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Copyright © Ric Einstein 2009
Where nothing is taken seriously except possibly the good plonk.
Follow the irreverent ranting of The Opinionated Red Bigot
TORB's Editor, Brian hard at work!
What's going on - or not going on with TORBWine
Things have been very slowwww around here recently, and with good reason. My health continued to decline slowly and by May, I was virtually back to chronic fatigue again. I had no energy and a liver that was playing up, even though I was hardly drinking alcohol. Not happy! As a result of ongoing health issues (not life threatening, just a quality of life destroyer,) I decided to sell my business and retire.
That's the bad news over! The sale of the business took it out of me, but luckily it sold quickly, and is now done and dusted. My health since May has been improving slowly and although my energy level is patchy, thanks to some (more) drugs, I am feeling, almost, like a human being again.
Tasting wine is bloody hard work, and in order to do the wine justice, one has to be in the right frame of mind and both mentally and physically 'conditioned' to undertake the task. When you don't much feel like drinking, there is no way you can trust yourself to do the wine justice, and that's the main reason I have not been reviewing wines. My apologies to those wineries that sent me samples.)
If my energy level continues to improve, I will start reviewing and writing again. Its one day at a time, so I have no idea how long it will take.
Should it be Called Robert Parker’s Wine Hypocrite? (19 March)
This week article is, in some ways, a follow on to my last article (see below), but in some respects its completely different. One thing is for sure, Mr Miller and Mr Parker are not going to like what I have written. The Wine Advocate has more influence at the top end of the wine market than any other publication, and Parker has positioned himself as the champion who looks after wine consumers best interests. The front page of the print version of TWA makes some emphatic claims. But are those some of those claims just hyperbole? This article looks specifically at the actual tasting methodology, and the holes and shortcomings in the system, as well as the questions relating to the relationship between Miller and those in the business. This is a no holds barred story. It can be found here. (3 comment)
Jay Miller – The Wine Advocate on Oz Wines(5 March)
When The Australian wine category was hot in the US, people waited with bated breath for the release of the annual Australian Edition. Now, its not even the Australian edition. It kicks off with tasting notes from Bordeaux, the Southern Rhône, Spain, Austria; and then Australia, which represents about a third of the issue. The distributors and retailers phones are not ringing off the hook asking for the Oz wines; not even those at 97 points. Miller's introduction is titled, "AUSTRALIA 2009: Into The Abyss" and that about sums up the situation. Miller examines some of the reasons why the Australia segment found itself in this position, and whilst his comments are accurate, they conveniently miss one of the most most important parts of the picture. This article examines Millers comments and puts them into perspective, including the missing part; the influence of Robert Parker and The Wine Advocate. It can be found here. (3 comments)
More Shonky Wine Marketing(5 March)
All the top wine e-tailers have a few things in common, and using shonky marketing practices is not one of them, so its not surprising that Winelist Australia is not on the exalted list of highly respected online wine merchants. Any wine merchant that uses unattributed tasting notes, quoting tasting notes from highly questionable sources, and using notes that make a $10 red look look like its a top shelf, uber-premium wine, will always leave their credibility open to be questioned. This article doesn't just question it, it exposes, in detail, exactly how this e-tailer weaves their web. It can be found here. (1 comment)
A Titanic Wine Struggle (26 February)
Recently Fosters announced the findings of their in-depth examination of their wine business. Not to put to fine a point on it, Fosters paid way to much for Southcorp and then, in a text book case on what not to do, Fosters integrated Southcorp into their own business. The findings, whilst not surprising, are frank, but then they need to be. If you are not prepared to admit that you are on a sinking ship, it's hard to save it. This story examines some of the more pertinent findings, how they got into this unholy mess in the first place, and shows what a titanic job Fosters has ahead of itself in trying to turn the wine business around, before the damage they have sustained from the Southcorp Iceberg causes any more damage. It can be found here.
Two Tales of One Wine(19 February)
How can you write over 3,000 words about one wine, a wine that isn't even a classic or icon. In this case it was easy as this story takes an in-depth look at one wine that was sealed under both cork and screwcap, and the differences between them. It then looks at the possible reasons this wine won three trophies and four gold medals, when I, and a number of others, thought at best, it was worth the equivalent of a silver medal. Has there been jiggery pokery going on, or are their other reasons why this wine, to me, was way below trophy standard. Some of the answers and propositions, hopefully, will really make you think. It can be found here. (8 comments)
Readers Write:Clayfield Newsletter (18 February)
This is a first! I have never posted a producers newsletter on my site before because they could be seen as (free) advertising but I am going to make an exception in this case. I have an enormous amount of respect for Simon Clayfield, and he makes some damn good wines, but that is not what this is all about. The vast majority of his latest newsletter is about climate, climate change and contains some sound, as well as novel ideas about this all important subject. Even if you don't agree with all that is written, It is guaranteed to provoke thought, and that is still a good. The pdf can be found here. (Prices quoted at the bottom of the newsletter are for mailing list subscribers but they will be honoured to TORBWine readers if they purchase a dozen bottles.)
