This site is now closed
and has been left here
for historical reference
© Ric Einstein 2009
As the name suggests, this section
is devoted to left over bits of information and comments that don't warrant a complete story of
their own. It will up updated whenever the need takes place.
Readers Feedback to
Spittoons at Twenty Paces -
Halliday and Parker spit it
This first email is from a person in the business who wants
to remain anomous.
"In his speech, James Halliday stated that
60% of the judges selected for The Royal Sydney Wine Show were from small to
medium wineries. This point was made to rebut the Kramer comment that the
shows were stacked with winemakers from the large companies.
As someone who runs (name supplied but
withheld) Wine Show, I have noticed over the years that some of those
"small" wineries supplied judges are actually owned but the the "biggies". I
was on the XXXX Wine Show Committee for several years in the '90s. Just
looking back as to who was on the committee (I was the only small fry) and
who were judges, instigated my previous remarks. The Show Committees
selecting the appropriate judges
(and who the committee members
work for,) could influence final
outcome. Blind Freddie would be able to work out that the committee would
only select the most appropriate judges for the particular wine styles that
are important to the committee members... this would be even more so at a
This next email is from Wid at
Cambridge Wine Merchants in the UK. Wid writes:
'You've probably seen this hilarious
review of Robert Parker's biography, on decanter.com, but if you haven't
here's a couple of highlights.....:
" I've never shared a cabin with Robert Parker on a
10-month sea voyage, and I won't need to after reading The Emperor of Wine:
The Rise of Robert M Parker Jr and the Reign of American Taste.... "
" Often there's too much detail. A tasting is anatomized in real time:
'Garvey had lined up her 24 wines varietal by varietal on a long table in
the winery tasting room…'
I couldn't have guessed that a tasting at a winery would to take place in a
winery tasting room, perhaps on long table. "
" Take this scene. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to laugh.
The author is waiting for Parker in a Napa car park. He arrives.
'A black patella band hugged his leg just below the knee; the knee was
giving him trouble – in fact, he was limping – but he just hadn't had enough
time to schedule the arthroscopic surgery he needed.
'His eyes looked a little red. He'd been crying in his room, he confided,
because the wife of his best friend Park Smith was dying of a very
aggressive brain cancer and he'd just been talking to him…'
What are we supposed to think? That here is a warrior, so busy in his quest
for the truth that he has no time to tend to his wounds? A powerful,
sensitive man who gets to a meeting despite the double whammy of crippled
limbs and dying friends?
The case of Park Smith is surely a tragedy, but here it's cheap shorthand
used to demonstrate a perceived truth about Parker. He cries in hotel rooms
– how sensitive! Am I supposed to feel a lump in my throat in sympathy?
Not me. I see a journalist coming at my tear ducts with milking stool and
rubber gloves, and run for the hills."
Brilliant stuff! The debate has just spread over to
the local "off-license news" magazine here in UK, which means every shop
worker in a wine store has heard about it now too! This is entertaining
Murray, my Kiwi my regular correspondent, as usual was not
afraid to offer his opinion.
"Dear oh dear Ric – better than
rubber-necking past (sic) a traffic accident.
Will you take ALL my joys away?
I reiterate the comment that I made in my email to you last week – this is
becoming boring. However, some ammunition for your ventures; having
worked in California I can attest to the following:-
In a wine that Parker rated 94 (and which must remain nameless for
Harvest Brix 26.8 (approx. 15 Be) as the phenolics took that long to ripen.
Harvest acid 4.4 TA
Harvest pH 3.75.
Additions at the crusher (this being California where such things are quite
Water – to such a volume as to enable the raisined berries to
rehydrate – to a must weight of 24.4.
Tartaric acid – to a must reading of 6.5 TA – adjusting the pH to 3.35. The
buffering was substantial and the addition was more than the apparent level,
more like double the apparent level. Of course this dropped out later – but
the bottling pH and acid was further “adjusted” with citric acid to about
Now which bit of this wine was Parker rating 94 … the water part perhaps –
as it rehydrated the raisins and took away that nasty “dead-fruit” taste?
