Thursday, April 27, 2006

Aussie Wine Critic Doesn’t Give a Toss about Grape Glut

Clear thinking Campbell Mattinson has posted an Editorial on his revamped and renamed The Wine Front web site about what he considers a questionable grape glut, wine lake, or industry crisis in Australian wine. He has some good reasons for his stance. Although I'd like to quibble with him about a few of the finer points. To read the full commentary you have to be, like me, a subscriber.

Or for the next few days you can make your way over to the Auswine forum and get access to The Wine Front for free. And then you can subscribe!

Friday, April 21, 2006

The American Wine Market

Analysis of sales in food and drug stores tracked by ACNielsen shows varietal wines priced under $6 are still the most popular. (It is important to note that many, if not most, food and drug stores do not sell wines costing $40, $50 or more a bottle). However, sales of wines $6 and above are seeing the strongest growth rates.

Between July 2003 and February 2006, overall wine sales rose 22.6 percent. The largest growth was in wines priced $15 and above, which gained 123 percent. However, those wines only account for about 2 percent of the market. By far the largest volume of wine sold in food stores is priced below $6 per 750 ml; a category that includes jug and 5-liter boxed wines. This category's market share is declining. Between July 2003 and July 2004, this category was responsible for 71 percent of the sales volume. Between February 2005 and February 2006, that market share fell 6 percent.

The overall average bottle price has risen from $4.73 to $5.48, but most of that increase came because the cheapest wines are getting slightly pricier.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Coming Soon, the Blog Book

Want to see those words in print? No not these pages, well not in foreseeable future; my real job has taught me the vagaries of getting published. But if you do have a wine blog or any blog, or you just want to get published Blurb Inc can help. Mind you a little book on Shiraz wouldn’t go astray, now would it?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

They are only words…… and sometimes they are all we have

Drinking a great wine is a very sensory experience that can evoke a wide range of emotions and memories. But how can we convey the experience of that wine to others who have not tasted it? While facial expressions, and other gestures, may have certain connotations that might prove useful particularly if the wine has been unpleasant, the spoken and written word has proven our best mode of communication. As noted before on Shiraz one problem that affects the ability to communicate the experience of tasting a wine is being able to accurately describe or label the odors, aromas, or bouquet associated with the wine. Another is the art of writing. Within this second facet is the ability to correctly use words to describe the experience.

I’ve been thinking about the correct use of words lately because I’m not satisfied with having to use the term palate in tasting notes. The principal definition of palate is anatomical and refers to “the roof of the mouth, which separates it from the nasal cavity”. A minor definition is “Relish; taste; liking; - a sense originating in the mistaken notion that the palate is the organ of taste.” So imagine, if you will, the accuracy of describing the taste of a wine with the phrase “on the palate”. Apart from the fact that the palate is not a taste organ, you would have to be standing on your head to have the wine on your palate.

The problem is, of course, that the terminology is so widely used. A search of will reveal that Parker has used it in the tasting notes of 8,423 wines. (I use Robert Parker as an example simply because his site has such a great search facility.) A comment on Palate is found in Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine, where it is noted as the “term used when describing tasting as a process and an ability.” Palate does not find its way into Wine, A Brief Encyclopedia by Walter James (Published 1960). Being a great fan of James I’m consoled by that. Perhaps in future I might try using simpler terms like mouth or tongue. Oral cavity seems just a little too clinical. Still I’m sure palate will creep back in at some point.

Another word that finds its way into tasting notes is one that is not found in any dictionary I have looked in. The word is minerality. You won’t find it in Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine, or Walter James’s Wine, A Brief Encyclopedia. But Robert Parker likes it, to date he has used it 856 times. And it occurs elsewhere such as “The precision and minerality of quartz and slate following spring showers preface a nose of varietal purity…” tasting notes for Leo Buring 2005 Eden Valley Riesling.

