Friday, December 31, 2010

Wine Australia – What’s in a Name?

The meaning of Wine Australia has morphed once again. When I was chairman of Wine Australia from 1998-2004 it referred to the biennial all-industry promotional event. Thereafter it became the name of the Australian Wine & Brandy Corporation overseas activities. Now it has been adopted as the name of the Corporation itself. A+ Australian Wine is to become the bi-line for the overseas and domestic promotional work by Wine Australia. The A+ business to one side, it makes life a whole lot simpler.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Is the rain ever going to stop?

I've been in Vietnam and Cambodia for the past two weeks, and emptied an incredible amount of water out of the rain gauge on my return, and in the two days since. But on the way to the airport for my departure I stopped to take three photographs from the right side of the Melba Highway leading towards Yering Station and Chateau Yering. Stringybark Creek is normally a tiny trickle at best, but not that day.

All grapegrowers across Southeast Australia are having to be extremely vigilant about the development of downy mildew (unsightly but not terminal) and powdery mildew (far more damaging as it actually attacks the grapes rather than the leaves). Nonetheless, hopes are high for a top quality vintage taking place in the usual March/April period.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

NZ Riesling ChallengeNew Zealand has recently come up with an interesting competition for Riesling. Called the NZ Riesling Challenge, it involved 12

New Zealand has recently come up with an interesting competition for Riesling. Called the NZ Riesling Challenge, it involved 12 winemakers pre-selected to each make a riesling using grapes picked from the same vineyard at the same time in 2010. The initiative was that of Mud House Wines, which provided the four tonnes of hand-picked grapes to each winemaker. They were encouraged to use whatever method they considered most appropriate, and the winner was Matt Donaldson of the Pegasus Bay winery. He commented, ‘The fruit was in perfect condition but picked a little earlier than we do for our Pegasus Bay Riesling, so we thought we would have a little experimental fun and froze the bunches before gently pressing. This raised the degree Brix from 22 to 25. Fermentation was clean and cool and stopped according to taste to give a luscious classic style.’

The wines were judged by the participating winemakers under the direction of Chairman of Judges, Bob Campbell MW. All of the wines have now been bottled, and 2000 cases containing one bottle of each of the 12 wines made will be available for public purchase through the participating wineries, the Mud House Wine Group, and a dedicated NZ Riesling Challenge website. For more information on the background of Mud House Wine and its director, Neil Charles-Jones, contact Mark Devlin,

For the record, second place went to Matt Dicey of Mt Difficulty Wines and third place to Mike Brown from Golden Hills Estates.


The Orange wine region has two advantages: it has consistently produced a series of very good wines in recent years, and has an active PR business supporting it (David Cumming of Define Wine,

In a recent release he points out that its 1500 hectares of vines represents less than 1% of the national total. Its two most successful varieties, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, respectively represent 0.7% and 1.6% of the national plantings. Taste Orange Executive Office Kim Currie is understandably very pleased with the track record of Orange in the 2010 calendar year (coming, as it did, on the back of prior years with similar success). Five wines were in the Top 40 of the 2010 New South Wales Wine Awards, two of those respectively winning trophies for Best Young Sauvignon Blanc and Best Young Red Blend (with a cabernet merlot).

Further trophies at the 2010 New South Wales Small Winemakers Wine Show followed for Best Sauvignon Blanc; trophy for Best Pinot Gris at the 2010 Cowra Wine Show; trophy for Other White Varieties (Pinot Gris) at the 2010 Winewise Small Vignerons Awards; trophies for Best Shiraz Award and Best Red Wine Award at the Shanghai International Wine Challenge 2010; two wines ranked equal fifth with gold medals at the 2010 Great Australian Shiraz Challenge; and a gold medal for a Pinot Noir at the 2010 New Zealand International Wine Show.

A region for all seasons, it would seem.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Christmas Gift Suggestions

Collecting great wine labels
There are two frustrations that can beset those who want to keep the label of a particularly memorable wine they have tasted. If it’s self-adhesive, it is likely to defy all attempts to detach it from the glass bottle. If you are in a restaurant, you may not wish to take the bottle or bottles home with you, arousing amused glances from other diners. The L’Ivre d’Or is a system that I have seen used with total success in various Asian countries, and it is now being distributed on the Australian market for the first time. It involves a special plastic film which is applied to the label, and which detaches either the entire label or the printed surface of the label paper (particularly in the case of self-adhesives) and which is then transferred to a dedicated page in the smart mini album. There are 30 plastic films, and 30 double pages for the labels, with the labels on the right hand side of the open album, and a page for all sorts of notes that you might wish to make about the wine, who you drank it with, etc, etc on the facing page. It may sound complicated, but it is in fact easy, with very clear instructions on the method of use coming with the book. RRP $29.95; available through Primary Edge Promotions; email

Durand Corkscrew
The Durand Corkscrew is one of those inventions that make you wonder why no one thought of it before. Shortly put, it is a combined corkscrew and ah-so, and is amazingly effective at removing older and fragile corks. I had a firsthand demonstration with vintage port corks in bottles from 1963, ‘66 and ‘70, corks that would normally defeat the most skilled sommelier. It is a two-stage process, the first involving the insertion of a conventional corkscrew, the second bring the ah-so into play at the same time and on the same cork. Once the two components are locked in position, the cork is extracted using a simple twist and pull technique akin to that used where the only insertion is via the ah-so.

Clear ‘how-to-use’ instructions are included with the corkscrew pack.

The Australian distributor of the corkscrew is:

Grand Millesime Pty Ltd
Unit 6/40 Batman Street
West Melbourne VIC 3003
Ph (03) 9326 5737
Fax (03) 9326 6744

The retail prices is $149, post free for pre-Christmas orders, and MasterCard and Visa cards are accepted.

More information available here on their website:

The future makers: Australian wines of the 21st century
There is a delightful ambiguity in the name of Max Allen’s new book, The future makers. Are they the makers in the future, or the makers of the future? You should expect no less from someone who is a writer first and foremost, his inspiration coming form his mind; wine is more important in the abstract, the nuts and bolts of its physical creation in the winery of less interest.

He shares with Campbell Mattinson the ability to capture the reader with a few words, and hold it for page after page, chapter after chapter. The originality of his thought means even the most knowledgeable oenophile will find much to enjoy; at the other end of the spectrum, the occasional or social quaffer will never find themselves lost in technicalities.

It is a great Christmas gift for someone close to you, simply because you will be around to make off with it immediately after your friend has finished reading it.

This handsomely designed, colourful 440 pp hardback book is published by Hardie Grant with an RRP of $59.95. Available here and at all good bookstores.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Once in a lifetime trip

Somewhere in the middle of extensive PR blurb I came across this jewel:

‘At the moment, Brancott Estate is running a fantastic competition, giving one lucky winner the chance to win an exciting once-in-a-lifetime trip to New Zealand for two which will included a visit to the Brancott Vineyard, the chance to experience a dolphin encounter and a visit to the beautiful Marlborough Sounds. As part of the competition there are also 100 cases of the very first Brancott Estate to give out.’

Yes, I know, second prize is two weeks.

Rose Revolution

The momentum of the Rose Revolution is, it seems, gaining strength. Over 70 wineries are on board, with 700 followers on twitter and 700 on facebook.

