Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir – As Good as it Gets?


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.

Pinot Blog 1

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).

I was here to check my reference points, because you can easily lose the plot when you taste nothing but sub $20 Pinot Noirs. Several things stood out in this tasting:

  • It was the most consistent range of Aussie Pinots I’ve ever seen
  • The overall quality was good to very good
  • The style was consistent but showed subtle differences that reflected different areas on the peninsula
  • Sadly there were hardly any wines that I got really excited about.

If the last statement is a touch blunt, it’s because none of these wines showed enough Burgundian character to my mind. Most of the wines here are very well made, show lovely fruit in the cherry / raspberry spectrum and wrap it in a sleek envelope. For this kind of money, I expected to see more sappy, earthy and meaty characters, more notes of forest floor, mushrooms and dank leaves. Will they develop with more age? I doubt it; I suspect all the wines here are just a bit too clean.

Pinot Blog 2

The Bottom Line

Yes, we’re making quality Pinot Noirs on the Mornington Peninsula, the Yarra Valley and Tasmania. The good ones tend to cost upwards of $50. That’s the state of play in 2017. There are some Pinot Noirs in or close to our sweet spot, which I’ll list below in case you’re all excited about Pinot by now but don’t want to spend big bucks.

Hidden Label Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2015 – $13 at Kemenys. This is de Bortoli Yarra Valley Pinot Noir, and it reflects the great vintage they had in 2015. There’s a bit more meat on the bones of this Pinot than usual, but it makes all the right noises. 94 points.

Hidden Label Wairarapa Pinot Noir 2015 – $14 at Kemenys. Fruit-driven Pinot Noir that hits all the right notes. Not complex but full of charm. Crowd Pleaser. 93 points.

Ninth Island Pinot Noir 2015 – $16 at Kemenys. Good drinking at this price; elegant Tassie style, lots of Pinot finesse, lovely sweet fruit and good length. 92 points.

Hoddles Creek Estate Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2016 – $20 at Summer Hill Wine, or $21 at MyCellars where the freight is free for subscribers (promo code BWU20). Succulent, soft as a kitten, pure velvet.  I can’t imagine anyone not loving this Pinot, and I can’t imagine how Franco d’Anna turns out a wine like this for $20. 95 points.

Stonier Pinot Noir 2016 – $24 at Vintage Cellars. Best price I can find right now; at least we have one Pinot from Mornington Peninsula in the line-up. Haven’t tried the 2016. Huon Hooke scores it 93 points and says:Medium to full red colour with a purple tint. The bouquet is meaty, charcuterie-like, spicy and complex. More than simple primary fruit. There is an abundance of soft, sweetly ripe, full-flavoured pinosity on palate. A delicious, almost decadent pinot. Gorgeous flavour and pleasing balance. Amazing value at the price.’

Helen’s Hill Estate Long Walk Pinot Noir 2015 – $25 at Kemenys. Check the reviews at the link. I haven’t tried this wine but even the cheaper Ingham’s Road is a decent Pinot, and Scott McCarthy makes seriously underrated wines at this Yarra Valley boutique.

Bream Creek Pinot Noir 2012 – $30 at Kemenys. Winner of many gongs and rave reviews. I found some left at Kemenys so grab some if you missed out. A few subscribers have written saying that this is the best Pinot Noir they’ve ever tasted.


The View from the Customer’s Side


Subscriber John S. sends me reviews from time to time, mostly of imported wines or wines made from exotic varieties. I appreciate his contributions and like his plain, succinct way with words, so I thought I’d share some of his observations with you.

First Foot Forward PN 2015 – $20 at Cloudwine. Bought a six pack. Good value for $20. Odd stalky texture. Mattinson’s implication that it would pass for a $50 job is nonsense. Probably he means $50 jobs are just overpriced $20 jobs. Or maybe he has caught Halliday’s virus: lie, divide by two, add the square root of 625 and lie again.


Wairarapa Pinot Noir 2015 ex Kemenys. Astonishing value [$14]. Enjoying it. (Kemenys still have some of this bargain Pinot).

Devil’s Ridge Sauvignon Blanc Semillon blend 2016 – $9 at Kemenys. Best value white I’ve had for years. Better than smelly jobs at twice the price. Very pristine.


Corker’s Crossing Shiraz 2014. (I think we mean Chalkers). Bought a six pack. Every time I open a fresh bottle I don’t like it. Better on the third day. Jesus wine (on the cross, he refused the first cup but drank the second?).

Yeah, ok. Also tried your Woodlands Chardonnay, your wedding wine. Hard to come by, like weddings these days. Everyone shacks up instead. Good wine of course but I had a French Chardonnay from Cloudwine a few years back that was better for the price. By that criterion I would have married a French woman from Languedoc. As it is I married a Suisse-Romande from Auvernier which does a nice PN Rose.

Dalla Mia Finestra 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Yarra Valley – Muted nose, no obvious expression of the variety. Palate was acidic, lean, mean and steely. I’ve had cheap Cabernet from Entre-Deux-Mer, Languedoc and Chile that was superior to this. Gary Welch walshed on his duty to be objective and announced that this folly reminds him of Cabernet Franc. Well, he should be dunked head First in a vat of Airlie Bank Cabernet Franc fruit bomb to teach him what that variety tastes like. We hoisted the bottle after two glasses. That’s $23.00 wasted.

