Wednesday, September 24, 2008

More Devalued Australian Wine

I iust received an email from an Etailer here in the US offering Penfold's Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2004 for $11.99USD or $9.99/btl if you buy six. Usual excuse - the distributor wants to move some boxes - one time deal. Wine Searcher has this from $9.95 to the more usual $24.99.
Linked over to their site to see what other deals are on offer. Quite a few. The best is the 2003 Winter Creek Shiraz at $14.99uSD or $12.99/btl for 6. I paid $27.99USD in 2005 for this. Its $19.99 to $29.99 on Wine Searcher. I'll have a six pack please!
Wines like the Fox Creek Reserve Shiraz 2004, Tait Shiraz 2005, Kurtz Boundary Row Shiraz 2003, Margan Semillon 2004, Koonowla Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, Connor Park Shiraz 2002 have 20-50% price reductions. Obviously these are not current vintages but it just goes to show that its been difficult to move Aussie wine for more than just a vintage or two.
What does Grant Burge 'Barossa Vines' Chardonnay 2005 sell for in Oz? $8.99USD here

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Australian Wine - The Critics Web Sites

Blogging is almost always about links. The more links you have in your posts, especially to sites with significant traffic, the better chance you have for search engines to include your blog in searches for that link. There are two important aspects to links. First, they have to be current because the internet is simply not static enough for links to remain permanent. And second, the dynamic nature of the ‘net means that new sites are added all the time, and the best of those need to be added to your repertoire of traffic catchers. But links also serve another purpose because they are often placed outside of a post, such as those on the right-hand side of the page for SHIRAZ. These links qualify simply as resource pages. They allow bloggers to expand the knowledge base of their site by doing nothing more than providing a link. Here, at SHIRAZ, I’ve not blogged about the resource links because like many bloggers I assume that those who visit SHIRAZ will know what resource links are. However checking the OutClicks for SHIRAZ suggests that most don’t take advantage of resource links, so maybe its time to blog about them!

In the next few posts I’ll be covering several categories of web sites as they relate to Australian wine. These lists will not be exhaustive and will often only cover sites in Australia, although some of the more important foreign sites will be included. The first category will be the sites of those who can best be described as critics of Aussie wines, the folks that provide not only assessment of wines but also commentary.

James Halliday – Australian Wine Companion. $34.95/year.
Although thought of as part of the old guard by some, James Halliday reigns supreme as the most experienced and most knowledgeable critic of Australian wine. Halliday has also had enviable exposure to the best wines outside Australia, so his analysis is able to place Australian wine within a world context. Halliday may be the oldest Aussie wine critic but his new web site brings him into the 21st century! This site boats over 45,000 tasting notes, information on wine regions and wineries and commentary on current aspects of the Australian wine industry. There is also free content to entice possible subscribers. All of this is easy to access by pull down menus. Searching the site and especially tasting notes is limited by an inability to search by vintage; for example, you can’t get all of the tasting notes for 2002 Barossa Shiraz in a single search. Halliday does send out emails to subscribers on a regular basis that include a few tasting notes but the majority of his notes come from his annual hardcopy Wine Companion, so current tasting notes are limited.

THE WINE FRONT $39.95/year.
Given birth by one of Australia’s best wine writers, Campbell Mattinson, THE WINE FRONT has now been fused with Gary Walsh’s Winorama which was a very successful free site devoted primarily to tasting notes. Mattinson and Walsh fit into a small group of young Turks hoping to rise to prominence and unseat the “old guard”. I was initially very optimistic about the potential that this partnership could bring to critical analysis of Aussie wines. And although the jury is still out, I have to confess to an initial disappointment with the new THE WINE FRONT. The site does have significant positives. The tasting duo hopes to add several hundred tasting notes each month which makes the content very current in terms of wines available at retail; this is a big advantage over other critics (think Halliday, Parker’s The Wine Advocate) that normally release once per year. The site also boasts a first, at least for Aussie wine reviews, in a free feature called Double Take in which both Mattinson and Walsh independently review the same wine. Plus there is a limited amount of free content as a teaser to potential subscribers. However the search features on the site are archaic at best being limited to categories and a generic text search; a page describing tips for searching using this latter feature would be very helpful. If you want to look at all the tasting notes for 2005 Barossa Shiraz, as an example, you will be disappointed; you just can’t do it. And even when you pull up a search you have to scroll through complete notes, there is no facility to search abbreviated descriptions of individual wines which makes things very hard going. Fortunately its early days for this web site and hopefully it will improve, the potential is certainly there.

