Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Structure: Myth or Reality

My attention was drawn to a recent article (or blog, if you prefer) by Matt Kramer in the Wine Spectator under the headline “Wine Myths That Need Shattering”.  The number one was “The Structure Myth”. Says Kramer ‘Structure is no more a predictor of a wine’s future career success than your fourth grade attendance record.’

Curiously, he seems to suffer from the very confusion he suggests others have when he writes ‘The myth of structure derives from a long-held and mistaken notion about tannins. Time was, wine drinkers looked at tannin levels in wines, especially red Bordeaux, as a marker of longevity.’

If you equate tannin with structure, of course it is no guide to longevity – nor, more importantly, quality. Nor can it have any relevance to riesling, semillon or sparkling wines.

In truth, structure is as important as texture, line and length. Only balance can be regarded as more important. So, what is meant by structure? What does it encompass?

One answer is that it is the framework on which the primary fruit can be draped. Another is that it is the foundation on which the palate is built. If it is an unwooded white wine, acidity will be a major component of structure; where the pH is low, and the acidity marked, structure and texture are linked. Minerality, crunchy acidity and similar terms are used in tasting notes.

For barrel fermented white wines the impact of oak will always affect both texture and structure, although the more subtle and better balanced the oak is, the less obvious will be the impact. Pinot noir can also fall into this category; in each case, tannins are an integral part of structure.

It is when you come to shiraz and cabernet sauvignon that structure comes onto centre stage. I typically assess such wines as light-bodied, medium-bodied and full-bodied, sometimes with halfway steps – eg light- to medium-bodied, or medium- to full-bodied. In using those terms I am endeavouring to convey the weight of the wine in the mouth, or the amount of extract.

Tannins are the major component of extract, whether they be ripe and round, or mean/green and unripe. Alcohol, too, comes into play, as it seems to exaggerate the other components in proportion to its strength.

So Matt Kramer should not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Books for Christmas: Jancis Robinson “Wine Grapes” and Nick Stock “Good Wine Guide 2013”

Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson MW, Julia Harding MW and Dr José Vouillamoz is an astonishing book. Its 1241 pages details almost 1400 distinct grape varieties, as well as a myriad of correct (and incorrect) synonyms. Cutting edge DNA and relentlessly patient and detailed research lies behind the book, which comes in a huge cloth-bound volume and cloth slipcase. Ecco is an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers and is above and beyond all but a handful of books among the many hundreds in my personal wine book library. I assume it will ultimately be sold in Australia, but I obtained my copy through Amazon at a total cost of US$136.23 (including postage and packaging). One of the features of the book is the reproduction of 80 colour paintings of some of the most obscure grape varieties imaginable alongside better known varieties. Thus you get a picture of Amigne, Arvine, Bagrina, Biancolella, Portugais Bleu, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Canaiolo Nero, Chaouch, Jaén Blanco and Pinot Blanc Chardonnay – the latter the last illustration in the first group, and with a cross reference at its foot to the correct (and simple) Chardonnay. The paintings come from a seven-volume, 3200-page work published in French between 1901 and 1910, compiled by Pierre Viala (1859-1936) a professor of viticulture in Montpellier, supported by no less than 85 grape experts from several countries. When you see the acknowledgements page in Wine Grapes, I didn’t count the names, but Jancis Robinson has secured the support of well more than 85 people in compiling the ultimate wine grape book.

Nick Stock Good Wine Guide 2013, published by Penguin Australia under the aegis of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald (a humble 450 pages, RRP $26.99) provides tasting notes for over 1500 wines with the usual database extracts to help you navigate. It presents the wine in varietal groups, with scores out of 100, and as an added attraction includes the recipe for the Penguin Bloody Mary and a selection of sake reviews.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Angove’s Clare Valley Riesling – Best in the World

It is sheer coincidence, of course, but yesterday I attended (most of) a very interesting MasterClass conducted by Jeffrey Grosset and Andrew Mitchell, featuring Clare Valley Rieslings from 2002 and 2012.  On the same day, news came that Angove Family Winemakers’ 2006 Vineyard Select Clare Valley Riesling won the Trophy for Champion White Wine of Show at the International Wine Challenge in London.  To do so it had to prevail over the top rieslings from 25 other countries that had already been singled out as the best from the country concerned.  Thus, the Angove wine won the Clare Valley Riesling Trophy, the Australian Riesling Trophy, the Australian White Wine Trophy, and the International Riesling Trophy.