Finished off the Boccaluppo Sangiovese 2015 – $22 at Cloudwine. Leather notes coming to the fore. Palate more complex than I thought. This is good wine. You should try a bottle. I liked the 2014 a lot and still have some. The 2015 is medium red with cherry, hints of maraschino flavours. The nose was mute on opening but could open up later. It’s a lovely medium to light very clean wine that’s a pleasure to drink. You can drink it now as a slightly simple fruit bomb or let it age. Only $22.00 from Cloudwine, a fair price to pay.

Moppity Reserve Tempranillo 2014 $20 at Cloudwine.

Dense red colour, muted nose, soft, plummy, rounded palate with neatly judged tannins and acidity. Rather moreish. Better on the second day when fruit qualities start to emerge. Quite good wine but not as interesting as the Spanish jobs. Won a couple of trophies. I don’t own judges’ stilts so I say a silver medal to the winemaker for being a very good boy.

La Prova Rosso 2014 from A Different Drop. A delectable blend of Lagrein, Sangiovese and Nero D’Avola. Ridiculous value at only $20. They’re selling the 2015 now, still for $20.

Hot weather is bad for shipping wine. Different Drop thoughtfully had my carton shipped overnight by Fastway to beat the coming heat wave. That’s good customer relations. The carrier to avoid is Australia Post. They take a week and think nothing of putting the carton over the engine under the floor of the van. I received wine from them at 35 degrees, hotter than the ambient temperature on the patio. Delicate PN Rose in the carton suffered.

via Kim

Wine, Walking and Wonder Drugs


3 Easy Ways to Strengthen Your Heart and Add Years to Your Life

Let’s start with the first Good News: Alcohol is Good for the Heart

Dr Malcolm Kendrick is a Scottish physician who has written extensively about heart disease and its causes. In a recent post, he summed up the results of a recent British Medical Journal study this way:

Increased risk of fatal CVD vs. moderate drinking

  • Non-drinker = 1.32 (32% increased risk)
  • Former drinker = 1.44 (44% increased risk)

Increase risk of all-cause mortality vs. moderate drinking

  • Non-drinker = 1.24 (24% increased risk)
  • Former drinker = 1.38 (38% increased risk)

Kendrick’s conclusion? ‘I recommended that, from a cardiovascular health point of view, those who do not drink alcohol should start.’

More Good News: Walking Beats Drugs by a Mile


Just put this question into your browser: ‘regular exercise adds 3-5 years to your life’, and you’ll find lots of good news stories in the media. This one is from the National Cancer Institute in the USA: ‘NIH study finds leisure-time physical activity extends life expectancy as much as 4.5 years.’

Some heart drugs save lives and, as soon as they do, public health experts push doctors to prescribe them for heart disease prevention. Drug companies love this because the market for prevention is many times bigger than the market for saving lives. Statins are the most recent example, touted as miracle drugs that everybody benefits from.

Do Statins Extend Life Expectancy?

The BMJ published a systematic literature review in order to determine the average postponement of death in statin trials, based on the results of 6 studies for primary prevention and 5 for secondary prevention with a follow-up between 2.0 and 6 years. The outcome? ‘The median postponement of death for primary and secondary prevention trials was 3.2 and 4.1 days, respectively.’ Yes, days not years.

The researchers’ conclusions: ‘Statin treatment results in a surprisingly small average gain in overall survival within the trials’ running time. For patients whose life expectancy is limited or who have adverse effects of treatment, withholding statin therapy should be considered.’ Dr Kendrick interprets these and other results in more detail HERE, but it’s clear that walking is a more effective option that costs less and has no bad side effects.

Even More Good News: You can Stop Worrying about HDL and LDL

And about cholesterol, it turns out. A New York Times article headed Experts Reshape Treatment Guide for Cholesterol quotes cardiologists who formulate treatment guidelines in the USA. Dr. Neil J. Stone, a professor of preventive cardiology, said his group ‘could not come up with solid evidence for targets [for meeting HDL and LDL].’

Dr Steven Nissen is the chief of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic, the leading heart clinic in the USA. He said: ‘The science was never there for the LDL targets. Past committees made them up out of thin air.’ No, I didn’t make that quote up – check the link above. The NYT article adds that the Department of Veterans Affairs, the largest integrated health care system in America, came to the same conclusion and dropped its LDL targets a year before.

Yet more Good News: You can Stop worrying about saturated Fats

I wrote a long post about the cholesterol myth a few years ago, so it’s good to see leading cardiologists finally coming around to conclusions that’ve been obvious for many years: the French Paradox is not a paradox at all: the French have half the rate of heart disease as Americans, Brits and Aussies do, and the people in the Perigord region in south-western France have half the rate of heart disease as France as a whole. They also have a diet loaded with saturated fats.

How did saturated fats get such a bad rap for so many years? I have no idea. A recent meta-analysis of 80 studies and 27 trials with 500,000 subjects found no concrete evidence linking consumption of saturated fats to increased risk for heart disease. The study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, and was funded by the British Heart Foundation. Read the short story HERE.

The Bad News: AHA Doubles the Target Population for Statins

The American Heart Association changed its treatment guidelines late in 2013, and effectively doubled the target market for statins. They also changed the way they were to be prescribed. As Dr Kendrick says, the question is no longer: should you take statin drugs but: when should you start taking them? More here: US heart panel recommends statins for a third of US adults. Remember that drug companies in the USA are allowed to advertise on TV.


The AHA’s new guidelines prompted two cardiologists to write an op-ed piece in the New York Times under the heading Don’t Give More Patients Statins. Why the plea? ‘This announcement is not a result of a sudden epidemic of heart disease,’ say Drs Abramson and Redberg, ‘nor is it based on new data showing the benefits of lower cholesterol. Instead, it is a consequence of simply expanding the definition of who should take the drugs — a decision that will benefit the pharmaceutical industry more than anyone else.’

