Category Archives: Wine Reviews

Jun 06 2016

Do you write wine reviews?

Posted on June 06, 2016 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Don’t know about you, but I never book accommodation without checking reviews on Tripadvisor or buy a book without having a look at what people are saying about it on Goodreads. But I can’t say that I’m very good about checking consumer reviews on wine. And I’m starting to wonder why not?

I’m in the fortunate position of being able to attend quite a few wine related events where I meet lots of interesting wine lovers, many of whom possess a staggering amount of knowledge about wine. Perhaps, we have a general reluctance to broadcast our thoughts about a great wine we’ve discovered because we fear others might snap it up and (oh no!) encourage the producer to jack up the price!

winefront-logo-grey-BLUE1But a recent article by Huon Hooke in The Real Review, Winemaker criticises paid wine reviews, has got me thinking about whether consumer reviews should play a greater role in our wine purchasing decisions? Hooke mentions that winemaker Michael Glover, previously Bannockburn’s famed winemaker, and now working at Mahana in the Nelson Region, has taken a stand against the practice of ‘paid for’ reviews. He wants greater transparency for wine consumers. As Hooke notes, the practice of paying for a good review is fortunately not as prevalent in Australia as it is in New Zealand, but it should worry us nonetheless.

As a subscriber to quite a wine review websites, I am very impressed by the integrity of Australia’s top wine critics. Hooke recently teamed up with wine critic Bob Campbell MW to create The Real Review Alliance, which they describe “an alliance to promote and differentiate our approach to wine reviews.”  Tellingly, they are “taking a stand for even-handed, transparent, ethical and independent reviewing.”

The team at The Wine Front, led by Campbell … Read the rest

Jul 07 2012

The 20 Australian Wines with a Perfect 100 point Robert Parker score

Posted on July 07, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

After writing my last post, Can you guess how many wines have received a 100 ‘Parker Points’, I was thinking a lot about the usefulness of wine scores.

I came across a really interesting quote from Decanter critic Andrew Jefford about how “the language of wine is, of necessity, highly metaphorical and hence puzzling: these are not plain words.” He was speaking to the Wine Communicators of Australia, and he urged his audience to “not just think about wine with passionate intensity, but about language too.” (Wine and Astonishment by Andrew Jefford, andrewjefford.com, May 2012)

As an ex-smoker from way back, I can still remember the delicious smell of tobacco – a descriptor often used to describe an element of the bouquet of some mature reds – but I wonder whether young people today are still familiar with it? Ditto for eucalypt, which is used to describe a distinct aroma of some Australian cabernet sauvignon. I’ve seen American wine writers replace menthol for eucalypt, which makes sense because the vast majority of Americans have probably never seen, let alone experienced the smell of a eucalypt forest.

No wonder wine scores are so useful!  While most of us can differentiate over 1,000 aromas, not everyone has the same vocabulary or library of smells to draw on. Wine scores help us to cut-through the jargon. 90 points typically indicates that a wine is very good but 100 points signifies that it must be exceptional. And since wine is very much a sensuous experience, we can feel confident that imbibing a 100 point wine will in all likelihood be quite a remarkable and memorable experience. Perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to try one of the 100 ‘Parker Point’ wines listed below:

Read the rest
Jul 07 2012

Can you guess how many Australian wines have been awarded 100 ‘Parker Points’?

Posted on July 07, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Wine Scores: What they’re all About?

Before I reveal the magic number, a few observations about wine scores. British wine critic Jancis Robinson MW, who uses a 20 point scale, has commented that she’s “not a great fan of the conjunction of numbers and wine. Once numbers are involved, it is all too easy to reduce wine to a financial commodity rather than keep its precious status as a uniquely stimulating source of sensual pleasure and conviviality.”

Robert Parker Jr invented the 100 point scale for wine

Her view is definitely not shared by Robert Parker Jr, the inventor of the ubiquitous 100 point scale, which was based on the American standardised high school grading system because it was familiar and easy to understand. On his website Parker emphatically states: “While some have suggested that scoring is not well suited to a beverage that has been romantically extolled for centuries, wine is no different from any consumer product. There are specific standards of quality that full-time wine professionals recognize, and there are benchmark wines against which others can be judged.”

While he goes on to say “that the numerical ratings are utilized only to enhance and complement the thorough tasting notes, which are my primary means of communicating my judgments to you,” he acknowledges that “scoring permits rapid communication of information to expert and novice alike.”

The Importance of Wine Scores

Indeed! Parker’s Wine Advocate, together with other influential publications like the Wine Spectator and James Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion, which both followed Parker’s lead in embracing the 100 point wine scoring system, have been enormously important in broadening appeal and appreciation for fine wine over the past 30 years. And for Australian wines to be awarded high scores, especially when judged against the world’s best, proved a … Read the rest

May 05 2012

Reviews for Penfolds Grange 2007

Posted on May 05, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Reviews for the Penfolds Grange 2007 are starting to trickle in. As you may recall, the 2006 Grange was a stellar vintage. Andrew Caillard MW of Langton’s gave the wine a perfect score of 100 points, rating the 2006 Grange as the best vintage since 2004.

2006 was always going to be a hard act to follow, especially since the 2007 vintage was plagued by drought, high summer temperatures and severe frosts early in the growing season. Of course, only the best quality fruit is used for the Grange, and Penfolds has the luxury of being able to source prime material from different sites and regions. The 2007 is a blend of 97 per cent shiraz and 3 per cent cabernet sauvignon.

Grange is definitely not a wine designed to be imbibed upon release, and early reviews and scores are often revised as the wine ages. As the influential American wine critic Robert Parker commented, Grange is a wine that ages at a “glacial pace.” His Wine Advocate regularly re-tastes the wine at 3-7 year intervals, updating reviews and, most importantly, the crucial point scores.