The added acid addition, massive as you can work out (you can’t taste the
bags), which prevented the wine becoming just a flabby bottle of
It would also be worthy to point out to your detractors that the “Black
Snake” (or alcohol reductase) is not permitted under Australian food
Tyhe wine business must be great in Melbourne
Today I received the following email from a reader, Mike Woods.
"I'd like to relay to you an astounding
incident that took place today.
A couple of editions back you were writing about whinging
wine retailers or something like that, well this one takes the cake.
Every year a group of my friends and I convene for a vertical tasting
night. We're by no means wine boffins, but after a course with Gerry
Sissingh, we feel possessed of sufficient enthusiasm for the task to get a
brilliant nights worth of banter and enjoyment out of it. This year we are
racking up Bowen Estate Shiraz and I had tracked down a number of vintages
(from '97 - '03), but alas still needed the mighty '98. A search over the
a useful resource!) found one retailer in Australia with stock on hand -
Liquid Assets in Melbourne. I sent a note to the proprietor, Greg
Martin requesting to purchase it and have the wine delivered by Friday.
He was willing to oblige but needed me to return a form by Tuesday morning.
With work commitments, this became 1pm (but I knew they didn't open till 12,
so it didn't seem like a big problem).
He called to say he couldn't guarantee delivery by Friday.
This struck me as odd.....3.5 working days and all. I enquired about
express post etc but there just didn't seem to be a willingness, just
resignation. It was possible, but he certainly didn't intend to go out of
his way to make it happen. In the end he said 'there wasn't enough in it
for me' and declared he didn't want to sell me the wine at all. That was
quite an astounding attitude! I was completely willing to roll the dice on
the postage if he could have got it away that afternoon, he just didn't want
I rang some colleagues in Melbourne and someone was flying up
later in the week and another friend was willing to pick up the wine.
Determination and persistence paying off again, or so I thought. I phoned
Greg back to relay the good news. His young assistant answered the phone
and was quite relieved with my news.
However....he phoned me back a minute later to say Greg still
did not want to sell me the wine. Reasons withheld. I asked to speak to
Greg..."he's in a meeting'...'how could this be so, you've just spoken to
him' I replied.....'he's not available'.
What do you make of that? A retailer refusing to sell me his
product with all barriers to transaction removed. Business must be good
down Liquid Assets way.
As a footnote, I submitted requests to Discount Wines in
Canberra for the '97 and '99 and Jeff was happy to oblige as well as Old
and Rare Wines Collector House where I sourced the 2000.
Despite Mr Martins decision to not sell me his wares, my
friends and I look forward to a brilliant evening with plenty of fine wine
where his antics will be the source of much mirth and bewilderment.
And small business wonders why life can be hard for small
Interesting story! Assuming this story is true, Liquid Assets probably won't mind this publicity as they
look like they don't need /want any new customers. As an aside, Mike
and his mates will have their 98 Bowen, it should be delivered via
Guaranteed Next Day Australia Post Delivery on Thursday. Needless to say it
came from somewhere else.
Wine or Whine Forums and the
I predicted there would be controversy over last
week’s article but I never expected the extent of the actual result. The
response to the article started even before the Irregular Update went out!
The biggest reaction occurred on StarForum and if you read the
lengthy thread, you will notice the disagreement revolves around:-
The comments I made in
relation to moderation of the StarFourm
My comments about those on a
A number of posters vigorously disputed my
comments about the forum’s moderation and the nuking of posts with links,
and said I had it all wrong. Then one contributor posted chapter and verse
details, including email content from a moderator which completely proved
the point I was making.
As far as the shellacking given to my comments
about those on a “palate journey” are concerned (as well as the gratuitous
insults), readers can see all the comments made on StarForum and are smart
enough to work out for themselves if my comments are accurate or not.
In the thread many people expressed their
opinions, which is their undisputed right; however a few posts made
statements or comments that were absolutely incorrect. I could go into
mindlessly boring levels of detail to prove my last statement but it’s not
worth the effort. However one comment deserves a response.