Donald Trump is Right: the Media tells Big Lies

Fast-forward to March 2017, and a BBC headline screams, ‘Huge advance’ in fighting world’s biggest killer.’ The piece goes on to say: ‘An innovative new drug can prevent heart attacks and strokes by cutting bad cholesterol to unprecedented levels, say doctors. The results of the large international trial means the drug could soon be used by millions … Bad cholesterol is the villain in the heart world.’

Yes, reporters are still sprouting this nonsense, and cardiologists are still trying to prevent heart disease by reducing LDL cholesterol, and I bet your local doctor is still prescribing statins even if the gloss has come off them. That’s why we have a new, better, shinier drug: evolocumab, also known as Repatha or a PCSK9- inhibitor. PCSK9 is a regulatory protein which binds to LDL receptors, and can limit the ability of the liver to remove LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream. PCSK9 inhibitors improve the liver’s ability to remove LDL cholesterol and reduce LDL blood levels.

Show me the Data

‘There was a reported reduction in non-fatal heart attacks and stroke,’ says Dr Kendrick in his analysis of the study, ‘and less need for revascularization procedures e.g. PCI/stents.’ Then we come to the downside:

  • The total number of deaths from cardiovascular disease in the Repatha group was 251
  • The total number of deaths from cardiovascular disease in the placebo group was 240
  • The total number of, overall, deaths in the Repatha group was 444
  • The total number of, overall, deaths in the placebo group was 426.

There are more issues: The full data are not yet published, and the study was terminated at 2.2 years when it should’ve run for 4. This is standard Operating Procedure for drug-company-sponsored trials, with the official line trotted out that the trial was stopped early to make the drug’s enormous benefits available to more people sooner. Kendrick asks: ‘Were the mortality curves heading rapidly in the wrong direction?’

Huge Advance or Colossal Failure?

Just a few months before the BBC’s good news headline, we saw a different one in at ‘Pfizer Ends Development Of Its PCSK9 Inhibitor –Immune issues and diminishing efficacy doomed the new drug. Pfizer announced on Tuesday that it was discontinuing development of bococizumab, its cholesterol-lowering PCSK9 inhibitor under development.’


It’s almost unheard of for a major drug company to pull the plug on a new drug projected to bring in a billion dollars in revenue, and to halt two ongoing studies: the 17,000 subject SPIRE 1 trial and the 10,000 subject SPIRE 2 trial. Bloomberg gives us more insight saying Pfizer’s data ‘showed a “substantial” lessening of the drug’s impact on patients’ LDL cholesterol at one year.’ That’s a big clue to the reason the Repatha study was cut short.

In Australia, Repatha costs up to $900 a month for fortnightly injections, and is prescribed to people who can’t tolerate statins. Drug maker Amgen has applied for the PBS to pay the high ticket price (you and me, in other words).The drug’s current approval is restricted to patients with an inherited form of high cholesterol and those with a previous diagnosis of heart attack, stroke or angina. History shows that these restrictions will be removed over time, as drug company-sponsored trials show the drug’s benefits for an ever broader population.

Bad Cholesterol, Bad Science or Bad Advice?

So how come drug makers are still focused on lowering cholesterol, given that there’s no evidence that lowering cholesterol lowers the risk of heart disease? And how come government medical advisors still approve these drugs, given that no trials have yet shown that they prolong the lives of people at risk of heart disease? You thought medical research was based on science, right?

Think again: Dr Daniel J. Rader, one of the cardiologists cited in the New York Times article, above said that many cardiologists will continue to focus on the old LDL target because ‘they are used to it and believe in it.’ Dr Steven Nissen at the Cleveland Clinic said he thought ‘I suspect it will take years for doctors to change their practices.’ Yes, doctors are creatures of habit like the rest of us, and most don’t read drug studies because they get their info from drug company reps.

The Bottom Line

Unless you have a diagnosed heart condition, the obvious thing to do is to go for a walk every day, in the sunshine, and drink a glass or two of red wine with your lunch or dinner. We talked about the benefits of exercise above, and recently Vitamin D deficiency has turned out to be a major risk factor for heart failure, while the antioxidants in red wine improve cardiovascular function. Easy enough?


Culinary Catastrophes


They’re Common in Fancy Restaurants, usually on special occasions

‘The canapé we are instructed to eat first is a transparent ball on a spoon,’ Jay Rayner writes in a Guardian restaurant review. ’It looks like a Barbie-sized silicone breast implant, and is a “spherification”, a gel globe using a technique perfected by Ferran Adriàat El Bulli about 20 years ago. This one pops in our mouth to release stale air with a tinge of ginger. My companion winces. “It’s like eating a condom that’s been left lying about in a dusty greengrocer’s,” she says.’

The restaurant? Le Cinq, Paris. The bill? About $1000 for two.

Le CinqThe scene of the crime: Le Cinq at George V Hotel. Photograph: Grégoire Gardette

You’ve done it: booked a big name restaurant for a special occasion, a wedding anniversary or a special birthday or a night out with old friends from overseas. Your expectations are high, you’re in great spirits, you want this to be special and you’re willing to pay for the privilege.