The Revolution architects are inviting all and sundry to “Join Miss Pearls @ Madame Brussels on the terrace on Rose Day 30 November, from 6pm with the official tweet up beginning at 7pm. Flights of delicious savoury rose available all night. Official tweet flight $25 for 6 sexy savoury dry roses or 2 flights for $45. Madame Brussels / Level 3, 59-63 Bourke St, Melbourne, Victoria (03) 9662 2775. To book you and your friends a table phone Jill on 0418 590 196.”

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Semillon from all over

In a routine Wine Companion tasting the other day (for the 2012 Edition) there were five very good semillons, falling in the 91 to 94 point range. Nothing unusual in that, I suppose, but none were from the Hunter Valley. Instead they came from the Barossa Valley, the Shoalhaven Coast, and Margaret River. Alcohol levels ranged between 11% to 12.1% for all but one wine, a 2009 Margaret River Semillon (Fermoy Estate) at 13.5%. It happened to be one of the best wines in the tasting, which may be the exception to prove the rule. The rule? It is increasingly obvious that the best semillons have an alcohol content of around 10% to a maximum of around 12%, Hunter Valley wines typically in the bottom half of that narrow range, others in the top half of the range. Moreover, oak is at best subtle, usually absent.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Chateau Tanunda triumph at International Wine & Spirit Competition (UK)

Cricket tragic John Geber was in London to receive the trophy for 2010 Australian Producer of the Year at the International Wine & Spirit Competition on 18 November. I imagine he was on the first available flight after the banquet to catch a flight back to Australia to watch the opening days of this year’s Ashes series.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Preston Peak Wines

Granite Belt winery Preston Peak Wines 2008 Reserve Shiraz has been rated in the Top 5 Shirazs tasted for Winestate Magazine over the past year. This follows on similar success in an earlier international Shiraz challenge also conducted by Winestate Magazine.

Chardonnay comeback

Firsthand reports from retailers and sommeliers have been suggesting that chardonnay is making a comeback, and the sauvignon blanc tsunami may be on the wane. Now there are figures from the statistical font of all knowledge, Nielsen, showing a return to growth of chardonnay sales in both the $14-$19 and $25-$35 per bottle categories. The greatest growth was in the $14-$19 bracket, with sales increasing 6% in the September quarter, compared to a 2% growth for sauvignon blanc.

Argentina's Vineyard frost

Argentina’s vineyards have been hit by a major frost attack in various regions and sub regions. Overall, losses are expected to range between 25% and 30%. Not exactly global warming. An interesting sidelight is that grape prices are not expected to rise, because of the record levels of last year’s grape prices, especially for premium grapes. The press release quoted various winemakers, one with the following gem: ‘I think there will not be a setback to the sprouts, they will recover but we will have to wait to see if there any damages to the fruit. I do believe it’s highly unlikable because they were in a pre-blooming state’.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lafite and the Chinese Dragon

Hot on the heels of the news of the extraordinary price paid for three bottles of 1869 Chateau Lafite (not far short of $250,000 a bottle) paid by a Chinese collector, Christie’s New York sales on November 12 and 13 included a mini vertical of eight vintages of Ch Lafite from 1996 to 2002, offered at what seemed to be a high estimate of $70,000. In fact, the lot realised $120,000, or $15,000 per bottle. (Given the approximate parity of the Australian and US dollar, there is no need to express the precise currency.) Is this the beginning or the end of March Hare madness?

Rochford Wines wins Victorian Tourism Award

Rochford Wines Yarra Valley won the 2010 Victorian Tourism Award for Best Tourism Winery in Victoria, competing with boutique breweries as well as wineries. It has made a very successful programme of major concert events that attract large numbers, and also corporate events.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Clare Agricultural and Horticultural Society booklet

I always enjoy reading the Clare Agricultural and Horticultural Society booklet outlining the classes for each show. They cover horses in action, shearing, wool, yard dogs, dog jumping, dairy goats, alpacas, poultry, pigeons, caged birds, produce, agricultural produce, cookery, preserves, arts, photography, vegetables, flowers, contemporary crafts, crafts, porcelain art, junior crafts and utes. Produce covers 24 classes, first up eggs, divided into separate classes for 12 hen eggs, white shell; 12 hen eggs, brown shell; six duck eggs; and six turkey eggs. Prize money is $1 for first place and 50c for second place, the Champion Eggs of Show receiving the Ribbon and Ken Broad Trophy.

Henschke Winery of the Year

Henschke has been awarded ‘Winery of the Year’ in the inaugural Age/Sydney Morning Herald Good Wine Guide Awards. Henschke deserves to receive every conceivable award; whether in the vineyard, in the winery, or out in the big bad world of marketing, the Henschke family does not know how to take a backwards step.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

King Valley hailstorm

After the fires of 2007 and 2009, the wet spring of this year has been quite wonderful for the whole of Victoria. Thus to hear that on Sunday night a hailstorm wiped out 100-plus acres of vineyard at Chrismont in the Cheshunt region of the King Valley seems a desperately unfair and unlucky blow.

Ladies who shoot their lunch – Plunkett Fowles

The Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch series of wines have attracted considerable attention for the originality of the labels. They certainly attracted my attention when one arrived mounted on a 5x3 foot (or thereabouts – no need for metric here) board suitable for hanging on a ‘large’ wall.

Understandably, Matt Fowles (CEO of Plunkett Fowles) is inordinately pleased that the 2008 Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch Shiraz won the Trophy for Australia’s Best Shiraz in the 2010 Great Australian Shiraz Challenge – the first Victorian wine ever to do so. Go to the Plunkett Fowles website for further details, availability and price;

Monday, November 8, 2010

Raining cats and dogs – and turtles

The turtle pictured here on our front path today, the nearest dams hundreds of feet further down the slope.

Chateau Lafite and China

I see from the Daily Wine News that three bottles of 1869 Chateau Lafite sold at a Sotheby’s Hong Kong auction for $232,692 per bottle. I have never regretted drinking a wine that may have appreciated in value since I purchased it, but it did cause a twinge to think of the double magnum (four bottle equivalent) of 1865 Chateau Lafite purchased (and drunk) by a group of fellow wine lovers some years ago. The $72,000 price tag seemed cheap at the time because the wine was so utterly magnificent. However, it might have been difficult to resist a $1 million bid for the bottle – we’ll never know.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Annual Clonakilla Dinner at Attica – 28 October 2010

The generosity of Tim Kirk of Clonakilla and the extraordinary talents of Attica co-owner and chef, Ben Shewry, resulted in a truly exceptional dinner. The fact that only two of the eight wines served were from Clonakilla reflected the theme of wines at the very top end of the Langton’s Classification V, Exceptional.

Thus we had 2010 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling; 2008 Giaconda Chardonnay; 2008 Bass Phillip Premium Pinot Noir; 2008 Wendouree Shiraz; 2009 Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier; and 2007 Cullen Diana Madeline. Two outriders were the wine on arrival, Clonakilla’s 2010 Viognier Nouveau and the concluding wine, Morris Rare Liqueur Muscat, the latter not included in the Classification because it (in common with virtually all Rutherglen Muscats) is non vintage.

The Clonakilla viognier ($22) is one of the most immediately accessible and enjoyable viogniers I have seen for a long time. It finds that razor-thin balance between bland anonymity on the one hand, and phenolic, oily richness on the other. Made as if it were a riesling, it was bottled in June, with beautiful citrus, pear and a hint of apricot fruit; has really wonderful mouthfeel and a clean finish.

