Tapanappa Tiers Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 Adelaide Hills, Australia

Brian Croser is one of Australia’s most well known winemakers. Brian was a very influential consultant winemaker who started his own brand, Petaluma, back in 1976. This grew and was later purchased by Lion Nathan in 2001. After the loss of his own venture, he began a new project, Tapanappa, with its debut vintage 2003. This is the Chardonnay, made from the 4 hectare vineyard next to his home. It’s great to be able to drink a wine like this as it begins to enter its peak drinking zone, at age 7. It’s all very well trying fine wines in their infancy, but the key thing is to actually see where they go with a bit of age. And I reckon this has plenty of life in it yet.

Tapanappa Tiers Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 Piccadilly Valley, Adelaide Hills, Australia
13% alcohol. This is quite profound at age 7 and a bit. Screwcapped, which has probably helped preserve freshness. There’s some toasty depth and development, with crystalline citrus fruits and a lovely, fine lemony core. This shows great concentration as well as delicacy. There’s a strong mineral, spicy streak running under the fruit, as well as some riper pineapple and pear notes. Exquisite balance and intensity, and in a very nice place right now. Should continue to put on weight and complexity, but I like where it is right now. 95/100

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Week one of the International Wine Challenge

Week one of the second tranche of the International Wine Challenge is complete! There’s a weekend break for the judges, and then we meet again on Monday for four more days. Once again, we have been at The Oval (one of the UK’s top cricket grounds), and today we even saw some cricket, although it must have been damp and chilly out there.

This week the job has been to sift out wines deemed not worthy of a medal. For the six of us co-chairs, this results in a week of tasting through everything the panels have rejected as ‘Out’ or awarded ‘Commended’. We’re there as back stops (this is a cricket term: a back stop is a fielding position rarely employed in club or professional cricket, where someone stands on the boundary to field any balls that have got through the wicket keeper or first slip position – it’s actually a useful fielding position in amateur cricket where the wicket keeper is incompetent); our job is to make sure that no wine is unfairly rejected.

There’s a lot of interest in the IWC! Here, Kenichi Ohashi is being interviewed by Japanese TV

The principle is that we want to judge as fairly and as consistently as possible. Of course, if the sole aim of the Wine Challenge were to be to make money, then the extra level of security (six co-chairs, moderating the results) and the two-round process would be ditched. It’s expensive. But we feel it’s worth it because the results are more robust. No competition has perfect results, but we want to be best in class. Every wine must have its chance, and this week we’ve tasted through a lot of bad wines to save a few really good ones.

Chris Ashton giving the morning briefing, and once more outing his catchphrase (in a Yorkshire accent) ‘nooooophooonezooone’

Our team of six co-chairs has worked well this week, and we finished at a sensible time each evening, a little tired, but not to the point of palate fatigue. Next week we’ll be awarding medals, and this process is so much easier when you’ve weeded out the non-winning wines.

The afternoon’s collection of faulty wines to verify

My job, as well as co-chairing, has been to monitor faults. If a panel thinks a wine is faulty, in order to get a replacement they need to get the wine signed off by a co-chair. They then get a new wine and the rejected bottle goes to the faults table. The reason for this is that in the past Sam Harrop, my predecessor, was having to wade through literally hundreds of wines that had been called as faulty, but which had no discernable wine fault. If a wine isn’t very good, it doesn’t mean it is faulty. For the purposes of collecting data on faults, it’s important that there is a strong positive diagnosis, and my job is to give some consistency to the results by verifying that a bottle marked with a fault does actually have that fault. Of course, some wines have more than one fault – in this case, we choose the primary fault. Oxidation and volatile acidity often occur together. And for Brettanomyces, we are looking for clear examples where it detracts from the quality of the wine. Some wines can have a bit and be commercially acceptable and even enjoyable, depending on the sensitivity and sensibilities of the taster. It’s not an exact science, but we want our faults data to be as good as possible. Because we are opening so many bottles, it’s a great chance to collect some good data on faults, even though the cost of chemical analysis (which would be great) is prohibitive. From the perspective of a taster, the IWC offers an amazing learning experience because of the vast numbers of wines being opened.