“For me, Ric's article is one of the most
lop-sided, nepotistic ramblings I've heard........ As for "Sprouting off
at the mouth" well ....TORB'S site is a soapbox where he can do just
that, that.... with the luxury of not having a forum or comments section
where people can commend or challenge his articles...nice one-way info
I enjoy some of Ric's articles but this one is
skewed and contains a fair dose of the spewing forth information that is
blatantly and factually incorrect that he whinges about
in the article.”
Firstly, I wonder if the
author can name any professional (or amateur) wine writer other than Robert
Parker that has a discussion forum or even a comments section where readers
can post their thoughts for the entire world to see? For the sake of factual
accuracy, on the site there is an open
where anyone can post their thoughts and feelings, even those that disagree
with me are welcome to do so. In addition, I have frequently posted comments
from people that disagree with me in (this) the Drops ‘n Dregs section as
well as quoting them in Irregular Updates. (I’m confident
(favouritism shown or patronage granted to
apply here either.)
As far as the article
being “blatantly and factually incorrect,” I encourage readers, if they have
the time, to reread the original article and then read through the
StarForum thread to get both sides of the picture; and then make an
The Whingeing Wine Retailer of the
Year Award - see story directly below
This one generated a fair amount of feedback.
Firstly, I received seven e-mails from existing customers, who were
horrified at the tone of the statements made, and stated that they would no
longer be buying from Avalon. If I received seven e-mails, one can only
wonder how many more people felt the same way but didn't bother to write. A
few other retailers emailed me and thought the comments, whilst
"ill-advised" could only do their business good.
However, there are always two sides to
every story and I received the following e-mail, from someone who has been
in the industry for a long time and for (understandable) personal reasons
wants to remain anonymous. Here is what he said.
"I have been in the
industry for 25 years and for 16 years was a retailer, and I think Marsden
has a point. The definition of being independent is to do your own thing and
when other whingeing retailers go to great lengths to undermine your
business then I think Marsden has the right to have his own Whinge.
The problem is that there
are 20 or so retailers who have no imagination nor “guts” to do their own
thing and be truly independent, so they follow Marsden's lead. I have
witnessed other retailers complain about what he is doing and the wholesaler
has then withdrawn product from Marsden. If it was Woolworth’s or Coles
complaining and pressuring suppliers then it would make headline news. When
it is so called “independent giants,” (no names here but I think you can
work it out) complain, then suppliers react and the real competitive nature
of the business is stamped out.
Cherry pickers in this
case are synonymous with “traders” I think. There was a lot more to the
email than meets the eye."
The author of this e-mail has made some very
valid points and offers an insightful perspective. Based on what I know
about the industry, and what I've heard from other reputable retailers about
pressure being brought to bear when retailers offer wines at prices that the
wholesalers or producers don't like, I can believe everything that he has
said. As for products “being
withdrawn” – someone needs to take these bastards on; it’s clearly
against the TPA. I just wish someone had what it took to expose it once and
for all, because once someone gets stung doing it, it will make the rest of
the industry wary about engaging in price-fixing practices.
Still, whilst I can now see both sides of this
argument, that dummy spit was ill-advised and would have turned away
genuine customers, something most retailers cannot afford to do in the
The Whingeing Wine Retailer of the
Year Award (8 Sept 05)
Avalon Fine Wine and Food, a Sydney retailer
that does not maintain a web site, sends as a weekly e-mail to subscribers
advertising their latest specials and deals.
In this week's e-mail is the following text
“Whinging Retailers please
note: I plan a lot of my own deals and finance them myself. Could you
please concentrate on running your own businesses and just get on with it.
Also people that run wine websites and chat
rooms, I would appreciate it if you would not advertise my newsletter prices
on your website.
