Tag: Wine Thoughts

A few updates

A few updates in no particular order:

1. Studying for the upcoming Master of Wine exams continues at pace. I have resisted posting on some more obscure wines, a Canadian cabernet franc ice wine comes to mind here, but I must say it has been a brilliant and broadening experience.

2. Wine Geelong was kind enough to get in touch with me to republish an article I wrote some years ago for wine magazine Alquimie on the Geelong wine region. You can now read it here: https://winegeelong.com.au/history/.

3. You may have seen that I recently updated the website platform of grapeobserver.com. Specifically I moved it over to WordPress which, looking at the results, is something I should have done along time ago. It has made the website more secure, searchable and presentable on multiple platforms. And frankly it’s easier to use. Please let me know if you spot anything awry.

Back from Adelaide

Jacaranda petals; Adelaide November 2017

I have just spent a rather intensive six days studying wine in Adelaide.  This is the beginning of the Master of Wine journey, and the path ahead is now lit, together with its enormity of scope and impressive difficulty.  The sensible person might ask at this point whether this is an example of commitment being required or in fact eligibility for commitment.  Naturally, I believe the former.  For reasons of comity with courses taking place in other parts of the world, I am unable to share many of the wines tasted.  Nonetheless, interesting wines abounded, and I can assure you the range of wines reviewed in the months ahead will be diverse and global, and reviews as rigorous as ever.

New Burgundy appellation – Bourgogne Côte d’Or

In subscribing to various of the wine industry journals, there are trickles of updates to appellation rules in various countries.  New appellations and subregions, mostly.  My opinion, and it is just that, is that these new additions mostly present as plausible and helpful, but in practice, add to a weighty tome of worldwide wine regions and subregions.  The impossibility of remembering them all, and the disinclination I suspect by most to even try to, I think may not help consumer understanding.

The latest is that we learn that a new appellation of “Bourgogne Côte d’Or” AOP has been reported as approved by the French authorities.  It covers just the Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune, and has some stricter production rules around vine density and yields compared to regular Bourgogne AOP.  It is also distinguished from Bourgogne AOP and Côteaux Bourguignons AOP (yes, that exists too) in that these wider appellations permit the “other” Burgundy grapes and extend south as far as Beaujolais.  While well meaning, this new appellation fits the paradigm: it appears helpful, yet adds to that tome.

Shopping list

Building a wine cellar is much like planting a tree.  The best time to start is 20 years ago.  Here’s a few wine styles that I am enjoying at the moment, but am currently buying too little of:

1. Great Southern and Clare Valley riesling;
2. Barolo/Barbaresco nebbiolo;
3. Villages red Burgundy;
4. Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon;
5. Margaret River cabernet sauvignon;
6. Hunter Valley semillon; and
7. Beaujolais (not for cellaring although some can be – see my trip to the region here).

I always have a keen eye for red Bordeaux, although the price increases for the cru classé in even the last 5 or 6 years are just astonishing.

Some critiques of Australian wines

I read with interest a recent review by Jancis Robinson MW of a tasting of Australian collectible wine.  It is subscriber only unfortunately, so there is little point posting the link.  It’s a frank assessment of the wines tasted and that’s a good thing – critics should be open and honest.  But the views expressed can be tested too.  Few locally for example I expect would describe a Phillip Jones’ Bass Philip wine as “Not like Burgundy at all! … Not really very sophisticated”  (Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noir 2012).  The word “sweet” receives 33 “matches” in 59 wine descriptions when describing (mostly) South Australian shiraz.  A Noon grenache is described as having “massive sweetness and alcohol on the palate.  Most unusual nowadays!” which more or less captures the zeitgeist in some quarters as regards Australian warm climate wine styles from Barossa/McLaren Vale, I think.

A Clonakilla shiraz viognier is conversely noted as being “bony and very different from the Australian Shiraz norm“.  This had me thinking too.  Is there such a norm?  Perhaps in offshore markets where the depth of offering is not there.  But in Australia in 2016?  At least in my view, there’s considerable variation in style moving north to south (think Glaetzer-Dixon in Tasmania), east to west.


I set out this weekend to catchup on wine tasting, but achieved little, which ironically I expect means that I achieved rather a lot.  I am otherwise gathering some thoughts reading recent mixed media on Bordeaux’s 2015 en primeur campaign, and more locally, I also read with interest plans afoot at Treasury Wine Estates to put some real effort into some of their Australian regional wine offerings.

Wine labelling, alcohol et al

Two reports appeared on the long topic of alcohol this week.  These reports seem seldomly appear to be good news for the wine drinker.  The first is a study in the US (here it is).  It found among other things that:

“the label claims on average understate the true alcohol content by about 0.39% alcohol for Old World wine (red or white) and about 0.45% for New World wine (red or white).”

In Australia, alcohol levels that appear on wine labels have a permitted margin for error of 1.5% (this Wine Australia publication has further information about wine label compliance).  In Europe, the tolerance for error appears to be 0.5%/0.8% depending on the scenario.  My view is that wine labelling should be as transparent as possible (for some previous thoughts on the same topic see here) and that an accurate label is a good label.  Hopefully this might encourage producers towards alcohol levels on labels that are as accurate as is able to be technically achieved.

The second is a much publicised change to UK public health guidelines (see here), revising down suggested maximum alcohol intake to 14 “units” per week.  Were that of comfort, “units” in that jurisdiction appear to be less than the “standard drinks” measure shown on wine labels in Australia.  Wishing you all a moderate new year!

