Monday, December 16, 2013

Farwell to Kym Ludvigsen

Kym Ludvigsen was a gifted and totally committed viticulturist, his premature (accidental) death a loss to both those close to him and to the wider wine industry. Kym was farewelled on Friday at Ararat by family and friends. He began each day at the Ararat Pool, swimming 2kms ‘then did a heavy day in the field, or on the phone, whichever came first’. His wish was for no flowers, but a donation to the Ararat Swimming Pool Fund.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Visit of the Grandi Marchi

The Grandi Marchi, or, to give the organisation its full name, the ‘Institute of Fine Italian Wines – Premium Brands’, is a group of 19 of Italy’s most famous family-owned winemakers, the organisation very similar to that of Australia’s First Families of Wine.  Recently, 13 of the biggest names came to Australia for events in Sydney and Melbourne, including a dinner at Florentino Upstairs in the latter city which I was privileged to attend.  Those who came were from Antinori, Argiolas, Biondi Santi Tenuta Greppo, Ca’ del Bosco, Carpenè Malvolti, Donnafugata, Masi, Mastroberardino, Michel Chiarlo, Pio Cesare, Rivera, Tasca d’Almerita and Umamni Ronchi.
Carpenè Malvolti 1868 Extra Dry Prosecco Superiore DOCG NV

Toothfish Crudo
Blood Orange, Pickled Cauliflower, Radishes, Capers Isole Eolie
Ca’ del Bosco Cuvee Prestige Franciacorta DOCG NV

Smoked Petuna Ocean Trout
Tapioca, Apple, Celery, Yarra Valley Caviar, Yuzu
Umani Ronchi Vecchie Vigne Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore DOC 2008

Roasted Partridge
Beetroot, Buckwheat, Broccoli
Michele Chiarlo La Court ‘Nizza’ Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOC 2007
Mastroberardino Redimore Irpinia Aglianico DOC 2011
Pio Cesara Barbaresco DOCG 2009

Braised Ox Tail, Red Wine, Spice
Rivera Il Falcone Castel del Monte Riserva DOC 2007
Tasca d’Almerito Tenuta Regaleali ‘Cygnus’ Sicilia IGT 2010

Veal Cheek
Peroni Gran Riserva Beer, Slow Cooked, Rosemary, Shallots, Sweetbreads
Biondi Santi Tenuta Greppo Sassoalloro Rosso Toscano IGT 2009
Antinori Tignanello Rosso Toscana IGT 2010
Argiolas Turriga Isola dei Nuraghi IGT 2007

Ubriaco Di Amarone
Masi Riserva di Costasera Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC 2007

Il Mandarino Di Murano
Sugar Ball, Mandarin Sorbet, Shortbread, Pearl Tapioca, Mandarin Mousse, Green Tea Cake
Donnafugato Ben Rye Passito di Pantelleria DOC 2010

Caffe Lavazza

A magical combination of wine and food.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Barossa Shiraz by Dr Thomas Girgensohn

Barossa Shiraz: Building Regional Identity (Wakefield Press, 2013), by Dr Thomas Girgensohn, is an interesting book.  Its nuts and bolts are 164 pages in full colour throughout, with an RRP of $39.95.  Thomas Girgensohn is a former managing partner of the Boston Consulting Group and an Australian company director with experience in a range of industries. He was educated in Germany, with an MBA from Saabruecken and a PhD in business from the University of Munich. He has been collecting Australian wine for nearly 30 years, closely observing and following developments in the wine industry over this period. He currently publishes a wine blog, in which he shares his tasting experiences: ‘Alontin’s Australian wine review – and beyond.’

I say interesting, because this whole subject of Hand of God/Hand of Man is never far from the headlines these days and is the raison d’être of Girgensohn’s book. My problem is that there is an assumption one can ascribe particular flavour profiles to particular soils, making the case so strongly that whether the shiraz (for example) has 13% or 15% alcohol, has been matured in old French or new American oak, or comes from the 2011 or 2012 vintage, the site-flavour link remains inviolate.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The best of winery newsletters

I get many newsletters coming across my desk.  Some still using that ancient postal distribution system, and increasing number through the e-world.  Most are utilitarian at best, but I recently received two which I greatly enjoyed.  The longest, and funniest, is that of Bloodwood (click here to view); the most interesting (and with its own black humour) that of Mount Terrible.  Those newsletters are only sent to people John Eason knows, however there are a dozen or so posts found via the News section of the website (, some of which appear in a modified form in the newsletters.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Plantagenet - Part 2 of 2: Tasting Notes ex the 40th Birthday Celebration

Plantagenet had to make a tough decision about the choice of wines to present with the Celebration. Given the extremely compressed timeframe, the absolute number of wines presented during the Masterclass session had to be limited. Should the tasting cover all of the five principle varieties (riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon), and, if so, what vintages should be featured? For each of the shiraz and cabernet sauvignon, four decades were covered, the wines standing proud.

