“No one respects the flame quite like the fool who’s badly burned…”

by Katie Pizzuto on October 15, 2011

in Australian Wine

I’ve begun believing that for some reason Australians have a long-held love affair with mediocrity. I mean, England manages to give the world Amy Winehouse, Dusty Springfield and Annie Lennox, and all Australia can crank out is Olivia Newton-John, Natalie Imbruglia and Kylie Minogue? Spain gives us Javier Bardém, Italy gives us Roberto Benigni, and Australia hands over Mel Gibson and Paul Hogan? Foster’s Lager is bland, UGG boots are bland, and though Vegemite certainly isn’t bland, it sure as shit isn’t good, either. Other than Bon Scott and perhaps Wolfmother, I’m not sure I want any of Australia’s exports. Take them back…please. Feed them to the kangaroos or the aborigines…whatever. Oh, OK, fine, I’ll take Geoffrey Rush, too, but that’s it.

It’s been a really, really long time since I bothered buying a bottle of Australian wine. Forget trying to make fun of Yellowtail, I’m talking $20, $30 and $40 bottles of wine that go way beyond boring the crap out of me…they just plain suck. I have no doubt that readers will now come out of the woodwork to defend the one-time penal colony and its obscure bottles of “really good stuff” but you’re probably also a closet Andy Gibb lover so can it. Frankly, I’m glad the commercial juggernaut that started to overtake store shelves here in the US is now caught in a mudslide, because that means that all the jackass importers who flooded the market with banal, steroid-infused, syrupy plonk are now on the unemployment line.

So when I received a box of small samples from Old Bridge Cellars, an Australian wine importer based in Napa, I winced. No PR agency warned me these were coming…nobody asked if I wanted the damned samples…nobody, apparently, read this blog to get a gauge for what do and don’t like. But I’m always game for a good enological awakening so I got to tasting, praying like a sinner on her deathbed that I would find some interesting, redeeming wines in the box. I didn’t.

Six wines, six clunkers. Scratch that…a couple of these went beyond being called out as a clunker. They were downright bad. So bad that I couldn’t even finish the one-ounce pour in my glass. The six wines were:
Brokenwood 2007 Shiraz (Hunter Valley) – $36
Innocent Bystander 2007 Shiraz/Viognier (Yarra Valley) – $20
Plantagenet 2007 Estate Shiraz (Great Southern) – $29
Kilikanoon 2006 Covenant Shiraz (Clare Valley) – $40
d’Arenberg 2007 The Laughing Magpie Shiraz/Viognier (McLaren Vale) – $29
John Duval 2007 Entity Shiraz (Barossa Valley) – $40

Picking a “favorite” was about as easy as picking a prom date from the Jersey Shore cast, but the best of the worst was the Innocent Bystander. It was spicy and dark without being overripe or hot. Hilariously enough, it got the lowest ratings of all the wines included (89s from Tanzer and WA). It also spent the least amount of time in oak (12 months) and it was all French oak. The others were all hot, riddled with the heavy hand of oak and utterly mammoth. Again, hilariously enough the one I absolutely detested and couldn’t even finish was the one that garnered the highest scores (93s from Tanzer and WE; 92 from WS)…the John Duval Entity Shiraz. Mind you, these were tasted completely blind. I had no idea which one I had in the glass, what winemaking regiment was involved, what scores it got or what it cost. My notes, verbatim, were “Horrible! Stewed, hot and burnt. Can’t finish the glass!” Then, after seeing the sell sheet on it I added, “This got the most points of the lot? What the fuck?” Not surprisingly it came from the Barossa Valley, and not surprisingly Robert Parker claimed John Duval demonstrated a “brilliant touch” with this wine.

Matt Kramer recently claimed that he saw the future (and redemption) of Australian wine in the Clare Valley. He praised it for being artisanal in stark contrast to its neighboring Barossa Valley, and described its wines as sleek and restrained, though he then of course went ahead and threw up the warning that there are still some “amped-up” reds coming from there as well. I have a lot of respect for Kramer but I’m still staying the hell away from Australia’s offerings because I am well beyond the point of “once bitten, twice shy”. Perhaps they should stick to making surfboards…you know, an idiot savant sort of thing.

