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Vintage Perspective 2007 and Tour Diary Observations (26 September)
By way of introduction, as is tradition with the Tour Diaries, some initial impressions, as well as recent vintage comparisons are being provided prior to Chapter One.
In any vintage, no matter how bad, there will always be some top quality wines produced; and conversely no matter how good the vintage, there will always be a number of very ordinary wines made. Tarring a whole vintage with the same brush for a large winery, let alone a region or a state, is a huge generalisation, but one that many wine lovers feel should be made no matter how misleading the result. (Just have a look at Halliday’s rating for Coonawarra in 2003.) In this case 2004, 2005, and 2006 vintages were all very good; it is just a case of how good for each wine, winery, and region. Over the next few years there is going to be a deluge of fine wine available.
McLaren Vale - Vintage Comparison
2004 is basically regarded as the best of recent vintages followed by 2006 and then 2005. In general terms, we found many of the 04’s had excellent width (as well as length) across the palate whist the tannins in 05 tended to be more linear and not quite as rounded and soft. Surprisingly enough, many wineries think the 2005 is slightly more approachable and more forward. 06 looks like it will be close to 04 but not quite as fine. The reality is that all three vintages are well above average and will produce a huge array of stunning wines.
In the majority of instances, wineries told us they were extremely happy with the quality of the fruit from 2007, the problem was quantity. From my cynical perspective, I can't think of many instances where wineries were prepared to publicly admit they were not happy with the fruit they obtained. My best guess is that 2007 is looking a little like 03, not a good vintage in terms of quantity, and quality is questionable. In typical fashion, many producers will tell you they are happy with the results of this vintage, but the reality is that it was a hot, dry year with lots of stressed fruit. Some will be overripe and some had trouble ripening. With three terrific vintages behind it, most wine lovers can just about avoid 2007, and given the incredibly low level of wine made, producers should have no problems selling their meagre production.
Barossa - Vintage Comparison
Every time I asked the question, “how you would rate 04 vs 05 vs 06 in the Barossa,” I received a different answer. All three vintages are strong; it just depends on where the grapes come from, when they were picked, and how the vineyards were looked after etc. It’s impossible to make meaningful generalities about these vintages in the Barossa, but one thing is certain, there will be great supply of terrific wines from these vintages.
The Dreaded 2007
Most producers’ yields were down dramatically in 2007 due to drought, unseasonable frost and rain at the wrong time. Whilst it is far too early to see how good the harvested fruit really is, the general feeling is that it was “good.” How they will compare to the previous three vintages is still anyone’s guess, but from a personal perspective, I will stock up with the previous three vintages.
2008 in South Australia
The growing season has hardly started; bud burst is only just beginning so forecasting what the vintage will be like is impossible. However, it will be a low-yield vintage in the Barossa and McLaren Vale. Some vines are still showing damage from last season’s frost and the stored ground water is extremely low. Lack of rain during winter has not helped, especially in McLaren Vale. A number of producers said if they didn’t get substantial rain in the by the middle of September (and they didn’t) the crops would have to be thinned even further.
Whilst we were in the Barossa, there was some very welcome rain but the situation is not much better there. The same lack of ground water is an issue. To make matters worse, the amount of water available to producers that rely on a water allocation from the Murray River is virtually non existent.
Some producers are starting to take long term action so that their vines can become dry grown. Heavy mulching or building a collar of soil along the vines rows is becoming increasingly common.
Dams are being lined with rubber membranes to stop leaching into the ground, and some are even talking about dam top covers to stop evaporation.
Even after day one a very gratifying trend was becoming apparent. For years, I have been complaining about very-ripe, intense blackberry-flavoured wines that were infused with over-oaked, coffee-laden wood, and yearning for wines with better acidity and more of the previously styled plum flavours. The news is great! With many of the wines tasted from the 04-06 vintages, the acid is noticeable, and the wines finish clean and crisp. Many producers admitted adding as much as 7g per litre of TA (if needed) and in my opinion, the wines are far better for it. Even more gratifying was the number of wines that had blue or red spectrum flavours, rather than over-ripe black flavours.
A number of wineries have moved away from the “in your face blockbuster” style to a more restrained series of wines. In many cases it has worked brilliantly, but in others they have missed the mark and left me wondering why they are trying to make delicate Yarra Valley like wines in McLaren Vale and the Barossa. When these new style wines are good, they can be very good, but when they miss the mark the results show about as much as Paris Hilton does after a party. In this case, the acid sticks out and is often sour.