Also, cherry pickers if you find yourself
missing out on wines it is probably because you are an obvious cherry
Whilst I can understand some retailers get upset
from time to time when other retailers are selling wine at low prices, the
vast majority of larger retailers do discount some lines and engage in
special promotions; so why Avalon thinks they are Robinson Crusoe in this
regard is beyond my comprehension. More importantly, why would they even
demean themselves with the sort of public comment?
If it has been designed because Avalon wants
their customers to think their deals are so good that the competitors are
complaining it may be a smart move, despite the fact that those who compare
prices will understand that this is nothing more than marketing ploy. There
prices may be good on some lines, but they are “me too” on many others.
As far as reproducing some of their newsletter
prices, as a majority of them are in published in newspaper, the information
is certainly not confidential, or in breach of copyright. Perhaps Avalon has
so much business they don't need new customers. But if that is the case, one
can only wonder why they spend all that money advertising in the Sydney
Morning Herald Good Living Section most Tuesdays in the first place.
As far as the dummy spit regarding “cherry
picking” is concerned cherry pickers are customers too, and if the retailer
doesn't want to sell the wines, then why advertise them, especially in the
papers. Sure, the odd select few wines are exclusive to the e-mail
newsletter, rewarding regular customers with scarce allocation, sand may not
advertised in the SMH which is fair enough, but this attitude will be seen
as offensive by some regular customers, and rightly so.
One final point, “fine wines are like buses” -
if you miss one there will be another one in another five minutes that will
be happy to take your money. As for retailers, whilst the peninsula in
Sydney may be a wealthy area, there are other fine wine shops in Sydney that
will welcome customers with open arms without the height of arrogance
expressed in this email.
So I guess the following wines I have purchased
from them recently, many of which were in dozen lots, (plus others) makes me
a cherry picker too.
Coldstream Hills (VIC)
Mitchelton Wines (VIC)
Moss Wood (WA)
Vasse Felix (WA)
John Riddoch Cabernet
I am confident that all of these were advertised
in the SMH newspaper too, so if this retailer doesn’t want to sell his fines
wines to people and have them bitching because they miss out, the answer is
simple; don’t advertise them.
Guess where I won’t be shopping in future. The
other fine wine specialist retailers like Auswine, Boccaccio Cellars,
Cloudwine and 60 Darling Street (amongst others) that I deal with will be
happy to have the extra business.
Readers Feedback on the story:
Has Halliday Lost the Plot
(18 August 05)
he could have been reading my draft copy of the second part of the Halliday
Companion Review; talk about singing from the same page in the song book!
Stuart writes,” I read your comments on Halliday’s latest Wine Companion
with interest. This guide has proved useful to me over the years in that the
succinct and generally truncated comments have been consistent with my own
findings on most wines – therefore it has some usefulness in deciding which
vineyards to visit when exploring a new area.
Gerry Kennedy writes, “I am very much a
novice and have subscribed to both Winepros and Onwine to help me understand
my own tasting and cellar some nice wine for the future.
I have long ago decided not to renew my
Winepros as I get very little value out of it. On the other hand I log
onto and use Jeremy Oliver’s
Onwine on a regular basis. The 20 point system along with Oliver’s notes
can be qualified and understood by the average person.
Even as a novice I quickly discovered that the
ratings with the 100 point system, even when you try and qualify them
against the notes by Halliday, Parker and a few others are bloody useless.
What I find interesting is that they are all in the media spot light as the
wine guru's and simply hype up the ratings and comments to sell more books,
wines guides and get more web site subscriptions......... They have not lost
the plot but are guilty of abusing a valid critique system for commercial
gains!!! Once again a nice article; it is good to see someone speaking
This email from
However it’s this 100 point thing. What
relevance does it really have? The trouble is that tasting wine is, at best,
an intensely personal and subjective exercise and this must inevitably
result in a score (out of 100, or 20, or whatever) that is clouded by
personal prejudice. I have seen some scores out of 100 given by a self
styled eminent US wine writer that were ridiculous. This eminent person gave
a friend’s Shiraz 93 out of 100 which both my friend and I could only score
in the mid 80’s; and I think we understood the wine better than the Eminent
One. My point is that a description of the wine structure and flavours is
worth far more to me as a consumer than all the points in the world.