Jeremy Oliver $39.95 +GST
A site I do not subscribe to as it gives no free content to judge the quality of the material within. Oliver is highly regarded as a critic of Australian wine, although I doubt his name is known much outside Australia. I’ll continue to give this a miss until some free content appears.

TORBWine Free.
Run by Ric Einstein, an amateur wine critic (i.e. Ric does this in his spare time which he seems to have a lot of!). This site contains wine news, commentary and tasting notes. But the most interesting content is the Tour Diaries. Each Year Ric and a few of his mates visit Australian wine regions, mostly South Australia and Victoria, and taste with dozens of wine makers. The writing is a blend of humorous anecdote mixed with serious descriptions of current wines. Tour Diaries is a great way to find out what is happening on the Aussie wine scene, and its a pity that Ric doesn’t visit more wine regions during the year. You can search the tasting notes under several categories but like the sites above its not a sophisticated search engine. Tasting notes are listed by wine and clicking on the wine description will open up the tasting note but the lists are not alphabetical and so it can be hard work to find what you want.

Wine Pros Free
This is another free site that contains wine news, commentary and tasting notes but much of it is archived material that was provided as content when James Halliday used to contribute to the site. Now that Halliday has gone there is little, if any, current content. But the WinePros archive is now a portal for Visit Vineyards; a very new site that looks at both wine and food. Its a little too early to judge its potential, but it does contain content from several Australia writers as well as the well known English Master of Wine Jancis Robinson

A note on search engines for individual wine sites.
None of the wine sites described above use state of the art search engines and so its almost always a hit and miss affair if you want to extract their descriptions of 2002 Barossa Shiraz, for example. That is a major failing for sites which aim to provide material that their visitors and/or subscribers can search. Its simply not efficient to search these sites. In fact its probably easier to do a Google search for the information you want. There is however one site that does provide a very refined search engine, eRobertParker. This site ($99USD/year) is not limited to Australian wine but a few clicks will get you results for quite complicated searches. Its no problem to find all the 2002 Barossa Shiraz that Parker has reviewed. Under Category Search you simply click on Australia, then select Vintage, click on 2002 and then select Location, select Barossa Valley and then click on Variety, and select Syrah (well nothing is perfect!). You can then display the notes for the 111 wines and sort them by wine name, rating, price or maturity. Clicking on an individual wine opens up the tasting note. Now that is a search facility!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Devaluing of Australian Shiraz in the US

A winemaker makes a wine, sells it to an exporter/importer who sells it on to a distributor who then sells it to a retailer who then offers you the wine at a competitive price. Or so the theory goes. But in reality many things influence the competitive pricing of wine. One of these is the inability to sell the wine for its recommended retail price, a not uncommon event in the USA with Aussie Shiraz these days. Another is when an importer/exporter is revising their portfolio. Combine the two and you get a fire sale.

Such seems to be the case with wines under The Grateful Palate umbrella. The Grateful Palate has recently reduced its portfolio to about 25 producers from a high of 70 a few years ago. Its not clear whether producers have been dropped or have left Grateful Palate but the result has been deep discounts on Australian wines. Take, for example the deals I was offered today. McLean’s Farm 2002 Shiraz (Barossa Valley) which sells retail (according to Wine Searcher) for $23.99 to $29.99USD, but offered to me for $8.99. Or the 2004 Gibson Old Vine Collection Barossa Valley Shiraz, $99.99USD retail on Wine Searcher, but I was able to purchase it for $44.99. The most recent vintage sells for $96AUD mail order from Gibson’s.