The Grosset was accompanied by ‘snow crab’, one of those dishes that only Shewry could conceive of and execute, in no way derivative, simply coming out of his imagination (and a fair bit of trial and error in the kitchen in the development phase, no doubt). The presentation alluded to a snow-capped mountain, the snow on the outside of the mini-mountain on the plate a profusion of other textures and flavours hidden underneath. A perfect match with the riesling.

Then followed one of Shewry’s signatures, described on the menu as ‘a simple dish of potato cooked in the earth it was grown’. It is a dish which transcends explanation, even belief. How can you make a single, small oval potato taste and feel like this? Sometimes I dilly dally over food where I am too busy talking, and the food is not especially riveting; here, I dillied and dallied by design, stringing out the process of eating the dish and savouring its beguiling texture and astonishing flavour as long as I could. The nutty, layered characters of the Giaconda chardonnay were perfect for the dish.

The Bass Phillip pinot was accompanied by a dish described as ‘pork tail, prawn, onion’. Shewry is economical with his descriptions for dishes which have almost unnoticed complexities, both in appearance and, of course, in their flavour and texture. Heaven knows how many confit pork tails had to be stripped of their flesh for each plate, ultimately coming together in an oblong wedge with a crumbly coating, sitting on a thin apple mousse. The one question I had was the reason for the accompanying two salty prawns.

Beef, sea lettuce and white cabbage followed with the Wendouree shiraz and Clonakilla shiraz viognier. The quantity of each dish in an extensive menu was brilliantly calibrated; the two pieces of beautifully cooked beef, a uniform red to the very edge, yet not cooked sous vide, had so much flavour they carried two massively contrasting interpretations of shiraz without demur. How can you make ‘simple’ triangles of beef fillet taste unlike anything you have previously encountered?

The final dish was ‘lamb, mushrooms roasted over wood, sauce of forbs’. If I remember the explanation correctly, forbs are sour woodland grasses and herbs; soursop, some type of guide. As with so many of the other dishes, you could be given the recipe and technique down to the finest detail, but have no hope of creating a dish to even go close to the quality of Shewry’s. The devil is in the detail, the presentation precisely delineated, beautiful, and yet not tricky. One of the types of mushrooms was a small Paris mushroom, and I would not have believed so much flavour could be infused into such a commonplace and bland mushroom. The lamb was also exquisitely cooked, a variation on the beef theme, yet so different. Vanya Cullen is a soul-mate of Tim Kirk, both obsessed with excellence, and the wine was a perfect match.

I am most emphatically not a devotee of blue cheese, however presented. The menu simply described it as ‘blue cheese, red wine reduction’ which was downright deceitful, for there was a great deal more to it than that. More out of politeness than anything else I cut a portion to accompany the Morris muscat, and before I knew it the dish was three-quarters gone.

All in all, a magical mystery tour of beautiful wines and exhilarating food from one of the very greatest, if not the greatest, of Australian restaurants. Oh, and yes: the 2009 Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier ($85, is superb. Plushly textured, with layer upon layer of flavour in what remains a medium-bodied palate, with a wanton display of exotic spices accompanying the red cherry and plum fruit, the finish perfectly balanced. Tim Kirk is not one of those who takes delight in blowing his own trumpet, but he did admit that this might be his best shiraz viognier to date.

Murray Darling Basin water usage

It’s not only Australian grape growers who are crying foul about plans to radically change water availability and use in the Murray Darling Basin. Reports say that plans to restrict water use in vineyards across California’s Sonoma and Mendocino counties could cost the local economy up to $2 billion per year. The report, commissioned by the iconic pinot noir-producing winery, Williams Selyem, said that up to 8000 jobs could be lost as a result of the move by California’s State Water Resources Control Board, which wants to restrict the wineries’ use of Russian River water for frost protection.

AFFW Blog answers

1. Why did the Smith family that founded Yalumba change its name to Hill Smith?
When brothers Sidney, Donald and Wyndham Smith enrolled at Adelaide’s iconic St Peters College, their classes contained 12 other Smiths. To avoid confusion, all of the Smiths were asked to go home and, in consultation with their families, return to school the following morning with different surnames. The Yalumba trio decided that they would join their mother’s maiden name, Hill, hence today’s name.

2. What was Yalumba’s Brandivino?
It was a very popular, large selling (for a while) forerunner to RTDs, beating today’s drinks by some 80 years. It was a wine and brandy blend.

3. How many consecutive vintages did Dan Tyrrell make?

4. Am I related to the Tyrrell family?
Yes; on my mother’s side via the Hungerford family, in the case of Tyrrell’s forged when Edward Tyrrell married Susan Hungerford in 1869. I have well over 50 first cousins, so normally don’t consider second and third cousins, but a genealogist would be able to spell out the precise relationship between myself and Bruce Tyrrell.

5. Eric Purbrick of Tahbilk came to Australia with qualifications as an accountant, and as a barrister, having been admitted to the Inner Temple in London to practise as a barrister, with an additional Master of Arts Degree. When he enlisted in the Australian Army in 1939, what rank was he given?

6. Vittorio De Bortoli arrived in Australia in 1924 to start a new life with only a few coins in his pocket. How long was it before his fiancée Giuseppina saved enough money to be able to join Vittorio in Australia?
Five years (1929)

7. What was the most notable feature of Vittorio?
He could neither read nor write.

For more information on AFFW, go to

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir – I just can’t help it

I have for long declined to make any comments on the quality or otherwise of the Coldstream Hills wines, and I suppose I could claim that I am simply pointing to facts (and decisions made by others) when I point out that the Coldstream Hills 2009 Pinot Noir has been entered in the Perth, Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne Wine Shows (and no others so far) and has already accumulated one trophy (Royal Adelaide Wine Show Best Pinot Noir), three gold medals (Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne), and one silver medal (Brisbane). I don’t think Lindsay McCall of Paringa Estate is worrying too much, but at least he is getting some competition. How did Coldstream Hills produce a pinot in 2009? Well, none was made from Yarra Valley fruit, but Coldstream did buy grapes from Tasmania and the Mornington Peninsula, and procured some from the Seppelt Vineyard at Drumborg for this three-region blend. I fancy it will have further success before it is released some time next year.

Australia’s First Families of Wine (AFFW)

The Families of this venture are (in alphabetical order): Brown Brothers, Campbells, d’Arenberg, De Bortoli, Henschke, Howard Park, Jim Barry, McWilliam’s, Tahbilk, Taylors, Tyrrell’s and Yalumba. Together, the Families represent 17 wine growing regions across Australia and have more than 1200 years of experience in winemaking and 48 generations of winemakers.

The aim of AFFW is to showcase a representative and diverse range of the best of Australian wines, working to engage consumers, retailers, restaurateurs and the wine industry across the globe. Most importantly, it aims to highlight the real character and personality of top quality Australian wine, and about the unique characters and personalities behind it.

Membership is not restricted to the existing 12 wineries, and other wineries with similar aims and histories would be welcome to join provided they satisfy various criteria. These are: being family controlled (in a legal sense); having history of at least two (preferably three) generations involved in the business; the ability to offer a tasting of at least 20 vintages of one or more iconic brands; ownership of established vineyards more than 50 years old and/or distinguished sites that exemplify the best of terroir; a commitment to environmental best practice in vineyards, wineries and packaging; and long-term commitment to export markets. There are one or two other requirements as well.

