Tuesday, June 24, 2014

George Orwell

This post is in response to an article from Adelaide Now, found here.

George Orwell is alive and well, masquerading under the alias of Gino Vumbaca, executive director of the Thought Police Advisory Body to the Federal Government on Krispy Kreme® donuts. ‘Krispy Kreme®’, says he, ‘is an adult product for a reason’, sold mainly in domestic airports, he says children should not be exposed to them, and hence be barred from airports. ‘Abuse of Krispy Kreme® donuts adds to the scourge of obesity that is afflicting children throughout the world.’

Sources say Mr Vumbaca is seeking a Federal Grant to supplement the laptop programme for schools with CCTV cameras in all precincts of schools and in domestic dwellings that are home to one or more children to ensure parents and/or children do not circumvent the ban.

Asked whether Krispy Kreme® should be treated any differently to any other form of donuts, Mr Vumbaca replied he had no comment. Asked whether Krispy Kreme® had been part of the fabric of European society for several thousand years he responded ‘I will not put up with further questions designed to impugn the importance of the Thought Police Advisory Body.’

His final assertion was that Krispy Kreme® sales should be restricted to children over 50 years old.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Sir Alex Ferguson’s Aladdin’s Cave

I received an international DHL Express package yesterday, and momentarily wondered what was in it.  It felt like a smallish A4 book, but turned out to be the most amazing catalogue of Fine and Rare wines to be auctioned by Christie’s in Hong Kong on May 24, London June 5, and online June 9-23.  I commenced buying wine from Christie’s in the late 1960s, but when I left my partnership earnings behind me when I ceased to practise law in 1988, my purchases have been few and far between.  There were the golden years when wine was relatively cheap, the exchange rate was very much in Australia’s favour, and I had my lawyer’s salary, thus accumulating what at the time was a pretty good wine cellar.  I have been steadily drinking my way through it, 99 times out of 100 with friends in one theatre or another.

But, when I got over the shock of finding the auction was ‘From the Collection of Sir Alex Ferguson CBE’ (note, not the Collection, simply from the collection), I opened the catalogue to find an unbelievable Aladdin’s cave of 3000 bottles of the greatest wine produced in France (and Italy) since 1986.  But wait: the catalogue is printed in English and Mandarin, and all of the lots are woven through Ferguson’s career as manager of Manchester United.  Eight being a lucky number for the Chinese, the lots started with 8001.  This Lot was a simple imperial of ‘86 Chateau Lafite, but gained traction with the next 15 lots, each 12 bottles of 1988 Chateau Petrus.  Petrus features continuously woven through the catalogue, rubbing shoulders with Romanée-Conti of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and eight vintages of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet, every bit as rare and expensive as Romanée-Conti.

The catalogue is arranged in vintage order, the index on pages 104 and 105 showing Ferguson only purchased Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and (of much lesser amounts) de Vogue Burgundies.  The purchases of the Domaine wines got underway with the 1990 vintage, and included steadily increasing amounts of each of the Grand Crus owned by the Domaine.

Bordeaux is represented by Petrus, the crème de la crème of Pomerol, and, of course, lots of First Growth Bordeaux.  Italy is represented by Gaja, Sassicaia and Ornellaia.

Purchasers of various lots get personally-signed (no shortcuts) memorabilia of Manchester United.

I know this is a long blog, but I have to repeat part of the conversation between David Elswood of Christie’s and Ferguson:
David Elswood: Sir Alex, may we welcome you to Christie’s.  Where did a busy football manager travelling all around the world get a chance to first become interested in wine?

