Where next for wine in Australia?

2 04 2011


Wine is missing its golden opportunity. It’s got two tickets to the Gun Show and it’s not using them. Fact: there’s more good and great wine made in Australia today than ever before. Fact: wine is the drink of choice with good food and there are more top rating food shows, columns, books and blogs than ever before. We are obsessed with food (though I hope not Conviction Kitchen…God help us). Fact: social media has seen wine chatter levels rise to pitch never seen before.

But we’re missing something here. We are preaching to the converted. And the converted are preaching to each other. And everyone is having a grand time. But what about the unconverted and the sort-of-converted? Who’s talking to them? For most wine drinkers (and please try to be really honest with yourself here), wine is a tasty, accessible, sociable liquid, enjoyed in relaxing surrounds with friends. It’s usually refreshing and let’s face it…allows people to “unwind”. They don’t want to talk about wine on Twitter, or read a newspaper column, or pay to go to a tasting. They don’t remember long wine names and it doesn’t worry them. They buy wine for many different reasons or occasions and most don’t want to have a very involved, agonising time deciding.

What is the industry doing to make wine easier for them? Not more intellectual or more involved, but simply more welcoming. Apparently the only answer here is to make wine cheaper, have more sales and generally race to the bottom until mutual self-destruction is assured. In real terms, the average price of wine (and cars) has grown very little over the past 20 years, so why do we insist on trying to outdo each other with low prices? Price is important, but it isn’t the only thing. Drawing people into a store with cheap booze isn’t sustainable.

Don’t get me wrong…thanks to improved viticulture and winemaking, the grape glut and squished export markets, the quality of this cheap wine is pretty good. But it isn’t sustainable (there’s that word again which everyone uses, and which everyone mentally files to try to challenge manana…manana). A lot of small wineries have already given up on retail, understanding that their wine clubs, mailing lists, cellar doors and increasingly social media marketing are the only ways they will achieve the margins necessary to survive.

I’m all for social media, which has created an interactive community where wine lovers, producers, suppliers, writers, sommeliers and enthusiasts interact like never before. And sure it reaches a portion of new or less involved drinkers, but how many really? People are time poor, so are they going to research and engage with the topic via social media if it isn’t one of their primary interests? Probably not. I’m no Facebook expert, but perhaps its mass reach, superficial interactivity and accessibility offers more here. Online peer reviews are the way forward. They already dominate other categories, like travel, so use them!

But online still only accounts for a relatively small portion of wine sales. And I suspect that those highly engaged in wine social media are happily serviced by Australia’s high quality (but shrinking) independent retail sector. What I am really trying to get across here is that our wine retailers are failing the average wine drinker i.e. the majority. I’m not talking about the evil corporate side of the argument, but more the engagement side. There’s no imagination in our retail wine category, only price wars and endless aisles of hundreds of complicated labels.

Back in Boston, USA in 2005 I was so excited when I first walked into Best Cellars, a wine store that brought a small (100 max in about 8 style/taste categories), cheaper (around $15) range of wines to life. It made everyday wine cool and interesting. That’s why I was very sad to read just this week that most of the stores have been bought out and converted to something else. It wasn’t dumbing wine down, it was bringing it to life.

Wine education is important…there should always be wine open in a wine shop to try. See how The Sampler has brought interesting wine to life in London with sampling machines. But it isn’t what everyone wants. DON’T expect drinkers to want to learn more, but DO try to engage them and excite them on a wine level that they are comfortable with. This isn’t a nice-to-have, but in a retail future where something has to give, it will be a must-have.

This post was originally written for the Wine Communicators of Australia blog. You can find their blog here.


Spitbucket Sessions Vol 12: Hogan’s Heroes

26 03 2011

(Lifesize Hogan action figure available on the night)

The year was 2003 and Tom Hogan was working in several of Adelaide’s finest establishments: Supermild, Rhino Room and B Sharp Records. His life was populated by Too Many DJs, not Too Many Winemakers. Then one day Tom, his girlfriend (now wife) Alice, and I took off to the Barossa and I took them around some of my favourite cellar doors. At Torbreck he had some sort of epiphany. Must have been serious as he and Alice proceeded to snore quietly in the back seat all the way back to Adelaide. Up in the front seat I had an amazing run of green lights along Main North Road…and no one to share this wonder with – but I digress.

Little did I know that just like Usher, I had discovered my Justin Bieber. Ok Bieber has more hair than both of us put together but you get the point. Tom has gone on to put vintage hours in at some of Australia’s top wineries and work the floors of some of Melbourne’s top restaurants. Currently he is Head Sommelier at the Two-Hatted Lake House Daylesford where his wine list is recognised by Australia’s Wine List of the Year Awards as one of the best in the country.

Sadly he now knows much more about wine than me and much more about music than Usher, though if you manage to get a ticket to this Spitbucket tasting this is pretty good news for you. The topic is intriguing and brings together 10 of Victoria’s hottest producers, some established, some up-and-coming, but all doing exciting things. I suggest you get your seat request in early for this one! Those of you on Twitter will know Tom well as @iloveriesling.