Problems and Solutions
Where To Now? (22 January)
The Australian wine industry is living in challenging times, and if anything, they will become even more challenging during 2009. This article examines how the industry got into its current position and where it is heading. It can be found here.
From the Mailbag and Other Things (21 December)
An eclectic collection of bits and bobs to finish the year. None of the topics covered justified a snippet or story in their own right but they are still worth some coverage. Topics range from ludicrously expensive critter wine, through to salt, voodooism, and Iberian wildlife. Something for everyone! They can be found here.
Grange – Keeping the Bastards Honest (27 November)
Penfolds Grange has enjoyed an unsurpassed reputation and is the flagship of the Fosters wine portfolio. When you fork out $500, or more, for a bottle of wine, you expect the company to stand behind its product. Under Australian law, if any product has a manufacturing defect, and cork taint falls into that category, or the product is not fit the purpose it was intended, the purchaser is entitled to a replacement. So, if you open a bottle of 86 Grange that should be in the prime of its life and a great wine, and its not, what happens? As this article shows, the situation is not always cut and dried for either party. More importantly, it exposes the absolute farcical process the wineries go through to determine if the wine is defective or sound. Not an easy problem to solve, and one without clear answers, never-the-less it needs to be exposed. It can be found here (2 comments)
Murrumbateman Cool Climate Wine Show 2008
What Price Information?
Interesting Times (9 October)
The old Chinese curse "may you live in interesting times" holds true, especially for those in the wine business. Most wine lovers would be aware there was a huge wine glut a few years ago and that it has all but disappeared. The glut caused enormous strains of both growers and producers and many almost went to the wall. The glut being finished was great news for those in the industry; well it would be if it was true. Unfortunately it was not much more than a short reprieve. The excess wine lake is growing again, and if the industry forecasts are right, in two years from now things will be almost as bad as they were a few years ago. The article can be found here. (3 comments)
Expensive Bad Advice (2 October)
When I wrote the article There Is Still One Born Every Minute I sighted greed as the primary reason why people were being stung by wine investment schemes. I recently had an email and phone exchange which made me realise there were people out there who were not greedy and had also been stung. This is the true story of an elderly man; how he got sucked in, what has happened since, and the predicament he now faces. It also shows the results of the callous and crook behaviour that these wine investment concerns have caused. This is James Hackers Story. (4 comments)
Where’s The Paddle(21 Aug)
Things are tough in the wine world. Very tough! And they are only going to get tougher. Sales in the all important UK and US export markets declined over the last twelve months; that's the first time that has happened in living memory. The Australian domestic economy is not conducive to the expansion of premium wine sales either. So how and why did this come about. The reasons are a lot deeper than many people realise. This article takes a highly critical look at those reasons in detail, and points the finger where it needs to be pointed. Some wineries are positioned well to weather this storm, and those factors are examined too. It can be found here. (2 comments)
The most eagerly awaited annual wine has just been released. When ever I pick up a publication like this one, my beady little eyes focus in a few things that make wonder if the author was smoking funny unfiltered cigarettes when they were tasting some of the wines. Then I question the use of the 100 point system and all sorts of other things. This book was no different, yet its still worth buying. Absolutely and without doubt! That may sound strange given my comments, but the article will explain why. It can be found here. (1 comment)
Cronyism (5 June)
When Robert Parker first started The Wine Advocate, one of the foundation stones he built his enterprise upon, was being a consumer advocate. He was highly critical of the British wine press in particular, for being too close to those in the wine business. The story, “Cronyism” looks at a couple of situations which have come to my attention and questions whether Robert Parker and his number one Australian reviewer, Jay Miller are guilty of not practising what Robert Parker originally preached. It can be found here. (8 comments)
Scary Stuff (20 February)
Recently I was told by a winemaker that he thought I was anti screwcap and pro cork. Yet if you ask many others, they think I am anti cork and all for alternative closures. The reality is I don't think any one seal is a perfect solution for all wines. Some will present better under cork, but cork has very real reliability issues. Even the most one eyed cork lover will admit cork can have problems, the only question is how big is the problem. There are all sorts of claims and counter claims about the reliability, or otherwise, of corks and the failure rate. Since June 2001 I have been keeping track of all bottles opened that have come from my cellar or have been sent to me as samples. Over 3,000 bottles have now been recorded and the results analysed. If you believe the cork industry, the failure rate of natural corks should be decreasing but as my numbers clearly show, opening a bottle of wine sealed with a cork is still a risk, and a damn big one at that! The numbers contained in this article are nightmare material. (4 comments)
Feature Story: The Quest Continues (12 Dec 2007)
