Thursday, October 23, 2008

Off to the Land of Wonder, the Land Downunder

Our annual trip to Australia is occurring a little earlier than usual. Real early, like tomorrow. If we have picked our QANTAS flights correctly we should be boarding the A380 Airbus some time after 10pm at LAX for the 14 plus hour flight. This year our wine exposure is a little more ambitious than in the past. A two week road trip visiting six wine regions in three different states. The trip will start in Dubbo, NSW where Miranda and I will be joined by my cousin Ngaire and her husband Chris. First stop will be the cool climate wine area around Orange sampling wines from Canobolas-Smith, Mayfield, and Printhie. Then it will be off to The Falls for a relaxing dinner (and wine) and a good nights rest.

The second day was to be visits to selected wineries in the Hilltops and Canberra regions. But Chalkers Crossing at Young have told us they won’t be open and the Canberra wineries are holding their Wine, Roses, and All that Jazz celebration. So all we hope to achieve is to fight our way through the crowds so that we can taste whatever Clonakilla has on offer that weekend.

It may be fate that the second day promises little wine as the next two as sure to hold some of the highlights of the trip. Why? One word, Rutherglen. Well OK, four words. Rutherglen and fortified wines. For those who don’t know, Rutherglen is the epicenter of fortified wine in Australia, and the wines they make there are among the best in the world. And we get to visit the big guns like Chambers, Morris, Buller, and Campbells. And we will also drop by Warrabilla to taste the big, bold wines of Andrew Sutherland Smith. This should be two days of wine heaven.

To recover from all that alcohol we will spend the next two days traveling along most of the Murray River from Albury to Murray Bridge. We will be driving through a number of wine regions (Goulburn Valley, Swan Hill, Murray Darling, Riverland) as we motor alongside the Murray, but apart from accommodation in Swan Hill and Loxton we won’t be stopping because the next wine region on the itinerary is McLaren Vale. Tastings have been organized at Arakoon, Kay Brothers, d’Arenberg, and Mollydooker. A highlight will be a BBQ with Roger Pike and the chance to taste his Marius wines as we look out over his vineyards. We had hoped to stop by the Redheads Studio and Samuel’s Gorge but I guess they are too busy making and selling wine to answer my email request for a tasting appointment!

The next region is that little known wine making area, the Barossa Valley. We will taste at Winter Creek, Trevor Jones, and Teusner, and then recover over dinner at Vintners Bar and Grill with several winemakers. The next day will see us at Seppeltsfield. Miranda and I visit this grand old place every time we are in the Barossa, but this time it will be special as we will be tasting the wines under new ownership. Diggers Buff, Hobbs and Tim Smith will also be letting us sample their wines.

On the next day we will visit our last Barossa winery, Dutschke, before heading up to Clare Valley and tastings at Kilikanoon, Neagles Rock, Pikes and Paulett. Then it will be back to Dubbo via Broken Hill because its always good to get a little bit of the reality of the outback under your belt before you return to the maddening pace of southern California.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Battle for the Internet

Its the question that has all waiting with bated breath. The outcome may well make grown men cry, women scream, babies clutch for the mothers’ breast and Aussie wine aficionados run screaming into the night. Nah, it won’t be that dramatic but it will be interesting. One month ago Shiraz posted on Australian Wine - The Critics Web Sites. That post garnered quite a few comments mainly from Gary Walsh of the redesigned The Wine Front. Gary was quite concerned that I hadn’t looked deeply enough into the fine cyberspace tuning that The Wine Front had received. After all the site would now be putting up a hundred or more new-release wine reviews each month. That would be more than any other site and certainly more than James Halliday’s online Wine Companion site. Well OK, that’s great. I still don’t like the search capability of the new site but if it is notes on current wines that drinkers of Australian wines need then go for it.

The zeros and ones had only just settled themselves after the thrust and parry of the comments to that post when I received the monthly update from the Halliday's Wine Companion site. The big news? You get no prize for guessing. “Starting in September, James will be adding 100 new tasting notes to every month. These tasting notes will not appear in the Australian Wine Companion and are only available online to members.” The 100 tasting notes are easily searched as the list is a simple alphabetical one of the wines. Click on any wine name and it opens the tasting note. The only problem is that I can’t find a link to those tasting notes on the site itself, you have to click the link in the subscriber email. Back to you Campbell and Gary.

And it didn’t take long. October 1st saw an email from Campbell Mattinson to subscribers of The Wine Front.

Dear subscribers, I think you're going to like this. From now on Gary Walsh and I will be putting out The Wine Front Hot 50 each month - as a pdf document. To grab your copy just click the link below. We looked at the fact that we are now reviewing several hundred wines each month, which means that unless you're visiting the site almost daily, it's easy for a good number of really good wines to pass you by. This publication should help fix that - it distills the best down to the Hot 50. Beat that James.