A little more on Australian zinfandel

Grape varieties in Australia can take some unusual paths.  I was reminded of this by an entry in James Halliday’s The Australian Wine Compendium published in 1985.  It seems that zinfandel found its way all the way down to the Coal River Valley in Tasmania in the 1980s in the Stoney Vineyard which was planted by George Park in the 70s.  This same vineyard is better known today under the ownership  of the esteemed Domaine A winery (to whom it was sold in the late 80s).  And the ’82 zinfandel saw a pretty good review too from Mr Halliday if this extract is anything to go by:

Fast forward a few decades (James Halliday, Varietal Wines published in 2015) and zinfandel has only 104 hectares of vineyards in Australia and 87 growers.  I guess while that seems quite a large area, it is a local oddity compared with the 19,857 and 12,234 hectares of zin under vine in the United States and Italy respectively.  On current trends, I suspect that zin’s high alcohol tendencies will see it stay that way for some time on local shores.  For those wishing to taste more or undertaking wine study, vinodiversity.com maintains a helpful current list of producers.

Online wine auctions

I always prefer to buy wine from the producer or directly from the importer.  My most satisfying purchases come from those two sources.  But from time to time I buy wines at auction too since, well, I think I like finding wines as much as I like drinking them.  And auction prices are sometimes quite reasonable, there are wines and vintages that might not otherwise be available from the producer or importer and there are online auctions in Australia seemingly almost every other week.  Other times, auction prices seem frustratingly high, you get a bad bottle or two, you might have to wait weeks for delivery because the weather is hot, cold or somewhere in between and it all seems a bit of a pain.  So, while I have had mostly rather good experiences, I thought it worth sharing a few thoughts as an occasional auction buyer.

Wine provenance

Often little will be known as to the provenance of the wine available at auction except for what the auction house may say.  This is to an extent unavoidable since, well, it’s an auction and the vendor is not going to tell you that they have stored the wine in a manner uncanny in its resemblance to the ageing process of a Rutherglen muscat under a hot tin roof.  Nor will they tell you, at least typically, that their dog found the bottles in the park, their dog found the bottles in a park in Rutherglen or that sundry nocturnal mammals in their backyard are able to offer up an unexpectedly fulsome and eloquent description as to the wines’ quality potential.

So unless the auction house provides this information, we are left without key information such as who the seller is, why they are selling, how the wine has been stored by the seller, and how long the seller has had custody of the wine, assuming the wine has only seen one custodian.  And even if there has been just one custodian since purchase, storage and transport conditions as between the winery and that purchaser’s purchase may be an open question.  At every point, exposure of the wine bottle to extremes of heat, light and humidity (for wines sealed under cork) most likely will be relevant to the ultimate enjoyment of the wine.  Studies suggest that wine for example doesn’t have long at 40c.  This study is a bit wordy, but see here if you are interested in reading more.  Light is bad too.  You can read about that here (this article is shorter).  Now of course some may tell you that storage doesn’t matter, wine is resilient, the backyard possums in fact have a good and proven palate or some combination thereof.  But faced with a choice, good storage trumps bad storage, and at auction you may have little way of actually knowing either way.

Wine fraud  

There is no central database registering every wine and its consumption status.  The world happily has not yet come to that.  And some wines are fantastically rare and expensive.  This combination I imagine is more or less a magnet to bad actors.  The scale of the issue is the big question.  It may be a correct bottle, with different contents to those described (i.e. a refilled bottle of a wine that has been drunk up).  Or perhaps a newly minted bottle with different contents to those described.  Or perhaps not even wine.  I do not know the extent of wine fraud in an Australian context.  Overseas reports of the quasi industrial scale of Rudy Kurniawan’s reported wine production endeavours are not pleasing reading.  The ever lapping tides of international travel and trade presumably do not make this problem better.  Fraud risk is very difficult to manage as a buyer without access to considerable resources or experience of such matters, so carefully and ruthlessly weeding out the imposters will remain a core duty of wine auction houses.

The online wine bidding process

While the bidding process itself is routine, where it can get more interesting is how online auction houses deal with vendor bids and reserves.  For vendor bids, a simple question might be whether they are permitted.  In a real estate context, people get awfully excited about vendor bids, and I tend to agree with them.  Bidding against yourself is not entirely rational from a buying point of view.  Well, not on most days.  If vendor bids are permitted, there is then a question of disclosure.  Are these disclosed when the bid is made so that the bidder can see that they have been outbid by the vendor?  Or is some other arrangement in place?  For reserves, the concept is simple enough – if the bid doesn’t make reserve, it is passed in to the vendor.  If vendor bids are permitted and a reserve is in place, and the auction is entirely online, the position may be more complicated to decipher.

Bottle, fill levels and labels

Some clues as to the quality of the wine provenance might be detectable from the appearance of the bottle, the fill level of the wine (the higher the better) and the condition of the label (good is usually good, unless it’s “too good”).  Leaky or raised corks are generally not good.  You can fritter away hours on the internet reading of the glorious endeavours of wine obsessives and businesses in the United States devoted to exactly these types of questions.  Unfortunately, or perhaps even fortunately, I have no bottles of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti or ’82 Margaux to fret about the provenance or precise storage conditions of!

Any comments much appreciated as usual.

Happy Christmas

So, apologies, it turns out there isn’t a second review after all as I have previously reviewed the rather grand ’96 Cos d’Estournel from Saint-Estèphe in Bordeaux back in 2011.  That said, tasting wines such as this a couple of times is not a state of affairs I am particularly worried about!  For reference, you can read the updated review here.

More generally, while I am certain to post many more wine reviews over the Christmas holiday period, I just wanted to wish you a safe and happy Christmas and say a short thank you for reading.  It is much appreciated, particularly the various kind emails and comments received over the course of the year.