Without in any way detracting from Angove’s achievement, nor suggesting that other international shows such as that of Decanter and the International Wine and Spirit Competition do anything different, the ‘World’s Best’ carries with it an implication that all the great wines of a given variety are entered in the competition, and of course that’s not the case.

The other take home message from the success is the transformation Australian riesling makes once given five or six years bottle age.  At the Clare MasterClass the ‘02s took that perspective out 10 years, with more than a few still looking incredibly youthful, more of which anon.

Finally, Angove Family Winemaker’s 2008 Vineyard Select Clare Valley Riesling is currently on sale with an RRP of $25, and can be found in good wine retailers across Australia, or through www.angove.com.au

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ripley-esque truth is stranger than fiction

A vineyard has been located in the little known Gers region of southwest France with vines believed to be at least 190 years old. There are apparently 20 varieties, including seven unknown to authorities. The seven unknown varieties have been named Pedebernade 1 to 7 in honour of the family which has tended the vineyard for eight generations. Judging by the photograph, these are indeed extraordinarily old vines.  The question is why phylloxera didn’t leave its calling card.  It may be sandy soil, but it’s also possible the remote location and lack of awareness of the vineyard may have meant that no infected material was brought to the site in the 19th/early 20th centuries. This is in turn consistent with the grapes having never been made into a discrete wine; rather, they have been sold to the local co-operative. Plans are now afoot to make a wine from the vineyard, but whether it will be from the unknown vines or from tannat and fer servadou (both red grape varieties) isn’t known.

The head of the Ger region cultural affairs department has honoured the vineyard as a historic monument, of slightly less importance than the moves for UNESCO recognition of the historic (and ongoing) importance of Burgundy and its appellations.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Hunter Valley Wine Show

The full results of the trophies awarded at the Hunter Valley Wine Show have been posted on the website.

Two awards which might slip through the net were the Iain Riggs Wines of Provenance Awards for both white and red wines. The idea comes from the Adelaide Wine Show, which pioneered the concept some years ago. To enter, a winery has to provide three wines, the youngest commercially available for sale, plus two wines respectively not less than five and 10 years old. The wines are judged as triplets, although individual assessment of each wine will of course be part of the ultimate decision by each judge, at which point the normal discussion takes place until a full consensus is reached.

It is tempting to say that from this point on it was business as usual.  But the not-always-easy-to-please Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW said ‘Having judged a number of Australian wine shows by now, I have to say that in my experience the Hunter Valley Wine Show 2012 ranks amongst the best organised and judged. But a show can’t be great without great wines, so I’d like to particularly thank the Hunter producers for making some very impressive wines in recent years. The unique styles of Shirazes, Semillons and Chardonnays have especially been a pleasure to judge, and believe me I don’t say that at every show. The best wines demonstrated purity, perfume and elegance as only the Hunter Valley can achieve.’

There were 20 trophies, and all but two (Vintage Fortified Wine and Best Chardonnay) all went to Semillon or Shiraz.  The arrival of screwcap will see ever more trophies going to aged semillons, which start hitting their straps when five years old, but which will go for much longer. Just how long we still don’t know,  but it easily could be well over 20 years.

What is not understood by consumers who don’t live in Sydney is the elegance and perfume of Hunter Valley shiraz. The quality of these wines has improved enormously over the past 10 to 15 years, as winemakers have got rid of brettanomyces and sulphide derivatives, moved to the judicious use of French oak, and have thought carefully about the potential alcohol in the wines.

