Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Wine Advocate Does Australia

Jay Miller, Robert Parker's surrogate taster of Australian wines, has come out with his latest set of reviews after his 2008 visit. The wines are reviewed in Issue # 181 of The Wine Advocate. Miller provides reviews of 1072 wines, which I believe is the largest number reviewed so far by The Wine Advocate. But its his introduction, titled Australia 2009: Into the Abyss that will see Parker’s followers, and quite a few others, nodding their heads.

"In my tastings for this report, many, if not most, of the importers with whom I sat down have trimmed their portfolios and/or begun to diversify into what they perceive as more fertile ground, particularly Spain and Argentina. In not much more than a decade the market has gone from boom to bust and to an unsettled future. "– Jay Miller, The Wine Advocate

Miller uses import figures from Oct 2007 to Oct 2008 to show that Aussie wines imported into the USA under $10 have seen double digit growth but wines over $20 have decreased by 50%. He gives a few reasons for this but avoids one that bears consideration and that is that Parker’s focus on South Australia has been the foundation stone for the boom and the bust.

Robert Parker never really saw value in many of the wines outside South Australia. True wines were recommended from a variety of regions but his main focus never really strayed from the Barossa and McLaren Vale for almost a decade. That myopic view lead to too many wines from too many producers that were just too similar. It meant importers like The Grateful Palate could establish virtual wineries producing export only wines for a specific market without regard for regional character. Such wines were nameless and faceless to wine drinkers in Australia and therefore lacked the backing of those who know the countries’ wines best. Such wines could never represent the regional diversity of Australia that is far, far broader than Robert Parler’s palate. Or as one importer told Miller “designer brands with no real core values – no bricks and mortar, no faces and places behind them, no regional expressions” Designed for whom is a question that must be asked.

Miller does seem to appreciate the diversity in Australia better than his boss, so has that changed how The Wine Advocate sees regional Australia? Perhaps not. I’ve not yet had the time to look through all 1072 recommendations but what is a concern is that on the first 2 pages of that 22 page list of scores there are only 5 non-South Australian dry wines (all Victorian) among a mass of South Australians. The great diversity of Australian wine deserves better than that.


Andrew Graham said...

Spot on Mike. For all the good that Parker wines did for so many wineries (that struck gold overnight) it also fed the public perception that that's all that Australia makes.

Did Parker actually do the latest Ozzie ones or was it Dr Jay?

Michael Pollard said...

Thanks for the comment Andrew. This is Dr Jay's second year reviewing Aussie wines.

Brd S. said...

Great points. The philosophy extends to New Zealand. We have seen huge improvements in the Pinot Noir exports over the past 2 years yet it is barely mentioned. The product has been amazing.

Michael Pollard said...

Thanks for the comment Brd S. New Zealand was one of those wine places that Parker panned as recently as 2007, including Sauvignon Blanc – a worldwide sensation in wine. He’s also missed the boat on Pinot, Syrah and Riesling in NZ but I imagine that Neal Martin will be playing catch up as he did in his first report on New Zealand wines for The Wine Advocate.