Thursday, December 22, 2011

A+ Australian Wine Celebration

What many consider a long-overdue campaign by Wine Australia to feature the best wines of Australia will run from 12-29 April 2012. A preliminary media release giving some idea of the extent of the programme follows.

Australia’s greatest ever wine celebration kicks off nationwide in April 2012
Wine Australia’s A+ Australian Wine Celebration launches for the first time from 12 to 29 April 2012, and all Aussies are being called on to get involved in the country’s biggest collaboration of wine events.
The 2012 inaugural celebration of Australian wine will feature almost 100 events, tastings, parties and wine love-fests from Sydney to the Strathbogie Ranges via Subiaco and Strathalbyn.

The A+ Australian Wine Celebration is an opportunity for the Australian wine community to come together to collectively promote the quality, diversity and value of Aussie wine – on our own soil.

The Celebration is for anyone who enjoys a drop of Australian wine whether it be Tassie Pinot Noir, Hunter Semillon, Margaret River Cabernet, Yarra Valley Chardonnay or Barossa Shiraz (and of course all the other variants from more than 60 designated wine regions).

Wine Australia’s Regional Director, Australia and Emerging Markets Aaron Brasher said it was a unique occasion for all Australians to discover more about this country’s wine and get behind the wine industry.

“We are thrilled with the exciting mix of Australian wine experiences in April next year. Australians can celebrate the great wine created in their own backyard, across the street, down the road or on the other side of this great land,” Brasher said.

A+ Australian Wine Celebration will be launched at a public gala event on 4 April at Sydney’s Ivy Ballroom, in conjunction with the Merivale Group, before events across the nation commence on 12 April.

“For two-and-a-half weeks, Australians can celebrate the most diverse, dynamic and exciting wine producing nation in the world as Australian wine flows across our capital cities and many of our most beautiful regional communities,” he said.

A snapshot of events across the great divide…

14 April:
Join Brokenwood Wines Winemaker for a Day – make great wine and have fun with winemaker Ian Riggs for a lesson in what it takes to make those award winning ‘iconic’ wines from the Hunter.

28 April: If you fancy yourself in the white coat without the Doctorate then join the Sydney Wine Academy - Australian Wine Show Judging Class at the Wine Academy at TAFE NSW. Learn what it takes to be an experienced show judge and educator with behind-the-scenes access to the industry leaders in show judging.

13-14 April:
Join the Coonawarra as its wineries open their doors for the Coonawarra After Dark Weekend, the peak of the grape harvest for two very special evenings giving you the chance to see, hear, touch and learn about the hard work and passion that goes into great Coonawarra wines.

26-29 April:
Head along to the four-day Yarra Valley Food & Wine Festival, Reap & Relish, which will showcase the Yarra Valley’s best wine, food and beer offerings.

18 April:
Come and enjoy what Tasmania is famous for at the Sparkling Tasmania Tasting at Pipers Brook, hosted by Jansz Winemaker Natalie Fryar. You can enjoy the flagship cuvees among other varieties and learn all about the very best of Tasmania’s sparklings.

21-22 April:
It wouldn’t be a celebration without the Elevated Taste – Grazing the Granite Belt. Experience all the Granite Belt has to offer in a long lunch throughout this exciting and interesting wine region.

21 April:
Vasse Felix is holding the Pre-release Heytesbury Tasting & Meet the Winemaker hosted by Chief Winemaker Virginia Willcock within the winery. It will be an opportunity to taste a pre-release of its flagship wine among others.

Do your part for the Australian wine industry and get involved in one or many of the exciting and interesting events in a town near you during April 2012. Register for one or all national events at

For a full list of events go to

For further information relating to A+ Australian Wine Celebration month please contact:

Prue Semler
Account Manager
P 02 9667 4211
M 0404 099 967

Georgie Leach
Account Executive
P 02 9667 4211
M 0415 501 998

Aaron Brasher - Wine Australia
Regional Director, Australia and Emerging Markets
P 02 9361 1227
M 0411 470 856

About Wine Australia
Wine Australia is a statutory Government organisation established to provide strategic support to the Australian wine sector. Its mission is to enhance the operating environment for the benefit of the Australian wine industry by providing the leading role in market development; knowledge development; compliance; and trade.