You get there and find that your table is near the front door and catches the cold autumn draft every time someone enter or leaves. Your waiter hands out menus the size of phone books, and you’ve never heard of a single wine on the long list the sommelier hands you. Your first choice of wine raises a resigned eyebrow. You’re the host, and the others expect you to navigate these dangerous waters with competence. You’re terrified.

High Stakes Gambling

I remember the experience friends of mine had at Tetsuyas in the early days at Rozelle, when the venue was humble and the prices anything but, and the waiting list was weeks long. Not quite halfway through their dinner, an enormous row erupted in the kitchen: top of the voice shouting, meat cleavers flying and more. After that, dinner took a turn for the worse. No apology or discount was offered, and my friends later found out that the fracas was the great chef’s partner accusing him of having a bit on the side.

Other friends of mine decided to eat at the best restaurants in France and Spain, after they’d retired. 3 hats’, 3 Michelin stars, nothing but the best, trip of a lifetime for two couples. Every meal was around $1000 for 2, and that was a decade ago or more. The best outcome was that the restaurant met their expectations, the worst (and more common) was utter disappointment.

It’s not about the Food

I gave up fancy restaurants decades ago, when I worked out that they had a lot in common with bottles of Grange and expensive Swiss watches. People buy Grange to impress their friends, not because they intend to drink the wine. People buy fancy watches for the same reason, and not to tell the time. People go to fancy restaurants so they can drop names and boast of their experience.

OK, so they do produce interesting food to match the weird décor. It’s a fashion business though: years ago, the protein was served in the shape of small cylinders, then the meals were tiny morsels served on huge white plates decorated with splashes of colourful sauces, then foam was everywhere, and now the fashion is to blindfold the chef and get him to throw a handful of colourful bits and pieces on a wooden platter.

It’s not about Service either

Long ago, I learned how to cook decent food and buy good wine to go with it, but occasionally friends talk me into joining them for a meal at a fancy new restaurant. The last time an obsequious English waiter attended to our needs. He spoke to us in the third person: would Sir like sautéed nightingale fetlocks in dumpling gravy, or would he prefer braised briskets of corn-fed partridge?

My friend Jeffrey is a Francophile and Burgundophile, and has travelled widely in that great country. He sent me an email, saying he was not surprised by the Guardian lampooning the pomposity of the food that comes out of some of these “gold taps” Grand Hotel restaurants (anywhere in the world) and their overly pretentious service.

‘The food scene needs pricking like this to bring a sense of reality back, based on a perspective of common sense. We’ve bought ourselves experiences (staying) in many Grand Hotels (and dining in their restaurants) in Paris over the years.  I just wanted to understand, see what all the fuss is about.

I can say, more than 50% of their restaurants need to be brought down a few ‘ego’ notches, back to creating food that is both impressive (in presentation and in flavours) and functional in satisfying appetites.

Often their wine lists are quite reasonably priced , in comparison to our local restaurant prices, and offering bottles that have been aged to perfection (rather than bottled just last month/ last year).’

I’ve Looked at Food from Both Sides Now

Service is something we simply do not understand in this country, says Jeffrey. ‘Even in our finest restaurants the wait staff greet you, run around you like a Labrador pup in excessive and intrusive friendliness.  The French have decisive attentiveness, seamless and unnoticed table service down to a fine art … rarely intrusive and mostly discreet, reading their table guests’ attitudes with great skill. This is the way they cook too. Their hardest to please diners are the English-Oafs that whine and complain because they have fixed ideas and bog-boring food likes that are taken out of their ‘comfy’ zones by anything more sophisticated than their beloved, fat-oozing Fish & Chips.  This Guardian critic sounds like one.

So, to read this critique in the Guardian filled me with knowing smirks, knowing both sides of this probable reality. Excessive, exaggerated and pompous grandeur from the hotel restaurant, and the propensity to revert into the whinging Pommy when faced with something they don’t like.’


A Tribute to Wine Wankers from Rick Burge


I’ve written about this subject before, several times

Today I received a mailer from a friend who is on the Burge Family mailing list, and it’s from Rick Burge, and it’s funny and sad, and really engaging, so I thought I’d share it with you. Btw, the wine in question is just $10 a bottle  . Here’s from Rick:


Dear Wine-lover,

Every so often a wine comes along that can be best described as a ‘conversation-stopper’ – a wine to stop even the most ardent wine-wanker in his/her tracks. We believe this to be one of those wines!

It all started late last century – 1998 to be precise – when we released the first of two wines labelled simply ‘A Nice Red.’

It was a quality red to take the mickey out of pretentious wine commentary of the period. We released another ‘Nice Red’ from the 2000 vintage, which even rated a favourable mention from James Halliday.

Fast forward to 2010, when we decided to reprise the label to counteract the increased wine-wankery that had become ubiquitous on wine labels and in media releases in those years. We decided to pull out all stops, on both front and back labels, to highlight the hyperbole and specious wine terminology that was creeping into everyday use. So we decided to create a super-ultra-mega-uber red vintaged from equal quantities of Shiraz, Syrah and Shyrazz (a Rutherglen synonym for this variety!)  I felt we had to make a statement on the front label initially so we used every cliched brand-name and coupled with them an imaginary sub-district – Mangalanga – from the West Warpoo region in the Southern Barossa. (Warpoo, by the way, is a legitimate site, albeit a railway siding about 3kms west of Lyndoch!) The wine itself was a 2010 Shiraz, bottled (after maturation in French oak barriques) and labelled in late 2012, and to be launched soon after. We were on a roll ….. what could go wrong?

Then, in mid 2013, I was diagnosed with cancer.

