Monday, February 25, 2013

2012 Climbing Pinot Gris (Orange)

Pinot Gris has never been my thing, so the fact I could drink this without much fuss is a good sign. It’s certainly varietal, but in no way a caricature or too sweet. Nice round, ripe fruit with flavours of pear and citrus. An appealing touch of brine, and then a bit of residual sugar.  All of this is underpinned by a lovely brisk acidity. If you like your Pinot Gris then I’d suggest this would be a good go-to wine.

Rated: 3.5 stars
RRP: $24
Closure: Screwcap
Drink: 2013-2015


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The New South Wales wine conundrum

The NSW wine festival kicks off later this week. It’s been running for the past few years as part of a concerted effort by many in the NSW wine industry to better promote the quality and diversity of wine in the state. There have been numerous NSW events and promotions, some of which have been excellent – the annual Sydney Cellar Door in Hyde park on a sunny Sunday, for example, has been a wonderful event, had huge attendances, and is a great way to spend an afternoon.

One of the underlying reasons for this campaign has been the lack of popularity of NSW wine within NSW itself. Walk into any bottleshop in Sydney and the wines of South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia, and even occasionally the tiny (yet quality) production from Tasmania are all better represented on the shelves than NSW fare. The same has been true of pretty much any wine list at a Sydney restaurant.

Such a meagre representation hasn’t been surprising historically, given that the only wine region with a significant reputation was the Hunter Valley, and it’s mainstays have been medium-bodied, savoury Shiraz and austere, dry Semillon (at least in its youth). As much as I love these styles of wine, and they do have a loyal following amongst a segment of wine drinkers, they haven't typically been the most popular wine amongst the punters. Beyond the Hunter, the past couple of decades, have seen the emergence of regions like Canberra, the Hilltops, Mudgee, Orange, and Tumbarumba, all with serious claims in terms of making interesting and unique wine. Nevertheless, with the exception of perhaps Canberra, I don't think any of these regions are yet associated with great wine in the minds of consumers. The winemakers across these regions, and the people who represent them have obviously thought it’s time to get their stories out there, get their wines in people’s glasses, and start to see if they can’t get at least a little bit more representation on local shelves and wine lists.

With all this in mind it was with interest that I read the below article that highlighted the fact that NSW wines remain very much under-represented, constituting something like 4% of wine lists for a number of top Sydney restaurants

With such a meagre representation, and no obvious broad pick up in consumption of NSW wine in the past couple of years, does this mean that this NSW wine campaign is failing, or perhaps more disconcertingly that NSW wine on the whole just isn’t very good? To my mind it’s neither, but below are some thoughts on the conundrum of NSW wine and the efforts of those trying to promote it.


NSW is the least parochial state in Australia. We might fire up around State of Origin time, but otherwise we’re much more relaxed about all that sort of stuff when compared to the other states. It comes through in the wine choices people in Sydney and elsewhere in the state make. We’ll buy what we like, and there’s virtually no state based bias in this decision. So while people in NSW will likely appreciate the efforts that are being made by the NSW Wine Industry Association and others over the past couple of years to highlight the depth and breadth of wine here, they won’t drink or choose a wine just because it is from NSW. It has to be a wine they would want to drink regardless. Hopefully the continued campaign and events maintain the largely positive tone it has struck, and doesn’t lurch into parochial hectoring, as I think anything like this would be counter-productive.


I’m of the belief that the NSW Wine Festival and other events will have to be run for a decade to really bear fruit. Efforts over the past couple of years have undoubtedly raised awareness and attracted new consumers, but in the main wine drinkers would still associate the Barossa, the Yarra, the Margaret River etc. with quality wine more so than they do most NSW wine regions. These regions from other states have got the track record and identifiable wine styles that consumers can more readily and easily select from when in a bottleshop or restaurant. These elements however, are still evolving and yet to solidify for a number of NSW wine regions, at least from the consumers perspective. To build these positive and more concrete associations are undoubtedly what the NSW Wine Festival is about, but only a sustained effort over time will achieve this.

Benchmark Wines

Every wine region benefits hugely from a great wine, a benchmark wine. Such a wine helps define a region’s identity, brings hype and interest, and perhaps serves as a guiding light for other winemakers. The issue with NSW wine as I see it, particularly when compared to other states, is the lack of iconic wine. The Hunter Valley certainly has wines such as the Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon and the Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz. The one other region that has emerged in line with the lionising of a benchmark wine is the Canberra district, and the wine of course is the Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier. It has become a perennial favourite of many wine critics in Australia, and no doubt this praise, along with the its popularity at the top-end of the market, has contributed in part to the emergence of other quality Canberra offerings and the broad success that the region has enjoyed in recent years. This is the only other region in NSW however, that can say this. When I think through the offerings of regions like the Hilltops, Mudgee, Orange, and Tumbarumba, I can think of many wines that I really like. Arguably a few wines that may become icons in time. But no one wine really stands out just yet. No one wine has really helped shape or define any of these regions identities. Campbell Mattinson, arguably Australia’s best wine writer, says that the Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier is the wine he looks forward to tasting the most each year. Is another critic saying something similar about the wines of these other regions? Not yet as far as I can see.

This of course is not a criticism. Becoming Orange’s or Mudgee’s Clonakilla will be no mean feat and it is not a given that it will happen, but I’ve no doubt that the emergence of a benchmark wine for any of these NSW wine regions would be a game changer.

Of course this is the thing that the people promoting the state's wine have the least control over. If it happens for any of these evolving NSW wine regions, then I’ve no doubt that 4% type representations on Sydney wine lists will quickly become a thing of the past. Until this happens, however, persistence and a long term approach to this NSW wine campaign will be necessary.