In Melbourne last night AFFW had a dinner on the 89th Level of Eureka Tower to celebrate its first birthday, preceded by the launch of Heart & Soul, a brilliantly researched, written and produced book telling the stories of each of the 12 Families. The author is Graeme Lofts who, contrary to my expectation, was not commissioned by the AFFW to write the book; rather, he conceived the idea of it after attending the inaugural event at the Opera House in Sydney a year ago. Published by John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd, its 343 pages are printed in full colour on high-quality paper stock, making the RRP of $39.95 thoroughly justified. The photographs, both contemporary and ancient, constantly enliven the book, which is compelling reading once you open the cover. It is full of anecdotes, insights, tragedies and triumphs, and doesn’t gloss over the occasional period of unhappiness in one or other of the Families. The underlying theme is the ability of these families to pick themselves up off the floor no matter how hard the elements try to defeat them, or financial crises beset them.

By virtue of my long friendship with almost all of the members, attending many wine events organised by them over the past 40 years, reading books previously published about them, and some research I undertook for various books I have written, I found some of the incidents quite fascinating, especially those which I had no idea of.

So today I ask questions which are answered in the book, the answers to be posted tomorrow.

Why did the Smith family that founded Yalumba change its name to Hill Smith?
What was Yalumba’s Brandivino?
How many consecutive vintages did Dan Tyrrell make?
Am I related to the Tyrrell family?
Eric Purbrick of Tahbilk came to Australia with qualifications as an accountant, and as a barrister, having been admitted to the Inner Temple in London to practise as a barrister, with an additional Master of Arts Degree. When he enlisted in the Australian Army in 1939, what rank was he given?
Vittorio De Bortoli arrived in Australia in 1924 to start a new life with only a few coins in his pocket. How long was it before his fiancée Giuseppina saved enough money to be able to join Vittorio in Australia?
What was the most notable feature of Vittorio?

I could go on and on, but tomorrow’s answers will hopefully pique your interest.

The book is available through good bookstores.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

This weeks wine events

My wine events for this weeks includes an all-day tasting for the Wine Companion on Monday 25th; the first Australian Sparkling Wine Show at Marysville on Tuesday 26th (more of which anon); the Australian First Families of Wine launch and, thereafter, dinner on Wednesday 27th; the seminal Clonakilla dinner at Attica on Thursday 28th; the Le Club Dinner on Circa on Friday 29th; the Single Bottle Club Dinner at the Sydney Rockpool Bar & Grill on Saturday 30th, and the whole of the following week at the Len Evans Tutorial in the Hunter Valley.

Non-smoking aeroplane

I was delighted to receive confirmation of a Qantas Link flight from Melbourne to Mildura on November 10, returning in the evening of the same day, to find in the official booking form a ‘non-smoking seat requested for Halliday/Francis James Mr’. It made me wonder whether this might be a very old aeroplane, something like Kingsford Smith might fly, but that’s not the case.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Riverland growers are not the only ones feeling the pain

Villa Maria Estate is New Zealand’s best medium-plus size winery. The quality of its wines is extraordinarily good, and extraordinarily consistent. But some time ago (I’m not exactly sure when) its vineyards were sold to an entity called Terra Vitae Vineyards but with an exclusive supply agreement to Villa Maria. For a while it looked like a win-win situation. Now Terra Vitae has racked up successive losses of NZ$3.1 million for the ‘08/’09 year, and NZ$4.5 million for the ‘09/’10 year. It is looking at a third straight loss in the current financial year, and facing an uncertain future amid a deeper downturn in the wine sector than ever envisaged.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Chateau Tanunda’s Everest earns its name

John Geber, owner of Chateau Tanunda, is understandably ecstatic about his success at the 2010 International Wine and Spirit Competition. Chateau Tanunda’s 2005 The Everest Shiraz emerged as the best of 450 entries in the shiraz class from northern and southern hemispheres; 13 of those entries won a gold medal, two of them going to Chateau Tanunda for The Everest and the 2008 Terroirs of the Barossa Greenock Shiraz. Everest won the Trophy for Best Shiraz/Syrah in the World. The tasting note of the judges makes interesting reading: ‘Fantastic nose, framboise, madagascar spices, cherries in chocolate, liquorice, dried herb and vanilla. This enormous complexity is delivered with proud elegance and style. This is beautiful precision winemaking which allows the wine to tod the talking. Amazing stuff.’

The 2008 The Everest Grenache won the Trophy for Best Single Vineyard Red Wine.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Murray Darling White Paper

The release of the Murray Darling white paper has brought the expected howls of rage. It has always struck me as strange that we should be using vast amounts of water to produce cotton in competition with some of the most impoverished African countries (and with subsidised US production), the situation not so different with rice. Since nothing tangible will flow from the paper for several years, Riverland producers of grapes will use their present entitlements to produce 100,000 tonnes of surplus grapes (or thereabouts), sell them at a loss, and top up the amount of surplus wine needing to be exported in the face of a very strong Australian dollar.

Saintly Wine

It was good to hear that the 117 cases of Coonawarra wine have arrived safely at the Vatican. Apparently the shipment had to proceed past Somalia and through the Suez Canal before landing at the port of Genoa. From there it went to Milan and finally Rome. I wonder which part of the shipment was the most hazardous.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

McWilliam’s Vineyard

It comes as no surprise that McWilliam’s is offering its Yarra Valley vineyard, restaurant and cellar door for sale, but not the Lillydale Estate brand. Winemaking has long since been transferred to the Riverina, so the sale makes sense. The asking price for the 16-hectare property (over two titles) and improvements is $3 million. For details contact Mark Gunther (email; A/H 0448 623 030).

Thursday, September 16, 2010

2011 Wine Companion

Blowing my own trumpet, which is something I should not do, I cannot help but report that the 2011 Wine Companion has this year sold more copies week for week than any previous edition: the sales of 4345 books in the week before Father’s Day was 781 copies more than the previous record set in 2008. There’s life left in the printed word yet, it seems.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Margaret River coal mine

It seems incredible, but an American/Australian syndicate is assessing the feasibility of an underground coal mine 15 km from the town of Margaret River. It leaves Premier Colin Barnett in a difficult situation, as he candidly admitted his government was pro-mining and pro-development, but recognised there was a conflict of interest between a mine and the character of Margaret River. Needless to say, the worthy vignerons of the region, never slow to protect their turf, are up in arms about the suggestion. So would I be if I had any interest in tourism in the region, and in particular, wine tourism. It is an appalling prospect.

Monday, September 13, 2010


I was interested to read the blog that follows on biodynamics written by a Napa Valley winemaker, Stuart Smith.

Courtesy of Brian Miller

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


The discussion around corks usually focuses on TCA and/or oxidation. This leaves aside the mechanical properties of cork, ie what is its quality, and how well has it been inserted into the bottle? The four corks illustrated were all removed from their respective bottles on the same day, all from ultra-premium/icon wines costing between a low of $80 and a high of $500+. Only the cork on the righthand side gives me as much confidence as one could ever have with a cork. The one on the left is a certain harbinger of problems to come, wine having travelled (some time ago) halfway up the cork on all sides. The two in the middle are FAQ (fair-average quality) and may or may not outlive the wine in the bottle.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Lappin' Lapin

French Rabbit Tops Green Wine Rankings. Read more here:

Courtesy of Brian Miller.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Reading the Grape Leaves

The release by the Victorian Department of Industries of the 2010 Murray Valley Winegrape Crush Survey makes bad reading for grape growers in the region, although could not have come as a surprise. In essence

• Farm-gate value of grapes fell by $35 million to $80 million, a 31% fall in revenue from 2009
• Production fell by 13%, down to 328,000 tonnes (2009 375,000 tonnes)
• The average price per tonne fell 24% for red grapes to $311 and 28% down for white grapes to $283
• These prices are well below the average vineyard cost of $376 per tonne
• Since 2005 grower revenues have fallen from close to $200 million down to $80 million.

