Restaurant wine lists – old habits die hard

Reviewed 10 offers from Absolute Blizzard Resources, eWineasia, Le Vigne, Underground Wines, Wine Exchange Asia.

I was wandering through Wine Front’s website the other day (highly recommended, by the way – see www.winefront.com.au) when I came across a rant from a few years ago complaining about the woeful state of the wine list at one of Lygon Street, Melbourne’s restaurants. The complaint was about both price and selection (think high price, poor wine). I think “tourist trap” would have been an apt description and that’s what some places in Lygon Street can be. Then just last week, I was asked to review the wine list of a 5 star, going on 6 star hotel here in Asia. I was mightily impressed. Someone had done their homework, with a terrific selection of Clarendon Hills, Mollydooker, Two Hands, Tatachilla, Rosemount, Fox Creek, Knappstein, Majella, Voyager Estate, Leeuwin Estate, Henschke, Grange, Moss Wood, Grosset and Petaluma. Nearly all 90+ point wines, with many in the 95+ point category.  Not cheap, but you wouldn’t expect them to be, but the quality of the selection was simply outstanding. Take for example the 2004 Tatachilla Foundation shiraz. That’s a 95 point wine that has a RRP of A$60, and was on this wine list at around S$140. Not bad, in a relative sort of way.

But then, they couldn’t help themselves………..there, sitting amongst the icons of Australia was a 2007 Penfolds Rawsons Retreat semillon chardonnay.  That’s an $8 wine in Australia, and that price is apt. Only here, in the middle of a wine list of enviable quality, substance, variety and intelligence it is listed at S$100. What goes through a restauranteur’s head to think that dropping an outrageously inflated $8 low-rated wine in the middle of classic wines makes sense? Come in sucker! Hopefully, the advent of wine-rating apps will do away with such nonsense.

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I’ve just come back from Tasmania (see Tiger Wines below) and it goes without saying that one must stick one’s head into the odd antique or second-hand shop.  Very chuffed again as I picked up a small but very interesting book, a 1977 copy of “Cabernet – Notes of an Australian Wineman” by Max Lake. Anyone who’s been around for a while will recognize that the words “cabernet” and “Max Lake” go hand in hand with the Australian wine industry.  Another gem for the collection at the princely sum of $4!

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Just read that Jacob’s Creek wine is to be shipped to the UK in bulk and bottled there instead of being shipped pre-bottled. Now I know news of Jacob’s Creek won’t affect you, but it makes sense doesn’t it? Shipping wine in heavy bottles (I’ve seen some up to 1.6 kgs empty) surely has had its day in these carbon-conscious times, after all, it’s what goes into the bottle that counts. Hell, if prestige German motor vehicles can be manufactured in China, then surely the er, Brits (nearly slipped up there), can stick stuff in a bottle. They’ve started doing it with their own sparkling, which leads me to my next comment. There’s a move to call English sparkling wine “britagne”, so that imbibers will be able to say “I’ll have a glass of britagne please” instead of “I’ll have a glass of champers”. OK, so they’ve got a long way to go but it’s surely better than “I’ll have a glass of that very ordinary English sparkling wine”? Maybe Australia could do the same thing with our bubbly? We could call it ors-traya if we wanted to sound a bit foreign.

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Really struggled to find ratings on the 10 offers I reviewed this week. I’ve got pretty good and up to date sources but I only managed data on four. Here goes:

2005 / Mt Difficulty / Long Gully / Central Otago / Pinot Noir / S$156 at eWineasia – This is a cracker of a wine! 96 points from Bob Campbell and he doesn’t do that often. That earns an “absolutely outstanding” category from him. Whilst he doesn’t specifically advise on its cellaring potential, he certainly hints that its got long legs so the 2005 vintage shouldn’t bother you. “A youthful thoroughbred” he calls it. With a RRP of NZ$80, the BBI reckons that this should come in closer to S$100 than S$156. One of us is out of kilter.