Usually point scores and reviews for Grange tend to improve as the wine ages, but sometimes they dip and then come up again. Like a great Bordeaux, some vintages of Grange have a propensity to ‘close down’ and then ‘re-emerge’ after several more years of cellaring.

The Wine Advocate’s reviews of the celebrated 1990 Grange, for example, are a case in point. (Incidentally, this was the vintage that was named ‘Red Wine of the Year’ by the Wine Spectator magazine in 1995 – the first time it chose a wine outside of France or California!)

In his 1995 review of the 1990 vintage, Parker remarked that “The 1990 is the greatest, most complete and richest … Read the rest

Feb 02 2011

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon: Art in a Bottle

Posted on February 02, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Leeuwin Estate is one of the icon wineries of the Margaret River. Its Art Series Chardonnay is considered on the best in country, but the Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon is also winning high praise from critics and consumers alike.

Of course, when it comes to the Art Series, opening the bottle to taste the ‘art’ inside is not a decision you make lightly. The idea of tossing the empty bottle with its distinctive one-of-a-kind art label into the recycling bin almost seems like a crime. Leeuwin Estate commissions paintings  from leading contemporary Australian artists for each vintage of the Art Series and some of the finest artists in the country, including John Olsen, Clifton Pugh and Imants Tillers, have contributed superb labels over the years.

The current 2005 vintage of the Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon certainly lives up to its quality label. It has the distinctive nose that is characteristic of the best Margaret River vintages: wonderful aromas of blackberry, blackcurrant, plum and liquorice complemented by beautifully integrated aromas of new French oak. The palate of sweet and lush fruit is balanced by high acidity and fine-grained tannins, creating an elegant and balanced wine with a long finish.

In the style of a fine Bordeaux: petit verdot, malbec and merlot are typically added in varying proportions to add structure, colour, mid-palate richness, softness and complexity, the wine is designed to age. Gary Walsh of the Wine Front gives the 2005 vintage a drinking window of between 2015 and 2030. (The Wine Front, 5 August 2010)

In 1972 the legendary Californian winemaker Robert Mondavi identified the future site of Leeuwin Estate and then worked as a consultant with Leeuwin Estate founders Denis and Tricia Horgan to establish the vineyard and winery – the first commercial vintage was released in … Read the rest

Feb 02 2011

Making Sense of Bordeaux

Posted on February 02, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

When most people think of the great French wine region of  Bordeaux, a few images usually come to mind: magnificent estates with gloriously grand white stone mansions; wines of unattainable status with lofty prices to match; an intransigent 19th century classification system; and a seemingly impenetrable network of negociants who sell the wine en primeur when it is still in the barrel.

But take a closer look at Bordeaux and a more complex and fascinating picture begins to emerge. While the region has been shaped by centuries of tradition, it is also incredibly dynamic.

Decanter, for example, has reported on a string of Chinese purchases of prestige estates in Bordeaux over the last few years. To be alarmist about this development, however, would be to overlook how important foreign ownership has always been for Bordeaux. Indeed, the fortunes of many of the best estates were revived during the 20th century by farsighted Americans millionaires like Clarence Dillon, who bought Chateau Haut-Brion in 1935 at the height of the Depression.

Foreign consumption of Bordeaux wines has always been key to the region’s prosperity. In the 17th century, Francois-Auguste de Pontac of Chateau Haut-Brion created a buzz for ‘new French claret’ when he served his wine at his fashionable eating establishment, Pontack’s Head, in London. Soon shiploads of Bordeaux were travelling up the Gironde river to the British Isles. Apparently French excise taxes at the time also facilitated the export market, making it cheaper to send wine to London than to Paris!

Today, like Australia’s McLaren Vale and the Yarra Valley, for example, Bordeaux struggles with the effects of urban encroachment. Tourists often get lost in a maze of suburbs before finding their way to the different estates. Smaller vineyards owners are finding it hard to make ends meet in the … Read the rest

Sep 09 2010

Writing Great Wine Reviews

Posted on September 09, 2010 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Alkoomi Wines was pleased to report that a wine review submitted by Mike Zittritsch, a team member of Fine Wine Wholesales, Alkoomi’s Western Australia’s distributor, won a tasting note competition on James Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion website.

Here’s the winning entry for his review of Alkoomi’s Frankland River Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2009:

“Alkoomi 2009 Frankland River Semillon Sauvignon Blanc

The first release of Alkoomi’s Frankland River Semillon Sauvignon Blanc is a refreshing spin on what is fast becoming a homogenised brand of Western Australian SSBs. It’s a crisp, well made wine that drinks more like a Bordeaux white than a Margaret River white.

The wine displays pure citrus and lemon-lime fruit characters with a fine layer of minerality and a pleasing, rounded texture. Partial barrel fermentation of both varieties has given the wine a complexity not often found amongst its peers, and certainly not at this price.”

Of the review, James Halliday said, “I think it’s very interesting and covers both the wine making background and consequent flavour of the wine as well.”

The entry is certainly food for thought about what makes a wine review work?

Lettie Teague of The Wall Street Journal recently wrote an article about the best words to use to describe a wine, Finding the Words for Wine: Amateur enthusiasts often end up tongue-tied. How to be eloquent and exact, The Wall Street Journal, 25 June 2010. One of the most interesting points in the article was an observation made by Bernard Sun, the corporate beverage director of the prestigious Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant empire. He said that he keeps the word count to five when talking about wine. “You don’t want to overwhelm someone with words.”

His comments got me thinking about the growing popularity of Joe Roberts’ Weekly Twitter Wine Mini-Reviews on 1 Read the rest