Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Wine Advocate and Regional Australia

When Issue 167 of Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate was released to the public on October 31st I thought the American wine critic had beaten his Australian counterparts to an obvious improvement in reviewing wines from the land downunder. The section of Issue 167 containing the Aussie reviews is headed Australia (Part 1 – Barossa, McLaren Vale, and Clare Valley). When I saw this I believed, almost immediately, that Parker was moving away from a generic Australian listing to a more regional organization of his tasting notes. The idea made perfect sense considering the discussions on premium wine marketing that have popped up on wine websites and wine forums, including the Mark Squires' Wine Bulletin Board hosted on, in recent months.

But alas, it was not to be. TWA #167 is a simple alphabetical listing of wineries in the Barossa, McLaren Vale, and Clare Valley producing wines that received scores meritorious enough to allow them to be recommended. There are 712 in total, including two that received no rating. The rest of the recommended Australian wines will appear in the next (December) issue.

Is the idea of wine reviews grouped according to region so bad for Australia? Wine Spectator does this for France, Germany, Spain, etc. And its particularly useful. I can quickly chase up notes on how wines have faired in the Pfalz, without having to first gather a list of wineries and hunt and peck them out alphabetically. Yes, there may be a problem for those Australian wines that are blends of fruit from different regions, but they could simply be grouped under “Multiregional”. And there should be no problem in having a producer listed multiple times, for example as a maker of wines in the Barossa Valley and Multiregional. In fact it would help many, less familiar with Australian wines, appreciate the diversity of wines made by some of the larger producers in Australia.

The real reason for a regional list of wine reviews is to demonstrate the regional differences that exist within “Brand Australia”. As has been discussed on the websites and wine forums mentioned above, too many wine drinkers perceive Australian wine as coming from Southeastern Australia. Its a generic location that appears on many inexpensive Australian wines that have flooded both local and overseas markets. While its true that wines like [yellow tail] have introduced countless thousands to cheap Australian wine, the question is how do you get these folks to become more passionate about wine. How do you get them to seek out the higher quality wines from smaller producers that display regional characteristics?

Well, in my opinion, one of the best ways is education. One excellent way would be a publication with tasting notes organized by wine regions. Unfortunately the major reviewer of Australian wines James Halliday does not do this in his Australian Wine Companion. Halliday does have a map with regions indicated by number and the region of each winery is noted within the text but you have to go back and forth between the two to figure out where you are. Inefficient. Campbell Mattinson’s recent Collected Reviews is just an alphabetical listing. You can do much better Campbell. The only other Aussie review I have is Robin Bradley’s Australian Wine Vintages. It suffers from the same problems as Halliday’s book.

The one book in my wine library that comes any where near close to providing material on regional differences in Australian wines is John Beeston’s The Wine Regions of Australia. First published in 1999, its now beginning to show its age and many new wineries are naturally not listed. But it is an excellent primer on regional geography, history, and there is even the odd note on varietal characteristics for some regions. (A second edition was publised in 2002.)

Perhaps what is needed is an enterprising internet site along the lines of Appellation America. There are small attempts at sites like Wine Diva. But the site needs to be user friendly, a place where the uninitiated can come to learn. Unfortunately wine forums have a habit of being a little too cliquey; otherwise they would be ideal locations to host education about and discussion on Regional Australia.


Hugo said...

I agree whole heartedly with you about education of Australian regions over Oz as a whole. It is the best way to get people looking beyond the yellowtails on the shelves.
I have to also say that it's along the lines of a project i'm hoping to get going in the next few weeks. The details are far too loose to mention yet but i'll let you know when they get nailed down.

K. Wallace, Wine School of Philadelphia said...

Nice post. People have a funny was of finding out what they need to learn, eventually. It was only a few years ago that the majority of US wine drinkers were knocking back white zin...