But that is only part of the story. Win, lose or draw, the water that makes grape growing possible in the Murray Valley is going to become more expensive. The water outlook for growers in the Riverina is better in the short term, but in the long run there may be little difference between the regions. So the cost of production will increase.

Continuing the bad news, the quality and price advantages that Australia once held over its New World and Old World competitors alike has all but disappeared. It matters not that Australia pointed the way for its competitors via its Flying Winemakers, by publishing its Vision 2025, and by achieving its 2025 goals in seven, not 30 years.

Yet there is hope that Australia may once again prove itself to be the 'Lucky Country'. Its extraordinary economic performance in the face of the GFC is but part of the broader trade ties it has with China, Japan and India (and with the smaller Asian economies). Wine is a global commodity these days, and will become more so in the years ahead, and Australia is not the major wine player in Asia: France occupies that role.

But China is already our fourth-largest export market, and — viewed from the Chinese side — has an imported wine share of 20%, second only to France with 40$, and a long way in front of Chile, California and South Africa with 7% each. At the present time, reports suggest up to 90% of all wine sold in China is domestically produced, but most agree a large proportion of this wine is made by blending a small percentage of (true) Chinese wine with imported bulk wine.

This in turn reflects the generally unsophisticated Chinese market, and is no surprise. Indeed, it is a positive, because the consumers of this wine are overwhelmingly Chinese, rather than expats or tourists. The rate of lifestyle change in China is phenomenal: for example, when I started Coldstream Hills in 1985, there was only one privately owned car in Beijing (all others were state owned).

As the number of Chinese with serious amounts of disposable income continues to soar, it is inevitable that sales of imported wine with a tangible pedigree will follow suit. Other positives are the suitability of the various Chinese cuisines to wine; the absence of religious barriers; the long history of alcohol consumption; and the physical proximity of China (compared to Europe or North America).

If Australia is to maintain its share of a rapidly growing wine market, it will need to provide wine across the full spectrum of price, from beverage (technically premium) wine at an equivalent of less than $AUD10, super-premium ($10-$15), ultra-premium ($15-$50) and icon (over $50).

Premium volume is greater than all other categories combined, and provides the essential entry point product. It is here that the Murray Valley and Riverina come into their own. Lest it be though this is inconsistent with my gloomy introduction, the contempt born of familiarity that pervades the UK market, less so but still a factor in the US, need not be an issue in China.

If the opening of Wine Australia offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong achieves the anticipated success, the present surplus may turn to a shortage in a very short time, and a shortage at a critical time in the development of the Chinese market will have serious long-term consequences.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Rollo Crittenden - Young Gun Winemaker of the Year

The award of the title of Young Gun Australian Winemaker of the Year to Rollo Crittenden is well merited, although the gun has had plenty of use to date. His experience began at Dromana Estate, established by his father Garry; Rollo continued as chief winemaker after Garry sold his shareholding, but eventually he moved on making wine in California, Oregon, Italy and the Hunter Valley before coming back home to rejoin his father at Crittenden Estate, which had been established in 2003. Garry was one of the early movers in the development of alternative varietals (Italian) with the ‘i’ range. This interest is now reflected in the Los Hermanos range developed by Rollo and sister Zoe; Los Hermanos apparently translates as ‘the siblings’.

I was delighted to receive an email from a French wine producer (that will, for obvious reasons, remain anonymous) in the following terms ‘After reading, (lately) a paper in the « revue des vins de France » (july 2009 ), we will be very honorated to have your point of view about our wines, I join a documentation about winery and wines. If you are interested, we will send you some samples with a real pleasure.
please, excuse my English.’

No-one is finding the going easy in the Australian wine industry at the moment, be they grape growers, winemakers, or retailers. However, all the news from New Zealand – coming in on a near-daily basis –
leaves no doubt things are even tougher there, some reports suggesting up to 150 wineries and/or vineyards are being offered for sale. Nor are all of these small businesses. One business alone owes Westpac $AUD17 million.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Winemaking during Prohibition

During Prohibition, large numbers of people began making their own alcoholic beverages at home. To do so, they often used bricks of wine, sometimes called blocks of wine. To meet the booming demand for grape juice, California grape growers increased their area about 700% in the first five years of prohibition. The juice was commonly sold as "bricks or blocks of Rhine Wine," "blocks of port," and so on along with a warning:"After dissolving the brick in a gallon of water, do not place the liquid in a jug away in the cupboard for twenty days, because then it would turn into wine."

One grape block producer sold nine varieties: Port, Virginia Dare, Muscatel, Angelica, Tokay, Sauterne, Riesling, Claret and Burgundy.

... During Prohibition, many California wineries shut down and wine production plummeted, but the grape harvest actually increased. The smart money cleaned up by not making wine. Instead they grew grapes by the long ton — getting millions in federal loans for new vineyards – and sold DIY wine kits.Ukiah Grape Products Co. sold fermentable juice and got clean away with it until a federal judge thought it a bit much that Ukiah agents, in outstanding displays of on-site service, made house calls to bottle their clients’ wine.
Fruit Industries Ltd. also sold juices and concentrates, and is even now fondly remembered for Vine-Glo—‘bricks’ of dried grapes sold complete with packets of yeast and stern warnings to keep the two away from water lest the unthinkable occur.

(Actually, what occurred was the undrinkable) ...

Courtesy of Brian Miller.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Poms are getting serious

Camel Valley sounds vaguely Californian, but it is in fact a winery and vineyard in Cornwall, England. It has appointed Australian winemaker Ryan Carter as assistant winemaker for the 2010 vintage; most recently, Ryan was production manager at Capel Vale Wines, previously spending four years at Shaw & Smith, as well as fitting in extensive overseas experience.

Eloquent back label

Click to enlarge. Courtesy of Brian Miller.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Brown Brothers heads south

The acquisition of Tamar Ridge Estates by Brown Brothers is, to put it mildly, interesting. The family-owned Brown Brothers business has always been run conservatively, and, up to now, has relied on organic growth from within rather than acquisition. The move to acquire Tamar Ridge Estates from Gunns Ltd is a master stroke, one which will very significantly enhance the Brown Brothers business base, and at the same time create a readymade defensive strategy against drought and climate change. It also makes a great deal of sense to maintain Tamar Ridge’s independence by ensuring autonomous brand management. It’s a quick kill process, with the acquisition to be completed on 31 August 2010.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Steer Bar & Grill opening

The soft opening for Steer Bar & Grill (real opening September 1, as the venue for a major Wolf Blass showcase celebrating 10 vintages of Platinum Label Shiraz was, how should I put it, interesting. A wet and cold day with warm blooded Blass red wines accompanied, so I imagined, by a large slab of South American style beef seemed a good way to stoke the fire within. We tasted some very interesting wines (more anon) before finally sitting down to lunch with a string of Wolf Blass reds pre-set on the table in front of us. The 2006 Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Shiraz Malbec was matched with Organic beetroot and sarsparilla, blackcurrant and cavalo nero, with a tiny smattering of brightly coloured bits ‘n’ pieces on the merest whisp of a foam bed. You couldn’t criticise the match, because the food was gone in a flash anyway. Then we moved to my theoretical slab of steak to accompany five vintages of Platinum Label Shiraz. The menu described it as Gippsland Natural pasture fed rump, acai and potato dauphinoise, and we were in fact served with a cuisine minceur offering of three tiny slices of beautifully cooked sous vide steak and a little square of potato dauphinoise.

