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!


Anonymous said...

1) Search has already been improved before you wrote this to show abstract and just the title. It will be improved further. You are also assuming people want to always pull information - sometimes they do - but sometimes they want push. To this end Wine Front is better than the most of the other sites (IMO and in particular Wine Companion) and it also is live and active. i.e. the notes can be questioned, queried and actively involve (optionally) the reader. This is a key differentiator.
There is a (very small) tip content on searching in the FAQ already. Mainly the issue with search is that we are slowly indexing and cataloguing the old data from Wine Front. Takes time. Then we will have Barossa Shiraz, over 90 points, 2005 vintage and under $30.

2) Double Takes are always free content.

PS. One R in Gary. Ta very much.

Michael Pollard said...

Thanks Gary – your name has been changed.

Not being a computer guru the concept of pull versus push does not enter my vocabulary and so I decided to pull an explanation from Google. Here is what I found at eCommercetechnology.

[i]“Push” Technology allows you to become an integral part of your customers daily lives by enforcing your brands and services directly to them every day. Key messages and personalised information that they have requested, and critical information can be delivered to their desktop, screen saver, any wireless device, mail account and more. “Push” amplifies and extends your current Web presence while providing new and valuable services. Your customer is directed back to your Web site for more in-depth information. This technology eliminates the need to wait for customers to visit your site, instead, allowing an organisation to take their business to their customer base.[/i]

If one uses that definition for the wine web sites discussed above then they are pretty much all pull sites. Most do push information to you via emails etc, but even if you are a subscriber or on an email list you still have to return to the site to pull information, even if that information is current. None of these sites are like “My Yahoo”, for example, where you can set up a page so that your specific requests are pulled from the web and sent to you, changing in real time. That would be a true revolution in wine critics web sites. Set up your page so that when you open it there are all the current notes for Barossa Shiraz, New Zealand Pinot Noir and news and commentary from the wine world.

In terms of the ability to comment on tasting notes, it is true that THE WINE FRONT is the only site discussed to offer this for individual wines, that is unless you want to include dozens and dozens of wine blogs that put up tasting notes. And, of course, commenting on individual wines is also the domain of wine forums, something we will look at in a future post.

Anonymous said...

Talk about calling a spade an earth inverting horticultural implement! With push and pull I'm just getting at a far simpler concept and it is this -

With sites like Wine Companion the homepage is pretty much static and you have to go looking to pull information out - seemingly Barossa Shiraz is the order of the day.

With sites like Wine Front the home page changes daily - much like a newspaper. Information is pushed towards you - although you can also have a pull if you like.
It's just a different delivery of content and neither one nor the other is more or less valid.


Michael Pollard said...


From one wine wanker to another – you really are far too sensitive about this. Check out the Halliday site, click on the An Extra Drop pulldown then look at Articles/News. The content there updates on a quite regular basis. True its not plastered all over the home page and its not all tasting notes, but then the world of wine is more than tasting notes.

You don’t have to make the changes to the site I would like to see, I’ll still maintain my subscription, but please try to understand that my criticism is offered in good faith. Nothing improves when everyone offers nothing more than a pat on the back.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sensitive to it! I just want to add some perspective. I take it all on board as constructive. I've already improved the search (to which you refer to an older version in your article). However, if you write things that I don't feel are quite accurate, or as I see them then I'd like to add something to the debate.

Anonymous said...

Guys, push / pull is a pretty simple concept and both can only be viewed from a single perspective. Users of web sites do not push or pull, the website does the push or pull. A site either 'pulls' users so they can then view content, or it actively pushes content to the (subscribed) user(else its spam). Changing content does not constitute push, its simply called 'content update', unless you notify subscribed users of the update (push), otherwise they have to 'pull' the content in any case, i.e. visit the site. Re search engines: Most are poor because of 2 reasons, number one is the complete lack a quality (3rd party) search engine, they tend to use there own search code which typically is limited and expensive to develop. Second is that the indexing of the database is usually poorly done and information becomes time expensive to provide efficiently.

Anonymous said...

Alexa calls itself a web information company. No introduction is required to be given about Alexa. Alexa is one of the most prolific search engines more so in the use as against the rest of the world. There are rife speculations on and off that Alexa is a spy ware. The Alexa toolbar is often regarded as a spy ware by many vendors. However, the antivirus company Symantec describes the toolbar as a trackware. Antivirus company McAfee also assigns a danger to the Alexa toolbar. The tests conducted by the former on the Alexa toolbar showed downloads that are thought to be spyware, adware, or other unwanted programs. Apart from McAfee, that has marked Alexa toolbar as Adware-Alexa, a “Potentially Unwanted Program” even other antivirus vendors have done the same.

Increase Your Website Traffic said...

The Australian wine industry is the fourth-largest exporter in the world,[1] exporting over 400 million litres a year to a large international export market that includes "old world" wine-producing countries such as France, Italy and Spain.[2] There is also a significant domestic market for Australian wines, with Australians consuming over 400 million litres of wine per year.[3] The wine industry is a significant contributor to the Australian economy through production, employment, export and tourism.

Wine Companion said...

With an increasing number of great wine resources available online, a review of a few of them was worthy of a blog post. Your overview of accurately reflects the feedback we have received directly for our users. The feedback is partly why, as of last month we are now adding 100 new tasting notes every month (Septembers - Also stay turned for the Vintage Search, its on its way. *whip cracked*

Gary Walsh said...

Search issues addressed on The Wine Front (at last).