I may well have been in the minority, and, in any event, am hard to please when it comes to pinot noir made in marginally warm regions. So much so it serves little purpose to comment further on the pinot noirs.

The chardonnays simply serve to show that screwcaps are essential once the chardonnay is more than five years old, and absolutely so when it is 10 or more years old; thus the ’93 and ’00 Chardonnays were proof positive that cork is an unfriendly closure.

Which leaves the rieslings, the shirazs and the cabernets, the three best varieties of Plantagenet, and which, in the wisdom of hindsight, should have been the only three presented in the Masterclass, the compensation being an additional eight vintages to be split between the big three.

Here follow my tasting notes using a 5-star system, and if you think the allocation overly generous, let me simply say that the chardonnays and pinot noirs racked up everything from 1, 2 and 3 stars.


Full gold colour, with a faint touch of copper; there is a distinct honeyed edge to the bouquet, with a hint of toast in the background; still lively thanks in part to crisp acidity, but is fractionally past its best, and no two bottles will be even remotely similar to each other. Cork
4+ stars

Bright, full gold; some oxidation/cork issues on the bouquet of the first bottle, led to a second, and then a third, and it was with the last that we saw the wine as it should be, with honey and lemon zest flavours on a quite firm palate, which grew and grew in the glass. Cork
4.5 stars

Gleaming gold-green; the fragrant, citrus-driven bouquet has great varietal expression, and appears at its peak; the palate lives up the promise of the bouquet, having entered into what will be a long plateau of perfection. A tasting note in March ’07 (94 points) suggested the wine would live to 2016, and that now seems conservative. Screwcap
5 stars

Served at a great dinner at the end of the day, and I have nothing to add to the tasting note ex the 2014 Wine Companion. Simply, a great wine. Bright straw-green; one whiff and one sip will tell you why this wine should have won trophies, including that for Best Wine of Show in the Qantas Wine Show of WA ’12. The colour and bouquet promise much, but the sheer quality of the lime-filled palate, with bursts of crunch acidity and green apple takes it out of the ordinary. The drink to date will prove to be conservative, but reflects the pleasure the wine gives right now. Screwcap
5 stars

The wine is predominantly sourced from the Wyjup Vineyard, and its 43-year-old vines, fleshed out with lesser amounts from two local vineyards which add complexity to the profile. The wine is a little bit behind the all-conquering '12 Riesling, but is seriously good, with a fragrant, flowery, lime blossom-filled bouquet, a long palate gaining strength and energy on the finish, with touches of slate and talc forming part of the impact of acidity. Screwcap
5 stars

Here the decision was to go back even further in time, and struck a rich seam of gold.

Deep, healthy colour; rich black fruits, pepper, spice and licorice on the bouquet, then a layered, rich palate. A great Australian dry red, and, if the corks are sound (or the wine is given a new cork with a prayer for no TCA), has years left in front of it. Cork
5 stars

Lighter colour than the ’77, but the hue is vibrant; a fragrant bouquet of red and black fruits is an entrancing introduction, followed by a supple, medium-bodied palate, and there are savoury/spicy nuances to give complexity to the red fruit core. Cork; the same comments apply as for the ’77.
5 stars

A re-release from the cellar, marking the start of a policy of holding back wines for later release exclusively from cellar door and restaurants. When first tasted in March '08, I gave the wine 96 points, and it has fulfilled all of the promise it then held. It has a super-complex black cherry, blackberry, licorice and spice bouquet, the palate with more of the same, augmented by tannins of the quality rare in shiraz; all-in-all, strongly reminiscent of the wines from Hermitage in the northern end of the Rhone Valley. Screwcap
5 stars

Not bottled at the time of the tasting, but already blended for bottling. Vivid colour; the fragrance is similar to that of the ’90, with red and black fruits; the beautiful, medium-bodied palate is supple and long, oak merely a bystander. Screwcap.
5 stars

Cabernet Sauvignon
Here the master plan of one wine from each of four decades came to fruition.

