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.