Just as semillon in the Hunter achieves phenological ripeness around 10 to 10.5 baume, resulting in the majority of wines having an alcohol content of between 10% and 11.5% (with more in the former than the latter level), so does shiraz reach phenological ripeness in most years plus/minus 12  baume, with resultant alcohol levels of between 12.5% and 13.5%.  They have a freshness which is totally enjoyable when the wines are young, but progressively gain complexity over the next decade.  That said, De Iuliis Wines won the Trophy for Best Dry Red of Show with its 2011 Steven Vineyard Shiraz, underlining the ability of young shiraz to outpoint its far older siblings.  Mike De Iuliis is one of the many graduates from the Len Evans Tutorial, and while it would be drawing a long bow to suggest that this was the reason for his achievement, he certainly has an international perspective on quality.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Wine Intelligence Report - China

Wine Intelligence (www.wineintelligence.com) has come up with a further in-depth study of the structure of the Chinese wine market. It took two years to come up with the full report, which is aimed at medium to large winery operations around the world, with a cost of a cool $4000.

Some of its headline findings will not surprise China watchers. However, the numbers and percentages will undoubtedly add to the overall understanding of the market. The high end is a by-product of business and gift-giving activities, and make up 22% of the wine drinking (assuming the bottles are actually opened) but over 40% of the total spend in the market. Wine Intelligence observes ‘These individuals are typically purchasing top end Bordeaux and Burgundy for business dinners and gift, but are unlikely to venture beyond prestige wines to buy more everyday brands for their own consumption.’

At the other end, middle-aged couples and younger social drinkers account for nearly half of the current wine drinking population, but only a third of sales by value.

The conclusion that the market is still at an early stage of development certainly comes as no surprise.  Maria Troein, Wine Intelligence Country Manager for China, tantalisingly says ‘Nonetheless, there are encouraging signs that there are sections of the market who find wine interesting and appealing for reasons that go beyond social prestige. As the market evolves, the big question for us will be to see whether this remains a niche group of enthusiasts, or whether we begin to see a larger segment of consumers picking up a bottle of wine as a natural, everyday choice.’

I personally have no doubt that the market will evolve, but the unanswerable question is whether this will take one year, five years, or longer. Even this has unspoken questions and assumptions. How do you measure the rate of change and the volume of change. This will vary substantially between exporters in the market, and their ability to hang in there despite frustration and the difficulty of piercing the veil of the Chinese mind.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Corks and Screwcaps: The Hatcher Theorem

Chris Hatcher, chief winemaker of Wolf Blass, has long been an ardent supporter of screwcaps, leading the charge by introducing screwcaps all the way up the range to the Wolf Blass Platinum Label wines. He has developed an elegant diagram, which isn’t easily reproducible for this website, but can fairly readily be understood.  On the vertical axis you have aged characters, and on the horizontal (bottom left intersection) you have time in years.  While the two closures are identical (barring TCA taint) for the first year or so, after two to three years you see more developed characters emerging under the cork closure.  While the difference is not great, some argue that the greater expression of age is a good thing, not a bad thing.  Neither Chris nor I accept that argument, but acknowledgement that it is possible to argue its benefit.

Around 10 to 12 years, the aged characters under cork continue to the point where, depending on the quality of cork, the quality of the bottle neck, the nature of the storage and other variables, the aged characters start to take on different dimensions such that no two bottles are the same.  At this point the bottles under screwcap are all identical to each other and the wine enters a plateau that can extend for decades, with incremental changes over time.  There is no ‘Eureka!’ moment, nor is there any ‘drink yesterday’ alarm bell.

Stephen Henschke has added his own views by saying that cork imparts a taste to the wine which can be detected even where it is a barrel-aged red wine, or a barrel-fermented white wine.

