I pride myself on getting it right, so I review fewer wines but give them more time – several days usually. I don’t always get it right, of course, no wine reviewer does. There are the vagaries of bottle variation, and how the wine showed on the day as Peter Bourne said to me once when I queried how the Grosset Rieslings didn’t make the 90 point cut in a GTW tasting.
So it goes. A subscriber complained that the 1960 Taltarni Old Vine Block 27 Pyrenees Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 I raved about and gave 96 points to was oxidised / cooked and showed dried porty / stewed aromas. He bought a 6-pack on my recommendation, and is thinking of returning the remaining bottles.
In my defence I said it was a more traditional style, with a stronger tannin grip than usual, and said I thought I mentioned that in my review. It looks like I didn’t. Mea culpa. I should’ve said: you must’ve got a bad bottle and left it at that. The bottle I had was terrific. I’d welcome more feedback.
Kemenys Hidden Label Margaret River Sauvignon Blanc 2017. I can’t find it now but I think I listed this as a great buy in a recent BBW. Then I got a sample and gave it a bad review (84). I’ve been highly critical of wine show judging, and I should stop paying any attention to trophies and other bling. Mea culpa. Still, it’s hard to ignore a list like this:
- Trophy, Best Value White, Sydney Royal Wine Show 2017
- Trophy, Best Sauvignon Blanc, Sydney Royal Wine Show 2017
- Trophy, Best Sauvignon Blanc, Royal Hobart Wine Show 2017
- Top Gold, Royal Perth Wine Show 2017
- Gold, Sydney Royal Wine Show 2017
- Gold, Cowra Wine Show 2017
- Gold, Royal Hobart Wine Show 2017
The wine won trophies and golds in 4 different shows across the country, not one or two. That kind of consistency is rare; in addition I know the maker – Miles from Nowhere – so I took a punt at that ridiculous price. Then I checked a sample over the usual 2-3 days, and soon found the wine falling apart. Therefore my bad score.
The same subscriber said my score for the Dan M’s Langhorne Creek Cabernet Shiraz cleanskin had come down several points. What happened here is that another subscriber had written in and said my score was too generous, so I bought another bottle at Dan M’s, agreed with him and marked the wine down.
Many of you have written and said that my calls are almost always right, and I think that’s as good as it can get in this business. I do get it wrong sometimes, and other times it’s simply a matter of different tastes. That’s why I make no bones about my lack of enthusiasm for blockbuster reds, skinny chardies and tropical savvies.
Keep the brickbats coming now, you hear?
When I came across their fancy Rosé in a survey of Rosés from down under, I had no idea who these two were. So I did some digging and found that Bambi Northwood-Blyth is a model and Dan Single is the designing force behind Ksubi jeans, which tend to sell for close to $200 a pair.
When he was staying in Paris early this year, Dan fell from a third floor balcony of the Hotel d’Amour and broke every bone in his legs between the feet and the spine. Families and friends rushed across to the Paris hospital where Dan was recovering and his bones healing slowly. Details and pictures here.
The next news I found was that Bambi had deleted her Instagram platform, ‘following Dan Single controversy.’ The fashion designer had set up a Go fund me crowdfunding campaign to raise $250,000 to pay for his medical bills and upkeep while he was incapacitated.
Mount Pleasant was James Halliday’s winery of the year in the 2017 Wine Companion. How it got there is a fascinating story that started with a fellow called Maurice O’Shea who had an Irish father and a French mother. In 1932, McWilliam’s bought a half share of O’Shea’s Mount Pleasant vineyard in the lower Hunter, and the remaining share a decade later.
Maurice O’Shea at work – photo credit: Max Dupain
‘We’ve got this cascade of wonderful wines that we haven’t seen since O’Shea,’ James wrote. ‘If you turn the clock back 60 years, you might recognise some of these wines. He’s [Jim Chatto] really brought back the legacy of O’Shea big time.’
It was in the forties and early fifties that Maurice O’Shea made legendary wines for McWilliam’s. He died in 1956, long before most Australians discovered Hunter wine or table wine in general. The McWilliam family made fortified wines in Griffith, and what prompted them to buy into Hunter table wines at that time is one of life’s great mysteries. A friend in the trade tells me that Don McWilliam leant a helping hand to Murray Tyrrell in the fifties, which played a critical role in getting Tyrrells off the ground.
The Mount Pleasant Legacy
Trophies you can’t Fathom and Wines you can’t Buy
The first thing you notice when you check the winners in this year’s comp is that they’re mostly from Saltram (Treasury Wine Estates) and a couple from Jacobs Creek (Pernod Ricard). Wine companies don’t come much bigger than these two.