Still has good colour; the bouquet has a vibrant display of varietal aromas, the palate fleshing these out with flavours of cassis, redcurrant, and touches of mint/leaf; fine tannins underwrite a gently savoury finish. When tasted in October 1994, the wine was awarded four stars and rated as somewhat past its best. The only reconciliation is the dreaded cork. Cork
5 stars

Good hue; a very fragrant, elegant and almost perfumed bouquet, which, together with the palate, had an astonishing amount in common with the ’89; finished with silky, fine-grained tannins. When first tasted (October 1997) damned by faint praise. Cork
5 stars

Outstanding colour for an eight-year-old wine, still purple-crimson; the palate currently presents something of a tug-of-war between the fruit, oak and tannins, but is balanced, and has years left in front of it. Screwcap
4.5 stars

Not yet bottled but, like the Shiraz, fully blended for bottling. Vivid colour; has exceptional texture, structure and balance to an intense, layered palate. Screwcap

5 stars

Monday, November 11, 2013

Plantagenet - Part 1 of 2

This week’s column – even in its extended form posted today, and covering more ground than the article printed in the Weekend Australian Magazine – is as notable for what it does not say as it is for the words in the article.

For while Tony Smith’s pioneering work in Mount Barker was on the other side of Australia, and the early years did not entirely match my endeavours, we were – and remain – driven by near-identical aspirations, and are both left with bitter-sweet legacies.

At the celebration dinner he recounted how ‘The first vineyard I had ever had anything to do with was my own, the first winery likewise.’ When I and two lawyer friends paid the princely sum of $10,000 for a four-hectare block of acidic clay and straggly ironbarks and spotted gums in the Hunter Valley in 1970, we knew what vineyards were supposed to look like, and had seen inside a few wineries.

When we crushed our first vintage of one tonne of shiraz and (two weeks later) half a tonne of cabernet sauvignon in 1973, we had a hazy idea about the theory, but no practical experience of winemaking. Tony Smith’s crop of half a tonne of each of shiraz and cabernet from the Bouverie Vineyard had been packed in wooden banana boxes and delivered to Dorham Mann in the Swann Valley for fermentation in the bottom of a concrete tank.

It was the next year that he learnt of the existence of a disused apple packing shed, and two-and-a-half acres of weed-infested surrounding land in the middle of the Mount Barker township. Elders Stock & Station had the property for sale at $12,000, and Tony Smith’s response was ‘Done.’ The purchase completed, the local Apex Club removed the weeds, helped clean up and repair bits and pieces of the shed, and Plantagenet was open for business.

Our paths crossed many times over the ensuing years, mainly, but not always, in Mount Barker. In 1984 he convened the inaugural meeting of The Australian Winemakers Forum in the Melbourne offices of my law firm, Clayton Utz. The Forum was formed to represent and protect the interests of small family-owned wineries. It was ultimately absorbed into the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia, having succeeded in its aim.

In early 1988 Coldstream Hills, which had been founded by my wife Suzanne and myself, became a small listed company on the Stock Exchange, taking our ownership down from 100% to 51%, but providing the capital to double the size of the vineyard (with an existing second house) and complete the building of the winery. At the back of my mind I envisaged a management buy-out when the business was fully established, but when wine market prices collapsed in 1991/1992, we were forced to raise additional capital for Coldstream Winemakers Limited, but weren’t able to participate in the rights issue. Consequently, our share fell to less than 30% of the issued capital.

In 1992 part of the privately owned Plantagenet Wines share capital was acquired by Lionel Samson and Son, Western Australia’s oldest family owned business, leading to further sales of the next seven years until, in 1999, Tony Smith was the only remaining minority shareholder. This left him without a viable position, so in that year he sold his shares to Samson, but became Chairman of the Board of Plantagenet Wines. Two years ago Samson took sole management control, leading to Smith’s resignation as Chairman.

In 1996 Southcorp Wines launched a takeover offer for Coldstream Hills; after much discussions and negotiations, my wife Suzanne and I decide we should accept the offer, thus leaving me without any proprietary interest. For some years I was a group winemaker within Southcorp, with responsibilities for Coldstream Hills, Devil’s Lair and the Hunter Valley trio of Lindemans, Tulloch and Hungerford Hill, but in 2000 fell back into a formal (by exchange of letters) consultancy agreement for Coldstream Hills.