Saturday, February 9, 2013

2010 Marius Shiraz: Symphony & Simpatico (McLaren Vale)

While McLaren Vale shiraz is invariably good, I’ve rarely fallen in love with it or cellared it. I’ve done both however, with the 2010 Symphony and Simpatico wines from Marius. They are superb, cellar worthy Shiraz, with a bit of X-factor. Both are from the pictured 4.5 acre vineyard. The vineyard is notable for its unique gravels that run to a depth of many metres.

There’s not too much difference between the two wines in terms of how they are produced, aside from a few specific rows of fruit that go into the Symphony, which winemaker Roger Pike reckon “scream structure”.  All the parcels of fruit are done in small 1-2 tonne ferments and spend between 15-28 days on skins.

2010 Marius Simpatico Shiraz - $30 – It opens with dark fruits and great intensity, and yet it’s not heavy. With time it reveals blue fruits, and some juiciness, but it is ultimately very savoury, with a lovely tobacco note and a very appealing ironstone-like minerality. Fine but persistent tannins. Needs plenty of time in the cellar to reveal all its wares but nevertheless beautiful to drink now. 4 stars +

2010 Marius Symphony Shiraz - $40 – As good as the Simpatico is, the Symphony is a step up in complexity and persistence. It smells great. Plums, blueberries, florals, and an appealing note of baked earth. To drink it is plush and dense while still retaining plenty of freshness. The wine is framed by the kind of beautiful, cheek puckering tannins that I love in Barolo, and are so rare in Australian red wines. Finishes with great length. Leave it in the cellar for 5 years, and then savour over the next 15. 4.5 Stars.



Friday, February 1, 2013

Manitoba's version of Natalie MacLean - RedtoBrown News Interview Canada's Top Wine Writer

In the amateur blogging coup of the decade, RedtoBrown Wine News managed to secure an exclusive interview with Manitoba’s famous wine writer Doris MacDay following a chance meeting* at last month's Las Vegas Blog/Website Monetisation Maximisation Conference.

After years of hard work, Doris MacDay has become one of the pre-eminent North American wine writers, on a par with Ontario’s Natalie MacLean and Maryland’s Robert Parker jr. Doris was kind enough to speak to a representative of R2B at the conference afterparty.

A rare image from 1997 of Ms MacDay, taken from her original Netscape-hosted website 
R2B: “Doris, thanks for your time, it is a pleasure to finally meet you, given all of the unattributed R2B wine reviews we have seen posted on the website.”
Doris: “My pleasure!, I scan your blog and hundreds of other amateur and professional wine websites with interest, and am happy to have a chat!”

R2B: "You are one of the most revered and recognised wine writers in the southern suburbs of Winnipeg, and your website – is one of the fastest growing subscription wine websites in Manitoba. How do you find the time to come to events like this on top of writing those numerous one sentence reviews padded by unattributed secondary reviews?”
Doris: "That’s a great question, and how kind of you to mention my global reach. In short, I am very good at managing my time. On top of managing my website, I bake, I cook, I garden, I taste numerous bottles of wine from producers who are loyal ‘Plankton Premium’ subscribers to my site: there is ‘just’ enough time in the day to do all the things I need to. I also have dedicated staff that help and support me. They assist me in the sometimes arduous task of finding an even mix of reviews to copy and link, as well as all the other miscellaneous administrative tasks required to run my website."

R2B: "Out of interest, what do these miscellaneous admin tasks consist of?"
Doris: "Oh, plenty of random things! Receiving and registering wine samples, checking them off with the ‘Plankton Premium’ membership lists, disposing of wines from wineries who have refused to subscribe to my site, ensuring my research staff are meeting their review search quotas. Lots of things."
One of the many internet research centres spread accross North America:
Another industry-leading method that makes the site pre-eminent in Southern Winnipeg.

R2B:" On your website you proclaim to be the ‘Greatest Wine Writer in the Universe’. Who bestowed you with this amazing honour?"
Doris: "I will always cherish that award - it is giving me chills just thinking about it. It was the North Carolina Chenin-Blanc Appreciation Academy who awarded me the honour 13 years ago, and only 11 years ago awarded me the same honour for a second time. It remains one of my proudest achievements, especially given how much respect I have for that Academy. Wow."

R2B: "What advice would you give to budding wine writers interested in adopting your one sentence wine review methods?"
Doris: "The first thing I would say is research, research, research methods of padding out your review. When you are writing so many reviews you cannot be creating new, descriptive and vivid content every time. It can be a surprisingly exhaustive process to pen a 15 word review. Secondly, keep it general. Finally, ensure your researchers can link to some really good reviews from other wine writers that add credibility to your one sentence review – unattributed of course."

R2B: "Why the insistence of the linked reviews being unattributed? Isn’t it beholden of you to attribute the work of others....?"
Doris: "Hang on – you’re not one of those pesky Palette Wine Presser investigative journalists that have recently been hassling and harassing Canadian wine writers are you? I am sick of your snooping and tomfoolery!!! ……I am assuming your promise to sign up to my Plankton Premium subscription was a lie as well...... This interview is over! (Doris stormed off towards the drinks table and the interview was ended)."

Recent video footage of Doris MacDay
 debriefing the Manitoba Wine Appreciation Society
after her trip to the Chicago Wine awards- LINK
*RedtoBrown Wine Review did not pay Ms MacDay for the interview and are not paid members of
** Any ambitious wineries seeking global/Universal exposure can send free wine samples to RedtoBrown Wine Review. Please contact the RedtoBrown Revenue Maximisation Section( . Links to previoulsy published reviews of the wine would be appreciated. 
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