The second thing you notice is that you can’t buy the trophy winning wines, with one exception. Why do they do this? What is the point of running a comp like this to find our best Cabernet Shiraz blends and coming up with wines that aren’t released? It’s only going to frustrate consumers and reviewers like me.
Wines Made to a Formula
I suspect the Saltram winemakers took a leaf out of Wolfie’s book, worked out the style the judges liked and shaped their wines accordingly. I liked the 2012 Shiraz, which you could buy for just $17 at the time. More recent vintages have been less elegant, some reaching 15% alcohol. They introduced the Shiraz Cabernet in 2013 from memory, and the price is a tick over $20. Then came a certified Pepperjack Shiraz Cabernet at a price a tick below $30.
I’m not sure what the wine is certified for, but these are rich and robust reds with plush fruit and creamy oak, obviously designed to please crowds of big red lovers. Wine show judges fall for these styles as well, that hasn’t changed since the days when Wolf Blass won 3 Jimmy Watson trophies in a row.
Jacob’s Creek took out the trophy for Best Wine over $60 and that for Best Cabernet-Dominant Blend, both for its Expedition Barossa Valley Cabernet Shiraz 2015. The wine is not released yet.
Trophies by the Truckload
Subscribers have asked me how I taste wines.
The process is pretty straightforward:
- I open half a dozen bottles of wine at a time
- I pour some of each wine into a tasting glass
- I taste the whites before they go in the fridge, and after
- I leave the sample wines in the glass for 4 – 5 hours, tasting occasionally (and spitting)
- I drink some of the better wines in the group with dinner
- I repeat the exercise the next evening, and the one after that. I might keep a wine on the bench for another night or two if I’m not sure.
How and Why do Varieties impact on the Price of Wine?
I’ve written about the unpopularity of Aussie Rieslings, and how that has kept the price of Rieslings so modest. Our top-rated Riesling is most likely Jeffrey Grosset’s Polish Hill, which sells for about $50.
By contrast, our top-rated reds sell for close to $1000 a bottle. A list of 2 dozen of our most expensive wines only shows red wines and ports. Why? Because the cheapest red on this list costs more than the most expensive white we make down under.
Good question. Our most expensive whites are made from Chardonnay, which is no cheaper to produce than Cabernet or Shiraz. Same goes for making the wine with extended lees contact & stirring plus aging in quality new oak. Like our best reds, our best Chardonnays are held back for a few years at the winery. There’s little difference in the cost of production, so why do our best chardies top out at $100? It’s not like that in France where Montrachet is up there with La Tache.
Image Source: Decanter
How the Chardonnay Stars Line Up
Wine Show Results are getting more absurd – even the judges say so
Huon Hooke wrote a post a few weeks ago headed Wine show rivers of gold, in which he deplored the fact that mediocre wines wines win trophies and gold medals at wine shows. Huon is a wine judge of long standing and has chaired many wine shows across Australia.
He asks how wines like Jacob’s Creek Classic Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 won a gold medal and a trophy at the Langhorne Creek Wine Show, and says: ‘I don’t question the awards on the grounds that they are cheap wines, and cheap wines should know their place. I question the awards because of the way they taste. They’re no more than bronze-medal wines, in my opinion.’
My review of the same wine mentions the trophy and adds: ‘Any trophy is ridiculous for what is a cheap commercial wine of no great pretensions. It’s drinkable, it has no rough edges, it vaguely tastes like Cabernet. 86 points.’
It’s a numbers game
As long as I can remember, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Pinot Noir. In the eighties, I spent a small fortune on Burgundies – which are made from Pinot Noir – that more often than not caused consternation rather than elation. I was learning, reading the rave reviews from mostly English wine writers, and buying their recommendations to train my palate. I went to tastings as well.
Burgundy was expensive even then, made more so by the discovery that 2 out of three Burgundies I bought were duds. To make sure of getting one good Burgundy, you have buy 3, and that’s still true today. As Aussie and NZ Pinots came of age, I switched to these wines but found that the same rules applied: two out of three Pinots were depressing. The upside was that they didn’t cost an arm and a leg.
Are We There Yet?
This week, I joined a Gourmet Traveller Wine tasting of Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noirs from the great vintage 2015, set up by my old friend Peter Bourne at Mojo in Waterloo. I stopped scoring the wines halfway through the tasting because my scores pretty much agreed with those of the GTW panel. That’s a pretty rare event, but I wasn’t here to pick great deals for BWU$20 since the top wines were between $60 and $100 (The $35 Baillieu and the $40 Myrtaceae are unprocurable).