Notwithstanding the huge bull effigy welcoming everyone as they entered, the explanation (apparently) is that Argentinean and Chilean approaches to beef are very different to that of Brazil, for the restaurant’s subtitle is Arte da culinaria Brasileria. Chef Stacy Thompson and wine director Raul Moreno Yague both have impressive CVs: Stacy starting in his native New Zealand, crossing the United Kingdom and Australia after a stint in the island of Morro de Sao Paulo in Brazil where, despite his very limited Portuguese, he leased a local restaurant from its owners, gutted and redesigned its layout, and created a successful restaurant that maintained integrity and respect for Brazilian cuisine. That must have taken considerable courage.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Global warming and early harvests

The Australian economy has a two-speed drive, and when it comes to global warming-attributed early harvests, once again Western Australia is largely out of step, as is Tasmania and, most certainly, New Zealand. As I have consistently said, it’s difficult to unbundle the effects of drought and moderate warming. (Remember that there has in fact been little or no warming over the past 10 years or more.)

The early harvests of recent years are substantially due to the whole vegetative cycle for the vine starting early and finishing early. In other words, hang time (the period between budburst and harvest) has not been dramatically shortened; it is simply that dry, warm soils have caused trees, shrubs, plants and grapevines to spring into life earlier than normal. Unless the weather in southern Victoria and much of southern South Australia changes radically over the next two months (and the long-range forecasts suggest that there is a better-than-even chance that rainfall will either be normal or above-normal) the vines will enter spring with the soil profile filled with water. This should mean normal budburst and, hopefully, a reversion to a more normal ripening period.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Attica Chef’s Table Tasting Menu

A long overdue return to Attica last night for the Chef’s Table Tasting Menu, when Ben Shewry tries dishes cooked for a capacity audience. Ben gives the background thus:

Three years ago Chef’s Table was born out of a desire to progress faster with the development of our cuisine, throw caution to the wind and to offer guests more variety at a reasonable price. The menu is a living, breathing thing that evolves week to week. I work on it during the weekend and let the seasons dictate what they may in terms of ingredients; many of the dishes are inspired by memories of my childhood in rural New Zealand and by sights of nature and life that I discover on my drive to work from my home on the Bellarine Peninsula. Some dishes are just inspired by common sense and beautiful produce.

My team and I arrive each morning to begin the day’s preparations, we gather around a bench and discuss how we will go about forming these new ideas and thoughts into something cohesive as a menu. The evening’s food will take about 50 hours to produce.
None of these dishes have been prepared before...
The menu (with matching wines) was:

Button mushroom, nashi, goat’s milk curd
Crittenden Pinocchio Arneis 2009 (Mornington Peninsula, Vic)

Sticky rice, Chinese sausage, poached chicken
Rimauresq Rose 2008 (Cotes de Provence, France)

Crystal Bay prawn, tofu, shitake broth
Monredon Cotes du Rhône Blanc 2009 (Rhône Valley, France)

Lamb neck, garlic, silverbeet, quinoa
Finca Flichman Gestos Malbec 2007 (Mendoza, Argentina)

Mandarin, lemon myrtle, tamarillo
Plantagenet Ring Bark Riesling 2008 (Mount Barker, WA)

The sommelier Ainsley (ex The Royal Mail Hotel at Dunkeld) has a fabulous wine list at Attica, and came up with very imaginative wine matches. For me the Lamb neck was the outstanding dish, closely followed by the Crystal Bay prawn and Sticky rice/poached chicken dishes.

Time will tell whether any or all appear on the ‘normal’ menu available through the rest of the week.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Truffle Hunt a success... no finders keepers

The truffle hunt at Tibooburra Vineyard took place, and was a success, although I left after one and a half hours, with Greg Kerr (Tibooburra owner and vigneron) and dog owner/handler Georgie Patterson continuing the day’s work in an endeavour to meet backorders for 1kg.

The photographs tell 90% of the story, but, incredibly stupidly, I didn’t take a photo of Greg Kerr with his nose to the ground after the dog had suggested the presence of a truffle. In the six years he has been harvesting truffles, he has been able to develop his sense of smell to the point where he can have a fair idea whether the truffle is ready to harvest (or is ripe), and can also have a fair idea about false nose-outs by the dog. This happens with other fungi, but also things such as ants nests – we had one this morning, and apparently it is the formic acid that misleads the dog. However, it should be forgiven. It works at a frenetic pace, and – having discovered a truffle – gives one lightning-fast scratch that barely marks the surface. Since the truffles are less than 10cm below the surface, its natural instinct to dig has been curbed by training.

There are good vintages for truffles, and not so good. This is partly determined by the amount of rain, heat and other factors between December and March when the embryonic truffles start to gain mass. In another decade he thinks he may be able to be more able to accurately predict what will happen in a given year. July is the start of the peak period of 12 weeks for the harvest. Once exhumed, the truffles stay alive for 10 to 12 days, and during this period are far more aromatic than later. So it’s a split second timing issue for Greg Kerr and his small stable of chosen restaurants which buy the truffles.

The largest truffle harvested in our presence was around 35gm (43gm with the dirt still adhering) and that truffle had a particularly favourable scent.

The inoculated hazelnut and blue oak trees are sold in pots from the supplier in Tasmania, and in Tibooburra’s case, produced their first truffles after only two and a half years, which Greg Kerr believes to be the least period recorded. Sometimes the wait is five or more years.

Aussie Truffle Dogs:

Friday, July 16, 2010

Riesling in Australia

A new book published by Winetitles came across my desk yesterday. Riesling in Australia, by Ken Helm and Trish Burgess, looks at the history, the regions, the legends and the producers of riesling, and is billed as the first in 222 years. (Obviously, no one has got around to writing a book on riesling previously.)

I am (accurately) quoted as saying ‘Rhine Riesling – most versatile grape of them all’. It comes from an article I wrote for the National Times on October 5, 1980, when ‘Rhine’ was used to denote the variety, ‘Riesling’ simply an amorphous style. I have to admit I was slightly curious about the precise context of my statement, but the immaculate footnotes throughout the book took me back to the article in question. The quote comes from the header to the article, and I expanded it slightly with the following observations, ‘It’s an extremely versatile grape. Wines made from it cover the range from bone-dry through to the slightly sweet moselle style, thence to spatlese and finally the fully sweet auslese.’ Here I was referring to the thoroughly incorrect use of those terms in Australia, albeit rare, even if Thomas Hardy subsequently sold and marketed a beerenauslese.

In between 1980 and the mid-1990s rieslings with modest levels of residual sugar (akin to the kabinett wines of the Mosel Valley) largely disappeared, leaving the extremes of dry on the one hand, and extremely rich and sweet on the other (an obvious example being Brown Brother Patricia Noble Riesling). But with the move of riesling to seriously cool parts of Australia, wines made in the Mosel style have gained real traction. Here the wheel has turned full circle.

More recently still, another dimension has been added with rieslings given skin contact and/or fermentation of cloudy juice with subsequent extended lees contact. Two examples I have tasted recently that are quite outstanding are the O’Leary Walker 2008 Drs’ Cut Riesling and the 2009 Delatite Riesling, the former with skin and lees contact, the latter simply wild yeast fermentation of cloudy juice and eight months lees contact. An even more extreme example has been Mac Forbes Tradition Riesling, an example of natural winemaking with its roots in bygone centuries.