So, a weekend off, then back to it. But spare a thought for the crew, who will be busy reflighting all weekend!

Wine marketing: choice doesn't equal preference

There is a common assumption that people’s buying patterns (or consumption) are the same as their preferences. But this isn’t always true. Choice isn’t the same as preference.

Let’s think about coffee. I might drink a Starbucks coffee because I can’t find a Pret (I prefer Pret, although it’s rare that you can’t find one because they seem to be everywhere). Of course, I’d rather support a decent independent coffee shop but these aren’t always easy to find (unless you are in Portland where you can’t avoid them), so you could say that Pret isn’t my preference.

Or let’s consider cars: I might drive an economy mass market car, but this doesn’t mean I prefer it. I might just decide that I don’t want to allocate my resources to the car of my preference. I think I’d quite enjoy driving an Aston Martin, or a vintage Jaguar, or even an old Landrover. But these are, for a variety of reasons, not what I end up driving.

And convenience sometimes trumps preference. I might prefer shopping in Waitrose but have a Tesco in walking distance, and so shop there most of the time.

So buying patterns don’t always match preferences because of choice constraints. These may be self imposed (allocation of resources) or externally imposed (availability).

This all applies to wine. Just because people drink a certain wine doesn’t mean they prefer it, or even like it. You can only buy the wine in front of you, and if you are in a restaurant you can only choose what is on the list. Unless you are at a high-end joint there will be no sommelier, and most lists have very little in the way of guidance. How do you know what to choose? Without informed consumers the concept of preference is meaningless when it comes to purchasing decisions.

Also, there are qualities to wine that are separate from its flavour characteristics. You might just want a red wine that doesn’t taste bad with your steak and which is affordable and in this instance choice is nothing about preference. It’s not really about choice: it’s about adequacy. You want something good enough, and beyond that you don’t really care.

Preference cannot be considered in the absence of context, just as quality is best defined as fitness for purpose. Your preferred wine will likely be dependent on the drinking occasion.

Also, sometimes people don’t know what they want, because they don’t understand the category and have little idea of what is on offer. I remember my first experience with a wine that tasted nice, after drinking legions of bottles where I grimaced to get the stuff down. I didn’t realize that wine could taste nice! This changed everything: I began looking for wines that tasted nice rather than wines that didn’t taste utterly disgusting.

My point? In the face of this complexity, we must be careful in drawing firm conclusions about preferences from what people actually consume. It’s not a straightforward relationship. Consumption choices give clues about preference, but they aren’t the same.

See also: When preference fails and why giving people what they want can be elitist


Eight nice gins

I tried these eight lovely gins last night. They are part of the Bibendum Wine gin portfolio.

Hepple Gin
45% alcohol. From Northumbria, this is a juniper-forward gin and it’s lovely. Very aromatic with a juniper lift and hints of mint. Nice intensity here: it’s spicy and vivid with real depth. 8.5/10

Edinburgh Gin
43% alcohol. This is refined and aromatic with a juniper-heavy nose. Rounded and smooth, this is really textural with nice spiciness. Really smooth and refined. 8.5/10

Sipsmith London Dry Gin
41.6% alcohol. Warm spicy nose with a herby edge. Rich with some juniper character but also cedar and cinnamon hints. Very smooth, complex palate with some exotic spiciness. Fine grained. 8/10

The Botanist London Dry Gin
46% alcohol. This is made from the regular 9 gin botanicals plus a further 22 foraged botanicals. This is just so refined: it’s elegant with a layered complexity. Rich and complex with finesse and fine spiciness. 8.5/10