Chris Hatcher reduces this concept to simplicity: there is no point in the development of a white wine where the cork provides a closure as good as that provided by a screwcap.  There is much misunderstanding about reduced/sulphidic characters under screwcap: the fault is not the closure, as the vast majority of white wines show no such characters, but the fault of the winemaker in not ensuring that the wine is free from the signs of or precursors of reduction.  Even here there is room for debate: the eminent French researcher, the late Emile Peynaud, often wrote of the pleasant effect/taste of slight reduction. He saw this as simply being the opposite of oxidation. I won’t go further down this track, because it leads into the scientific thickets of the redox potential of wine, and its constantly changing impact.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Karina Dambergs wins dux title of the 2012 Lorenzo Galli Wine Scholarship

Karina Dambergs, group sparkling winemaker for Clover Hill wines and Taltarni Vineyards, won the 2012 Lorenzo Galli Wine Scholarship on 19 June. She will have a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Italy valued at $10,000 to experience the country’s wine regions and producers. The Scholarship was founded by Pamela Galli, founder of Galli Estate together with her late husband, Lorenzo. Born in Tuscany, Lorenzo arrived in Australia in 1952, and build up a successful property business before founding (with Pamela) Galli Estate in the Sunbury region in 1996, and later a Heathcote vineyard of over 100 hectares.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Bollinger’s 19th century bottle

Champagne Bollinger has adopted the design of a very old bottle found in the cellar which dates back to 1846.  The diameter of the neck is reduced from 29 mm to 26 mm, compensated for by an increase in the diameter of the base from 85 mm to 93 mm.  It mimics the ratio of the neck diameter to the base diameter of a magnum, and no one doubts for one second that a magnum performs far better over time than a bottle.  Mathieu Kauffmann, Cellar Master of Bollinger, explains: ‘The idea in using the curved shape of this old bottle was to aim for the perfect balance of a “small magnum” with curves more pleasing to the eye than those on the standard bottle. In addition to aesthetic reasons, using the shape of this new bottle, which is more like a magnum with a narrower neck ad wider base, should very slightly slow down the oxygen exchange and therefore give a better quality wine.’

The ratio (neck diameter/base diameter) of the 1846 bottle is closer to the standard magnum than that of the standard bottle.

1846, a bottle specific to Champagne Bollinger, will thus be used for the whole range: Special Cuvée, the first bottles of which are now being launched, followed by La Grande Année, La Grande Année Rosé, Bollinger R.D. and Vieilles Vignes Françaises. La Côte aux Enfants will keep its traditional bottle.

The new bottle shape is also available in all four formats: half-bottle, bottle, magnum and jeroboam

The pictures and  chart are interesting.  Obviously, the adoption of the new bottle took place four years ago, as the Special Cuvee Brut arriving in August will be in the new bottle.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Bordeaux En Primeur Campaign 2012

Various wine professionals returning to Australia after the Bordeaux En Primeur tasting of the 2011 vintage have commented on the changed atmosphere from one of unbridled enthusiasm to one of concern.  Following the recovery from a major crash between 1972 and 1974, prices have continued to increase on a yearly basis, with only minimal adjustments for lesser quality vintages.  A stock market chartist would show an unbroken trendline upwards, and it may be that this will continue.  But never in the history of Bordeaux has there been more than 10 years of rising prices without a major correction. (Some low-life has made off with my copy of Nicholas Faith’s history of the Bordeaux wine trade in which he makes this point). This year’s campaign realised only 20% of the value of the 2010 campaign, which is a very sharp contraction. Is it a hiccup, or a more sinister portent?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Australian Awards at the 2012 Decanter World Wine Awards & International Wine Challenge 2012

As is usual at this time of year, emails have flooded in from wineries that have succeeded at either or both of the competitions.  Hardys gave a full list of their awards, including silver and bronze medals, but most of the other releases only covered trophies and golds.  Through sheer force of numbers, Hardys had a long list of medals; one exception to that was Hardys subsidiary Bay of Fires Wines, which won three gold, one silver and one bronze medal at the Decanter World Wine Awards, and (counter intuitively) one silver, one bronze and three ‘Commendeds’ at the International Wine Challenge.  Normally the latter is more generous with its medals than Decanter.  Nonetheless, it was a 100% success rate, which is very impressive, the golds going to the 2010 Bay of Fires Pinot Noir, 2011 Bay of Fires Riesling and 2011 Bay of Fires Sauvignon Blanc.

Moorooduc Estate won the Trophy for Best Australian Pinot Noir over £10 in the Decanter Awards with its 2009 Robinson Vineyard.  Interestingly, it is a wine sold predominantly in the UK, with a small release at cellar door, where it sells for $35 a bottle.