The use of oak with toast levels that dominate the wine have also reduced, which is also great.
The momentum towards alternative closure is accelerating faster than a Formula One McLaren. Many wineries are now fully committed to closures other than natural cork. Although Procorks are being sold as a safer alternative with less risk of TCA, I have seen too many examples of TCA under this closure to have confidence in them. We have also seen quite a number of “off bottles” that have been sealed with screwcaps and whilst the number is far less than cork sealed wines, closure failure and off bottles still occur. A real issue is winery staffs’ blind faith in the integrity of screwcaps; they don’t understand that an off bottle is still possible.
The pro-cork brigade is becoming more convinced about their position and digging their heels in. In general, they state two points. First and foremost, they are convinced their wines will age in a better way under cork and secondly, they are convinced that Australia has been getting the worst corks in the world. Their solution to the latter problem is to either direct import from a reputable company in Spain, or to pay top price and have faith in the cork industry’s ability to clean up their act.
It also seems that whilst the UK supermarket wine buyers are happy with screwcaps, a number of wineries told us their top end customers in the UK and Europe refuse to accept alternative closures. I am not sure how real this reason is, as the likes of d’Arenberg and others have moved to screwcaps for premium wines with no apparent backlash from these markets.
A couple of the good producers who send wines to the US and UK are finding those markets will take all they produce and more. Why? Because the wines represent value and are managed by quality importers who work hard at promoting the Australian category. Other producers, even those that may use the same agents, are not finding sales as easy, but then their wines are not perceived as such good value.
A number of producers have recently been in the US, or as this was being drafted, were in the US presenting their wine to Jay Miller of (Robert Parker’s) The Wine Advocate. Although Miller has tasted Oz wines with Parker for decades, there seems to be mixed speculation about his style. The good news is that he is already seen importers that had previously not had access to Parker. That will expand the range of Australian wines being reviewed. Many people that think Miller will put his own stamp on the category from his first Australian issue. There are others that think not much will change as Miller has tasted alongside Parker for so long, and that the scores and styles that are appreciated by Parker will also be highly rated by Miller. Time will tell!
One fascinating observation I must share with you. When discussing their own wines, a few producers who had made wines that they were not overly happy with, openly commented that they thought the wines would probably be appreciated by Parker.
Robert Parker is highly respected for his Bordeaux analysis, but a number of the Australian winemakers I spoke to certainly do not have a high regard for his ability to judge Australian wines. Remarkably, it is not a case of “sour grapes” because their wines are not being reviewed by Parker; in many cases these producers’ wines are selling through without Parker’s reviews. In addition, a number of these comments came from producers whose wines have consistently been rated highly by Parker.
A classic example was at one highly-respected winery that has two labels of Shiraz at a similar price point. One was tight, showed excellent structure and a modicum of elegance. The other was more like a bombastic fruit bomb, had overt sweetness and was a little baggy. Parker rated the second wine higher than the first, and whilst the winemaker was left scratching his head in wonder, he was happy as the majority of the one highly rated by Parker is being exported, whilst the majority of the other stayed in Australia, where it is being well received.
Look out for Chapter One of the Tour Diary next week.
Feel free to submit your comments!
From: Andre09/25/2007 07:10:35 "When discussing their own wines, a few producers who had made wines that they were not overly happy with, openly commented that they thought the wines would probably be appreciated by Parker."
When this kind of comment comes up it is because they never had any good score from the WA. Can you name some of them ? This is a very known pattern between winemakers from all over the world that receives bad scores or no scores at all from critics. They would say that about RP, Halliday, WS, Tanzer, Torb, ...
What you have stated in the cases I mentioned is absolutely incorrect. If you read the two paragraphs following the quote you used, you will see why.
From: monkeyboy09/26/2007 00:03:35 Hi Torb,
Thanks for the updates. Always enjoy reading your take on things. re. the winery/parker scores any chance of giving us a hint what the wines/winery are/is???
From: Carl09/28/2007 21:53:41 With regard to your observations on the move towards the elegant restrained style I noticed the same at the Coonawarra Roadshow. Some nailed it but there were many wines with acid poking out. With not much experience tasting young wine I just put it down to them being in a phase and should integrate in time but your comment would suggest otherwise?
Copyright © Ric Einstein 2007