Tony Smith and I respectively have strong emotional bonds for ‘our babies’. My feelings about Coldstream Hills, and pride in its achievements, are exactly the same today as they were when Suzanne and I were the 100% owners of the business, then 51%, then under 30%. I am privileged to conduct all my general wine tastings for the Wine Companion in the winery, and Suzanne and I own the house high on the hill above House Block Chardonnay (planted 1985) and G Block Pinot Noir (planted 1988).

I believe Tony Smith’s attitude to Plantagenet is much the same, contract or no contract.

Part 2 of this post will be published on Tuesday 12 November

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Climate Change – True or False?

• When will Adam Bandt and his acolytes in the ABC get to read the Approved Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) of the IPCC’s Fifth Report issued last month? (I assume none will read the full report, for it is far too long for the ADHD nature of their sound and print bytes.)  
• The SPM says (and I quote) ‘The rate of warming over the past 15 years (1998 to 2012) is 0.05˚C [-0.05 to +0.15˚C] per decade.’ • If that rate of warming were to continue through to the end of this century, the global temperature would increase by less than 0.5˚C. 

• The SPM says the miniscule pause in warming for 1998 to 2012 (not contemplated by earlier IPCC reports) is due to natural variability, and does not in fact allow extrapolation through to the end of the century. If so, natural variability will surely occur again.

• Even if one accepts the IPCC caveat, the figures through to the end 2012 cannot possibly support the assertion that the appalling bushfires in NSW (the worst since 1939) are a consequence of climate change/global warming (the terms seem to be bandied around as if they are interchangeable). 

• To then take the giant leap and suggest that the Abbott-led coalition has any responsibility for the fires is utterly ludicrous. 

• If Australia was to turn off every heating or cooling appliance, turn off the lights, destroy all motor vehicles, walk or cycle to work in rabbit skins, etc, it would do nothing to stop climate change/global warming. Australia produces 1.5% of atmospheric CO2; if we were to shut up shop, global emissions would fall from 400 ppm to 398 ppm. 

• Even if we were, as of today, to stop all mining, stop all exports of iron and coal, and descend to third world status, it would still not have any lasting impact, other than to decimate the population. 

• Using IPCC projections through to 2050, global warming would increase global net GDP.

• Far more deaths occur due to cold than to heat.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Ocean Room Restaurant Sydney

A small group had a late dinner at the Ocean Room Restaurant (Overseas Passenger Terminal Circular Quay West), and we were all hugely impressed with the dishes, an added layer of amazement with the Canned Ocean Room dish, which was presented in an unopened ringpull can. Houdini-esque. 

The presentation throughout was innovative, and of a high order, the taste of the dishes complex, but not hidden behind artifice. 

Yellow fin tuna, Sicilian green olive & buffalo mozzarella drops, soy pearls, tomato chips 

Canned Ocean Room
Tasmanian sea urchin, Alaskan king crab, cuttlefish, salmon pearl 

Winter vegetable collection, yaki-onigiri, black schichimi, house made anchovy & garlic bath Kassen Daily recommendation, seasonal sashimi selection 

Deconstructed Burrito 
Wagyu flat iron steak, chilli con carne, tornado potato

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Why has no-one thought of doing this before?

I recently attended a 30th anniversary tasting at TarraWarra Estate. The event was organised by Kathy Lane of FireWorks PR, who provided everyone with sheets in tasting note order with the full names and other particulars of each wine being tasted. Her comment was “I have attached a soft copy of the wines we will be tasting on the day. I thought you may like to load this up onto your computer, ready to go for inputting your notes on the day. We will also have a printed copy available on the day if you prefer handwritten notes. Absolutely up to you.” 

Attention all wine PR agencies. Why has no-one thought of doing this before? It makes life very much simpler where there are a number of wines to taste.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

2011 South Australian Shiraz: Exceptions to the rule

At various points along the way, I have come across many exemplary wines from South Australia made in the 2011 vintage. It is true that even more have been disappointing, reflecting the seemingly unending rain. The regions south of Adelaide fared far better than those north of Adelaide, McLaren Vale already contributed a number of those exceptions. But I came across the 2011 Salomon Estate Finniss River Shiraz (from the Southern Fleurieu Peninsula) and it absolutely starred. How come? Well, the grapes were not harvested until the end of April, well after the impact of the heaviest rains in March had dissipated. 

In addition, obvious diligence in the vineyard, and equally obvious skill in the winery, came together to produce a beautiful wine. The utterly exceptional colour for ‘11 signals the arrival of the best shiraz from South Australia I have encountered; because the harvest could be delayed until the third week of April, the impact of the March rainfall was minimised, and the wine has all the hallmarks of a cool vintage with a spicy lift to the perfectly balanced marriage of black cherry and red fruit; the tannins, too, are perfect. 