McGuigan Wines won gold at the Decanter Awards for its ‘07 Shortlist Riesling.  It is available at McGuigan’s cellar door in the Barossa Valley and selected independent retailers for $28.99.

Nepenthe won its second trophy in four years for the Best Australian Sauvignon Blanc over £10 in the Decanter competition; in this occasion succeeding with the 2011 vintage.  This is a poke in the eye for those who have been running around writing off the 2011 vintage in south eastern Australia; it has in fact produced some quite beautiful white wines from virtually all varieties.  Only 25 trophies are awarded at the Decanter Awards, selected from more than 12,000 wines entered.  Nepenthe also won a gold from Decanter for its 2010 Shiraz, and both these wines are available through selected independent wine stores for $19.99 each.

Rosily Vineyard won a gold medal at the International Wine Challenge, securing the only gold medal presented to a winery from the Margaret River region, for its 2010 Chardonnay.  It is currently available with an RRP of $23.

Monday, June 18, 2012

De Bortoli re-engineering its future

It’s not often a good news story like this comes across my desk.  I have always had the highest regard for the ethics, business principles and wines made by De Bortoli’s Riverina winery (exceptional value for money) and in the Yarra Valley (great quality).  Having got that off my chest, the press release announcing a $4.8 million grant from the Federal Government needs no re-engineering.

‘De Bortoli Wines would like to acknowledge the financial support received from the Australian Federal Government’s Clean Technology Food and Foundries Investment Program delivered by AusIndustry.

The grant, worth $4.8 million, supports an investment of $11 million by the De Bortoli family in a project called “Re-engineering Our Future for a Carbon Economy”.

The ultimate goal under the De Bortoli family philosophy is to be a zero waste wine company. Operations Manager, Rob Glastonbury explains the shift in the company’s focus saying, “Where previously we have focused on sustainability on the farm and in the vineyard this project places greater emphasis on our production and warehousing sites in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria and includes upgrades to refrigeration, winemaking systems, packaging lines, electrical and lighting systems.”

Mr Glastonbury outlines the benefits the grant will bring in reducing the company’s carbon footprint, “Receiving the grant allows the company to implement a broad range of initiatives, some of which we’ve been planning for the past five years. It’s about using non-renewable power more effectively, lowering power use across our sites and wherever possible, offsetting power from both the grid and gas through the use of solar power.”

De Bortoli Wines has made a serious commitment to the environment, going well beyond mandatory requirements to develop a comprehensive environment and sustainability plan and to adopt a wide range of innovative programs and practices. Managing Director, Darren De Bortoli, summarises the importance of sustainability saying “Our future lies in the stewardship of our properties and through the management of our precious resources.”

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Giaconda – Australia’s Best Chardonnay

I have already written about this release (2010) from Giaconda; Rick Kinzbrunner believes it is the best chardonnay he has ever made, and, with the possible exception of the 1996, I for my part agree with that. It’s scarcer than hen’s teeth, but if you are quick you may be able to get some through Grande Millesime Fine Wines (http://www.grandmillesime.com.au/productslist.php/type/new/p_cat/Mjg3)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Barossa Valley Shiraz and alcohol levels

I pulled some interesting statistics out of the Wine Companion database covering all Barossa Shirazs tasted for the 2012 and 2013 Wine Companions.  In all, there were 62 shirazs with an alcohol level of 14% or less that rated 90 points or above. This compared with 352 shirazs rated 90 points or above with alcohol levels in excess of 14%.  The one consolation is that the overwhelming majority of those were in fact at 14.5%.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Endorsement of products – Antipodes

I have never endorsed (for reward, direct or indirect) a wine or winemaker; I have endorsed Riedel glassware, on the basis that I had been using limited amounts of Riedel glassware since 1969, beautiful, long-stemmed, small bowl sweet wine glasses, and Coopers Ale, its green label my perennial favourite beer. For the last endorsement (‘the winemaker’s beer’) Ian McKenzie and I were to receive a dozen bottles of Coopers each year, but it wasn’t too long before the deal mysteriously disappeared. Now there is Antipodes, a product that I have always thought the ultimate sparkling water to be served at any meal where wine is on the table. It has that magic balance between still water and fully sparkling, yet retains the prickle on the tongue for as long as you challenge it to do so. (It is also available without gas.) It does strike me as truly strange that we should import mineral water, sparkling or still, all the way from Italy and France (amongst other countries). Transport across the ditch is a very different thing to transport from Europe. And then there is Evian, which runs a distant second to Sydney tap water.