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

1 coupe 60 October 16, 2011

Katie, Katie, Katie…I anxiously wait three plus weeks for your next post and this is what I get… As wift kick in the gut…

After reading your reviews of these wines, all I can say is that though there is some slight possibility that you could be more wrong, I am having a tough time figuring out how right now. You should have stuck to plain and simple Yellowtail bashing. That would have been at least somewhat on the mark. Instead you choose to bash, perhaps my favorite Australian made wine in the Duval Entity. I will grant you that I have not had the 2007 vintage (which as I come to think probably minimizes my entire rant here – but what the hell), but I have found that in past vintages of the Duval (2004 & 2005) that it has great fruit, a silky mouthfeel and most importantly balance. In fact the reason that I liked it so much was that though it gave me a full fruit forward experience that I admittedly love in a wine, it was not over the top, and did not exhibit the gloppy fake fruit compote taste that poorly made Shiraz’s often do…

I know our palates are not really aligned at all, in fact they may be polar opposites, but with all due respect to your dirt loving brett infested taste profile, and in all honesty and no schtick I think you missed the mark on this one.

(But it was great to see another post from you)

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2 Katie Pizzuto October 17, 2011

There’s no wrong or right, just your taste/my taste, which we already know are usually on opposing sides. I don’t write posts to be popular, just to be honest, and everyone disagrees with me, that’s perfectly fine. And I know you love to take a dig, but dude it’s not about a dirt-loving, brett-infested taste profile, it’s about elegance and balance, and these didn’t have it for me. Hell, I’m the first to yell from a mountain that plenty of CA cabs are now making me very happy, and lord knows there’s no funk there. I didn’t miss any mark, I just put down my thoughts and reactions.

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3 coupe 60 October 16, 2011

and now a little more commentary with regards for your utter disregard and slanderous assassination of the Australian Culture…

“England manages to give the world Amy Winehouse, Dusty Springfield and Annie Lennox,”

When searching for the top music gifts from the British Isles, that is who you come up with? Amy Fucking Winehouse, Dusty Springfield…and then even in that list , you name Annie Lennox and blow off the true talent of the Eurythmics Song writer and producer Dave Stewart?

Mel Gibson >> Roberto Benigni (And you left out Errol Flynn and Eric Bana)…Holy crap I mean come on sister…

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4 Katie Pizzuto October 17, 2011

Those three female British singers were/are fantastic. If you can’t get passed Amy’s abuse of drugs, I guess we can’t hold Hendrix, Joplin or Bonham up to a good light?! I wasn’t blowing off Stewart, momo, I was running a list of female singers to compare.

Mel Gibson, are you fucking serious? A drunkard, racist, sexist jackass? Flynn was one-dimensional and Bana is meh.

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5 linsey October 23, 2011

Mel Gibson … American … dont forget … Hugh Jackman is a much better alternative mmmm

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6 coupe 60 October 16, 2011

and lastly, I’d like to start an unofficial poll of your readers as to the Jersey Shore Prom Date Question….

I am going Jwoww Jennifer Farley and her two friends…hands down

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7 Mark October 17, 2011

Katie –
This best expresses my feelings for you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zGLSnZGZts.

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8 Katie Pizzuto October 17, 2011

Thank you Mark. That’s one FOR Katie and one AGAINST Katie. On this blog that’s a good day 🙂

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9 George Wroblewski October 18, 2011

You really need to try harder. There are some excellent wines in Australia but you need to ferret them out 😉

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10 Katie Pizzuto October 18, 2011

I will never give up trying them, but it is too expensive an endeavor to take stabs in the dark. I rely on recommendations from people who know my palate…I’m ALWAYS wanting to be turned on to something!

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11 Shae Cooney October 18, 2011

Hi Katie,

I’d be the gal responsible for sending you the Australian wine. Sorry to hear it disturbed you so – though I did a) read your blog, b) reach out, and c) receive a response from you saying you were ‘looking forward to receiving them’ before I sent them. But hey, no offense taken. Details schmetails.

You wouldn’t hear from a PR company – we’re a wee little importer based in California, founded by Australians and still run by a few token Aussies who, let’s put it frankly, take offense at your slanderous post. We Australians are known for taking the piss out of ourselves at any available opportunity, so we never back away from a bit of good-natured, humorous mud-slinging. That you didn’t like the wines? No biggie – water off a duck’s back. But that you slam Australian culture so heinously and with such malice? Offensive. I’d be careful pointing the finger at Mel Gibson.