Halliday’s response? Well all was quiet, except for a post on SHIRAZ on October 7th from the online Wine Companion viz. ”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*”

It’s the last sentence that is the interesting bit. As I look over the site now I see quite a few changes to the search capability. True, its still not close to the search capability of Parker’s online The Wine Advocate, but now the “Search Wineries” pull down allows you to click on a state of Australia and it opens up with a map showing you the location of the major regions and you can click on any one (or the text list of regions) and you get an alphabetical list of wineries. That is useful if you want to know where different regions lie in respect to each other and the wineries they contain. The aficionados may already know that but your interested wine drinker, especially those outside Oz will find it very helpful. The “Wine Tasting Notes” pull down has also been ungraded so that you can now pick a variety (Shiraz) and a region (McLaren Vale) and the page will open to a list of wineries and the ability to sort them by Name, Vintage, Rating, Price, Drink By, and Date Tasted. This is certainly more helpful than in the (recent) past. It still can’t do a search that will reduce the number of wines by adding additional search terms so that I can get only the 2002 Shiraz wines from Barossa with ratings above 90. But maybe if the whip is cracked often enough that might just happen. But did this whip crack have any sting in it for The Wine Front?

I guess it did because a week later Campbell was sending out another email to subscribers.

Dear Subscriber,

It's been a gentler past week at The Wine Front - only just shy of 50 new reviews in the past seven days - but you'd hardly know it, with all the comments and new information going onto the site. If you're not visiting the site regularly - you should be.

BEST VALUE: But if you don't visit often, a really nifty way of getting the best out of the site is via the categories and tags. For instance, if you want to see all the BEST VALUE wines we've tasted recently, go to the Best Value tag at:

BIODYNAMIC: Or you want to see the Biodynamic wines we've reviewed recently go to the Biodynamic tag at:

IMPORTS: Or maybe the imports? See all our most recent Import reviews at:

We've also got our CALENDAR up and running now - it's on the bottom right of the screen. Check it out - there are some good events coming up - and let us know of any events we should have in there.

In other words, lots happening on the site every day.

Campbell Mattinson

So I wandered over to the site. To be honest I’m not a big fan of the way the categories and tags are used on the site. But hey, if that is what works for subscribers then who am I to complain. The Hot 50 is there as a PDF with an alphabetical listing of the wines reviewed in September and their scores as well. But the PDF is 33 pages long and there is no listing of the Top 50 that allows you to click on the name of the wine and skip straight to the review; Halliday wins that round. The Wine Calendar is a different matter. Those looking for wine events are likely to find this quite useful. For the Aussie scene its probably more useful than something like the Local Wine Events site as its more national than international and likely to be of great use to event organizers and retailers looking to attract those with a serious interest in wine.

Will the Wine Companion respond? Probably not, they don’t really need a wine calendar. They should keep sprucing up those search capabilities because as much as I’d like to back the young turks the smart money is still going for Halliday.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Landmark Australia Tutorial

Wine Australia has announced the first Landmark Australia Tutorial for 1-5 June, 2009. The Tutorial is a five day course comprising text, narrative study and wine tasting on Australia’s fine wines. It is limited to international opinion-formers "with extensive wine experience in buying, selling or editorial decision making. Candidates must demonstrate how they have influenced their business across one or more of these decision making dimensions over the previous 2 years. Previous experience judging at wine shows will also be viewed favorably." The selection process is limited to twelve participants, each of whom will receive all expenses-paid trips courtesy of Wine Australia. Applications close Friday 28 November 2008 and the winning entrants will ne notified 15 December 2008. and must be available to travel to Australia during Monday 1 to Friday 5 June 2009.

The Tutorial has three principal tutors, Dr Tony Jordan, Michael Hill Smith AM MW and Andrew Caillard MW, as well as leading Australian wine experts James Halliday and Brian Croser.

“The opportunity for us to engage the next generation of wine media, trade and commerce with an Australian fine wine story full of courage and ambition is very exciting,” said the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation, general manager of market development, Paul Henry.

“The belief in the existence of terroir, the notion of regionality, the benefits of blending etcetera are all vexed questions that we should now confidently address, staking a bold claim to be judged as a leading producer of wines of character, quality and interest.”

The Tutorial will be hosted at The Louise luxury vineyard retreat in the Barossa Valley, which is associated with the highly praised restaurant Appellation.

Apart from exposure to some of the more legendary Aussie wines including Penfolds Bin 60A, Mildara's Peppermint Pattie and the original Maurice O'Shea's the participants will be guided through several Masterclasses entitled, Australia's Regional Classics, An Historic Perspective, and Pinot Noir.

The Landmark Australia Tutorial could be considered to be smaller brother to the worldlier Len Evans Tutorial, albeit with a much more pertinent focus on Australia. Limiting the tutorial to a lucky dozen does seem restrictive, but I would hope that the lucky few return to heir homelands to spread the message about the great diversity and excellence of Australian wines. All Wine Australia needs now is a tutorial for Australian winemakers in promoting their wines in a more and more competitive global marketplace.

Media Release.

An Aside: Shiraz won't be an applicant (because I have a full time job) but we will be checking out Appellation during our upcoming Oct-Nov trip to Oz which will include visits to wineries in half a dozen wine regions and dinnner at Appellation with some noted winemakers.