Some say that Australian wines in the US need to drop their prices to more reasonable levels after the big increases that have followed with the extravagance of high Parker points. This may be true, but there is another story that may be building behind this and it is that importers/exporters, distributors, and retailers are seeing significant losses in profits with the selling of Australian wines. When you lose money you tend not to want to expose yourself to the same position again. And so when a major importer/exporter has a fire sale on Aussie wines the question that needs to be answered is who would want to build a portfolio of Australian wines when they see others having problems selling the wines unless they have dramatic reductions in prices?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Merlove - a movie about Merlot

Well it had to happen sometime. The movie Sideways was seen as doing so much damage to Merlot (at least in the US) that a response had to be produced, and now it has with Rudy McClain's Merlove. Its a documentary that eventually finds it way to Ch. Petrus.
Check out this trailer. Its the first time I've ever heard a wine described as "Sophia Loren's dirty underwear."

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Blinded by Shiraz

Australian Shiraz has been criticized, especially outside the boundaries of the island continent, as having a sameness, of being big, blustery fruit bombs, high in alcohol but low in regional expression and not long in life. Its very easy to dispel this myth, all you have to do is gather together a few quality shiraz from several regions and taste them. That’s the easy part. Putting together a blog post that would do the wines justice is more difficult. I’ve been haggling with myself for months about how to approach the content of this blog post, especially the title. There was a point when I was going to call it “Top Gear” and describe the wines in terms of exotic, or not so exotic, cars from the BBC program of the same name. After all wine has been likened to everything else, so why not describe New Zealand Syrah like an Audi R8 - “Meet the new everyday superwine”, or Rutherglen Muscat like a Maserati Quattroporte ;“Quite possibly the most beautiful and desirable wine in the world”. How about the Renault Laguna “has the same old anonymous character” for cheap Bordeaux?

But no, it wouldn’t work simply because I haven’t driven any of those cars, so I would be clueless about comparing them with wine. And besides there are too many wines that could be described the way my car is “Not the most practical, but distinctive, fun-ish”. Even some cheap Bordeaux fits that label. More to the point the wines in this tasting were Aussie Shiraz or blends and exotic foreign cars just didn’t seem to fit the different styles. Still, in hindsight, there was one that you could think of as the new Aussie Supercar, the Bolwell Nagari. “Ahhhh, that’s really good”.

The Shiraz tasting was organized by Chris Davis, a relative and long time wine enthusiast, who feels there is need of improvement in the appreciation of fine wine in the central west of NSW. And he’s determined to do something about it, even if it costs him quite a bit of money and hardly anyone turns up to the tastings he plans. And that is exactly what happened on this evening. Chris turned out an outstanding group of wines, and very few turned up.

The format of the tasting was to be based around my leading the description of a group of wines in the company of a dozen or so wine lovers ranging from neophyte to several serious palates. But as the day drew closer more and more people found something else to do! Maybe it was because there was going to be someone from America leading the tasting of Aussie Shiraz or perhaps it was because the tasting was to occur during the last hectic two weeks before Christmas. Either way, if you didn’t show you, you missed a worthy celebration of Australian wine.

The wines were wrapped in paper and carried different colored dots so that we could match our notes to individual bottles. For all intents and purposes a blind tasting. Well, almost. In a weak moment, Chris had told me that there would be a couple of older wines including a Penfold’s Bin 389 and a Hunter Valley wine. And, maybe one from the Mornington Peninsula. Prior appointments and the favor of the wine Gods meant that only three of us tasted the wines blinded; Chris, Mike(2) and myself. The others who showed up quite a bit later got to pick and choose from the uncovered bottles.

On to the wines First up -
Deep, dense cherry red with red edge. Lovely fruit flavors together with vanilla, pepper and oaky notes. A hint of nail polish (ethyl acetate). Full bodied with very firm tannins and juicy acidity. The latter detracts from the palate appeal. Will need loads of time to come together. 2, 2, 3.5, 9.7=17.2/20, 86/100.