Still, taking a step back and re-reading your post…it’s clear you have zero exposure to modern Australian culture, so it’s actually humorous that you attempted to damn Australians to the mediocrity pile yet came off looking ignorant and lazy. A quick google search would have produced a slighter broader field to pull from than ‘Olivia Newton John and Paul Hogan’.

Katie, Crocodile Dundee was the 80s, and Olivia Newton John hit her straps in the 70s. Here are some names you that you may know, but clearly didn’t realise were Australian: Collette Dinnigan, Marc Newson, Sass and Bide, Samantha Wills, Zimmermann (all designers), Sam Worthington, Hugh Jackman, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Naomi Watts, Heath Ledger and Russell Crowe (all actors). As for movies – on the whole Aussie flicks tend to be fairly art house. They don’t benefit from the big promotional spends of US productions, so you’d actually have to be *proactively* (clearly not a strong point) searching out indie films rather than sticking to what’s showing at your local Regals or Loews. But here are a few titles to search out if you’re so inclined – Animal Kingdom, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Romper Stomper, Two Hands, Animal Kingdom, Shine, Rabbit-Proof Fence, Moulin Rouge, Happy Feet, The Dish. And if you can’t find any flicks, at least stream some Triple J to update yourself on the Australian music scene – http://www.abc.net.au/triplej/. Unlikely you’ll hear any Olivia Newton John on there.

You also failed to do your research on who we are: not one of those ‘jackass importers who flooded the market with banal, steroid-infused, syrupy plonk’ (note: we’re hardly in the unemployment line if we’re sending a part-time blogger examples of $40 wine). We’ve been importing some of Australia’s leading regional producers for 20 years now. They’re not the overblown, alcoholic, opportunistic Shirazes that you speak of – we’re aware of those. The guys we represent have been making wine, in many cases, for generations, and they’re true to their region, their land and their winemaking beliefs.

You just tasted a flight of Shirazes from six of Australia’s most applauded regions. Besides their global recognition, these regions are as disparate as Finger Lakes and Paso Robles. That they weren’t to your taste doesn’t disturb us, each to their own – we’re not daft enough to try to convince you that you should see the wines otherwise. But that you couldn’t find an objective place from which to assess the obvious regional distinctions is a little surprising given your apparent tasting abilities. I know, I know, your style of journalism is ‘subjective’, but that needn’t condemn you to sounding misinformed and ignorant.

The way I see it, you just jumped on the ‘Australia makes bland, overblown Shiraz’ bandwagon (despite your proclamation ‘I won’t bash something I dislike no matter how much fun it may be to do so’), and I gotta tell you, Katie, you’re a little late to the party. The ‘Australia sucks’ cry reached a crescendo in 2009. Since then the most vocal critics have either moved on to the next hot topic, or realised that their views on Australian wine were more than a little blinkered, and are in the process of re-educating themselves. I’m sure the Financial Times is far to banal and mainstream for you to read on a regular basis, but check out Jancis Robinson’s article from last week if you care to update yourself on what Australian winemakers are up to: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/3bb63a8a-f526-11e0-9023-00144feab49a.html#axzz1b0lFmhpK

On that note, I’ve got a challenge for you. Wine Australia runs an immersion program throughout the world, aimed at exposing the media and trade to the regional diversity, immense quality and distinctiveness of Australia’s fine wine offering. It’s a fair commitment: 6 two-hour sessions of arduous tasting over a 6 month period, presented by some of the most experienced and knowledgeable Australian wine industry characters you’re likely to meet. There’s a trip to Australia at the end of it for the top participants. No idea whether I could get you in, but if you’re up for the challenge…Though ‘trying to get in’ to anything kinda flies in the face of your Groucho Marx school of thought, doesn’t it? I guess you’ve got the perfect back door right there.

In closing…Fosters? The US is one of Fosters Lager’s strongest markets worldwide – *because it sells here*. We don’t drink it in Australia – what does that tell you? And as for vegemite – we Aussies don’t quite understand the US’s fascination with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, either, it’s a cultural thing. But no one’s forcing it down your throat…so don’t eat it.

PS. We also invented the black box flight recorder and in vitro fertilisation. And one of our biggest exports is education. But that’s unlikely to impress; traditional education holds little credibility with your school of thought, right?

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12 Katie Pizzuto October 18, 2011

Whew, glad you got that off your chest.