A+ Australian Wine is the consumer-facing brand which aims to reposition the Australian category via image, price and representation.

Dan Buckle Returns to the Yarra Valley

After eight years as senior winemaker at Mount Langi Ghiran in the Grampians, Dan Buckle is returning to the Yarra Valley, having spent five years at Yering Station (and two years at Coldstream Hills) before moving to Mount Langi Ghiran. He has been appointed senior winemaker for Domaine Chandon, and will take up his position in February 2012.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Kaesler Wines’ Old Bastard Shiraz

Kaesler Wines’ Old Bastard Shiraz has managed to score consistently high points in the recent Wine Companions, notwithstanding alcohol levels ranging between 15.5% and (in the ‘08) 16.5%. Coming, as it does, from a single vineyard planted in 1893, the sheer density of the fruit has enabled it to carry the at times extreme levels of alcohol. It also managed to shake off the toughness that marred many Barossa and McLaren Vale reds from ‘07. What a pleasure then, and what an even greater surprise, to find that the ‘09 Old Bastard has an alcohol of 14%, and is a perfectly wonderful wine. My tasting note reads ‘From the prime estate vineyard, planted in 1893, with the usual, albeit inimitable, Ralph Searle label. What is not usual is the alcohol, 2.5% lower than that of the ‘08; it is beautifully supple, fresh and balanced, but retains the intensity, clarity and integrity of very old vine wine. Bravo. $170, 97 points, drink to 2029, cork.

Very similar comments applied to the ‘09 Kaesler Old Vine Barossa Valley Shiraz at 14.5% alcohol, with the following tasting note: From three estate vineyards with 40, 60 and 112-year-old vines, matured for 12 months in French oak, the colour is good, rather than remarkable; the bouquet, however, immediately signals a change from prior vintages, more perfumed, the palate more elegant, but still crammed with plum and blackberry fruit. $80, 95 points, drink to 2029, cork.

There is much more to be said about this, not the least that numbers don’t tell the whole story, even if they are correct (and that, up to now, has been a major assumption). Thus a wine of 14% alcohol may taste every bit as hot and alcoholic as one with 16% alcohol and vice versa. But even that’s only the start. More anon.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Wine shows, Rick Kinzbrunner and Andrew Jefford

I was fascinated to read the following piece extracted from Decanter Magazine in October:

Decanter magazine - 7 Oct 2011

The Australian show system is holding good wines back and promoting boring wines, winemaker Rick Kinzbrunner says in the latest issue of Decanter.

Kinzbrunner, founder of Giaconda in Beechworth, Victoria, tells Andrew Jefford the shows have become moribund. In the ‘early years’, he says, the system helped ‘drag the bottom end up’ but now it’s doing the opposite. ‘It’s holding people back. It just drives wines to a certain level of interesting boredom, clean boredom.’ The problem is one of winemakers’ egos, Kinzbrunner says, and the solution would be to have consumers in charge. 'Why do winemakers run the show? They're not the people who drink the wine. It's absolutely crazy. You should have consumers in charge, with a small winemaking contingent.' Giaconda’s wines are feted by critics as diverse as Robert Parker, Jancis Robinson and Jefford himself. Berry Brothers, which imports the wines, is begging for a ‘stay of execution’ on a Roussanne vineyard that Kinzbrunner is thinking of pulling out – Giaconda’s Aeolia, pure Roussanne, is one of the most renowned of the range. ‘Despite his success, he’s still very much the outsider,’ Jefford writes, ‘his famed Chardonnay … is the antithesis of modern Australia’s …critically acclaimed ideal.’ In the course of a wide-ranging interview, Kinzbrunner airs his views on a number of subjects, including the Australian need to ‘cut you down to size’, his countrymen’s ‘insane preference for screwcaps’, and his love of Schubert, Bach and Beethoven. ‘Bach's cello sonatas [are a] wonderful example of harmony in art as in nature – it reminds me of the synergy I think there can be between a terroir and a winemaker.’

