Two reasons not to drink cheap wine – as if you needed any

Yes, I’ll say it again – I’m a wine snob. I don’t like cheap wine. But then again, I don’t like cheap cars either and for the same reasons. It’s what goes into them that makes them cheap.  Give me an old Bentley any day over a new Geely. An unfair comparison I hear you say. Then why do people constantly try to find a “Bentley” wine for “Geely” money? There seems to be some impression that making wine is simply growing and picking grapes and then putting the resulting wine in a bottle. Price difference is all a matter of spin and what you can get away with.  That’s true in a few cases, but just like making a Bentley (real walnut in my 1954 model, not plastic), quality costs.

Let me frighten you with a few things that might end up in that bargain bottle. Two 3-letter words that should have you shaking in your wellies – MOG and OAK.

MOG – Matter other than grapes. Well, what else goes into wine other than grapes? Stalks and leaves for one, but they are legitimate, because at least they come from the vine, and many winemakers dabble with the balance between grapes and stalk to drive their expression of the wine. No, we’re talking about stuff that shouldn’t be there – stuff like grubs, caterpillars, snails (let’s not talk about herbicides) but at least they are organic. Other stuff, according to the Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine for May 2012 includes “trellis or irrigation parts, harvest tools, buckets……or a mobile phone dropped into a bin” They even talk about a big mechanical harvester collecting a bicycle! If the winery is highly mechanized, the chances of that stuff getting missed increases. If the grapes are hand-picked and hand-sorted, the likelihood of it ending up in the wine is negligible. But hand picking and sorting costs money – get the picture?

OAK – Call me old fashioned, but I like my wine to get its oak from sitting in a barrel. Not from oak sitting in the wine. You can add oak in blocks, staves, oak rice, oak chips, and oak powder and I’m sure it’s a hell of lot cheaper than buying French or American oak barrels. But to me, it’s like plastic walnut. There’s an argument for plastic walnut that says “if you can’t tell the difference, why does it matter?”. And that’s why we have plastic walnut in cheap cars (or cheap cars masquerading as expensive cars) and why wine that is matured in oak barrels costs more to make.

Using expensive processes can still turn out a poor wine, and some mass-produced wine can be exceptionally good.  But a hand-crafted Morgan will always be more expensive than a mass produced Kia (even if the Morgan’s only got three wheels!) You either love the Morgan or you don’t get it. It’s the same with wine.

It’s either a drink or an experience.


Reviewed wines on offer by Artisan Cellars, Beam Global Asia, Underground Wines, Wine Directions, Wine Exchange Asia, Wine Guru.

A disappointing selection this week. I reviewed nine wines but can only bring myself to write about four of them. Why? A disturbing trend that I hope won’t continue…….you see, some of the wines offered should have been drunk a little while ago if you believe the experts.  How about a 2009 Sauvignon Blanc that according to several raters should have been drunk last year latest? Or a 2008 Riesling that some raters reckon should have been polished off two and a half year ago. Are we seeing the impact of the global financial crisis or was it just poor buying that left the stock sitting on the shelf? Either way, as a retailer (and I declare my hand that I’m in the industry), I’d be trying a bottle first, checking if it’s OK and if yes, say so. If not, then pour it down the sink but don’t put it out on special to some unsuspecting consumer. Two wines reviewed today would have come in second and third for price value…..only they’re possibly well past it.

There’s no value in that.

Other wines, like newly arrived 2010 Pyramid Valley Fields of Fire Chardonnay from Artisan Cellars just haven’t been reviewed yet, so when they are, I’ll blog it.

On a more positive note, there was/is some great buying out there in those older “investment portfolio” wines that keep popping up. Take the older vintages of Jasper Hill Georgia’s Paddock for example. Wine Exchange Asia had the 2003 at $70, the 2004 at $80, and the 2005 for $70. And surprise of all surprises, they were beaten by Cornerstone who listed the 2003 at $66, the 2004 at $75 and the 2005 at $70. Bring it on!

By the way, the 2004 Jasper Hill Georgia’s Paddock is listed by one respected retailer in Australia at A$105 (S$135 in today’s lingo) so the next time one of your Aussie mates says wine is so expensive in Singapore, offer him a calculator and a tissue.

To the wines, in ascending order of value:

2009 / Neudorf / Brightwater / Nelson / Riesling / S$49 at Wine Guru – A good run-of-the-mill wine with Michael Cooper giving it 4 stars (“silver medal”) and Bob Campbell 83 pts (“bronze medal”). Should be drinking to 2015, but with a RRP of NZ$23-24, the value’s OKish but it gets solidly trounced by others today.

2011 / Soho / Jagger / Marlborough / Pinot Gris / S$32.50 by the case at Underground Wines – Another silver medal wine according to Michael Cooper and slips into “above average” for Bob Campbell at 85 pts. Retails down under for NZ$27. Now you see why it beats the Neudorf by a big margin.

2009 / Wild Duck Creek / Yellow Hammer Hill / Heathcote / Shiraz Malbec / S$38 at Wine Directions – This does look pretty tempting I must admit. With a rating of 92 pts from Lisa Perotti-Brown of Wine Advocate, what’s not to like? It should drink to 2020 and even though it’s been discounted down from its release price of A$40 to around A$32, this is still very solid buying. I’m thinking my cellar could do with some Shiraz Malbec for a change.

2009 / Jackson Estate / Stitch / Marlborough / Sauvignon Blanc / S$30 at Wine Exchange Asia – To be honest, this’ll probably be gone by the time you read this, in which case, my congratulations to the lucky purchaser. This is great value as the wine retailed for NZ$22 and it’s 5 stars from Michael Cooper. But don’t sit on it! It should be drunk now, right now.


WINESPEAK 101 – How to waffle with the best of them. Today’s word is IRON

This wine is very tight now, with a wall of iron-clad structure holding the core of blackberry, cassis and black cherry fruit in check. Notes of tar, iron, and sweet tobacco lurk in the background.”

It’s a Syrah, but I wonder where that iron came from? Could it be MOG?



New arrivals into Tiger Wines this week include a mixture of Tasmanian and small producers from the Yarra Valley. Check the full listing on the website but here’s a sample:

Chartley Estate Tasmania Pinot Gris 2011

Chartley Estate Tasmania Riesling 2011

Glaetzer-Dixon Avance Tasmania Pinot Noir 2011

Glaetzer-Dixon Reveur Tasmania Pinot Noir 2008

Luke Lambert Heathcote Nebbiolo 2010

Mayer Bloody Hill Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2011

Pressing Matters R9 Tasmania Riesling 2010

Thick as Thieves The Show Pony Yarra Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2011

Thick as Thieves Poco Rosso Yarra Valley Nebbiolo 2010

Tiny volumes, some hard to get, most have never been seen in Singapore before. Small producers need to hang on to the WET to survive so the pricing for these wines is not as keen as for big players – but you may never get the opportunity to try otherwise.


Oak is one of the most beautiful, beautiful aromas. It’s a hedonistic, crazy, wonderful smell. When you buy a new barrel and you stick your nose in it, it’s dreamy. Why would you want to move away from that when it’s a beautiful thing?” – Virginia Willcox of Vasse Felix commenting on the possibility of oak staves instead of barrels, in The Age July 5th 2011









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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