Behind the Glitz and Bling and Fancy Labels
This is a small collection of our own articles, headed up by links to articles by other wine writers that are essential reading.


Woolworths Coles And Oz Wine How Much Can They Acquire? Will It Follow All The Spilt Milk? by PHILIP WHITE
Woolworths buys grapes at minimal prices to fill the hundreds of brands that masquerade as artisan works to fill that hectare of Dan’s floor between the loss-leaders at the front and the highly-profitable favoured private brands at the back, like Grosset, Rockford and Penfolds.

Aussie Reds – so much alcohol, so little finesse

Is it global warming, tough Aussie men or smart marketing?

‘To force Syrah up to an alcoholic content of 14 per cent or more,’ Roger Scruton wrote in a New Statesman column headed Grapes of Wrath, ‘tricking it into early maturation, so as to put the result on the market with all its liquorice flavours unsubdued, puffing out its dragon breath like an old lecher leaning sideways to put a hairy hand on your knee, is to slander a grape that, properly treated, is the most slow and civilised of seducers.’

It’s a pretty way to describe what has happened to Shiraz in Australia. The reds from the upper Rhone – Hermitage, Cote Rotie etc. – have long been fragrant, medium-bodied reds with peppery, spicy and earthy overtones. We used to make reds in a similar style: I remember Best’s Great Western Shiraz reds from the seventies: delicate but long-lived because of their superb balance. And Hunter reds from Murray Tyrrell and Coonawarra reds from Owen Redman in that style.



Australian Wine Shows have a bright future? Not if past performance is anything to go by

‘We as an industry constantly talk to each other and no one else.’

‘Some of the best and brightest talent of the Australian wine industry gathered in the Hunter Valley last weekend,’ the press release tells us, ‘to celebrate Len’s birthday and to discuss the future of the Australian Wine Show System in the 21st century. … the resounding outcome of the TalkFest was that Australian wine shows have played a critical role in shaping Australia’s wine styles and trends …’

The forum was the Len Evans Tutorial, LET to its friends. The headline of this post is the headlines of the press release, without the questionmark. Philip White, the gadfly of the Aussie wine business, calls it ‘a quaint annual affair’ and explains that ‘Evans’ business cronies and admirers maintain this annual wine judges’ school in his honour. While it was designed to program prospective wine judges to conduct their work in a more scholarly and informed manner, it leaves itself open to accusations of clubby exclusivity, a trait which makes it seem more of a homogenizing exercise.’

Wine show


Woolworths and Coles, Masters of Wine?

They own Dan Murphys, BWS, Wine Market, Langton’s, Vintage Cellars, 1st Choice Liquor and now Cellarmasters – is it too late?

Last April, the ACCC allowed Woolworths to buy Cellarmaster, which increased the duopoly position of Woolworths and Coles. ‘The big end of town and their well paid advisors,’ writes frank Zumbo in The Punch, ‘will be quick to welcome the ACCC decision because these people do well out of mergers.’ We mug punters, on the other hand, can go to hell as far as the ACCC is concerned. Not sure whose side this outfit is on, but it sure isn’t the Consumers, despite the C in the tag. Look at the graph and you see where this is heading.

Liquor industry market share
image courtesey of Choice


How Southcorp and Fosters trashed the Rosemount brand

Would you pay $1.5 billion dollars for a brand, and let it go down the drain?

By the turn of the millennium, Rosemount was one of the most recognisable wine brands in Australia. It was the country’s fifth biggest wine company, and it was profitable. It made large volumes of cheap and cheerful Chardonnay under its diamond label, along with premium wines such as Roxburgh Chardonnay and Balmoral Syrah.

Southcorp bought Rosemount for $1.5 million in 2001. Southcorp already had an enviable portfolio that included great Aussie brands like Penfolds, Lindemans and Wynns, so I can’t imagine why they wanted Rosemount so badly. The merger was painful, and some talked of a reverse take-over as some of Rosemount’s team had taken up key roles at Southcorp HQ. The cultures just didn’t mesh, there was lots of infighting, and soon good people on both sides left for calmer waters. READ THE REST




Not quite a book review but a look at Campbell Mattinson’s great story

The writing is lively and colourful, like he’s chatting to you after a big lunch across a cleansing ale. He’s direct, in your face much of the time but what he talks about keeps me turning the pages. Most of all because he’s filling in some yawning gaps for me. This is my second time around the world’s vineyards, after a long break. The reason I took the long break was a world of wine that had turned into Theatre of the Absurd.

Not so long ago, even the best French wines were affordable. OK, it was the early eighties – I keep forgetting that was 3 decades ago. Anyhow, I was on a decent but not especially generous income as a sales manager in the IT industry. I was buying good quality Aussie wines from Tyrrells, Mitchells, Bowen Estate and Vasse Felix for around $4 – 5 a bottle.