The trouble with Halliday’s book is that if he
used a full description the book would be bigger than the Sydney White
Pages. You just have to learn how to read the Halliday shorthand as a guide
on which wineries to visit and what wines to taste there. For this the book
is useful; for the rest I prefer to rely on my own palate.
The same argument for points can be applied to
show awards. One personal gripe is the times I visit a winery and are told
such and such a wine is great because it won a heap of medals. My inevitable
response to this is there is only one medal worth considering and that is
the one I am possibly about to award. Show awards mean nothing to me – I
have bought, cellared and drunk heaps of bronze medal (or worse) wines that
I have thoroughly enjoyed and I have seen heaps of gold medal winners that
are terrible, mostly ones overly affected by the Oak Fairy.
My other gripe is the cellar door staff that
tell me what I should taste in a wine. They drive me mad! One gent at a
Hunter Valley cellar door was so bad I told him to stop his constant
know-all prattle or I would walk out – and I did on the next wine. This same
genius, incidentally, told me Verdelho (this is a grape I understand they
make poofy white alcoholic beverages from) originated in Margaret River, had
come to the Hunter Valley 10 years ago and yes, I was wrong, had never been
planted in Madeira! I digress ---------- and look forward to your review of
the Wine Companion with interest.
From "Smithy" at
Warrabilla - Whoa baby! Don't like the title of the story much as
he love us! To be fair you validate what you say very well, but this is the
Aussie version of RPJ we're talking about. Halliday is God to us humble
I think James would be amused that so many
regard his opinion so highly. I tried to work out his workload in wines
tasted per day and its very impressive!
6000 wines reviewed. Say 2/3 not worth
reviewing = 18000 wines tasted =49.3 wines tasted every bloody day of
the year. He earns his godlike status for sheer fortitude in my humble
opinion. He is also pretty consistent, can handle a very wide cross
section of styles, is succinct, entertaining and widely respected.
We don't need to rip down another tall
poppy, we need our legends and icons.....as a maker I have
mine.....perhaps as a reviewer of wine we need some as well.
From Andrew Burge -
I don't usually comment on stuff like this, but the Halliday points issue
really has me perplexed.
A few of us tasted the Tomboy Hill range
(Chardonnays and Pinots) at an in store tasting last weekend. The $55 top
end wines were pretty good, with the 2003’s better than the 2002’s. The
lower wines, $35 to $48 were OK but really not that exciting.
To my thinking, 85 pointers at best (I use the
Winestar version of the 100 point scale, which I'm told is expected to
roughly line up with Halliday’s scores). At the end of the tasting I was
told Halliday had scored some of these at 95 points or better! I don't
often do a double take, but I did one here. There is NO WAY these were 95
point wines, on anyone’s 100 point scale; except maybe Nicks.
As you say, the notes are more important than
the points; but then there is this:
Complex and scented, yet elegant, bouquet:
has intensity and power without clumsiness; fine, ripe tannins. Great
vintage. Rating 95
This is Halliday’s note on the 02 Pirramimma
Shiraz. This could be any red wine. Without the tannin comment, it
could even be a chardonnay description. If I had to make a "down the line"
guess as to the wine he was describing here I would have picked a more
elegant Australian Cabernet or possibly a 2000 Bordeaux.
Perhaps I've picked out an exception here,
(although I doubt it) and this is a real concern. Here is a further point
that will illustrate the difference between a good to tasting notes and a
generic one. Last night I tasted my first ever Vouvray. It was served
double blind, BUT because I had read some good tasting notes on this style
(I can recall Murray Almond, Dave Brookes notes), I knew exactly what grape
variety I was drinking.
The JWT Farce
10 August 05
The wine silly season is about to descend on us.
Judging is taking place at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show and on
Thursday 11th, the results of the Jimmy Watson Trophy will be
announced. Any thinking individual that understands the facts will know that
the JWT is the most asinine and over-rated wine trophy in Australia today.