You don’t lose your sense of humour with a cancer diagnosis, however it does take a hammering and changes somewhat … tending towards dark, even black humour, but you need someone in the same boat to share it with!

Previously, this project seemed so funny, hilarious even. Now I had other things to focus on.

My main priority was to see the 2012 wines safely bottled. Very good wines from a fabulous year, right across the range. During this time surgery occurred, to be followed by 40 days straight of radiation therapy. Some were bottled before, some after, but I got them bottled;  all have received most favourable reviews.

Nearly four years on, I’m still here … and so is this wine!

I want to sell it, all of it, and I promise I won’t take the mickey out of wine-wankers ever again!

It’s now five years in bottle and shows complexity and varietal development, all three clones of it, and guaranteed to be a conversation stopper at any barbecue, dinner party or other vinous social functions where there’s a risk of gratuitous wine-wankery.

For a limited time we’re offering reduced freight rates (see order form attached) and as usual, reduced prices on multiple dozen purchases.

And whereas we donated $4000 to the Southern Barossa Men’s Shed, I’ve made a promise to myself to put aside some funds from this sale to take my special mate Bronnie (over 40 years of putting up with me), to her favourite seaside spot after vintage, because partners certainly put up with a lot with this insidious medical challenge.

I look forward to hearing back from you.

Rick B.

Freedom of Speech and Political Correctness


In response to last week’s mailer, I received an email from a subscriber that said

‘O Enlightened One,

We bow before your moral superiority. I was under the impression I subscribed to a wine newsletter.  Apparently now you feel the need to inflict us with your political viewpoint? I have to say that I am very offended though – the absence of any Aboriginal or Muslim winemakers in the list is reprehensible. Please have this brought to the attention of the important people and hopefully it can be addressed before next year’s list.

Yours Sincerely,

Your proud local Racist Islamophobe.

I thought it was a joke, and responded: I hadn’t thought of Aboriginal or Muslim winemakers … bugger!


My apologies

Have a good weekend

It wasn’t a joke, our Islamophobe subscriber emailed back, and added:, ‘Why not publish my response and have a vote as to whether your politics belongs in the newsletter?’


The two offending paragraphs 

When you publish a weekly mailer, you tend to look for a current event you can link to or respond to. That’s why I wrote about women winemakers and the ABC. In the process, I had a go at the Sydney Telegraph which I regard as bottom-of-the-gutter press, and at Peta Credlin who has had more than enough words written about her so I won’t add any more.

‘Wednesday was International Women’s Day, and the male chauvinists at the Daily Telegraph blasted the ABC for running with all female staff. The predictable Tele quoted the even more predictable Peta Credlin who said: ‘This is nothing more than a token gesture by the ultimate organisation of tokenism, the ABC.’ Mamma Mia thought it was a great idea, and I enjoyed discovering a host of female Aussie composers on ABC FM.

‘On the same day, I received an email from Dan Murphy’s that featured 11 Amazing Women in the Australian drinks business. They must’ve been smarting from my post last year headed Australia’s Top Winemakers are Men - No Women among Dan Murphy’s list of local heroes.’

I dare you!

While I was thinking about what might have offended this subscriber, and waited to see if others would complain or unsubscribe (neither happened), Islamophobe wrote another email, which said:

‘I dare you Kim. Along with my response you could pose the question whether the readership would prefer a wine newsletter without the writer’s personal political viewpoint ie politics free.  Personally I applaud the recipes but let us stick to food and wine please. There followed a lengthy rant about Muslims and the ABC’s reporting, which I won’t repeat – I’m sure you know the style.

I emailed back saying, ‘I won’t respond to your last email since I don’t understand what provoked the hostility in it … Just to be clear: I will write what I like in my newsletter and on my website.’

The next email asked: ‘What happened to the democratic principle? Are the readership not going to get a say in whether you use the newsletter as a platform for your personal political views (tongue in cheek or not)? We already have to put up with leftard propaganda from the ABC and SBS, surely not the wine newsletter as well? Maybe you are part of the north shore cultural elite who know what’s best and therefore it’s ok?’


There was more to come: ‘I think it is quite wrong for you to use the wine newsletter to promote your personal political views when I (and I assume everyone else) signed up to receive a wine newsletter, not a political newsletter.  As I implied before the content of the ABC and SBS which the taxpayer is funding, is a national disgrace because of clear bias and promotes division. 

‘All are now encouraged to think of themselves primarily as a minority identity, women, LGBT, aboriginal, muslim, disabled, white etc rather than as Australians first and foremost. This is a profound change to Australian society, when I grew up here we were taught to be colourblind, ie all to be treated as equal, as Morgan Freeman points out so well.

‘I hope you don’t think that because I am the only person who has complained this justifies your position???? You should publish any readers comments in the interests of freedom of speech.’

2013-09-11_071039Freedom and Respect

I’m happy to publish any subscriber’s opinions, because I’m with Voltaire who said: ‘I Disapprove of What You Say, But I Will Defend to the Death Your Right to Say It.’ So I ask you, dear subscriber, how come you’re an Islamophobe when you were taught to be colourblind, ie all to be treated as equal?

I can only add that the world sure wasn’t like that when Morgan Freedman grew up, and it wasn’t like that when I worked in the Northern Territory and North Queensland as a young migrant in 1966. The indigenous people were called Abbos or blackfellas, they were despised as dumb, lazy, useless and untrustworthy, and they were kept behind the high wire of reservations. If anything, racism has grown worse in Australia, or perhaps the racist minority has become more vocal.