Half Hitch Gin
40% alcohol. Distilled in a pot still with added tinctures. Contains Malawian black tea and bergamot. Lovely complexity here: herbs, scented wood bark, aniseed and earl grey tea. Very smooth and complex, and quite distinctive. Lovely weight. 9/10

Brockmans Gin
40% alcohol. This is usually garnished with berries. It’s very exotic and fruity with attractive, intense berry flavours. An outlier with its dominant sweet berry notes. 7.5/10

Silent Pool Gin
43% alcohol. Made in Surrey. This is quite herbal and floral with some lavender notes alongside the juniper. Distinctive, tangy and spicy on the palate. Really herbal and expressive. 8/10

Eden Mill Love Gin St Andrews
42% alcohol. This has rose petals, hibiscus and marshmallow root in the list of botanicals. This is quite creamy and textured with a rich mouthfeel, as well as some sweetness and some fine spiciness. Very expressive. 8/10

More on Prosecco Wars

More on Prosecco. The debate – outlined yesterday on this blog – about whether the Australians should be allowed to label their wines by grape and place, including use of the word ‘Prosecco’ on the label, has intensified on social media. Facebook and Twitter have been abuzz. If I were legally minded, these are the points that I think support the Australian use of the term.

The leading global authority on grape varieties (co-author of Wine Grapes with Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding), José Vouillamoz, has this to say:

I’m on the Australian side for this question. Prosecco is a grape name, and as such it cannot be protected, as ‪Jamie Goode puts it rightly in his article. In Wine Grapes (2012) we have deliberately opted to use the name Prosecco for this variety for two good reasons: 1) the rule in the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants it that the oldest valid name of a variety/cultivar prevails over subsequent synonyms; in this case it is Prosecco. 2) Glera is a generic name applied to several distinct varieties in the province of Trieste, and most of the time it refers to Prosecco Lungo, a variety that is distinct from Prosecco (also called Prosecco Tondo) with which the widespread sparkling wine is made. The current situation is the result of a political/economical/marketing subterfuge from the Italians. Name change based on deliberate mistakes is not valid in ampelography. And not for Wine Grapes either. NB: many Italian grape scientists share this view.

This severely weakens the Italian position. Australian winemakers are using the correct name for the variety, and varieties cannot be protected. And it would be bizarre to expect them to stop, or begin using a technically incorrect name.

PDOs exist to protect regional products. The Prosecco producers would argue that they have a long history of making sparkling wine in the area. But is this a particularly distinctive product that relies on local characteristics for its flavour? The product of a unique terroir argument is damaged by the fact that the commercial success of Prosecco has led the boundaries of where it is allowed to come from to expand. Also, you can’t just protect something because it is commercially successful. If you fail to protect your invention with a patent, or it proves to be unpatentable (is there anything locally distinctive about a Charmat-method fruity fizz from the Prosecco grape) you can’t then go back later and retrospectively protect it. Besides, the issue is simple: you cannot protect a grape name, and Prosecco is still (according to the leading authorities) a grape name. The EU should never have sanctioned the Prosecco PDO, and this could be open to legal challenge.

For this reason, if I was involved with Prosecco, I’d seek to reach a compromise with the Australians, rather than taking a legal route. I understand the Italian side of the argument, but at the same time I really dislike commercial protectionism. It goes against all my instincts for fairness and openness. If the Italians are worried about competition, then make better wines, package them better and sell them better. The way Prosecco is going at the moment, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it become like Cava, which can technically be made in any region of Spain as long as the production rules are adhered to.

Prosecco Wars: should the Aussies be able to use the name?

There’s an excellent article in the Financial Review by Max Allen discussing whether or not Australian winemakers should be able to use the name Prosecco.

It used to be common for new world countries to label their wines by style, after the famous European wine regions. There’d be Burgundy, Claret and Champagne, usually made from completely different varieties. Of course, this is very naughty as these are protected regional names, and quite rightly their use has now almost completely died out (although in California a few producers still have the names Burgundy and Champagne on some of their – usually very cheap – products, under grandfathered-in arrangements, and these products are only for domestic market).