To Start
2005 Brown Brothers Patricia Pinot Chardonnay Sparkling (@BrownBrothers)

Pair 1
2010 Crawford River Riesling

2008 Gembrook Hill Sauvignon Blanc (@GembrookWine)

Pair 2
2009 Oakridge Mackay Vineyard Chardonnay (@BicknellFC)

2008 Sutton Grange Viognier

Pair 3
2008 Curly Flat Pinot Noir

2007 Greenstone Sangiovese

Pair 4
2009 Syrahmi Shiraz (@monsieurfoster)

2008 Wantirna Estate Amelia Cabernet Merlot

To Finish
Bress Bon Bon Cider (@bresswinecider)

As usual, #spitbucket is free to attend and will take place at the Coast Roof Top Bar. It is on Wednesday 30th March. All you have to do is tweet @coastrestaurant and ask to book a space before they’re all gone. More details here.

Spitbucket Sessions Vol.11: Italian Varieties in Australia

12 03 2011


Italy has given so many great things to the world: Silvio, quite a lot of good food, Paolo Maldini, some pretty slick art and over 900 grape varieties. Of course the rest of the word hasn’t got around to planting all of those 900 varieties yet but we’re definitely having a good crack. Always remember my WSET exams and trying to get to grips with the Italian elements…just how many major regions, the intense viticultural differences between them and the myriad indigenous grape varieties.

Well Australia is going at it as hard as anyone else in the world, and while sales of imported wines are falling, interest in Italian grape varieties vinified on Australian soil seems to be increasing. If made well these should be perfect food wines and so are the perfect foil for Adam Lord’s food at Coast. This should be a pretty special Spitbucket I reckon so get involved!

Pair 1: Vermentino
Ducks in a Row Vermentino
Chalmers Vermentino

Pair 2: Fiano
Oliver’s Taranga Fiano
Coriole Fiano

Pair 3: Nebbiolo
Pizzini Nebbiolo
Primo Estate Joseph Nebbiolo

Pair 4: Sangiovese
Coriole Vita Sangiovese
Capel Vale Cellar Exclusive Sangiovese

Pair 5: Sagrantino
D’arenberg Cenosilicaphobic Cat (DISASTER has struck – d’Arenberg have sold out of this extremely interesting 91% Sagrantino, 9% Cinsault blend with a name that take’s a little practice. I will have to hustle to find another suitable Sagrantino! Any ideas?)
Oliver’s Taranga Sagrantino

As usual, #spitbucket is free to attend and will take place at the Coast Roof Top Bar. It is on Wednesday 16th March. All you have to do is tweet @coastrestaurant and ask to book a space before they’re all gone. More details here.

After David (from Eldridge Estate) did such an amazing job at the last Spitbucket, there have been calls for me to “sit this one out again” and at the very least “raise my game”. I will, of course, do neither of these 🙂

Spitbucket Sessions Vol 9: Kiwi Reds that ain’t Pinot, part 1: Hawkes Bay

16 02 2011

This Spitbucket theme came about after a chat with Monty James – New Zealand wine’s main man in Australia. We’d already decided to focus on non-Pinot Kiwi reds for a change after having successfully covered Pinot before. So that left world-class Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet from the North Island. “How about a two part tasting? Hawkes Bay up first, compared with Waiheke Island which I’ll help to host next time I’m up?”

Sounded like a PLAN to me…so here we are…

Pair 1: Hawke’s Bay Syrah
Villa Maria Private Bin Syrah 2008 (@villamaria_wine)
Elephant Hill Reserve Syrah 2008 (@elephanthill)

Pair 2: Gimblett Gravels Syrah
Mission Estate Reserve Syrah 2009 (@missionestate)
Te Awa Syrah 2009 (@teawawinery)

Pair 3: Merlot
Villa Maria Private Bin Merlot 2009 (@villamaria_wine)
Elephant Hill Merlot 2007 (@elephanthill)

Pair 4: Left Bank Style Bordeaux Blends
Mission Estate Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2009 (@missionestate)
Cornerstone Cabernet Merlot Malbec Blend 2006 (@forestwinesNZ)

Pair 5: Right Bank Style Bordeaux Blends
Wild Rock Gravel Pit Red (Merlot Malbec blend) 2008 (@TheWildRockGuy)
Trinity Hill The Gimblett 2007

(Aerial shot of the Gimblett Gravels, top, with close up below, both courtesy of Trinity Hill)

The tasting is full up now unfortunately, but you can still get your fix of great New Zealand wines and awesome Coast food when the winemakers come to town in a week or two. Chef, Adam Lord, will be matching his dishes to a range of wines from the length and the breadth of the North and South Islands. More details here.

Riesling is Rising

5 02 2011

It’s been a big few weeks for the Riesling lovers of Syndey…and hopefully the rest of Australia too. We’ve had all manner of Riesling events: rampages, riots and risings, with plenty more to come in the next couple of weeks. Make sure you check out the “Summer of Riesling” website for all the details.

