Tuesday, October 28, 2008


There was a time when it was quite clear to everyone what the key wine types and styles were to drink and an unofficial but helpful ranking put Chardonnay and Riesling at the top of the white wine rankings and Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Syrah at the top of the red wine rankings.
It was not to say that other varietals were not worth drinking but was a nod to the consumer of which varietals when made at their best resulted in sublime tasting experiences.
Nowadays wine drinkers are confronted with a myriad of wine types and styles without any ranking guides official or unofficial.
That bloody awful Pinot Gris claims pricing and position with its more serious cousins and Viognier and Arneis are climbing the ladder pretending to be on the top tier. The classic blending material of Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc are now sometimes seen on their own and Chenin Blanc, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, various Muscats, Tempranillo, Pinotage, Zinfandel, and others are all clamouring for attention.

OK. So call me a wine snob but I think it is important that distinctions are kept.
Sure, some tasty little wines are made from the non-aristocratic varietals but they will very rarely be great.
Keep them in their place I say.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


I work in the wine industry and really enjoy it. I've been lucky to have experienced many of the world's greatest wines and met a lot of the famous personalities behind them.
When I and my peers drink wines , almost invariably we evaluate them. This isn't always a serious consideration, but even with the simplest quaffing wines we (either to ourselves or others)categorize them as good bad or indifferent. We think about whether the wine has good fruit or fruit spoiled by rot, rain or poor vintage; whether the wood if used was too much, not enough or of poor quality; whether the winery conditions were too clean, just right or plain dirty; whether the wine is too young, too old or about right etc. Generally these are instant observations and then, depending on the social situation we can just get on with enjoying the wine.
On the weekend I was in wellington with Richard and we went to a wine bar and ordered a glass each of a Hawkes Bay Chardonnay. After a sip or two I observed that the wine was good, a bit young and woody and had a salty/savoury character (most likely a combination of lees and oak).
Richard, looking in his glass and tasting again said "I was enjoying that but now all I can taste is salt".
Richard is a musician both as profession and hobby and evaluates music in the same way - seeing the nuances that the lay person doesn't. It hopefully doesn't cause him to miss out on the pleasures of music although he rarely listens to rock or Pop (but he does have hill-billy music in his car). Maybe what his knowledge allows him is to explore new and esoteric territory of greatness that the layman never discovers. This can be true of wines too where with knowledge we might become jaded re the everyday wines but have the key to unlock the mysteries of the world's great wines.

Friday, October 3, 2008


I consult to an up and coming wine company. At the moment the company and brand is hardly known but will be one of the country's foremost Ultra Premium brand in a few years.
At the current stage of development wine writer endorsement is very important as, without wide distribution already, it is necessary to have good accolades to attract new distribution. Good accolades will also encourage consumers to purchase a brand they have not before heard of.
Wine accolades can come from winning medals in wine shows (GOLD is obviously best), having nice things said about the brand in a wine column (although this becomes the next day's fish 'n' chip paper) or, increasingly important, gaining a high points rating from one of the top wine magazines.
The British magazines like Decanter rate wines but don't go mad over it. They expect their readers to be knowledgeable about wines already and put more emphasis on describing the wines. The Americans are points mad. They rate wines out of a hundred so anything getting close to that is pretty good. The problem is though, how can a wine taster differentiate between giving a wine 97 points and 96 - or even 96 vs 90?
To explain this all wine tasting competitions run on a points system. In the traditional one it is a 20 point system. There are 3 points allocated to colour/clarity; 7 points allocated to nose/aroma and 10 points allocated to taste/overall impression. For a wine to gain a Bronze Medal it has to get between 15.5 and 17 points out of 20. For Silver it has to be between 17 and 18.5 Points. A Gold has to be over 18.5 Points. So. You think you are a wine judge? Have a glass of wine in front of you. A pretty reasonable one that you like to drink. Evaluate it. Look at the colour. Like it? What will you give it? 2.5 out of 3. OK. Smell it. Nice? What will you give it? 5.5 out of 7 - high but you like the smell. Now taste it. Like it? OK you give it 8 out of ten as you think its pretty good. Add up the scores. Total is 16 points. This glass of wine you like barely qualified for a Bronze medal and you would probably pass it over on a wine shop shelf if it had a Bronze sticker on it. To get a Gold a wine would have to get something like a perfect score on colour and aroma (3 plus 7) and then 9 out of ten on taste to add up to 19. It becomes very tricky in separating out the Golds from the Silvers and the 1.6 point spread between a Bronze Medal and Gold shows how difficult it is. A Gold medal can mean the difference between selling thousands of cases of wine vs a handful if the same wine were to get a Bronze.
The 100 point system is kind of like multiplying the 20 by five. A Gold at 18.5 plus then is like a 92.5 plus out of 100. It is American. It is wanky. How the hell can a judge decide between 92 and 93? effectively Silver or Gold. Wine tasting is not an exact science it is all about impression (albeit reasonably well informed impressions in some cases.)
Back to the company I consult to.
We had a major breakthrough recently with The Wine advocate, an American wine publication that bar none is the most influential in the world of wine. Love it or hate it if a wine gets 90 Points plus it is on the map and selling like anything.
We got 3 of our wines at 90 plus - one at 90, one at 92 and one at 93. Big news and sales for us. Interestingly enough the Australian equivalent Gourmet traveller Wine gave the same three wines 95,95 and 96 Points.
I don't much believe in this kind of points scoring but definitely take them and use them when they come in as much as I would use a Gold Medal.
I have a wonderful cartoon framed at home. It shows a wine consumer trying wine at a winery Cellar Door. The consumer spits out a wine saying that it is disgusting. The winery representative behind the counter says that it received 95 Points from The Wine Advisor. The consumer says that he will buy 2 cases.
Go figure.