Riesling in Australia has been handsomely produced in full colour and can be purchased through; or email

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Best vintage ever?

Industry observers with a cynical view or a long-term memory (and especially both, which disqualifies me) will remember countless ‘best vintages ever’ from around the country, in Bordeaux or wherever. Sandro Mosele, president of the Mornington Peninsula Vignerons Association, has joined the queue. He says ‘For me 2010 is the best vintage ever. We have produced the style of wines that we hope to make every year.’ Martin Spedding, general manager of 10 Minutes by Tractor, also got in on the act saying ‘2010 is a great year and caps off a wonderful run of vintages since 2003, it really has been a golden era for the Peninsula that augurs well for the next decade.’

Monday, July 12, 2010

Burgundy sales in France and abroad

It’s not only a fast-moving world, but a very strange one. Each month the Burgundy wine office sends out a newsletter for journalists, and over the years I have read some strange pieces in the journal, but none has caused me to scratch my head as hard as the celebration of the Burgundy Wine Board’s efforts to increase the amount of burgundy purchased by supermarkets. The increase in supermarket listings and sales for 12 months to the end of February is 2.2% by volume, and 2.9% by value. The newsletter goes on to say ‘the increased number of varieties on the shelves of hypermarkets and supermarkets (on average 13.4 varieties of Burgundy white wines, compared to 12.8 one year earlier) shows the faith of stores and the real consumer demand for these products.’ I’m not quite sure what ‘varieties’ means, but it’s either brands or appellations. Either way, it’s not a trend that fine wine producers in Australia would celebrate.

There are also figures on exports which make a great deal more sense. Overall, exports grew 5.7% by volume for the fourth quarter of 2009 (compared withy ‘08), and while the recovery varies from market to market, the United Kingdom is up 24% by volume and 40% by value, even if these remain 30% below 2008 levels. Then, just to remind Australians that we won’t be the only fish in the Chinese pool, recovery in the Hong Kong and the Singapore markets, important platforms for re-exportation across Asia (particularly to China), is also reported.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Bad news in Australian and NZ wine

There is plenty of bad news coming out of New Zealand at the moment, not that it does its Australian counterpart much good. One Kiwi retailer says the industry still faces a flood of wine that is having a huge effect on the market, with little chance of any change for the next 18 months. There is a corresponding flood of receiverships, with the Cape Campbell Wines Group, based in Marlborough, going into voluntary receivership, owing creditors millions of dollars. Cape Campbell has about 100 hectares of sauvignon blanc in the Awatere Valley and seven or eight employees. The unrelated Awatere Vineyard Estates, a large contract grower, went into receivership a month ago, and more recently Marlborough wine company Gravitas was also put into receivership.

More ominous is the receivership of the Australian ventures of Dan Phillips, owner of the Grateful Palate, who played a key role in the ‘discovery’ of the big Australian red wines that so entranced Robert Parker. Growers and other creditors of the group that produces wines under the alluring labels such as Bitch Grenache, Evil Cabernet Sauvignon and Marquis Philips have been told the group is in receivership, and the outlook is grim. This can only mean that sales of the wines have ground to a halt in the United States.

China: Here we come

In an upcoming article in the Weekend Australian I write about the Japanese market, but point to the dilemma confronting the Australian wine industry as a whole if it has to take marketing dollars out of other countries (notably Japan) to fund a push into China. Well, Wine Australia has announced a multi-million-dollar assault on the Chinese market with the launch of brand ‘A+’ at Australia’s Shanghai Expo pavilion. Wine Australia will set up offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, with the expectation that the Chinese market will become its biggest customer by 2015.

I have to say that for the better part of 10 years I have been talking about China and the near-certainty that it would become Australia’s major wine market, but said it was extremely difficult to tell when this would come about – in 10, 15 or 20 years (or more) time. Well, now 2015 has been nominated, and it would not surprise me if we do achieve that success by that time. The hidden question is where the supply will come from. More specifically, will we come to regret the strong moves to reduce production. It’s a fast-moving world.

Finally, I should perhaps explain that I missed the original press release A+ Australian Wine while I was in France.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


I know it’s been out there for a few days, but it is extremely interesting that Foster’s has withdrawn Baileys from the market, along with two vineyards in Wrattonbully, and one in California’s Central Coast. It may appear like the deckchairs on the Titanic, for while Foster’s has sold 20 of the original 32 vineyards put up for sale last year, an additional eight vineyards have been added to the list. I have no more information than any other commentator, but I suspect wine division chief David Dearie has been central to these changes.

Chateau Yering Truffle Degustation Luncheon

The Truffle Degustation Luncheon (sponsored by Yarra Valley Dairy, Domaine Chandon and Sher Wagyu) held last Sunday at Chateau Yering lived up to expectations. Proceedings got underway with a canapé followed by an amuse bouche, the latter parmesan pannacotta with truffle jelly served with Chandon Vintage Brut 2006. Rather than repeat the observation, the matching of wine and food throughout the lunch was exemplary, made possible by Chandon’s move into table wines, at first surreptitiously under the Green Point label, for well under five years under the main brand label.

The degustation courses then started with Yarra Valley Dairy Persian Feta Cigar, with shaved heirloom beetroot and truffle, white chocolate clove crumb, the match Chandon Vintage Brut Rose 2006. For me the least convincing of the courses, highlighting the fact that even though the truffles had been harvested only a matter of days before the lunch, when shaved thin and competing against strong background flavours, you can wonder where the truffle went (with apologies to pepsident).

The Potato and Truffle Ravioli, accompanied by sautéed salsify and wild mushrooms, nasturtium coulis, and potato and mushroom soil, was not only my favourite dish, but left you in now doubt that truffle was present. The single ravioli, looking as if it was cooked in a small cake mould, was filled with what chef Mathew Macartney described as ‘potato foam’, although its texture was closer to partially thickened cream, the truffle infusion powerful. The sautéed salsify and nasturtium coulis also excited much favourable comment by the foodies on my table.

Then came Squab Roasted in Liquorice Spice, with chestnut puree, truffle bread and butter pudding, and violet emulsion. Here the violet emulsion (of all things) caused excited chatter, and it was indeed quite potent. The squab was roasted to perfection, the thick-sliced breast deep red yet not bleeding, obviously having been allowed to stand and set for some time after the squab was taken from the oven.

Charcoal Grilled Sher Wagyu fillet came next with Chandon Barrel Selection Yarra Valley Shiraz 2006, the grade nine wagyu coming from the Sher’s property at Ballan, initially grass fed, then grain fed for four months. Here the accompaniments were white onion puree, heirloom carrots, bone marrow jus, and Jerusalem artichoke truffle gallette. The wagyu fillet is one of Macartney’s specials, cooked sous-vide, and then thickly coated with squid ink to give the impression it was charcoal grilled, a sprig of burning rosemary adding a touch of smoke to the aroma of the dish, heightening the charcoal illusion.

Chandon’s Cuvee Riche (its distinctly off-dry sparkling wine) introduced the final course of Banana and Truffle Semifreddo, with maple jelly, macadamia mousse and lemon fizz. Perhaps a case of the dog preaching, the truffle coming in the form of two cold slices, but also in the surprisingly pleasing semifreddo. I suppose you have to have truffle in a dessert course in a lunch billed such as this, but I can think of far better ways to use truffles.