The crucial thing about the Summer of Riesling has been its clear focus on getting Riesling into people’s mouths. Major broadsheet wine critics have been reviewing Australian and Kiwi Riesling regularly and brilliantly for years, but this doesn’t seem to trickle down to the majority of drinkers. If you have pre-conceived notions of  Riesling: “sweet”, “popular with grannies”, “go back to the 70’s” etc. then a newspaper review isn’t going to move you. The only thing that will is a top tasting experience and that’s what we’ve all tried to provide in the Summer of Riesling.

Last week’s Spitbucket provided a beautiful snapshot of the diversity of Riesling around the world. Personal favourites of mine included the Clonakilla 2010, the Tamar Ridge 2009, the Donnhoff Dry 2009 and the sensational Haart Piesport Domherr Spatlese.

A couple of weeks prior Fine Wine Partners hosted a fabulous tasting in the beautiful Tokonoma restaurant in Surry Hills. The goal was to show off a tip-top Riesling portfolio and get as many people tasting as possible. I was still amazed that despite my urgings, people didn’t want to break stride, come inside the bar and taste Riesling…for free. Even so, the bar was packed for the duration. Enjoy the Spitbucket video below:

Spitbucket: The Best of 2010, some of Jo Taylor’s favourites

19 01 2011

2010 was a momentous year for The Spitbucket Sessions. After travelling from Adelaide to London, then back to Sydney over the course of seven years, they found the perfect, permanent home at Coast’s Roof Top Bar. Through Twitter, Spitbucket also found a seemingly endless supply of people passionate about tasting and enjoying wine, and wineries generous enough to support the events. Along the way we all needed a bit of sustenance too and we thank Coast’s top-notch chef, Adam, and our resident meat man, Tim, for their tasty contributions too. 

We all made new friends through Spitbucket and so it is with great sadness that we said goodbye to Jo Taylor, one of the most passionate wine lovers you’re ever likely to find. Jo, there will always be a seat at the Roof Top Bar and at Spitbucket for you.

In our first session of 2011 we take a look back at some of the wines that made our 2010 sessions special.

To Start: Stonier Sparkling Pinot Noir Chardonnay 2006

Pair 1:
Vinteloper Watervale Riesling 2010 (@Vinteloper)
Lark Hill Gruner Veltliner 2009 (@LarkHillWine)

Pair 2:
Golding La Francesa Savagnin 2010 (@GoldingWines)
Philip Shaw The Dreamer Viognier 2009 (@philipshawwines)

Pair 3:
Saint Clair Block 14 Doctor’s Creek Pinot Noir 2008 (@saintclairwine)
Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008

Pair 4:
Teusner Albert Shiraz 2008 (@Teusnerwine)
Petaluma Shiraz 2007 (@Petalumawine)

To Finish: #Giantbeers aka. Mac’s Hop Rocker

Spitbucket Sessions Vol. 4: Aromatic Whites

28 10 2010

(Aromatic whites: wines to wave your proboscis at…)

Continuing on the educational tip, the 4th Volume of the Spitbucket Sessions will cover a lot of ground in order to get an up front, quick smart, lowdown on aromatic white wines. An aromatic white doesn’t mean much on its own…it’s a white wine with aroma. Big deal. But the phrase has come to be associated with certain varieties that fire spicy, floral, exotic, downright sexy smells right up your proboscis.

We had to excuse a few and send them on their way…Albarino. Aromatic…yes, but recently it’s been proven that many Australian vines planted from CSIRO propagated material are actually Savagnin, a variety that originates in the Jura region in Eastern France. Oops! Vermentino…a bit tricky to get hold of. Sauvignon Blanc…I’ll get my coat. Torrontes…tastes like soap. And on and on…

In truth there are many ‘aromatic’ white varieties, which really reflects the tastes of today. No oak, less malo-lactic fermentation and more acidity (in many cases) all add up to vibrant, food-friendly wines. Acidity is an interesting one as Viognier and Gewurztraminer don’t have naturally high acid…but are chock-full of exotic flavour compounds. Beware the flab though…

In our tasting line-up I’ve plumped for some classic varieties which should show off the spectrum of aromas and flavours these wines are famous for. What do they taste like…you’ll have to come along and check it out…

Vinteloper Watervale Riesling 2010
Knappstein Handpicked Riesling 2010 (both from the Clare Valley, SA)

Gruner Veltliner
Nigl Kremser Freiheit Gruner Veltliner 2009 (Kremstal, Austria)
Lark Hill Gruner Veltliner 2009 (Canberra District)

Pinot Gris
Johanneshof Pinot Gris Trocken 2007 (Marlborough, NZ)
Henschke Littlehampton Innes Pinot Gris 2009 (Adelaide Hills, SA)

Louis Sipp Gewurztraminer 2008 (Alsace, France)
Borrodell on the Mount Wine Maker’s Daughter Gewürztraminer 2009 (Orange, NSW)

Madeleines Viognier 2009 (McLaren Vale, SA)
Philip Shaw The Dreamer Viognier 2009, (Orange, NSW)

The tasting is at 6.30pm sharp on Wednesday 3rd November on the Coast Roof Top Bar. Tweet @coastrestaurant in the usual way to book your spot. All details here…