Difficult to tell. Big, so it could be Barrosan. Mike(2) thought Victorian and probably Mornington Peninsula but I’d not tasted a Mornington wine with such firm tannins. So if it was Victorian it was probably more northerly.

Much older wine, very orange/brown at all levels. Nice notes of leather, caramel, a little spice, smoked meats and a touch of earthiness. Palate is soft and supple with great balance and excellent length. Very nice old wine. 2, 2, 3.9, 10.0=17.9/20, 90/100.

Mike(2) was very firm in his opinion that this was Hunter Valley and I was inclined to agree but I knew that there was an aged Bin 389 in the tasting, so I wanted to wait until I’d tasted all the wines.

Dense, deep, dark cherry. Intense color. Very expressive nose of dark fruits, oak and pepper (probably from the alcohol). Beautifully flavored and not adversely affected by a little menthol note coming up with time. Very powerful on the palate with outstanding presence of flavors and great length. Beautiful wine. 2, 2, 4.3, 10.6=18.9/20, 95/100.

No doubt a recent vintage from the Barossa, and (this is cheating) from the bottle weight it has to be Trevor Jones Wild Witch.

Mahogany, great depth of color with a dense browning on the edge. Great complexity with coffee and chocolate predominate. Fuller bodied with wonderful depth and a core of firm tannins, and a lengthy, lengthy finish. The only weak point is that it faded too quickly with time. 2, 2, 4.3, 10.4=18.7/20, 94/100.

OK, this is the Bin 389. That makes the Red dot wine a good candidate for the Hunter.

Dense cherry red with red edge. A little sulfur stink and then it opens to cherry and other red fruits, but presenting a little green in this company. Nice clean acidity focuses the balance in this excellent little wine. 2, 2, 3.4, 10.1=17.5/20, 88/100.

Hmmm, this could well be Mornington Peninsula Shiraz. Its certainly a cooler climate wine.

Deepest color, black at its core with a dark red edge. A big, overpowering, wine with olives, oak and a little chocolate. With time some coffee and tomato paste. Soft and supple on entry but its mouth filling and expressive with great length. Lacks a little on the mid-palate but the flavors carry and the depth and concentration is excellent. It just needs time to fill out a little. 2, 2, 3.7, 10.0=17.7/20, 89/100.

Clearly Barossa but the olive note suggest that its not something I’m familiar with because I don’t find that in Shiraz all that often. (EDIT: Nothing is ever simple with wine. In the last few weeks I’ve had two wines from the Barossa that have had aromas of olives. The 2005 Rusden Ripper Creek (a 60/40 blend of Cabernet sauvignon and Shiraz) and the 2005 Glaymond The Distance Shiraz.)

The wines-
Pink: 2004 Langi Shiraz, Mount Langi Ghiran, Grampians, Victoria, 15% alcohol.
Red:1991 Maurice O’Shea Shiraz, Mount Pleasant, Hunter Valley, NSW. 12.5% alcohol.
Yellow: 2005 Wild Witch Reserve Dry Grown Shiraz, Trevor Jones, Barossa, SA. 14.8% alcohol.
Green: 1996 Bin 389 (Cabernet/Shiraz), Penfolds, SA. 13.5% alcohol.
Orange: 2005 Reserve Shiraz, Paringa Estate, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria. 14.5% alcohol
Brown: 2004 Shiraz, Glaetzer, Barossa, SA. 14.5% alcohol.

A tasting like this leaves little doubt that Shiraz is truly Australia’s top gear of wine. Wines from four different regions, each of which show distinctive character. And two showing how gracefully these wines, from both little (Hunter Valley) and well (Barossa Valley) known regions can age. Aussie Shiraz is simply not all the same, all the time. The next time someone tells you that all Australia does with Shiraz is produce fruit bombs, hit them with a bottle of Maurice O’Shea from the Hunter Valley, and as they reel from that give them the coup de grĂ¢ce with a heavy weight, the Trevor Jones Wild Witch.