So you’d think that Prosecco would go the same way, and that people outside Italy would stop using the term. After all, it is a PDO – a protected regional name. And the Aussie producers are clearly benefitting from the massive commercial success of Prosecco, riding on the coat tails of others. As Max points out, in the UK sales grew in just over a decade from 1 million to 60 million bottles. In volume terms, that’s almost double what Champagne sells in the UK.

But the story is more nuanced than that, and the Australians have a strong case. When the grape came to Australia, its name was Prosecco. Its origin was Italy, but no one owns the names of grape varieties. Aware of this, in 2009 the Italian’s were shrewd enough to change the name of the grape (which can’t be protected) to Glera, leaving them free to get a PDO for Prosecco, which is now a style of wine from a particular place (which can be protected). Along with this, the Italians have expanded the borders of what was previously Prosecco in answer to growing global demand.

But who says the Australians have to follow suit and change the name of Prosecco to Glera? Can any one country unilaterally change a grape variety’s name? The Australians have a point here: why should they follow suit? And doesn’t that leave them free to continue to use the name Prosecco on their labels?

It’s a tough one, and I can see both sides. Legally, the Australians are in the right. The Italians have pulled a fast one on them, trying to be protectionist. But at the same time, you could argue that the spirit of the law resides on the Italians’ side. Just because something is legal doesn’t make it right. It’s the Italians who have built this very successful regional brand, Prosecco, which just happens to have the name of a local grape variety on the label. For other countries to plant this variety and then use it on their labels feels a bit like passing off: they are benefitting from someone else’s hard work.

Is there a solution? I think the best compromise would be to allow the Australians to use the name Prosecco within Australia, but not to allow them to export bottles labelled this way. They may have a good legal case, but the spirit of the law lies with the Italians who have cleverly built this powerful regional brand.

Another solution might be to allow everyone to grow and make Prosecco, but require them to append the country of origin to the name. So Australian Prosecco is fine, as long as it is clear that it is from Australia. The more the merrier! It could help to ignite even more interest in Prosecco, and the Italians would also benefit from this as the ‘original’ Prosecco.

See also:

Four German Rieslings of note

Just tasted these four. I love Riesling.

S. A. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr ‘Devon’ Riesling Trocken Grosses Gewächs 2010 Mosel, Germany
12.5% alcohol, 8.8 g/l sugar, 8.6 g/l acid. This is fabulous. Tight, complex and dense with some wax and cabbage notes adding nice complexity to the vivid limey fruit. Really refined and has a great life ahead of it. Dry. 94/100 (£36.50 Delibo Wines)

Weingut Nik Weis St Urbans-Hof Riesling Spätlese Goldtröpfchen 2015 Mosel, Germany
7.5% alcohol, 107.9 g/l sugar, 8.9 g/l acid. There’s some sweetness here but also lovely balance with the keen acidity countering the sugar. Nice citrus and spice with some melon richness. Has a lovely acid core. 92/100 (£20.75 The Wine Barn)

Fritz Ekkehard Huff Nierstein Schloss Schwabsurg Rabentun Riesling 2015 Rheinhessen, Germany
13% alcohol, 5.2 g/l residual sugar, 8.1 g/l acid. Very refined. Dry and mineral with lovely citrus intensity. It’s an expressive dry style with a linear, steely core. 92/100 (£34.99 The Winery)

Weingut Zur Römerkelter Beetle Riesling 2015 Mosel, Germany
11% alcohol, 9.8 g/l sugar, 7.9 g/l acid. Very linear and taut with appealing citrus fruit. Grainy and focused with a bright personality. Dry. 90/100 (£12.99 Vintage Roots)

Who judges the wine judges? And how can we increase judge diversity?