2006 / Best’s / Victoria / Shiraz / S$25.90 at Le Vigne – This is one on which I don’t have a rating for this particular year. I’ve only got the 2005 which is 89 points from James Halliday. I’m going to stick my neck out and suggest that this year is probably around that mark too as I’ve tasted this wine myself previously. I also reckon it’s ready for drinking right now, I wouldn’t sit on it. With a RRP of A$17, the price at Le Vigne is very attractive indeed. I’m getting some as our daily quaffer.

2003 / Stella Bella / Suckfizzle / Margaret River / Cabernet / S$65, S$59 by the half case at Wine Exchange Asia – You’d have to wonder what the marketers had been drinking (presumably all night) to come up with a name of “suckfizzle”. Ignore the name and focus on the quality. How does 96 points from Halliday sound? Drinking out to 2018, 14% alcohol. What else – oh the price? RRP of A$45 so the single bottle price is OK, but the half case price is really good value.

2010 / Vasse Felix / Margaret River / Sauvignon Blanc Semillon / S$62 at Absolute Blizzard Resources – $62 bucks for a savvy semmy? It’d have to be good! It is, as today we’re blessed with three 96 pointers in the line-up. Yep, 96 points from Halliday. Drinking out to 2014 so no need to rush, and with alcohol at 12.5% to assuage the guilt. Ah….the RRP is A$25 which means the BBI puts this around the mid-$40s. Knew it was too good to be true. Then again, Vasse Felix does seem to have a cult following in Singapore…..

The BBI Buy is far and away the Best’s from Le Vigne provided you’re prepared to take a risk that it’s not rated (at least by my sources). I am. Next in line is the gloriously named Suckfizzle from Wine Exchange Asia, either by the half case or even the single bottle. Buy the Best’s to quaff and the Suckfizzle to cellar.

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WINESPEAK 101 – Learn to waffle like the best of them. Today’s word – RACY

What is a racy wine? I have no idea. See if you can guess each racy variety in these racy descriptions?

“Bright and generous, a racy style with red pepper and black currant flavours”

“Racy style offers pear and black pepper aromas and flavours, finishing with a tart edge.”

How did you go? The first one is cabernet merlot. The second is surprisingly (well, surprising to me) sauvignon blanc. And yes, a Marlborough sauvignon blanc to boot. Black pepper? Hmmm.

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The way things were – 1975 Angle Vale shiraz cabernet ( I had a look to see if Angle Vale still exists. Couldn’t find anything. No surprise as Angle Vale is now a fully-fledged suburb of Adelaide)

UPDATE ON TIGER WINES:

Just back from visiting some winemakers in southern Tasmania and very excited about the opportunity to offer some truly exceptional Tasmanian wines in the coming weeks.  Usually impossibly hard to get. Watch this space!

And whilst on the subject of Tasmania, have a look at these figures (source Wine Australia):

Average purchase price per tonne (or to put it another way, the price received by growers) for chardonnay was $251 in Riverina and $2,355 in Tasmania. Figures for riesling are $250 in Riverina and $2,445 in Tasmania.

The average price per tonne across all varieties (and Tasmania only sits in three of the 7 categories, namely chardonnay, riesling and sauvignon blanc) was at the low end $275 for Riverina, $277 for Murray Valley, and at the high end $2,371 for Tasmania. The next highest after Tasmania is McLaren Vale at $1,393.

Make of that what you will.

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“Although the great artists have despised the senses of taste, touch and smell, many of our greatest pleasures come through these senses. There is the clinging richness of satin, the soothing warmth of animal fur, the scent of a citrus orchard in late summer afternoon, the sweet perfume of a lover, the rich bounty of a great burgundy on the palate, the homely roughness of tweed.” – The Aesthetics of Wine, March 1946

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Wine quotations

"A good bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world" - Louis Pasteur

“The unexacting palates of the masses…are content to ask no question [on origin] so long as a florin or half-a-crown will purchase a roomy flagon of strong , full-bodied, fruity wine” – CE Hawker writing in 1907

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