Apologies for forgetting the email exchange but never let that get in the way of a good story. Interesting that you take more offense at me making fun of Mel Gibson than not liking your wines when, at the end of the day, not liking something is not liking something. This blog isn’t about in-depth research into Australian culture it’s about writing from my gut and about doing what writing should do but seldom does on dozens of wine blogs: cause a visceral reaction in people for better or worse. I’m not sure how stating my opinion and reaction to these wines can possibly be “misinformed”. It is, after all, my palate.

I find it quite telling that if I take a stab at Paula Deen I get dozens of positive comments, agreeing and laughing with me. But mock Foster’s and I get a lashing. Luckily for me I don’t mind lashings. Yes it is huge here, and that just goes to show just how much crap America imbibes. So what?

As for the challenge, I’d welcome it, if it’s something I can get to! For christ’s sake, every reader here knows that know matter how much I may dislike something, it doesn’t mean I’m not willing to have my mind changed. Let’s leave back door discussions for another day 😉

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13 coupe 60 October 19, 2011

First I would like to say that I can’t believe I forgot to mention Hugh Jackman and the late great Heath Ledger in my far less eloquent response than the

Second, nobody respects women more than I do, and of course violence is never the answer to any question…However, in the unlikely event that a minor tussle should break out between you lovely and intelligent ladies …can photos please be posted up to this and or Shae’s blog if such a vehicle exists?

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14 Katie Pizzuto October 20, 2011

I’ll give you Heath for sure. And as far as your request, I’m always game but I get a feeling Shae may not be 🙂

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15 Shae Cooney October 20, 2011

Coupe 60: definitely up for it. The next time Katie’s out west or I find myself in NJ we’ll engage in fisticuffs and make sure it’s fully documented, just for you.

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16 Shae Cooney October 20, 2011

You got me wrong, Katie. I wasn’t defending Mel Gibson, his antics are quite often embarrassing and inexcusable. I was just warning you not to point the finger at a so-called ‘racist’ when you just took a blatant and generalized jab at Australians.

And no, I didn’t serve you a lashing because you mocked Fosters – I agree, it’s shite. It’s damn disappointing to any Australian that enjoys the mighty Little Creatures ales that we produce such an insipid beverage. But there’s only one reason we do, and that’s because there’s a market for it, specifically here in the US. The ‘blockbuster banal, steroid-infused, syrupy’ Shiraz gig that we, as a nation, were involved in (no argument that it existed, Old Bridge Cellars just never imported any of it) was conceived in the same spirit – opportunity. It was only ever made for the US market, and for a specific palate. Many of these brands never even hit the retail shelves in Australia – they’d gather dust if they did. So, call some of us opportunistic sell outs, because we probably deserve that, but committed to mediocrity? Not if you know your Ledger from your Hogan.

So, I didn’t retaliate simply because you took a stab, but because your whole premise of ‘Australians have a long-term love affair with mediocrity’ was based on outrageously outdated examples of Australian culture. You deserved to be called out, so I did it.

Anyway, I’ve quite enjoyed our little joust, and let’s be honest, a retaliation was what you were after, so I played your game, right? Stoked that you’ve hooked up with Suz at Wine Australia. I’m sure she won’t denounce you as the bitch who gave Australia a venomous lashing, and the opportunity just might open your eyes to what Australia really has to offer.

We might even be able to elicit a public retraction from you 🙂

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17 JeffB October 19, 2011

“I’ve begun believing…”

Wow. It’s taken you this long?

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18 Katie Pizzuto October 20, 2011

LOL, I was being kind. But I will say that I JUST stumbled upon something absolutely BRILLIANT done by a bunch of Aussies: http://lebowskiipsum.com/

If you ever have to insert greeked text (sorry if you have no idea what that is), it will do it in Lebowski-speak 🙂

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19 Suzanne Barros October 20, 2011

Hi Katie,
I’m one of the trade educators for Wine Australia that runs the immersion program that was mentioned to you. We would love to have you along for one of the classes if you might be interested. We hold them in NYC, Boston, Miami, San Francisco, LA, Seattle, Austin, Dallas and New Orleans. If you’re near any of these cities, please let me know and I’ll send you the dates for upcoming classes.

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20 Katie Pizzuto October 20, 2011

Sure, I am in NJ so NYC would work. Just promise I won’t be tarred and feathered for being the “basher” LOL. Then again, that might be fun.