A word that is similar to minerality is minerally. You will find it in Michael Schuster’s Essential Winetasting where it is defined as “Suggestions to both nose and palate of stones; slate granite, chalk, schist and so on. Especially in wines from the Loire, N. Rhone, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Douro, Mosel, Tokay, etc. Fanciful? Maybe, but real enough to many winetasters; see Terrior” Jancis Robinson in How To Taste defines minerally as “smell of assorted minerals and a common component of fine Cabernet and Riesling”. But does minerally really evoke the smell of “quartz and slate following spring showers”? Not to me because the vast majority of minerals have no smell. So if a wine evokes the remembrance of the smell of wet rocks then it must be something separate that is being washed off those wet rocks.

There is a word that describes just that. Petrichor, it means “the pleasant smell that accompanies the first rain after a dry spell”. [From petro- (rock), from Greek petros (stone) + ichor (the fluid that is supposed to flow in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology). Coined by Australian geologists I.J. Bear and R.G. Thomas.] A more lengthy explanation comes from Michael Quinion at World Wide Words where he writes "the smell is an oily essence that comes from rocks or soil that are often (but not always) clay-based. The oil is a complicated set of at least fifty different compounds, rather like a perfume. It turned out that the oils are given off by vegetation during dry spells and are adsorbed on to the surface of rocks and soil particles, to be released into the air again by the next rains."

What an intriguing explanation. Its no wonder that minerality (minerally) has a connotation with terroir. More to the point its easy to see why Robin Garr became so enamored with a word that could have saved a paragraph in a tasting description. Petrichor, I can't wait to find a wine smelling of wet rocks just so I can use it. All I have to do is remember it. Petrichor, petrichor, petrichor.

Looking for more words to use in your next wine tasting note? Check out some of these.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A Winemakers’ House Call

When I contacted vineyards on the Mornington Peninsula of Victoria, Australia I was very hopeful of tasting the wines of Yabby Lake Vineyard. Established in 1998, the first vintage of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir had been produced in 2002 from the 40 hectare vineyard. Stephanie Duboudin, Marketing Manager for the BMK Family Vineyards that oversees Yabby Lake, informed me that although there are no visitor facilities she would travel to the Peninsula to meet with me while we were visiting with other vineyards. That seemed a bit extreme, especially as she was going to be coming from Melbourne and we were staying in Melbourne anyway. Why not just meet in Melbourne later in the week? And so it was arranged, or at least that is what I thought. As the day approached Stephanie called to say that Tod Dexter, Winemaker for Yabby Lake, would be doing the tasting. But there was a problem. The hotel where we were staying did not have a room suitable for the tasting. I offered a simple solution. Why not use our room? The only problem would be glassware, but if that was going to be the only problem we could get by.

Tod Dexter has only been with Yabby Lake since January 2004, but his experience with vineyards of the Mornington Peninsula is impressive. He took Stonier’s from a fledgling 250 to 30,000 cases during which time it became one of the most highly regarded wineries on the Peninsula. He was also winemaker at Elgee Park and established his own vineyard on Mornington Peninsula in 1987. Almost a winemaker by default his career started in 1979 at Cakebread Cellars when he found himself in the Napa Valley. After an education at Cakebread and at the University of California at Davis he returned to Australia to study at Roseworthy College before vintages at Brown Brothers. Winemakers always seem to have an international route to their destination.

Like any good wine man Tod came prepared with two bottles of each wine and we could do nothing less than provide cheeses and other nibbles and possibly the worst wine glasses known to oenology – generic bowls. The wines were going to have to be good to make an impression.

First up were the wines from the Yabby Lake Vineyards. The 2004 Chardonnay (French Oak, 30% new) was a light straw with a colorless edge. Nice peach, citrus, and floral aromas with a little anise were released with some swirling of the glass. Excellent oak treatment was revealed in a beautifully textured wine that was soft, round and full in the mouth. The oak is truly understated, allowing the juicy acidity to provide elegance to the lengthy finish. This is a classy wine that conventional wisdom would give 5-7 years of life. I’ll go out on a limb and say that you can easily double or triple that. We consumed the rest of the bottle later in the day with smoked salmon on toast which highlighted the floral aromas and the crisp, invigorating acidity of the wine. 2, 2, 4.3, 10.5 = 18.8/20, 94/100. 13.5% alcohol.