Wine judging is tough. This week and next it’s International Wine Challenge judging, which will keep me and quite a lot of other people busy. I guess if you are looking in from outside it looks like a whole lot of fun, tasting wine all day. Well it is – the judges are invariably nice people and it’s like being part of a big family – but it’s also very hard work. It takes concentration, stamina and expertise. Tasting lots of wines blind is hard, and if you want sensible results at the end of the process, then you need good judges. The proof is in the pudding: look at the results of a competition and you’ll see how well the judges did, if you know the wines. Now blind tasting is good because there’s a level playing field, and it can throw up surprises. But if you know the wines and the results are bizarre, then the judges didn’t do so well.

A tweet I saw this morning made me think about our judging panels. It pointed out that the list of judges for the recent Nederberg wine auction tasting were mostly older white males. That panel could do with some more diversity. The same could be said for the co-chairs at the International Wine Challenge (five male, one female, and new hires Sarah Abbott and I are the youngest, but we’re no spring chickens!).

How do we achieve this? Tokenism won’t work. If you care about your competition, you can’t have senior judges or panel chairs who aren’t very good. Just one person who’s not competent can really mess results up, either on a panel, or in a more senior position. No judge gets it right all the time, of course. That’s why we have panels, rather than relying on just one person. Panels on the whole give better results.

What makes a good judge? First of all, they need to have the physical apparatus needed to taste: good functioning olfactory and gustatory systems. Many people have this. After all, good wine tasters are made not born.

They need to be reliable and consistent judges. The hope is that if a judge is given the same wine on repeated occasions, they will score it similarly. Presentation order and external factors, plus the internal state of the taster – palate fatigue, mood and so on – make this tougher than it sounds. But if a taster is not pretty consistent, then they will not be a useful judge.

They need to have stamina. In an ideal world we’d taste no more than 40 wines a day, but in order to make competitions work, especially when tasters are busy people and they are being paid, you need to taste around 100 a day. It’s possible to do this and do it well, but you need to be able to cope with the physical demands of a long day of tasting.

They need to work well as part of a team. This is often underestimated, but if you’ve ever had anyone with a big ego who doesn’t respect others’ opinions on your panel, you realize what a vital skill this is.

Finally, you need experience. There’s no way round this one. Because good tasters are made not born, a good judge needs to have tasted a lot of wines, and a lot of different styles of wine. This is one of the reasons most senior judges are a bit older, because it takes time to get the sort of palate experience that’s needed to be a top judge. Judging wine isn’t just about how much you like the wine. You have to deal with lots of different styles of wine and almost take a step back from your personal preferences to be consistent in rewarding the best wines in a range of styles.

The International Wine Challenge (IWC) has a way of spotting talent and promoting people. There’s extensive feedback: the panel chair reports on the panellists, and the panellists give feedback on the panel chair. Then, we co-chairs have data on how well each panel, and panel chair, performed in terms of how often we have to adjust their scores. It’s not a perfect system, but it does result in people getting promoted, and in some cases demoted. There’s quite a bit of movement and there are new judges all the time coming through the system. And there’s a strong emphasis on training new associate judges, too. Anyone who has an interest can usually get a couple of days as an Associate Judge, which is where everyone starts, even well established trade figures.

“The IWC does not take into consideration reputations of judges either given by themselves or others. We mark them on their performance as judged by their peers. As an Associate, if two panel chairman report a good performance and high scores based on their assessment, they will be promoted to Judge. As a Judge this will also be the same process to be promoted to Senior Judges. Senior Judges could be asked to be Panel Chairs based on their abilities and their availability to taste for a full week. Panel Chairs can be promoted to Co-chair.” From the IWC website

The important thing here is that all the judges are being judged. When you’ve judged with someone else (assuming you are competent), you get a feeling for who is good and who isn’t. It’s not always the famous people or the people with letters after their name who turn out to be the best judges. [I know some MWs who have passed a difficult blind tasting paper, but who are weak, inconsistent judges.]