96 points, drink to 2025, 14.5% alc; cork; $40

Friday, October 25, 2013

A Year in the Life of Grange

This the title of one of the most amazing books to ever appear on the Australian vinous landscape. It is the work of Milton Wordley, a professional photographer for more than 40 years, and a master photographer with the Australian Institute of Professional Photographers. No less importantly, winemakers, vineyards and wines have been one of Wordley’s abiding interests.

The words have been contributed by Philip White, who has for long been at the absolute forefront of creative wine prose; to call him a wine writer is to damn him by faint praise. He has been around for far longer than Campbell Mattinson, but the two leave the rest of us in their wake when it comes to setting the scene. The third contributor to the book is John Nowland, with more than 35 years’ experience in the design industry, winning awards both in Australia and around the world. 

So I can hear you say OK, it’s a book about Grange, and three highly talented people came together to create the book. Well, it comes in three forms, all measuring the 38 x 31cm; I’ve got well over a thousand wine books in my library, and only one comes close – which is just as well, because it doesn’t fit in any bookshelf. But it is at this point that the story becomes interesting. Three editions are available, and at least two are intended for pride of place on a coffee table or in a wealthy collector’s wine cellar. 

The Collector’s Edition is of 100 copies numbered 1 - 100, leather bound with a kangaroo hide spine, and includes a folio of seven original museum grade giclee photographs from the book printed on archival paper, window-matted and presented in a leather portfolio and black buckram archive box featuring American Oak sides. (Believe it or not I’ve slightly shortened that description.) The price is $4000, which strongly suggests that 99 of the copies will be winging their way to Hong Kong and China the moment they are released.
The Winemaker’s Edition is of 250 copies numbered 101 – 350, with an imitation leather cover (I will keep my tongue to myself) with a kangaroo spine, presented in a slipcase, and including an exclusive print of the four winemakers (Max Schubert, Don Ditter, John Duval and Peter Gago) once again printed on archival paper, signed by the artist, mounted and ready to frame. The price is $1000 per copy. 

Finally there are 1000 copies of the Limited Edition numbered 351 – 1350. This has a traditional canvas cover, with a full colour dust jacket and presented in a rigid slipcase, the price $785. 

Included with all three editions is a DVD of a series of interviews recorded along the way with well-known wine identities. 

Due to anticipated demand and obviously limited availability, the publishers encourage those interested to register on the official website (to secure your copy of the book, register your interest, or find out more) by going to the website at

Monday, October 21, 2013

Comparative Tastings

In a sense it is true that whenever you taste several wines and compare them in terms of personal preference, or the value for money, or your style or not your style, it is a comparative tasting. 

For wine professionals, be they wine makers, wine educators, wine writers, sommeliers or retailers, a comparative tasting has education as its primary purpose. But for this to occur, there has to be thought (and discipline) exercised by the person staging the tasting. In its purest form, there will be only one point of difference between the wines, the object of the exercise then focussing on the impact of that point of difference. 

Over the decades I have seen many comparative tastings rendered useless because the organiser gets too enthusiastic, or simply too ill-disciplined, to adhere to the golden rule. But before I go further, I must stress that this is the purest form of comparative tasting, typically only involving a limited number of wines, and most definitely for an educated audience. 

The other day, I came across two wines from the one winemaker perfectly framed for the comparative tasting. The wines were the same grape variety, the vines to all intents and purposes the same age (33/34 years old); the grapes were picked at the same baumé level, resulting in the same alcohol (13%) in the finished wine; they were vinified in precisely the same way, and with the barest winemaker thumbprint. 

The handpicked grapes were pressed to oak without clarification for non-temperature-controlled, natural fermentation. The cooperages, oak format (puncheons) and barrel age were exactly the same for both wines. Upon completion of fermentation, the wines were immediately sulphured to preserve freshness and acidity, and rested on lees for ten months. Neither was filtered, and only minimal fining was employed. In case you hadn’t guessed it, the variety was chardonnay. 