When I started doing the research for this story, never in a thousand years did I think I would wind up coming to the conclusions I came to, because at first site they defy conventional logic. If you think that screwcaps are the best solution for red wine that is to be consumed young, think again. If you think that screwcaps are the best closure for c-through wines that will be drunk young, think again. If you think that corks are best seal for all red wines that require long term ageing, think again. However, when you look at the facts clinically and objectively, "conventional wisdom" may be conventional but it from many perspectives, it is certainly not wisdom. There is no such thing as the perfect closure for any one group of wines. Now that screwcaps have been around for sometime, far more is known about them than was previously the case, and this new knowledge turns many of the existing "truths" upside-down. Although this information won't stop "progress" and the direction in which we are heading, hopefully once theses facts are better understood by all winemakers, not just some winemakers, better wines will be the result. This Feature Article throws completely new light on the cork versus screwcap debate and will challenge your thoughts on the subject, no matter what side of the fence you sit on. It can be found here. (8 comments)
Feature Story: ‘A True Story’ – Australia’s most Decorated Winemaker (4 September 2007)
Can you even guess who this may be? My bet is that few people outside of the wine industry will know, as this character, and he is a real character, generally maintains a low public profile. Since his departure from one of the largest wine companies in Australia, to "take things easy and do a bit of consulting," this beer-swilling smoker has a maintained a pace that made me tired just hearing about it. Articles about this guy have been written before but they just tend to be the usual boring bio, so I decided to tell his story in a no holds barred fashion that truly shows what this unique man is all about, and what makes him tick. I guarantee you will chuckle and be fascinated when you read 'A True Story', and if you don't enjoy reading it half as much as I did interviewing him, you can get your money back. Grab a glass of good red and click here. (4 comments)
Readers Write: Murray Almond Investigates the packaging methods of shipping wine around (27 March)
This article which was first written in 2003 has just been updated with the latest offerings from Australia Post.... In a prior article Murray discussed carriers for hand transport of wine and glasses. In this follow up he looks at packaging wine for shipping further than your local restaurant.
I am too Busy to Serve You (9 January 2007)
In November I wrote an article called The TORBWine Trophy Winner for Bureaucratic BS and Bad Customer Service that castigated a winery for its attitude and poor customer response when it came to replacing defective bottles of wine. This week I underwent another "interesting experience" - this time dealing with a retail liquor chain that is owned by one of the largest two grocers in Australia. Between them they have over 50% of the retail market wine market in Australia and after this experience, my advise is to avoid the chains and deal with the independents. They may give a damn about you as an individual and actually value your custom. Read all about it here. (18 comments)
Trouble at the Top End (25 May 2006)
The existence and survival of the premium end of the Australian wine industry is dependant upon success in export markets, and the US market is now probably the most critical component in that equation. The bad news is that market is starting to under perform and based on current trends, it looks like it will only get worse, leaving many premium producers with a serious stock hangover. This article, which is one of the most important I have written for some time, explores the current situation and the background reasons. It can be found here and should not be missed.
Trouble at the Top End – Consumer Perspective (26 July 2006)
When I wrote Trouble at the Top End it generated a large amount of feedback from within the retail industry, but there was another side to the story that needed to be explored. I wanted to get the US consumers' perspective and find out their feelings as to why Australian wines were no longer "flavour of the month," so I asked the good folk on the WCWN Forum. Their response was enlightening and has lead to this article, which can be found here.
Desperado and Drugs of Addiction(2 August 2006 )
When Brian edited this story, he sent back an insightful comment about it, "Interesting and slightly depressing stuff." Now I know that people don't want to read depressing stuff, so there is a bit of humour thrown in too, but the message contained in this story is deadly serious. The story starts off with an Australian producers struggle to find a good US importer to handle his wine and then, thanks to a soul bearing confession from Mike Opdahl, a very well-respected US importer, it details chapter and verse why it is so hard to find one. More importantly, Mike provides a rare insiders perspective to the problems facing Australian wineries that want to crack the US market, and tells why some have been successful and why many will fail. Its powerful stuff and can be found here.
Readers Write: "Drongo Wombat's" Importer Responds with Her Perspective (9August 2006)
I received an email from Deborah Gray of The Australian Wine Connection, who is the US importer for the winery who was the subject of last weeks story. To say that "she was not well pleased" was an understatement! Deborah was hopping mad, and when you read her lengthy and well considered response, which is so long that it justified it's own page in the Readers Write section, you will understand why. It reinforces much of what was stated by Mike Opdahl in the previous weeks article but provides another engaging perspective.
Diner at a prominent hotel: "Waiter, this white wine is oxidised and has a peculiar taste." "Sir, that is your whisky."