The Australian Wine Research Institute runs the Advanced Wine Assessment Course. This is aimed at spotting and training wine show judges, and is a thorough assessment of the palate strengths and weakness of the attendees. This is a great idea, and I would love to take part (I’d learn a lot about my palate). It would be good to put all judges through this, but unfortunately it is only available in Australia, and I don’t know of any other similarly rigorous course elsewhere.

If we are serious about increasing the diversity of senior wine judging panels, then what would be really useful is to have a way of spotting new talent, and also of training up potentially talented judges who just lack experience. And of course a commitment to change. It may take time, but something has to change.

Raventós i Blanc Textures de Pedra Blanc de Negres 2013

This is a single vineyard wine from Raventós i Blanc. It’s Cava, but labelled as Conca del Rui Anoia because they were disappointed by the quality standards of most Cava producers. This wine is from Vinya Més Alta, which sits at the top of Turó del Serral, the hill on the 90 hecatare estate vineyard. It’s a bony, stony plot, farmed biodynamically, as are all the vineyard blocks here.

The wine is a blend of black grapes Xarel-lo, Sumoll and Bastard Negre. Until 2015 the latter was thought to be Monastrell but DNA testing showed it to be this now rarely grown variety, and it makes slightly rustic, structured wines with good acidity. The wine is quite lovely: taut and structured with potential for development.

‘We stand up for the huge potential that our terroir has for creating sparkling wines,’ say Raventós i Blanc on their website. It’s so refreshing to see producers like this take a terroir-driven approach.

Raventós i Blanc Textures de Pedra Blanc de Negres 2013 Conca del Riu Anoia, Spain
Full yellow colour with a hint of pink. Structured and focused with bright citrus fruit, some tangerine and a hint of red cherry. There’s a bit of grapefruit pith on the finish. Good acidity, with a dry palate and tight lemon and herb notes on the finish, as well as a bit of redcurrant briskness. This is a convincing, youthful, taut wine with intensity as well as delicacy. It tastes of its place, and I love it. 92/100

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La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 890 Selección Especial 2005

This isn’t the final label! An unlabelled advance sample.

The top wine of La Rioja Alta. It’s a blend of 95% Tempranillo, 3% Graciano and 2% Mazuelo, and the wine spends 6 years in barrel with 10 rackings (transferring the wine from one barrel to another, with the recipient barrel having been fumigated by a sulfur wick; the barrels aren’t topped up between rackings). 199 barrels (it sounds a lot, but they have over 40 000 barrels in their cellar!) made it into the final blend.

Barrels being racked

There’s a lot of excitement about this wine. Winemaker Julio Sáenz thinks it’s one of the best wines they’ve ever produced. The main critics all gave it 98/100! I think it’s amazing and I’m enjoying drinking my unlabelled sample bottle. I’ve given it a very high score of 96/100, but with time this score could rise. It’s a thrilling wine, but if you have some, don’t drink it now: it has a further level of harmony to reach. There’s a concentration, intensity and balance to this wine that’s quite thrilling, and it has elegance, too. This may turn out to be one of the great all time Riojas. I just can’t predict that far in the future, hence my high but not astronomic score.

La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 890 Selección Especial 2005 Rioja, Spain
13.5% alcohol. This, the top wine from La Rioja Alta, is a blend of mostly Tempranillo, with a small amount of Mazuelo and Graciano. It’s only the third release of this wine to be labelled ‘Selección Especial’, and it’s certainly very special. The nose is highly aromatic with a seamless blend of floral red cherries, old leather and furniture, dried herbs and a dusting of vanilla and coconut. The palate has great concentration but also lovely balance, with some grippy tannins and raspberry crunch, alongside complex notes of cedar, tar, herbs and sour cherries. There’s already a harmony and mellowness to this wine, but it has enough acidity and structure to suggest it has a long life ahead of it. Benchmark Rioja, in a classic style, and quite thrilling. If you have some, keep it cellared for at least another decade. 96/100

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