So what was the point of difference? The region of origin, one wine coming from Willow Lake Vineyard in the Upper Yarra Valley, the other from Smiths Vineyard in Beechworth. The winemaker was Adrian Rodda, who is also the proprietor of A. Rodda wines. The Beechworth Chardonnay is a tightly structured wine, with minerally, almost savoury, undertones to the stone fruit and apple flavour wheel, the overall texture outstanding.
I happened to taste the Beechworth wine first, and was sorely tempted to draw comparisons with Chablis or Corton; if I had tasted the wines in reverse order, it turns out I might have been tempted to make the same comment about the Yarra Valley sibling, even though it was very different in its expression. It has more lissom fruit, white peach and grapefruit to the fore, and greater length, but not the structural complexity of the Beechworth wine. 

Both wines sell for $38, so there can be no question of value for money and I’m not entirely convinced of the relevance of the obligatory custom of giving points to each wine, particularly given my inevitable bias having made chardonnay in the Yarra Valley for upwards of 30 years. But on the other hand, in my 2014 Wine Companion I bestowed the award for best chardonnay out of the 940 tasted for that edition to a Beechworth chardonnay (2011 Giaconda). For the record, I gave the Rodda Smiths Vineyard and Willow Lake the same 96 points. The Smiths Vineyard wine was also given 96 points in the 2013 James Halliday Chardonnay Challenge. (I am not involved in the tastings for the Challenge.) 

As a final apologia it’s fair to point out that Adrian Rodda cut his teeth on chardonnay in the Yarra Valley, and did not move to Beechworth until 2010 with the express purpose of making chardonnay from the best (other than Giaconda) vineyard in the region, Smiths. But he freely admits his intention was always to make multiple single vineyard chardonnays from different geographical regions, and the Yarra Valley is only the first step along that journey. The Mornington Peninsula, Geelong and South Gippsland must all look attractive targets.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Tea, coffee, wine and beer

In the early 1980s Kevin McClintock, one time CEO of McWilliam’s and, before that, sales and marketing director at Tucker Seabrook & Co, produced an interesting chart which showed the intersection point between the increase in the consumption of coffee, and the decrease in the consumption of tea. 1975 was the year of intersection, and McClintock suggested this marked the end of the dominant colonial influence and the increase in the European/continental influence.

In 1975 the consumption of beer so outweighed that of wine that a bar chart representation of the consumption figures was all but meaningless. But while for any number of reasons McClintock might not have been prepared to say that the same intersection for beer and wine would occur less than 40 years later, we are now approaching that point. While total consumption of alcohol has decreased significantly since 2008 (by 56 fewer standard drinks per year per person), beer has been on a long term downtrend, wine consumption on a long term uptrend. Thus in the period between 2008 and 2013, the average person is drinking 44 fewer standard drinks of beer than they were in 2008, with wine consumption increasing over the same period by seven standard drinks per person.

Beer still has its nose just in front, with 331 standard drinks per person per year, compared to 304 standard drinks of wine. Cider has been the upwards mover, but from a very small base.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Natural wines – I don’t think so

In these days of endless chit chat about natural winemaking and natural wine, some will see the three-day course to be conducted by Professor Roger Boulton at Melbourne University from the 2nd to 4th December a healthy antidote.  He has been a senior figure at the University of California Davis for many years, and has been a long term friend of the Australian wine industry, not surprising given his Australian education. The course will cover the application of chemical engineering principles for the effective production of high value wines, and the design and operation of sustainable wineries in an era of reduced water availability. He was the key figure in the design and development of the first platinum-scored winery at UC Davis, with its advanced wireless network monitoring and controlling its 150 fermenters, allowing research wines to be made reproducibly and precisely. As I say, it’s the furthest end of the spectrum from natural wines.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Fake Factor

While at Savour Australia, I was given a copy of Fine Wine and Champagne, published in India by Fine Publishing India (  Its luxurious presentation is similar to many of those that you see out of China and Hong Kong, but some of the content is decidedly interesting and unusual.  The editor is Rajiv Singhal, and he has some very interesting contributors.  There are tasting notes and profiles of 100 wines from many parts of the world, and each has a summary covering price, bottle condition, tasting note, how many times tasted, decanting time, etc, etc, but my eye then caught the next item, ‘Fake Factor’.  It varies from comments such as ‘None yet, but in near future – yes’, or, in the case of items such as a 1956 Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon ‘None’.  

It was decidedly ironical that the Fake Factor for 1955 Romanée-Conti should be described as ‘Huge – especially among big-sized bottling, and as you can buy original Domaine labels from eBay at a modest price of 500 euros, it will be hard to tell without opening the bottles if it is the real thing...’  There was a photograph of the said Romanée-Conti opposite its taste rundown, and the bottle number was written in hand (331).  Quite apart from the clearly faked bottle number, the label itself seemed to have done hard yards, not surprising.  And before I get off the subject (and the magazine) my eye also caught 1960 DRC La Tache.  Here the Fake Factor was ‘None’, with the added quotes ‘Inside information a very bad vintage throughout France, but not at DRC’.  Here, too, the label seemed to have done hard yards and it was not possible to see the label clearly enough to tell whether the bottle number was hand written or printed.