I wrote a post a while ago headed What if our Politicians were Wines? It was meant to be a fun poke at our pollies, and I gave both sides of politics a fair serve I thought. My best friend, who shares our Islamophobe’s loathing for muslims and the ABC, had a go at me about it because he didn’t like some of the things I wrote. We’re still friends, in fact we’ve been best friends for 50 years. We respect each other, we’ve shared a lot of wine, and we have a lot of laughs together.

If any of you feel the way this subscriber does – that I use my wine newsletter to promote my personal political views – and object to that, please let me know via


Max’s Collection & Tribute Range – Why is Penfolds Trashing a Great Australian’s Name for a Fistful of Dollars?


Will the Barbarians stop at nothing?

March 2017 Update

Max's CollectionI’m almost afraid to look these days, in case Max’s collection has grown more garish. Sadly, it has. The range has grown more numerous as well. The wines must be a hit with the punters, perhaps because they leap out from the shelves with their awful packaging. I can’t help wondering how Max Schubert would feel about having his name stuck on these ghastly bottles of ordinary reds. I reckon he’d turn over in his grave and avert his eyes. Peter Gago, hang your head in shame.

Yes, the reds are ordinary. I haven’t tasted them because I refuse to touch these offensive wares or pay money for them, but the guys at Winestate have reviewed a few of them. Their scores are in the high 80s, and this is for $35 reds from Penfolds. I can’t find any other reviews of these wines, which is curious for Penfolds wines with national distribution.

Only the lifestyle magazines write about these wines these days, Executive Style and heygents, magazines where advertorial is hard to tell from infomercial. I  suspect Penfolds stopped sending these wines out to serious reviewers because they’re too embarrassed.

Max's Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year Edition

Max’s range is not about wine after all, it’s about using a great man’s name to flog cheap grog in fancy clothing to the masses who think they’re getting something special. It’s a cynical exercise.  The exercise in bad taste is made more cynical by adding a Shiraz called The Promise to the range. Yes, it’s obvious isn’t it? Flog it to the Chinese: they think they’re getting something special, and they don’t mind the in-your-face package. Penfolds has even provided Chinese New Year Tasting Notes. 2017-02-23_055309

I can only repeat the question I asked last time: Why doesn’t Penfolds make a Promise to Max? To let him rest in Peace with Dignity.


Just when you think it couldn’t, the story gets worse

March 2016

Penfolds keeps adding more wines to ‘Max’s Collection‘. Cheap wines by Penfolds standards, $35 wines. Adding insult to injury. Now they’ve even engaged an artist to give us a picture of the young Max. How come Max looks like a young Sean Connery? When will they stop insulting one of our greatest winemakers?

Max's Tribute Range

Max Schubert was a true pioneer, and he wasn’t afraid to back his own ideas. He did more for Penfolds and Australian wine than most people will ever know. More here: Max Schubert, Ray Beckwith and the Making of Penfolds.

Max's Promise - Chinese New Year editionMax was born in 2015 and died in 1994. His wife Thellie died just last year – July 2015. With her no longer able to protest, someone at Treasury Wine Estates decided this was a good time to squeeze more profits out of a man Penfolds had treated so shabbily when he was alive.

In February, Penfolds added a new Max’s The Promise Shiraz 2014 to the Max’s range, which sells for $50. ‘A compelling Shiraz gifting offer,’ says Peter Gago, Penfolds chief winemaker. The insults to the great man continue, say I. Look at the gift package and ask yourselves: what would Max say to that? Hell, it’s the Chinese New Year Edition, a brazen grab by Penfolds for a dragon’s share of the celebrations.

Why doesn’t this outfit make a Promise to Max? To let him rest in Peace with Dignity.

More >>


What to look for: Meaning, Consistency and Value


The reviewers we respect the most down under are #RealReviews (Huon Hooke / Bob Campbell) and Messrs Mattinson, Walsh and Bennie at the Winefront. The diagram below is Huon Hooke’s, and it’s pretty much the same system we use at Best Wines Under $20.


The Winefront uses a similar system, but the stars are not aligned the same way

97 – 100 ****** Exceptional
94 – 96 ***** Gold Outstanding
91 – 93 **** Silver Excellent
88 – 90 *** Bronze Good
85 – 87 ** Average

The American, English and European systems tend to go down to 80 points, as the Wine Spectator’s 100 point scale shows

  • 95-100 Classic: a great wine
  • 90-94 Outstanding: a wine of superior character and style
  • 85-89 Very good: a wine with special qualities
  • 80-84 Good: a solid, well-made wine


That means that you have to recalibrate the point scores from overseas reviewers, since they’re generally lower than ours. However, at the top end you’ll rarely see a 100 point score from a reviewer down under, while Robert Parker has scored some 500 wines at 100 points in recent years. Parker even claims that not giving a 100 points to great wines is irresponsible.

Knowing a reviewers scoring system is one thing, knowing how it’s applied is another. Here it helps to know the preferences of the reviewers, and their likes and dislikes. Parker is a case in point: he loves rich, ripe, alcoholic reds regardless whether they come from McLaren Vale or the Medoc. Huon Hooke doesn’t mind some grapefruit in his Chardonnays, I do. I don’t like huge reds, and I’m not that fond of Shiraz. I try to compensate for this bias in my reviews, or remind readers of it,


I find the RealReview and the Winefront are the most consistent. By that I mean that the reviewers know what they’re doing, that their assessments and point scores are accurate, and that they focus on the wine in front of them. Let me explain the last comment: big name reviewers like Parker and Halliday front large commercial operations that make a lot of money. The money comes from wine companies and retailers paying for the right to republish their reviews and their point scores.