Sir Alex Ferguson: It started in 1991.  I went to Montpellier, to assess the hotels for us staying in the quarter final European Cup Winners’ Cup, and I stayed in this small hotel, the ‘Maison Blanche’, and the owner, we got talking away and he says, ‘would you like lunch?’  And I says, ‘yeah, okay, let’s.’  So we go to this restaurant, there’s a showcase window, and they’ve got a bottle of Petrus and a bottle of Chateau d’Yquem.  He says to me, ‘Are you interested in wine?’  I say ‘Well, I like a glass of red wine, yes.  I don’t really know much about it.’  He says, ‘Invest in ‘82s and ‘85s.  You won’t go wrong.’  I was at a lunch not so long after, maybe about ‘93, and I was speaking to a chap there from Willoughby’s Wines in Manchester, and I was telling him the story, and he said, ‘Yeah, ‘85s, ‘82s, definitely.’  So I invested then, and that really kicked my on to where we are today.

DE: So your collecting started with  Bordeaux.  Clearly you then moved in to Burgundy and to some Italian wines.  Does that reflect what you like to drink at home?

AF: Yeah, well we’ve plenty in the house, quite a lot of Ornellaia and a lot of Tignanello.  Tignanello’s one of the real underrated Italian wines.  I’ve got Sassicaia, I’ve got the Petrus and I’ve got Haut Brions and Cheval Blancs.  I’ve got enough there for hopefully to last me quite a few years.

DE: Wine is all about vintages, it’s all about years, and particularly in your collection you have Burgundy in strength and depth from a great producer, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, particularly the ‘99 vintage.  Now obviously in your life in 1999, important things were happening.

AF: It was the greatest time of my life.  People keep saying, ‘What was the best moment of your life as a manager?’ and ‘99 is without question.  There was always this thing about my career that I never had won the Champion’s League, so to win it in the way we did win it was absolutely fantastically special.  And it coincided with a vintage; you were were talking about Romanée-Conti, ‘99, a really special year.  I think we deserved that!


A weighted average price per bottle has to be more than $2000, but even at this conservative level, this is a $6 million cellar.  Oh, and by the way, if you buy six bottles of 1991 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Richebourg you get a Manchester United retro shirt from 1991 signed ‘Best wishes, Alex Ferguson’, but if you buy one bottle of Romanée-Conti from the same vintage, you get a card signed ‘Best wishes, Alex Ferguson.’

It seems that Ferguson has either consumed or sold that part of the Collection prior to 1996.

You can view the catalogue at christies.com

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Is Wine Bullshit? James responds

Alex Mayyasi’s blog is proof positive that wine bloggers are, by and large, distinguished by their abysmal lack of knowledge, whether they are blogging about some specific aspect of wine, or making sweeping judgements about wine in general.

He leaps from one point to the next, and having started with the proposition that wine is bullshit and that experts cannot tell good wine from bad, comes to a conclusion that, on its face, makes everything he has written on the way through incorrect or misleading.  There is always the wonderful use of unqualified generalisations attributed to ‘critics’, without any way of testing whether the critics in question are the real deal, or posers.

It is true that most European judges at wine shows are woefully trained compared to Australian wine show judges; in Europe, the points go off to a computer, and there is no discussion between the judges on the merits (or lack thereof) on any given wine.  All care and no responsibility.

But when it is said that Hodgson’s research covered the results of hundreds of wine competitions, the red alert flashes.  The task of identifying a single wine, and working out whether it came up once, twice or a hundred times, would require a very sophisticated and expensive tracking system which, by definition, could not then cross-correlate the identities of the judges in the hundreds of competitions.

Mayyasi then gets lost in a forest of contradictory statements when he deals with the proposition ‘taste does not equal your taste buds.’ There are a couple of true propositions, and the occasional correct conclusion, but his blog all adds up to a score of 80 points on a 100 point scale.

You might also like: How to taste wine like a pro

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Climate change implications for Australian viticulture

I was interested to hear the chief IPCC scientist with responsibility for Australia and New Zealand holding forth on the implications for Australian viticulture, and, in particular, prophesising death, doom and destruction for regions already warm.

Well, the cool regions of Southern Victoria and the Adelaide Hills have just finished a vintage with yields somewhere between one-third and one-half of a normal harvest. And, no, it was not the heat in March, but the protracted cool and wet weather last spring which catastrophically interrupted flowering, leading to tiny bunches with small full-sized berries. When you have to choose between weather which is too warm, and weather that is too cold, vines and humans react in similar fashion.  More people are killed by cold weather than hot, and the same is true of grape vines.