It is always easy to criticise and/or pontificate on a subject if you have no real knowledge of it. But the arguments advanced by Rick Kinzbrunner really took my breath away when I read them. This is how I see it:

  1. I know Rick Kinzbrunner has never participated as a judge in any of the mainstream wine shows in Australia, and I would be terribly surprised if he had ever attended the post-show [exhibitor?] tastings where the wines which win medals (and those which don’t) are available for tasting.
  2. At last year’s National Wine Show in Canberra the split between winemakers and sommeliers, journalists and retailers was as close to equal as you can have it when the total number of judges and associates was 21. Eleven were winemakers, five sommeliers, four journalists and one a retailer. Last year’s Sydney Wine Show went much further, only 10 of the judges and associates were winemakers, 18 came from sommeliers, retailers and journalists.
  3. Many of the current judges and associates are graduates of the five-day Len Evans Tutorial, which is an intensive series of masterclasses in one way or another putting Australian wines in the context of the great wines of the world. It is absolutely not boring, and is equally absolutely designed to puncture any complacency.
  4. Attitudes and practises within the Australian winemaking fabric have always been in a state of change. Before the mid-1970s there was no pinot noir, and virtually no chardonnay of any lasting worth being made in Australia. How different the situation today. It is ironic that the conversation should have been between Rick Kinzbrunner and Andrew Jefford, for it was the latter who recently ‘came out’ and voiced the opinion that top-end Australian chardonnays (and no doubt he would include Giaconda in that) can effortlessly compete with Grand Cru White Burgundies.
  5. The dinners that Len Evans pioneered for the judges and associates during the currency of each show have always featured French wines, with a solid smattering of German, Italian, Spanish, New Zealand and Californian wines. Once again, the purpose is to broaden vision and defuse complacency.
  6. The Australian wine show system (and that of New Zealand) stands apart from the shows blessed by the key international authorities OIV and INAO. Under the Australian system, every judge and every associate must be able to precisely explain why he or she gave any particular wine points that were at odds with their fellow judges. This is the accountability which is totally and utterly lacking in the European system, where the points go off to a computer, there is no discussion, and, indeed, none of the judges know what points there fellows awarded. In my view, those shows are sterile and devoid of any use other than marketing.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wine & health – pregnant women

Despite intensive and extensive studies over several decades, there is no evidence that a pregnant woman in good health, who does not smoke, and who has a balanced diet, including (say) a glass of wine each day, is in danger of harming the health of her unborn child because of that daily consumption of wine.  There is evidence to suggest enhanced cardio vascular health protection, and there is evidence that the social and stress-relieving impact of strictly controlled consumption is good for the mother’s health, and by extension, the baby’s.

Simply because it is impossible to prove a negative from a scientific epidemiological standpoint, it can’t be proved that there is no risk whatsoever.  And even the warning to a mother that she may cause harm to her unborn baby has an enormous emotional impact, and most GPs tend to dodge the issue when they are asked for an opinion by the pregnant woman by saying it has to be a personal decision.

All of this was reported by Natasha Bita, consumer editor for The Australian newspaper, and lo and behold, the Daily Wine News, published by Winetitles, covers the article and finishes with this sentence, ‘According to The Australian, wine, spirit and beer bottles will have to be labelled with tobacco-style health warnings to tell pregnant women that drinking will damage their unborn baby.’  It’s the sort of headline-grabbing sloppy reporting on this important issue that really makes me cross.  Like countless couples, my wife and I fought for our equal share of the bottle of wine chosen on the night before she went off to hospital to respectively give birth to my beautiful and highly intelligent daughter, and my supremely healthy son with a Masters degree in human movements.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Australian wines in the Old Dart

I had to read a recent piece in the Daily Wine News twice before believing what I was seeing.  At a presentation of Australian wines at the Australian Wine School in London, under the auspices of Wine Australia, Tim Atkin MW said ‘Australia is more exciting today than at any point in my life as a wine writer.’ He was joined by Andrew Jefford, the distinguished English wine author who recently said that top end Australian chardonnays could effortlessly compete with grand cru Burgundies. 