That explains the inflated scores from those reviewers, whose real constituents are no longer wine drinkers but wine companies who like high scores because they help to shift their wines. Not sure about Parker, but Halliday’s scores are generally 3-5 points higher than the RealReview’s and the Winefront’s.

We have a similar phenomenon at the other end of the scale: The Key Report. The scores Tony gives to most of the ALDI wines are incomprehensible. I get the same samples from ALDI, and I scored several of these in the low nineties, but the vast majority are simply good value quaffers in the 85 to 89 point range. I have no idea how or why Tony comes up with his inflated scores.


We’re the only review site with a sharp focus on the quality / price ratio of wines. So here’s our value scale at BWU$20:

$6 – $10 87 – 90
$11 – $15 90 – 93
$16 – $20 94 – 96
$21 – $25 96 – 98
$26 – $30 98 – 100

The obvious bargains are: $10 wines that score 90 points, $15 wines that score 93, $20 wines that score 96 and so on. We could add $7 wines that score 88 points, $12 wines that score 91, $17 wines that score 94, and $22 wines that score 96.

Hope that helps


Every Wine Reviewer has Blind Spots


The trick is knowing them, and confronting them

When it comes to tasting and reviewing wine, we all have blind spots. So says Matt Kramer at the Wine Spectator, and adds: ‘I frequently see one such blind spot among fanciers of Cabernet Sauvignon who just can’t wrap their heads, and thus their palates, around the particular beauty of Pinot Noir. Devoted to Pinot Noir as I am, I can’t see how they could possibly miss it. But they do.’

Some of my wine friends have accused me of having a blind spot with Hunter Semillon, or with Shiraz. I’m not so sure they’re blind spots, which make you miss important things; I think it’s more about the likes and dislikes we all have, and the prejudices we have about wines or wine styles.


Right or wrong, we all have our Ideas

Most of us have collected a set of reference points about wine styles over the years. For example, I have a clear idea of what I look for in an Aussie Rieslings or in a Cabernet Merlot, but another reviewer will have a different idea, because we’ve all gone to different schools and travelled different roads to learn about wine.

‘I increasingly meet fanciers of California Pinot Noir,’ says Kramer, ‘especially those wines with lush, intense fruit, actively rejecting red Burgundies as being too thin, too light and too acidic. Talk about a blind spot.’ I’d say that we’re really talking about preferences here: many of us love the lush, ripe Pinots that are made in the new world, from Oregon to Otago, and have trouble with Burgundies that can come across as mean and anaemic by comparison.

Semillon and Shiraz, our workhorse grapes

Yes, almost all of our table wines were made from these two varieties until the 1970s, from the Hunter River to the Swan Valley. Then the ‘noble’ Cabernet Sauvignon pushed Shiraz off the stage for a while, and Chardonnay became the champion white.


My blind spot about Shiraz comes down to a dislike of the busty, alcoholic Barossa fruit bombs that are all the rage. I have a preference for the more elegant, peppery, spicy cool climate styles. My blind spot with Hunter Semillon has more angles to it, as I explained to a good friend just this week:

  1. I haven’t tasted any Hunter Semillons in years that reached the sublime heights of the ones Karl Stockhausen’s made for Lindeman’s in the 60s
  2. I’ve stopped buying good Hunter Semillons such as Tyrrells Vat 1 because they’re too expensive
  3. I’ve stopped buying young Hunter Semillons because they take 20 years to mature, and I’m not sure I’ll be around when and if they do.

The Power of Education

I reckon the great Hunter Semillons are flukes that emerge with great irregularity from a wine region that has little going for it apart from its proximity to Sydney. Wine men like Len Evans have educated thousands of eager young wine lovers to the virtues of Hunter Semillon, to the extent that they’ve developed a blind spot that makes them think any unripe, green and ugly young Hunter Semillon duckling will turn into an elegant swan given enough time. Most of them don’t. Now I’m expressing and opinion, not a preference.

Kramer says, ‘I struggle with Sherry as I simply don’t care for oxidized wines. Yet obviously oxidation is part of the very particularity and beauty of Sherry. It’s one of my biggest blind spots, I know.’ I suspect Matt missed out on that particular lesson, but he knows that and has no illusions about it. That’s the key.

Into the Unknown

Geogian wine

For most of us, it comes down to what we’ve learnt, what we know, what we’re familiar with. That’s why we have courses in wine appreciation. When we run into new grape varieties such as Fiano or Teroldego, we struggle to get our tasting gear tuned to the unknown aromas. With  unfamiliar wine styles such as the vins jaune du Jura or the Georgian wines made in giant clay pots, we’re driving without a map. We’ve lost our reference points, and we can’t appreciate these wines.

The most common reactions to unfamiliar things or people are dislike and ridicule.Wine reviewers are human, and none can claim to have perfect judgment. Knowing your likes and dislikes is key, and sharing them with your readers. I do that often, and I’m very generous when it comes to sharing my opinions I’m told.


2016 – Highlights and Low Lights


It was Great Riesling Vintage

The 2016 vintage was the best in a decade for Riesling in South Australia, with the Eden and Clare Valleys stealing the show so far. The other good news is that Riesling provides enormous value for money, since you can buy the best for less than $20, and even as little as $15. Riesling is the perfect crisp and refreshing summer wine, great with cold chicken and ham on picnics and at BBQs. More here: It’s official: 2016 is a Great Riesling Vintage.


