he says.

“The 2000 vintage was not doing well at auction last year, fetching around the $500 mark if it sold, but demand was poor and many lots around the country were left wanting.

“In fact, recent past vintages including the 1999 and the 1997 are selling below $300 per bottle ­ sometimes as low as $200 each ­ and even the renowned 1998 is selling for approximately $400 or less, so I question Penfolds decision to release it at $600 when buyers can expect better bargains at auction.”

Wickman says that he also expects plenty of Grange to be dumped on to the secondary market as a result of the Heritage collapse, further pushing down the value of this iconic wine.

“At a recent silent auction, a rare full set of Penfolds Grange valued at more than $170,000 failed to sell ­ I think that is as clear a sign you can get that Grange’s secondary market value is slipping,” he says.

“Considering the current state of the market and basic supply versus demand principles, I believe it would be best for buyers to buy their Grange at auction rather than on release.”

About Wickman Fine Wine Auctions;
Distinguished by innovation and driven by passion, Wickman’s Fine Wine Auctions has been a lively and profitable meeting ground for wine buyers and sellers since 2003. A family business based in South Australia, Wickman’s prides itself on its position as a reliable resource with a well-spring of extraordinary values and opportunities.

Being a good “neighbour” in a global community is an important part of Wickman’s corporate identity.

“Philanthropy is in our blood,” explained Wickman, referring to his family’s commitment to annual fundraising.

“In the last three years, Wickman’s has auctioned wine and wine-related services generously donated from wine companies from Australia and overseas and raised over $17,000 to benefit The Multiple Sclerosis society, The Asian Tsunami Appeal, a local South Australian charity; The Eyre Peninsula Fire appeal and the Adelaide Women and Children’s Hospital foundation.”

For additional information contact:

Mark Wickman
PO Box 1270
North Haven
South Australia, 5018


Partners Argue Over Ends of the Roogle

(From the Wine Spectator) When U.S. importer Dan Philips teamed with Australian winemakers Sparky and Sarah Marquis to make Marquis Philips wines in 2000, they designed a symbol for the label that had the head of an American eagle on the body of a kangaroo. They called it a roogle. Looks like the roogle is a dead duck. The partnership is kaput, and in the aftermath the parties are suing each other in Australia. Philips has formed a new company that plans to continue the highly promising Marquis Philips brand and add other wines under a new chief winemaker--Chris Ringland, who also makes Rockford, RBJ and Greenock Creek wines. The Marquises also have a new brand, Mollydooker, which is set for release in the United States later this year.

FYI mollydooker is a left-handed person. Also mollydook, molly dook(er), molly-dook(er).

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Of Wine, Books, and Reading for a Head Cold

It seems colder and wetter than normal in San Diego these days. And that always leads to the great nemesis of the wine drinker, the head cold. Mine seems to have come by way of a three year old. “Gracie just has allergies” said her mother as her sweet child coughed, open mouthed, at all and sundry. In fact, now that I remember, I had been nursing her on my hip only a day or two earlier when all this coughing had begun and I had said to Gracie then, “You aren’t going to cough on me are you?” To which the child replied “Yes” and promptly coughed in my face.

Fortunately I have a powerful weapon against this type of assault – Fisherman’s Friends. And they seemed to be working. Miranda predictably came down with a cold. But I was OK. A little sniffly. But OK for four or five days. It finally caught up with me. Probably on the day we visited Orange County. Strangely prophetic, perhaps!

So there I was at home, feeling miserable, and wondering when the weather would begin to warm and I would feel better. With wine never far from my mind, the chill in the room reminded me of J. P. Donealvy’s Leila: Further in the Life and Destines of Darcy Dancer, Gentleman and the sentence on page 16 that reads “Announcing in sepulchral tones the year of vintage as he poured the decanted premier grand cru Margaux with its bouquet shrinking back in the glass from the cold.”

I didn’t fancy rereading Leila, excellent thou it is. I could perhaps begin James Halliday’s Wine Odyssey, or the recently purchased Jamie Goode’s The Science of Wine. But did I want to start something new when the pile of books beside the bed had volumes like A Wine Journey along the Russian River by Steve Heimoff, and Appreciating Wine by Philip Hills that were yet to be finished? Besides I wanted to reread George Taber’s excellent Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine again, as well as Elin McCoy’s The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Reign of American Taste. They should be read in that order to get a solid grasp of the recent history of wine in America.

Also in the unfinished pile was Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack. But I think I know how that one is going to end. Besides I didn’t really want to take up anything long because I wasn’t planning on spending a lot time lying around. There was Playboy. I can always find something in there that catches my eye. This time it was Michael Ruse on Faith and Reason in the April 2006 issue. I followed that with Michael Specter’s piece Political Science in the March 13, 2006 issue of the New Yorker. Two excellent pieces on the growing conflict between science and religion and the all too obvious battleground of red and blue politics. Yes, I think one can be justified by responding with an open mouthed blank stare after reading that the USA supports the vast majority of Nobel Prize winners and yet over 50% of the population does not believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution. I know I stared at the ceiling for a long time after I digested that information. Of course it might have just been the cough medication taking hold.

To regain some composure I thought about flipping through my own recent contribution to the scientific literature. Autoantibodies and Autoimmunity: Molecular mechanisms in health and disease. As the editor I wrote in the Preface "This book would not have been possible without the outstanding contributions of a group of highly talented and internationally respected authors." On a cold day, when you have just read how science is threatened by people who have a literal belief in another book that contains numerous errors in translation, its comforting to know that you have intelligent friends in many countries of this world.

Of course we scientists aren’t without humor. Miranda suggested I add the following to the end of my book bio. "He and his wife Miranda, a veterinarian, share their lives with three Standard Poodles, and four cats named after famous Irishmen." I wonder if J. P. Donleavy would be amused by that. Not that he’s Irish, but the Irishness of it might warm him a bit. Perhaps stir a little flavor from the glass of life. I’ve a feeling a lot of people could use a little warmth to reassure them that there is something good beyond the cold and dark and unnerving.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Wine on the Mornington Peninsula of Victoria, Australia

I could have sworn that I didn’t drink that much during our visit to four wineries (Stonier, Moorooduc, Port Phillip (and Kooyong), and Paringa) on Mornington Peninsula in December last year. But I’ve just looked back over the blog posts and found that I have not made clear that it all happened on Sunday December 4th, 2005. Something has to be killing off my brain cells. Its either all that Shiraz or maybe its just old age!