At the time, you could buy third-growth Bordeaux like 1978 Chateau Montrose, Ducru-Beaucaillou and Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande for around $30. Good Burgundies cost a bit more, and great Sauternes & Barsacs a bit more again – about $60/70 for a full bottle of Rieussec. READ THE REST HERE


Len Evans – Not my memoirs


Not a book review

In a way, the title of this book is spot on. By that I mean that I didn’t feel I knew Len any better when I finished reading it, and that applies to the fascinating people he met on his travels. Len has been described as a colossus towering over all others on the Australian wine landscape, and as a man who has had a profound influence on Australian wine becoming what it is today.

Len Evans has been described as ebullient, forthright, brilliant and competitive, as autocratic, didactic and caustic, as unpretentious, unfailingly enthusiastic and uproariously entertaining. He has been called a pugnacious hedonist, a great teacher, a wonderful raconteur and a man of immense generosity. Len was short and stocky and enjoyed being compared to Napoleon. READ MORE

Len Evans

COSTCO and ALDI crash into big box wine retail 

I’ve seen the future of wine retailing, and it fills me with horror

‘Costco’s lead wine buyer Annette Alvarez-Peters doesn’t understand why wine is any different than toilet paper,’ an article on US website Eater National begins. The source of this statement is an interview on CNBC with Costco’s chief wine buyer Annette Alvarez-Peters, who is asked if wine is different from other products. She answers:

‘Is it more special than clothing, is it more special than televisions? I don’t think so.’

Interviewer: ‘Certainly it’s different than toilet paper? Or different than tin foil?’
Alvarez-Peters: ‘Why?’

You get the idea. Toilet paper is Costco’s biggest selling product line, and Alvarez-Peters is in charge of Costco’s wine business, which last year notched up over one billion dollars.


Costco-wine-eater national

Penfolds Bin Release 2012 – price hike a ‘slap in the face’


Penalising loyal customers, milking a great brand

The wine merchant’s view

After I wrote about the 2012 Penfolds Bin release, I saw this note in Decanter: “Jeff Poole, managing director of New Zealand’s Fine Wine Delivery Company, and a former employee of Penfolds, who said he has ‘championed’ its wines for more than 15 years, has criticised the brand this year after cost price increases of ‘up to 50%’. Poole said, ‘While it is the prerogative of any business to capitalise on increasing international demand and supply, we view this massive increase as a slap in the face’.

A number of UK merchants, who did not want to be named, also revealed that they would not be taking their allocation this year due to the price rises. A number of Aussie and Kiwi consumers would also cross the Penfolds Bin Reds off their shopping lists and look for better value elsewhere.


Will Global warming kill Australia’s wine industry?


A close look at Max Allen’s The Future Makers

This fascinating book, published in 2010, explores the effects of global warming on Australia’s vineyard areas. Among these effects are said to be

  • Shorter ripening seasons bringing vintages forward and reducing fruit quality
  • Shrinking water resources threatening most of our traditional vineyard areas
  • Large parts of our traditional vineyard areas becoming unsustainable
  • A reduction in the quantity of Australia’s wine grape crop.

It looks like Max Allen completed The Future Makers in 2009, the year of the fires that burnt across Victoria and South Australia and destroyed so many lives and homes around King Lake just north of the Yarra Valley. 2009 followed the hard drought years of 2007 and 2008. By 2009, the River Murray was reduced to a trickle, and governments were at last forced to take action to rein in the wanton waste of irrigation water.



What’s wrong with our wine show system?


Are trophies and gold medals worthless bling or worse?

The purpose of wine shows is to serve as a guide to quality for consumers, and a style guide for winemakers. I’ve long been puzzled by the gongs thrown up (no pun intended) by our wine show system. A few recent examples I covered in previous posts include

  • McWilliams Hanwood Estate Shiraz 2010
  • Taylors Promised Land Shiraz 2010
  • Brands Laira Cabernet Merlot 2009
  • McWilliams Mount Pleasant Jack Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
  • Wolf Blass, Red Label Shiraz Grenache (2010)

I threw in the Wolf Blass to show that it isn’t just me. I didn’t even bother with this $7 wonder, despite the raves and the 2 trophies and 2 golds at the Adelaide and Melbourne shows. Even JH heaps praise on it: ‘What an amazing wine,… vibrant purple-crimson, with totally delicious red berry and spice flavours, …  94 Points

‘I had to try this wine,’ writes David Hemmings in his blog. ‘Unfortunately … I found the wine to be incredibly underwhelming. With a medicinal nose, the palate of stewed red and dark berries lacked fruit intensity, acidity, complexity and oak influence – 83 points.’