Rosé came out of the cold

I’ll never know why it stayed there so long, like a prisoner condemned to spend the rest of his life on a remote island. Here’s another great wine style that suits our climate and way of life, another wine that matches cold cuts and salads, and another wine that is great value for money.

Just look at these stunning examples: Yalumba Y series Sangiovese Rosé 2016 – $9.50 at Dan M’s, Angove Nine Vines Grenache Shiraz Rosé 2016, $10 at 1st Choice, and Deep Woods Margaret River Harmony Rosé 2016 $12 at Summer Hill Wine. When it comes to wine at least, we still live in the lucky country.

New varieties still unconvincing

I’ve seen a lot of samples of wines made from fancy new varieties, ranging from Vermentino and Nebbiolo to Negroamaro, but none has really grabbed me yet. I say yet because the wines come from young vines for obvious reasons, which may produce better fruit with greater maturity.

The other problem is the price if these ‘trial’ wines. That’s what they are, in effect, but I guess they’re a hit with the trendy bistro and wine bar set. Most are $20 or more, when you can buy better wines from Italy for $14 such as this Terre di Sava Luccarelli Negroamaro 2013 from Puglia.

Pinot Grigio has taken off, and may well give Sauvignon Blanc a run for its money since wineries have figured out that it walks out the door if you make it sweet and obvious enough. As an aside, Grenache is a variety we’ve grown forever, but the Spaniards make more consistent wines from this variety at much better prices.

Over-the-top Wine Ratings and Medals

This cynical side of the business has become big business, with Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA) and the International Wine Competition (IWC) handing out close to 20,000 awards (trophies, medals and commendations) after judging 30,000 entries. The money they make comes from the stickers they sell to wine companies for adorning the prize winning bottles. This quote says it all: ‘If a wine didn’t make you retch, it got a Commended.’ More Here: How the Wine Trade is Taking Consumers for a Ride.


Down Under, Fran Kelly on ABC radio breakfast talked to several wine reviewers including yours truly under the heading Australian Wine Industry Questions Integrity of Wine Ratings.

This followed veteran reviewer and wine judge Huon Hooke’s move to rename his review site The Real Review. Huon has teamed up with Bob Campbell from across the Tasman, and has added more contributors. Good to see.

Good calls and bad calls, lessons learned and more

We get it right more often than not at Best Wines Under $20: the emails praising our recommendations outnumber those disagreeing by about 12 to 1. I’m pretty please with that ratio, and getting wrong from time to time is inevitable in this business.

Finding a wine like the Topers Chardonnay 2013, at such an attractive price, is a long shot. I thought we found it in the Mountadam Barossa Chardonnay 2014, which Winedirect sold for $129 a dozen. I’ve tried 3 bottles of it since recommending it, and it’s more restrained than I recall, and not that engaging right now. The structure is there, and the wine may just need another year or so to come out of its shell, so give it more time. That Halliday gave it 95 points doesn’t make me feel better.

I’m a huge fan of Rosily vineyard in Margaret River, and I’ve recommended their Cartographer Bordeaux blend more than once. I opened a 2011 over Christmas and didn’t enjoy it much: a bit thin, a touch green, lacking fruit and depth – did I keep it too long or is it just going through a stage?

I’ve also been a long term fan of Hoddles Creek in the Yarra Valley, especially their Estate Chardonnays, and bought quite a few of them going back to 2010. The rewards have been patchy: Some vintages even show a petrol character like that we find in old Rieslings, caused by a chemical compound called 1,1,6-trimethyl-1,2-dihydronaphthalene, known as TDN to its friends. More in Petrol Sniffing.

One reader took me to task for giving similar points to a couple of reds: a Devils Ridge Block 60A Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2014 – $10 at Kemenys (92 points), and a Devil’s Lair The Hidden Cave Cabernet Shiraz 2014 – $17 at Dan M’s (92+ points). He argued that the Devil’s Lair was at least a couple of points better than the Devil’s Ridge, and I have to agree with him.

On the positive side, we’ve found many great bargains close to the magic $10 line; I’ve listed the best of these in this week’s Best Buys Weekly. After all, that’s the tough terrain that we pride ourselves of knowing better than anyone.

Higher up the scale, we continue to find bargains like the Rosily Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 – $22 at Kemenys – which would give many more expensive Margaret River Cabernets a run for their money. Opened a bottle of this last week, and it was even better than I remembered. I think it’s a better wine than the Ringbolt 2013; both featured in Decanter’s top Margaret River Cabs and scored 93 and 94 respectively. I’d score the Ringbolt at 93 and the Rosily at 95/96, it’s that good.


Changes for 2017

It was a good year for great wines under $20, and we never had to scratch around for bargains. I’m thinking of cutting down the number of wines we recommend since subscribers keep asking me to, or rather pleading with me. I’ve even lost subscribers who said they simply bought too much wine. In my defence I can only protest that we find good wines at sharp prices, and rely on you to choose and buy according to your taste, need and capacity (financial or otherwise).

One thing I started late last year, and will continue this year, is to use more of the 100 point rating scale. We see that in America and Europe reviewers use the last 20 to 25 points of the scale (for recommended wines); here we use 12 – 15 points, don’t ask me why. I’ll publish a slightly expanded scoring scale for the way we judge in the near future.

I’d be happy to receive any suggestions you have for improving the newsletter and website. My thinking is to simplify the newsletter and have more time to update the website content such as Best Lists and short term specials. All ideas are welcome but can’t necessarily be implemented.