Wine Intelligence Business Awards

Wine Intelligence is the foremost market research business in the world, operating in 20 countries.  With its senior management split between the UK and Australia, it is able to cover the three major spheres fitting within its global business: first, Europe (including, of course, the UK); the Americas, North and South; and Australasia, in this context embracing China and Greater Asia, Australia and (as an outlier that is geographically a one-off) South Africa.

Its recent analyses of the Asian markets have been especially interesting, picking up trends the moment they emerge – thus a growing awareness and interest in white wines, and sweet red wines, in China.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the founding of Wine Intelligence, it has instituted business awards to be presented around the world over this year.  Su Birch, CEO of Wines of South Africa, was the first recipient; more recently awards were given to wine journalist Tim Atkin, MW, and Chester Osborn of d’Arenberg.

In typical form Chester Osborn joked in his acceptance speech ‘I can’t believe I have won this award...I have never worked a day in my life, I am still making mudpies – there’s the same ingredients water, soil, sun makes grapes as well – so I think it is fantastic that I’ve won an award for still being a big kid.’

Tim Atkin’s award marked his ‘willingess to challenge conventional wisdom whilst remaining the consummate wine professional’ admired by the world-over.  He responded by saying, ‘I have been lucky to win a lot of awards in my life, but this one means the most to me because it is from people who are my peers and colleagues.’

He also continued a theme that he has been hammering for some time now in the fortnightly UK trade magazine, Off Licence News, by saying ‘...it saddens me slightly that we have lost a bit of excitement [about wine] in this country. We have still got some great wine professionals, and I hope some reasonably good wine journalists – let’s put the UK back in the centre of the wine world, not in the margins.’

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Finest Wines of Burgundy – Bill Nanson (University of California Press)

Yet another book on Burgundy has reached the Australian shelves, distributed by Inbooks with an RRP of $49.95.  It contains 320 pages of full colour photography and text, and has an entirely new take.  The author, Bill Nanson, is a chemist by profession, and has no connection to the wine trade, but has made frequent visits to Burgundy over the past 15 years and regularly works the vintage there.  On thing that particularly impressed me (apart from Hugh Johnson’s foreword) was his vintage chart from 1990 to 2010, in which he refused to ascribe any rating to the vintages 1994-2004 inclusive because of (and I quote) ‘the pervasive influence of oxidised bottles renders this period a complete lottery. Spend only what you can afford to lose.’

Friday, March 16, 2012

Balgownie Estate 40th vintage

The patricians of the Yarra Valley beat Stuart Anderson by a year or two when he established Balgownie Estate in Bendigo in 1969. Nonetheless, he was an important part in the change in perceptions about what was possible in Victoria, and was responsible for many great wines until, for family reasons, he decided to sell the venture. After an unhappy stewardship by Mildara, Balgownie is now owned by brothers Des and Rod Forrester, and their friend, Bill Freeman, who have extended the reach of the business into the Yarra Valley.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Rathbone Family Wine Assets

I was saddened to read that Doug Rathbone has announced the family’s wine assets are being offered for sale. It was a vision splendid to assemble wineries with strong brands, and make them stronger still. The foundation stone, which he and his family built, was Yering Station in the Yarra Valley; thereafter came Mount Langi Ghiran in the Grampians, Parker Coonawarra Estate and Xanadu in Margaret River. The styles of the wines made at the winery were distinctive, both as an imprint of the region, but also the very good team of winemakers he was able to  assemble. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Endorsement of products – Antipodes