Friday, August 16, 2013


It is absolutely astonishing that Regis  Camus, head winemaker at Champagne Piper-Heidsieck should have recently received the trophy for Sparkling Winemaker of the Year from the International Wine Challenge in the UK for the seventh year in a row. This is the most credible of all the UK (indeed European) wine competitions, with the high-powered head tasting panel of Tim Atkin MW, Oz Clarke, Sam Harrop MW, Peter McCombie MW, Charles Metcalfe, Derek Smedley MW, not only validating the gold medal winners, but also the regional or national/international trophies.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Lower Alcohol Wines

Wine Intelligence, the foremost market research business in the UK and Australia (but with a world outlook) has just released a report on Lower Alcohol Wines.  The full report runs to 74 pages, but its essence is very interesting.  It says ‘Once considered a niche, outsider product category, lower alcohol wines are now growing in stature in many markets around the world. Across the 8 markets looked at in this report, buyers of sub 10.5% ABV wines now account for 38% of consumers, or in other terms, over 80 million regular wine drinkers – making a rather compelling case that this is a market sector which can no longer be ignored.’

I wonder whether this will finally provide an ice-breaker for Hunter Semillon.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Best Shiraz in the World

I always get a little puerile amusement out of tastings which discover the Best Shiraz (or Chardonnay, etc, etc) in the World.  Normally they come from various competitions in London, but now we have on our own doorsteps.  Winestate Magazine organised an international shiraz event, with shirazs from France, South Africa, New Zealand and many parts of Australia.  Grant Burge Wines’ 2010 Filsell won the competition (admittedly with 700 wines), and in consequence is the Greatest Shiraz in the World. Well don Grant Burge.

Best Shiraz in the World

I always get a little puerile amusement out of tastings which discover the Best Shiraz (or Chardonnay, etc, etc) in the World.  Normally they come from various competitions in London, but now we have on our own doorsteps.  Winestate Magazine organised an international shiraz event, with shirazs from France, South Africa, New Zealand and many parts of Australia.  Grant Burge Wines’ 2010 Filsell won the competition (admittedly with 700 wines), and in consequence is the Greatest Shiraz in the World. Well don Grant Burge.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

UK Export Market

While all the excitement is focused on China, there is life in the old bulldog yet.  Australia’s exports to the UK have broken through the $1 billion barrier, increasing Australia’s lead over Italy (the second largest player in the market) and, to my surprise, sales of wines priced above £7 have risen 16% in volume terms over the past 12 months.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Australia’s Estate and Single Vineyard wines – what are the comparisons with Burgundy?

I receive a regular communication from the official Burgundy wine bureau in France. A recent newsletter provided a totally unexpected picture of the knowledge of and reputation of Burgundy in France. With the sole exception of using the word ‘burgundy’ rather than the French ‘bourgogne’, I quote the release verbatim:
‘The last survey conducted in France for the Burgundy Wine Board (BIVB) by CSA, shows that Burgundy wines have a very favourable reputation and image. Burgundy wines are graded 7.9/10, representing growth of one tenth of a point compared to the same survey conducted in 2011 with a panel of consumers (men, women, 35 to 65 years old, higher professional categories, buyers and wine consumers).

Burgundy wines have an image of prestige, authenticity, gastronomy, quality, pleasure and
terroir. 98% of consumers agree on the fact that the wines are made using ancestral and traditional expertise. They are also seen as a “real pleasure for the senses” and are a synonym for the “French art of living” (96%).

By comparison, the individual reputation of each
Burgundy appellation is weak.

The complexity of the Burgundy mosaic is not just a myth. On average, 33% of consumers surveyed know one Burgundy appellation. Amongst the most well known (3 consumers out of 5), are Chablis, Pommard, Mâcon, Nuits-St Georges, Bourgogne Aligoté and Côte de Beaune. However, their spontaneous reputation is far below that of Burgundy as a whole.

The “Burgundy” brand well and truly exists.

It seems fundamental to make the appellations benefit from its positive image, given that the region is the main criterion used when buying wine.’

The take home lesson from this is that those in Australia who think subregions are a good marketing idea should think again, and concentrate on putting the emphasis on regions.