Next was the 2004 Pinot Noir (French Oak). Cherry red in color with a pink edge and loaded with dazzling Pinot character of spices, plum, bright cherry, and faint cinnamon. Medium bodied with wonderful mouthfeel. The supersoft tannins firm up on a lengthy finish that is supported by bright acidity. Simply excellent. It should be at its best in 3-5 years and could well live for two to three times longer. 2, 2, 4.5, 10.3, =18.8/20, 94/100. 14.5% alcohol.

The third wine was not from Mornington Peninsula but from another cool climate Victorian wine region, Heathcote. The Heathcote Estate 2003 Shiraz (French Oak) is not quite pure Shiraz as it has 6% Grenache. It’s surprising to realize that this is only the second vintage of this single vineyard Shiraz from this new estate. An intense chocolate aroma can be smelt as soon as the cork is pulled. The wine is densely colored, literally glass staining. It’s a big fruity wine loaded with blueberry and blackberry and a little nail polish (EA). This full bodied wine has wonderful mouthfeel and great balance. The big, firm tannins will need a few years to soften and by then it should be a beauty. It will live for at least 5-10 years and hopefully much longer. 2, 2, 4.5, 10.5 = 19/20, 95/100, 14.5% alcohol. Tasted December 7, 2005.

We spent two hours tasting the three wines and discussing wine in general, and that is really how wine tasting should go. No fuss, no rush, no bother. All you need is a friendly, down to earth, intelligent winemaker, who makes bloody good wine. There is no doubt about it the wines were excellent to outstanding, especially the Yabby Lake wines. The mouthfeel is almost a sensual experience. The best recommendation I can give these wines is that I have purchased a six-pack of the 2003 Heathcote Shiraz and a dozen of the Yabby Lake 2004 Pinot Noir. And if my wine merchant is true to his word he will have my order for the 2004 Yabby Lake Chardonnay in the distributors’ hands tomorrow.

Yabby Lake and Heathcote Estate are part of the BMK Family Vineyards P/L. Other products in the group include Cooralook which is a second label for the former two vineyards. The other vineyard is Escarpment Vineyards which is in Martinborough, New Zealand. Escarpment is home to Larry McKenna, Consulting Winemaker and the guy who actually made the first two vintages at Yabby Lake. Guess where yours truly will be visiting this December?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Look, In Wine Cyberspace! Is it a Blog? Is it a...

Actually I’m not really sure what it is. But its being written by Campbell Mattinson of Winefront Monthly fame so you will definitely want to bookmark it. Campbell is a very clever wine writer. He was winnner of the 2004 Saltram Wine Communicator Award, the inaugural awarding of this prize, and one of three finalists for the 2005 award.

This new site, called Winefront, has the features of a blog but it also allows subscribers to Campbell’s Winefront Monthly website to login to access extras. But there are free features like the Guides to various wine regions of Australia, including the Barossa Valley in South Australia, Hunter Valley in New South Wales and Mornington Peninsula and Rutherglenregions of Victoria. If you want to learn about the variety that is the life and spice of Aussie wine you should read these regional vignettes.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Wal-Mart Wine

Wal-Mart announced that they will soon be offering customers a new discount item. Wal-Mart's own brand of wine. The world's largest retail chain is teaming up with E&G Jallo Winery of California, to produce the spirits at an affordable price, in the $1-3 range. Wine connoisseurs may not be inclined to throw a bottle of Wal-Mart brand into their shopping carts, but "there is a market for cheap wine," said Kathy Micken, Professor of Marketing. She said: "But the right name is important."

Customer surveys were conducted to determine the most attractive name for the Wal-Mart brand.

The top surveyed names in order of popularity are:
10. Chateau Traileur Parc
9. White Trashfindel
8. Big Red Gulp
7. World Championship Riesling
6. NASCARbernet
5. Chef Boyardeaux
4. Pe anut Noir
3. I Can't Believe It's Not Vinegar!
2. Grape Expectations

And the number 1 name for Wal-Mart Wine:
1. Nasti Spumante

The beauty of Wal-Mart wine is that it can be served with either white meat (Possum) or red meat (Squirrel).