I have never endorsed (for reward, direct or indirect) a wine or winemaker; I have endorsed Riedel glassware, on the basis that I had been using limited amounts of Riedel glassware since 1969, beautiful, long-stemmed, small bowl sweet wine glasses, and Coopers Ale, its green label my perennial favourite beer. For the last endorsement (‘the winemaker’s beer’) Ian McKenzie and I were to receive a dozen bottles of Coopers each year, but it wasn’t too long before the deal mysteriously disappeared. Now there is Antipodes, a product that I have always thought the ultimate sparkling water to be served at any meal where wine is on the table. It has that magic balance between still water and fully sparkling, yet retains the prickle on the tongue for as long as you challenge it to do so. (It is also available without gas.) It does strike me as truly strange that we should import mineral water, sparkling or still, all the way from Italy and France (amongst other countries). Transport across the ditch is a very different thing to transport from Europe. And then there is Evian, which runs a distant second to Sydney tap water.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Langton’s, Australia’s leading auction house, has long had a system of rating wines by the prices achieved at auction. Wine index: Exceptional; Outstanding; Excellent; and Distinguished.

It has recently produced two lists that throw further light on the status of Australia’s best wines. The most simple of the two is the Top 100, arranged by price, utterly dominated by Penfolds Grange, but also including one-off wines where a back vintage (likely a single bottle) has attracted auction fever. The other lists the Top 100 wines by demand, and is the first time a list of this nature has been produced. It looks at the number of bidders for each lot of wines auctioned over the previous 12 months. It takes a different approach to the supply and demand equation: thus there need only be two bidders in the market for 1951 Grange to achieve the stratospheric price of $51,062, but the greater the volume of wine, the more important becomes the number of collectors chasing the wines. What you don’t see from the ‘by demand’ list is the vintage, simply because there almost inevitably will have a better spread of vintages from young to old. Then there are wines like Rockford Basket Press, Moss Wood, Wendouree, Giaconda, and so forth, that are always eagerly sought.

View Langton's List of Top Australian Wines Of 2011 By Price

View Langton's Top 100 Australian Wine Brands Of 2011 By Demand

Monday, January 9, 2012


Not content with a Fosbury Flop off a step ladder some days prior to Christmas (don’t ask me precisely when) resulting in a suspected broken hip, which, fortunately, turned out to be only severe deep bruising, I followed up with a more emphatic slip and dive on to the same right hip and buttock on Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, I did this while I was upstairs without a mobile phone, and with Suzanne off somewhere without hers (I think), an hour of dragging myself to a phone where I could dial 000 resulted in one of those bad Fawlty Towers-type stories as on various aspects of my birth, lifestyle, state of mind, and god knows what else with the 000 operator ultimately led to an ambulance arriving, and after protracted delay (mercifully with painkillers on the menu) we headed off to Ringwood Private Hospital, only to be told a few minutes before arriving that the hospital was now full and I would now have to go to Maroondah Hospital (which had no private rooms).

After a further protracted delay I found myself in a bed thanks to Dr Mark Horrigan of Pimpernel Wines (just around the corner from Coldstream Hills) who had pulled some strings to get me into one of the very few private wards available. There I spend until New Year’s Eve, with weeks of physiotherapy and discomfort in front of me. A planned New Year’s Eve dinner at Spice with Tom Carson and partner Nadege Sune (and my wife Suzanne) had to be abandoned, a dinner at home substituted with ‘96 Dom Perignon, ‘08 Montrachet of Frederic Magnien under screwcap eased the pain (mental and physical) somewhat.

The mental pain comes from the fact that I had, with immaculate foresight and planning, put aside eight days’ work in the cellar, in my library and elsewhere that will now have to wait for another year. Very bloody aggravating, as they say in the classics. It goes without saying that, however aggravating it may be for me, it has been far more so for Suzanne, forever at my beck and call, our extended family Christmas Day, many intervening events and full-on New Year’s Eve celebrations all cancelled, Suzanne simply running in circles trying to fill gaps for me.

For the time being, I hobble around, with physiotherapy and weeks to go before the leg ceases to be a square peg in a round hole.