On the mantelpiece above the (unlit) fire at the end of the long, elegant Chateau Yering dining room (60 guests were at the lunch) was a 420-gram truffle that had been harvested at Tibooburra Wines, Yellingbo, last Thursday. The lucky door prize was also a truffle, packed in a small cryovac bag with uncooked rice, its modest weight not disclosed, but happily accepted by the winner.

The all-inclusive cost was $195 per person; having recently returned from a month in France with a strong Australian dollar against the euro, I can say with confidence borne of experience that you would not escape for less than $350 for food and wine of this quality, and a whole lot more if it were presented in a Michelin-starred restaurant (which Chateau Yering’s main dining room, Eleonore’s, would contend for).

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Too much or too little wine?

My article in this weekend’s Australian turns on Dr Richard Smart’s interesting – if not downright quixotic – look at the level of Australia’s wine production, suggesting the surplus problem is not due to surplus vineyards/grape harvests, but underselling. He argues that if Australia had retained its 2008/2009 market share we would need 2.6 billion litres to satisfy demand.

In Tony Keys’ KROW Report No. 28 (22 June) he makes the interesting observation that the 2010 production of 1.56 million tonnes, equivalent to 1.07 billion litres is slightly under annual sales of 1.1 to 1.2 billion litres. All well and good, he says, but how much overhand is there from 2009, and possibly before? That is indeed a question, but (given Keys’ eagle eyes and propensity for cold showers) there is another question: how much of the 1.1 to 1.2 billion litres has been sold with a profit margin, no matter how slender?

Friday, June 25, 2010

The 2010 Australian and New Zealand Wine Industry Directory

The 2010 Australian and New Zealand Wine Industry Directory is now available, the $112.75 price tag making it cheap at half the price. Its format is much the same as ever, but I know through personal experience just how much work is needed to keep it up-to-date and accurate. No self-respecting member of the broader wine industry can afford to be without it. I certainly cant. Orders at

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Riddle of Old Vines

The inestimable Daily Wine News e-letter of June 17 had a teaser piece headed ‘If it says “Old Vines”, will you buy?’, pointing to an article written by Matt Kramer in the Wine Spectator, and (on my reading) implied that Kramer was sceptical at best.

So it led me to reading the full article, and finding that it was full of interest and right on the money. Over the years, Matt Kramer and I have agreed to disagree on various matters, but not this time. Jumping to his conclusion, he comes down heavily (including via his cheque book) on the side of wines from old vines.

He covers all the bases, starting with the question, how old is old? There is no legal definition anywhere in the world, and only the Barossa Valley has come up with a (non-binding) charter: old vines, 35 years or older; survivor vines, 75 years or older; and centurion vines, 100 years or older.

I’m not going to repeat all the points Kramer makes, because the article is so well-balanced and written. However, there is one comment that may be a statement of the obvious, but I will make it nonetheless. Splitting the difference between old and survivor, and adopting 50 years (as does Kramer) as satisfactorily old, vines this age will only exist if they continue to be in good health and produce high quality grapes in acceptable quantities.

This in turn means the vines must have been planted on the right site – terroir if you will – with well-drained soil providing the right amount of nutrients; row orientation and aspect (north- or northeast-facing in the southern hemisphere) correct; and trellis/pruning method/canopy management all appropriate.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

La Fontaine De Mars

La Fontaine De Mars is a nigh perfect alternative to three Michelin star dining in Paris. It is at the opposite end of the spectrum, with a honeycomb of dining areas, arched colonnades outside on the ground floor, inside both on the ground and first floor, with all tables occupied from 7pm until 11pm, and a queue waiting for tables during much of that time.

The food centres around traditional southern France cuisine; Suzanne and I both started with warm salade tete de veau, which turned out to have no conventional salad, just herbs of Provence cooked with the melt-in-the-mouth cubes of veal cheek, a dish which required repeated raids on the bread basket. One of the specials of the night was cassoulet, which I chose, Suzanne taking the boudin basque off the main menu. The tete de veau was filling, the cassoulet brought me to a complete standstill. It’s possible to take the view that once you have eaten cassoulet you don’t need to go back a second time; if I had taken that view, I would have been much the poorer gastronomically. The beans and sauce had a creamy viscosity which challenged the two types of sausage and duck for supremacy. Glasses of very respectable Sancerre were followed by an outstanding 2008 Morgon Beaujolais, complete with a heavy wax capsule. With coffee and sparkling water the cost was 135 Euros. Open for lunch and dinner, La Fontaine De Mars is found at 129 rue Saint Dominique 75007, Paris; phone +33 (0)1 47 05 46 44; fax +33 (0)1 47 05 11 13;

Monday, June 14, 2010

Burgundy 2010: Crystal Ball-Gazing

In many ways, the weather of Burgundy can be as unpredictable as that of the Hunter Valley, hot one moment, raining cats and dogs the next. Grey skies and periodic rain ran right through May, but a burst of 30˚C days in the first week of June (followed by thunderstorms) certainly caused the vines to wake from their slumber and grow at the frenetic pace that has vignerons working from back-breaking dawn to dusk disbudding (removing unwanted shoots) from the 18-inch high vines. This very unpredictability makes the starting date of vintage far more difficult to guess than is commonly assumed, but the current betting is on a late September commencement.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

James on different wine closure alternatives

James explains the alternative options for wine closure, including cork, diam, vino lock and screwcap.

Academie Internationale du Vin

Vanya Cullen and I are the two Australian members of the Academie Internationale du Vin, drawn from wine professionals (most with winemaking background) from around the world, Europe providing most of the membership. Mid-year it makes a trip to a wine region, and in December meets in Geneva for a symposium at which learned papers are delivered (in French) by its members.

Three sun-filled and decidedly hot (plus 30˚C) days in Chateauneuf-du-Pape (above) and Gigondas greeted the 120 members of the Academie du Vin de France and of the Academie Internationale du Vin in a rare joint summer convocation. The first day began in the late afternoon with a ‘gaudineto’, a Provencale multi-course dinner at the Auberge de Cassagne, where most of us stayed (below). Visits to (and tastings, of course) Domaine des Bosquets and Chateau St Cosme in Gigondas (plus obligatory dissertations in rapid-fire French, covering all manner of things including the complicated geology underpinning the terroir of Gigondas) were leavened by a high quality lunch at Restaurant L’Oustalet on the main square of Gigondas under massive plane trees providing total shade. The afternoon (Palais des Papes) and dinner (Hotel de l’Europe) in Avignon were play-time events, the dinner made serious by the even better food.

The next day was largely given to Chateau de Beaucastel, with more dissertations, before a fascinating tasting of the components of Beaucastel Rouge: mourvedre (30%) providing tannin structure, grenache (30%) the core of the fruit flavours and drive; counoise (15%), a surprise packet liked by all for its intensity (nervosity), elegance and length; syrah (10%) giving colour and acidity; cinsaut (5%) mid-palate fruit and spice, the remaining 10% equally split between various white and red varieties. Lunch followed in a very large and very stylish white-tented outdoor setting before a visit to Domaine de Vieux Télégraphe (four vintages back to 1985). A costume change into best plumage was followed by hors d’oeuvres and Billecart-Salmon before a dinner in the Beaucastel Cellars, highlighted by 1987 Vielles Vignes (70 year old) Reserve Reserve Roussanne (golden and nutty), then 1980 Beaucastel Rouge, a glorious wine in exceptional condition.