Blog: Wine, Terroir & Climate Change

Dr John Gladstones’ book, Wine, Terroir and Climate Change, has been inducted into the Gourmand Wine Books Hall of Fame 2011. It is the first Australian book to be so honoured, with 162 countries having participated in the awards this year. On the cover of the book you will find this endorsement from myself:

For anyone interested in the future interaction between climate, climate change and viticulture, this book simply has to be read. Dr John Gladstones’s painstaking research is the foundation for his equally carefully constructed conclusions that robustly challenge mainstream opinions.

For further information go to

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bruce Dukes on it

Bruce Dukes is the senior winemaker (and director) of the Naturaliste Vintners custom-crush winemaking facility at Carbunup, in the Margaret River region. He recently received the Winemaker of the Year Award at the West Australian Wine Industry Awards. The sheer quality of the wines he makes is equalled only by his consistency. If I were looking for a contract winemaker anywhere in Western Australia, he would be my first choice.

A second piece of good news for Margaret River, following in the wake of the bushfires, was the title of ‘Best Town’ by Australian Traveller Magazine. Here, too, I have my hand up for one of Australia’s most beautiful, high quality regions.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The gentle art of re-corking old wines

The Grange and rare Penfolds red wine re-corking clinic, run in conjunction with Langton’s, is of world’s best practice. The wine will be eligible for re-corking if appreciable ullage has developed, or there are signs of seeping. The existing cork is removed and a very small amount of the wine is removed to check its condition. If there is any problem with the wine (oxidation, excess volatility, and/or cork taint) the wine will be re-sealed with an unbranded cork, but is not topped up. If it is in good condition for its age, it will be topped up and a branded cork will be inserted. A slip label on the back of the bottle will disclose that the wine was re-corked at the Langton’s clinic, and specifies the date. Re-corking has been a major cause for concern in Bordeaux in particular in the wake of the much-publicised activities of Hardy Rodenstock. Anthony Barton, owner of Chateau Leoville Barton and Chateau Langoa Barton (second and third growth chateaux respectively) has come out in typical forthright fashion saying “I’m against re-corking: 99 times out of 100 it’s a racket...the poor auctioneer says the wine has a good level, but it’s only been good for the last two weeks, not the last 20 years.” When, several years ago, I investigated the possibility of having Chateau Lafite re-cork a double magnum of its 1865 vintage wine, I learnt that the Chateau will not re-cork wines older than 1945. It may have hardened its position since, but the obvious problem is that by topping a bottle up and inserting a cork which will specify the date of the ‘reconditioning’, there is an implied warranty by the chateau that the wine is of good condition for its age, when in fact it may not be.

Brett on the back foot

Once again, the Australian Wine Research Institute has married ground breaking research with an everyday issue for makers of red wine. The thoroughly unwelcome yeast Dekkera bruzellensis (Brettanomyces), commonly known as Brett, has become a scourge for winemakers, especially those who do not wish to sterile filter their red wine prior to bottling. It imparts odours and flavours variously described as horse stable and wet bandaid, and everything in between. Expert tasters who can identify this yeast (which usually infects a wine after the conclusion of fermentation) can detect its presence in minute concentrations. The breakthrough has seen the genetic blueprint of Brett mapped, opening the way to kill the yeast without significant additions of sulphur dioxide or to remove it by sterile filtration.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Wine labels and health warnings

I know it is a victory for commonsense that the government has decided not to require specific warning messages on alcohol labels. Winemakers Federation of Australia head, Stephen Strachan, said ‘this was a sensible, considered and evidence-based response to the recommendations of the Blewitt Review.’ The wine industry has demonstrated a strong commitment to addressing alcohol abuse and its willingness to expand coverage of its existing voluntary commitment to have an on-label message warning against drinking while pregnant. Consistently with this, the Winemakers Federation is encouraging winemakers to use the ‘pregnant lady’ pictogram on labels.

I am well aware that my views on this will not be welcome in certain quarters, but it’s a strange world in which the onus is on wine producers to demonstrate a negative. As I understand the present weight of medical evidence, there is nothing to show that drinking a glass of wine a day by a healthy mother-to-be on a balanced diet (and, above all else, not smoking) constitutes a measurable adverse impact on the health of the embryo and, in due course, the newly born baby. But that is not enough: because it is impossible to prove it is risk-free, it seems the industry has to agree that there is a risk to the unborn baby, even though the risk cannot be quantified.