Friday, May 10, 2013

A Quick Word...

It’s really a strange world, isn’t it?  Wine critics and writers around the world have praised the 2008 Penfolds Grange, yet I read that ‘retailers in Australia [are] battling it out in a race to have the cheapest price for the [wine]’.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A little wine for thy health’s sake

In May 2011 the Cancer Council of Australia issued what it called ‘Position Statement. Alcohol and cancer risk.’ Its first key message is (and I quote):

‘Alcohol use is a cause of cancer. Any level of alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing an alcohol-related cancer; the level of risk increases in line with the level of consumption.’

Its second is:

‘It is estimated that 5,070 cases of cancer (or 5% of all cancers) are attributable to long-germ, chronic use of alcohol each year in Australia.’

The sleight of hand is masterful. In the first statement there is no attempt to quantify either the level of consumption (a teaspoon a week?) or the increase of risk (by 0.001%?). In the second statement there is a shift to ‘long-term chronic use of alcohol’ (a clever avoidance of use of the word ‘abuse’).

It brought forth a blistering response from the Boston School of Medicine Institute on Lifestyle and Health. ‘It is shocking that an alliance of organisations, some of which are government agencies, would agree to stand behind such a deliberately misleading misrepresentation of the science addressing the effect of alcohol on human health.’

More specifically, the Boston Institute said:

·         ‘The paper disregards the vast majority of well controlled studies which show significant and concrete public health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption.’

·         ‘This Position Statement conflates the effects of excessive and moderate alcohol consumption, and in so doing creates confusion and concern, with the apparent purpose of advancing a prohibitionist agenda.’

It is this (surely deliberate) merging of moderate and excessive consumption of alcohol that is so breathtakingly dishonest in the context of an apparent research debate.

But it gets worse. The greatest (by a considerable margin) cause of death in the Western World is coronary heart disease, and the Boston Institute does no more than state the facts when it says:

·         ‘Scientific data over more than three decades have clearly shown that moderate drinkers are at considerably lower risk of cardiovascular disease; and newer studies also indicate that they are at lower risk of dementia and many other diseases of ageing.’

The Position Statement excels itself when it says:

‘Earlier research which reported that low to moderate levels of alcohol consumption might reduce the incidence of coronary heart disease may be flawed.’

Note the all-important use of the words ‘might’ and ‘may’.

The Cancer Council has well and truly slain the smoking dragon (which I applaud, particularly having regard to the fact that I have never smoked) but its attempt to portray alcohol (regardless of its form) as damaging as smoking is appalling, as is the assumed link between the two.

Compared, it says, with non-smoking, non-drinkers, those who are regular heavy users of both substances, drinking more four or more standard drinks and smoking 40 or more cigarettes a day, have a risk of cancer 35 times greater than that of the abstainers. It is silent about the relative risk of simply smoking at that level, but I’ll wager there’s little difference.

Coming back to reality, there are a number of truths, some inconvenient, some altogether different.

First, most wine is consumed by most people in the context of a meal and over a time span of one to three hours. That is absolutely not the case with beer, spirits and/or RTDs.

Second, there is peer-reviewed evidence to show that the regular consumption of moderate amounts of alcohol does not cause the harm associated with weekend binge drinking.

Binge drinking is a very significant issue in the UK, but is also a social problem in Australia. Here the inconvenient truths come thick and fast. Research from the Australian Institute of Criminology shows that wine is by far the least represented alcoholic drink consumed by those arrested for disorderly conduct on Friday and Saturday nights.

Research from the National Drug Strategy taskforce likewise shows wine to be the least favoured alcohol type for young people, including those who binge. Cask wine is considered the preferred alcohol type by only 1.6% of 14 to 19 year olds who drink, compared to 23% for beer and 44% for RTDs, the remainder for spirits.

An inconvenient truth for all sectors of the alcohol spectrum, including wine (especially fortified) is the deep, grievous and lasting harm it causes to indigenous people. It is beholden to winemakers, large and small, to do what they can to ameliorate this harm. The wine industry has always acknowledged that obligation, and will continue to do so. But to formulate a broad based policy driven solely by this issue – that is, extending to the entire population – would be akin to a hair on the tail wagging the dog.

There are no easy answers in this debate. Plain packaging and restricted access have an Orwellian feel. Impossible? Now, perhaps, but in the future it may be a different story unless the wine industry is able to tell the truth about wine to the silent majority, the bureaucrats, and our political masters.