For those that don't know, the wine is awarded to the best one-year old
red wine in the show; sounds fair enough doesn't it? On the surface it does
but then you need to consider many of the wines judged in this category are
unfinished and work in progress.
A high percentage of quality red wine spends
more than twelve months in oak and everyone that falls into this category is
basically unfinished. In some cases, the wines entered into the show are
nothing more than barrel samples from wine that has not even been blended
yet. Now I'm not accusing any of the wine companies of being dishonest, but
any thinking person will realise the system is open to manipulation as there
are no checks and balances. There is absolutely nothing stopping the winery
selecting small samples from the best barrels, blending a non-representative
batch and submitting the wine into the show.
Given the importance of this trophy, and the
amount of wine it winds up selling, if anything the basis under which this
trophy is awarded actually encourages unethical practices. Tricked up
samples can and do happen, a number of well respected journalists have
written articles on the subject; I know for a fact it has happened to me,
and a number of years ago McGuigan winery was caught out in a
As Campbell Mattinson of Winefront
Monthly said recently “It's really only
winemakers who care about show results. In general, with some small scale
exceptions, the wine drinking public doesn't give two hoots about wine show
results. So what happens in Melbourne is largely immaterial. The Melbourne
show has always been a joke. So there'll be no real surprise when it is
again this year. But then again, I don't believe in the show system at all -
and I can't see that I ever will.”
In reality, the major
reason wine shows are important to the wine industry is that medals on
bottles sell wine; it's that simple.
Sideways the Phenomenon
16 July 05
A film critical I am not, but after having
finally watched a DVD copy of what has rapidly become a cult wine lovers
movie, and as contentious as they will probably be seen, some comments were
worthy of being made.
If you haven't seen the movie, it's a story
about two guys who decide to spend a week in a "male bonding exercise" prior
to one of them being married. Jack, the guy who is about to be married is
basically out to have a final fling and “shag anything that moves.” Miles,
the other guy is a typical wine tragic, as well as being an insecure,
rejected author; and full-time school teacher. If you have ever seen the
original “Odd Couple” TV series, imagine Felix with a wine fetish and Oscar
with “Shane Warne Syndrome” and you will be pretty close to the mark.
The movie has a lot going for it; it is
entertaining, sad, and philosophical; has its funny moments, as well as the
usual amounts of gratuitous sex and (not enough) violence. It also has some
deep and meaningful moments as two friends share some difficult experiences.
And then, of course, there is the wine. Miles
credibly portrays a ‘Pinot-o-file’ whilst Jack credibly plays a ‘piss pot’
out to have a good time. One of our heroines, Stephanie is studying for a
master’s degree in horticulture (the film did not use the term viticulture)
and at one point, Miles asks her if she is going to use her qualifications
to work in the vineyards. It's only a small point, but it is a pity the
producers didn't know the difference between a horticulturalist and a
However that is an extremely minor criticism, in
what is an enjoyable movie. My criticism is not aimed the producers or
directors of the movie, it's aimed at the fans. Apparently the film has
spawned an industry and change in the wine drinking habits of a number of
Americans. Many of the Merlot drinkers have been switching to Pinot Noir as
a result of the movie. In many ways this is understandable, as the movie has
essentially broaden their wine horizons and they are looking to see if they
can capture “some of the magic in the bottle” that Miles was banging on
What I cannot understand are the hordes of
people, or should that be sheep, who are so enamoured with the movie, that
they are obtaining maps of the places that the two stars visited in the
movie, and are faithfully reproducing their steps. As Rolf Binder of Veritas
wines has been known to say, “These people should find the ‘Life Shop’ and
I honestly don't know what's worse, the “wine
tragic” portrayed in the film, the shallow character of “good-time Jack” or
the people who are following in someone else's footsteps whilst trying to
relive someone else's experiences second-hand. The mind boggles.
If you are the other wine lover that hasn't seen
it, it is worth hiring the video or DVD.
Previous Drops 'n Dregs