Turning to warm regions, it is passing strange that the Hunter Valley had a truly excellent vintage in 2011, but one that pales into insignificance compared to that of this year. Most of the winemakers I have spoken to agree it (2014) is the best since 1965. Mind you, this is rear vision stuff, because few, if any, were actually making wine in 1965. This is where wine is such a wonderful thing, because anyone with Lindemans Bin 3100 or 3110 in their cellar know they have wines which are still in the prime of their life, and, if recorked, will cruise through to 2065. Any other shirazs from 1965 are also worth their weight in gold.

One obvious answer to the IPCC riddle is that global warming has inconveniently ceased since 1997, notwithstanding significant ongoing increases in CO2 emissions.

Another take on the subject came when I visited the Gold and the Incas – Lost Worlds of Peru exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia. The beautifully illustrated and detailed book available at the exhibition is a treasure in itself, however much it makes you realise the unbelievable extent of artworks of all kind that were destroyed over the following centuries. The Moche civilisation in the north of Peru, and which prospered between 100AD and 800AD was ended not by invasion, but an altogether different cause, which might give the IPCC pause for thought. Quoting directly from the book ‘The downfall of the Moche is linked to the disastrous consequences of a severe El Nino in the 6th century, which caused 30 years of flooding, then 30 years of drought. Such disruption undermined belief in the supernatural power of the rulers.’ I wonder whether these supernatural powers of the IPCC might also be called into question.

Finally, those watching ABC television recently, will have seen the patterns of the last ice age a mere 8000 years ago. The northern half of present day Australia was covered under a deep mantle of ice. This ice age ended quite abruptly, with rapid warming chronicled, but not understood.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Charity initiative from Bibendum Wine Co.

Bibendum Wine Co. – one of Australia’s leading distributors of fine wines – has supported a number of charitable organisations over the years, but has always wanted to do something within the industry to raise funds for the disadvantaged in the community.

Bibendum then goes on to explain:

And so Glass Half Full was born. Here’s how it works. We invite donations of wine (or discounts) from quality producers. We then offer those wines for pouring to a select group of restaurants and sometimes to certain retailers. All the proceeds Bibendum collects go to charity. Simple!

To participate in Glass Half Full all the restaurant/retailer needs to do is agree to pour (or stack) two or four cases (depending on the donation size) of the chosen Bibendum wine for that fund raiser (we do one every two months). Our customer gets the normal pouring discount, works on their normal margin and pays the  Bibendum invoice on normal terms. There is no financial commitment from the restaurant or retailer – the only commitment is agreeing to pour the wine. And they can participate on a wine by wine basis – i.e., they might choose to participate in one fund raiser, but not the next, based on the quality or style of wine on offer each time. And that’s it!

Our first Glass Half Full producer, for the month of April, is Toolangi Vineyards. Our first restaurant supporter is Rockpool Bar & Grill Sydney.  Our first charity recipient is Fareshare.”

I think it’s an excellent initiative.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Easy bottle storage

I don’t know when I’m going to have time to get back into my cellar to continue some long over-due organisation and tidying up, but at least my new supply of cellar tags has arrived. If you don’t know about these, and have single bottle storage, they are very useful www.cellartags.com.au

Monday, February 17, 2014

Hawke's Bay and China

Hawke’s Bay Winegrowers Inc, the regional organisation representing local grape growers and winemakers, has obtained funding for a $500,000 programme to increase awareness and sales of Hawke’s Bay wine into China. The money came from the Agricultural and Marketing Research and Development Trust. If you scale that up to Australian proportions, you wouldn’t have much change out of $5million. It’s bad enough being monstered by the All Blacks, and I didn’t know that New Zealand was rolling in money for handouts. The age of entitlement seems to be alive and well there. Or, is it just that government agencies can see the net benefit flowing to New Zealand from the grant?