Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Top Red in Restaurants

What was the most frequently ordered red wine in restaurants in the USA in 2005? Well as long as you don’t consider White Zinfandel a red wine, even though it is made from red grapes, then the top wine is Australia’s Yellow Tail Shiraz. In fact Yellow Tail Shiraz is the only true red in the top ten wines; there are a couple of Pinot Grigio wines and the Pinot Grigio grape, when ripe, can be colored. The Yellow Tail achievement is significant because white wines outsold red wines by a more than 2-to-1 margin. And 21 of the top 60 wines were Chardonnay, one of which was? Yes you guessed it, Yellow Tail Chardonnay! More->

Monday, October 23, 2006

Mate. It's off.

It seems as though playing the heir to a vineyard in A Good Year has rubbed off on Russell Crowe. While dining at Marco Pierre White's exclusive London restaurant Mirabelle Crowe ordered a bottle of Penfolds Grange Hermitage (sic) 1964, his birth year. At a cool £3500 one expects excellence, but Russell got a wine tasting of mold. "The sommelier spent about 45 minutes trying to convince us that it was the chestnut undertones and the wafts of blackberry. I just turned round and went, 'Mate. It's off.'

The bottle was eventually replaced.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Rules to Live By

Brian Croser, well known Australian viticulturalist and protege of Len Evans, recently gave a short speech at the Adelaide University Wine Club in which he reminisced about the great man. Most notable was his listing of Evans’ Theory of capacity, which is quoted below.

Len made his contribution to the academic understanding of wine through the 10 points of his Theory of Capacity which I will enunciate in his memory,

  • There is an awful lot of wine in the world, but there is also a lot of awful wine.
  • No sensible person drinks to excess, therefore any one person can only drink a certain amount in a lifetime.
  • There are countless flavours, nuances, shades of wine; endless varieties, regions, styles. You have neither the time nor the capacity to try them all.
  • To make the most of the time left to you, you must start by calculating your future capacity. One bottle a day is 365 bottles a year. If your life expectancy is another 30 years there are only 10,000-odd bottles ahead of you.
  • People who say “You can’t drink the good stuff all of the time” are talking rubbish. You must drink good stuff all the time. Every time you drink a bottle of inferior wine, it’s like smashing a superior bottle against the wall. The pleasure is lost forever - you can’t get that bottle back.
  • There are people who build up huge cellars, most of which they have no hope of drinking. They are foolish in overestimating their capacity but they err on the right side and their friends love them.
  • There are also people who don’t want to drink good wine and are happy with the cheapies. I forgive them. There are others who are content with beer and spirits. I can’t worry about everybody.
  • Wine is not meant to be enjoyed for its own sake; it is the key to love and laughter with friends, to the enjoyment of food, beauty and humour and art and music. Its rewards are far beyond its cost.
  • What part is wine of your life? Ten percent? Ergo, 10 percent of your income should be spent on wine.
  • These principles should be applied to other phases of life. A disciple kissed a beautiful young lady and she demurred. He was aghast and said, “Don’t get the wrong idea. I’ve worked out I can only make love another 1343 times. I’m bloody sure I’m not wasting one on you.”

Monday, October 09, 2006

Wine Hunter

If you have any sort of knowledge of Australian wines at all, then the name of Maurice O’Shea should not be unfamiliar to you. Just how or when it filtered into my wine consciousness, I don’t quite recall. In the mid to late 1970’s by brother worked in Newcastle, a mere stones’ throw, in Australian viticultural distances, from the Hunter Valley, so it may well have been on a visit there. Or perhaps it was during one of the wine classes I took in Sydney during that same time period. In any event the mention of the name was made in revered, almost mythical terms; there seemed so little known of O’Shea. And his wines, while legendary, were like the man. They were gone, but they could have been myth as well.

Part of the story has now changed. Maurice O’Shea is back. Much of O’Shea and his life, at least as much as is knowable, has been brought to life by Campbell Mattinson in a new book Wine Hunter. In fact there are two books. One is called The Wine Hunter: Maurice O’Shea – The Man Who Changed Australian Wine, and the second is a larger version simply called Wine Hunter and subtitled The story of Maurice O’Shea. The greatest vigneron in Australia.

I wish I could say that this is a review of one or both books but alas it is not. A signed copy of the shorter version sits waiting for me in Australia. I plan on getting the longer version by extending my subscription to Matttinson’s online The Wine Front. The problem is that the longer version will also have to be sent to an address in Australia. Its not Campbell’s fault. He’s a one man show and he is already offering the book and subscription to his online site at a significant discount; overseas mail costs would almost certainly cut into his share of the sales and he has to make a living.

But if you are an Australian and you drink wine or appreciate Aussie history or just damn fine writing, then you should buy this book. I can’t wait to read both books because Campbell has won significant awards for his writing which is in a class of its own, especially when it comes to wine writers. In lieu of my review here is a link to one by Australian wine critic James Halliday.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Wine Scores

A *, 0 and 50. They all seem to be the similar when it comes to wine scores, at least according to the pundits at The World of Fine Wine. To be more specific the folks at The World of Fine Wine “believe that our 20-point scale, calibrated specifically for fine wine, strikes the best balance for our purpose”. Its not entirely clear how this specific calibration was done, although the simple answer seems to be that they have equated 0 (zero) with 50 points in the 100 point system because that is the score that advocates of the 100 point system give to a wine for simply being wine. Further expansion of the 20 point score against the 50-100 range can be deduced from the scale they provide. Below 7 does not seem to count for much, except perhaps for a single star! Other comparisons are more simple to make 9=75, 12=82, 14 is a touch over 85, 17=90, 19=96. Comparison with the five point star system is a little more difficult to discern. But perhaps that is the point. If you use the star system you really are not too sure of a precise score out of 20 or 50. While for the 20 point system you have somewhat more confidence but not quite the infallibility of those who say they score out of 100; of course the fact that they really only use 50 points does raise a small question about exactly how fallible they are. In truth the reviewers at The World of Fine Wine break their scores into half points, so they use a 40 unit scale. I wonder where you sit if you use a 20 point system, but break it down into tenths of a point? That’s a 200 unit scale.