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21 Suzanne Barros October 23, 2011

Well, the next class is on Halloween, so tar and feathers could work, 🙂 Please e-mail me (suzanne.barros@wineaustralia.com) for the details and if you can’t join us on Halloween, I’ll give you the dates for the rest of the year. Thanks and I look forward to meeting you!

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22 coupe 60 October 21, 2011

Suzanne – What liquid will you be immersing her in? 🙂

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23 Joe Herrig October 30, 2011

Nary a mention of “Air Supply”.

Appreciate you not holding back and being honest (a rarity), and I know you know that there’s too much wine and too many different climates/geographies/geologies in Australia to not produce something great. I’d guess a blog writer who’s as much about food as it is about drink would lean towards food wines, and extremely fruit-forward, high alcohol, low acidity would not fit the bill. I guess the important thing is that we all keep trying.

Suzanne- Would like to see an intensive Australian wine class in Atlanta. I know it’s a sleepy little town, but we like wine here too.

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24 Katie Pizzuto November 2, 2011

I agree, Joe….I’m sure there are some producing great wines, or at least what I would define as great wines, I just haven’t found them. And much like what my attitude used to be with California, I’m not willing to keep spending money to find those gems. If someone who knows my tastes recommends something, that’s another story. I’d also add that Twitter Taste Live has been a phenomenal platform for finding California gems. My faith in their winemaking has been restored by many of the wines I’ve tasted on TTL.

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25 Sarah November 1, 2011

Great joust ladies!

I must say that while I usually enjoy your posts Katie, I have to agree with Coupe that this one missed the mark. I was happy to see the eloquent response by Ms Cooney. And although I’m firmly in your elegance and terroir camp, this post did seem informed by preconceived notions of Australian wine. While I don’t deny that there is a lot of plonk coming out of Australia I also understand (as you do too, I’m sure) that there are some great wines being made there. To me, it seemed like you didn’t want to like the wines (despite the fact that you insisted you were ‘praying like a sinner on her deathbed that I would find some interesting’) and therefor your judgment was skewed. You implied that Australian wine is “banal, steroid-infused, syrupy plonk”. While I agree with that sediment for most of the entry level wines we see on LWS shelves in the US, there are stunning examples of Coonawara Cab or Claire Valley Riesling. Hell, I even love me some Barossa Shiraz sometimes. Australian wine has been the butt of many a wine geek’s joke, but I’m hopeful that the quality winemakers that have been in pursuit of balance and terroir will prevail and their wine will garner the attention it deserves again.

That said, I can’t remember the last time I bought an Australian wine. I guess I was hoping you would find a redeeming bottle in the bunch.

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26 Katie Pizzuto November 2, 2011

Don’t go agreeing with Coupe…he’ll get a big head about it. And you are wrong about most of what you’ve said about me. I’m not informed by preconceived notions of Australian wines…this post was based only on MY experiences with its wines. As I said to Joe, I have no doubt that there are some good wines being made out there, I just haven’t had them….that’s not an unfair statement, it’s simply the truth. And you are DEAD wrong on me not wanting to like the wines and having my judgement skewed. As I said earlier (and have posted here several times) I dislike most of the wines coming from California that are readily found in the market. I’ve knocked their wines over and over, but have continued to have an open mind about them because great wines are everywhere. Thanks in great part to forums like TTL I’ve had the fortune to taste many CA wines that are absolutely fantastic in my opinion…wines I’d gladly buy…though interestingly enough they are wines I have to buy direct as they aren’t found on store shelves. And in no way, shape or form did I imply that all Aussie wine is “banal, steroid-infused….” What I said was that the commercial juggernaut that started to overtake store shelves here in the US was “banal, steroid-infused…” I stand by that. I’d love nothing more than to see “winemakers in pursuit of balance and terroir” shut me up! Please, for the love of all things Gonzo, send me a bottle that will do just that! Lord knows California has. ‘Til then, I won’t spend any of my money trying to hunt one down. Call it hedging, call it gunshy, call it hard headedness. Whatever.

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27 Beau November 8, 2011

I laughed, I cried, I winced, I smiled. The post and the comments make for an excellent read. I like Australian wines, they’ve got their place (to me) at my table the same way some funky Navarran cabernet/tempranillo might. Would love to see those fancy Aussie tasting sessions come to Portland sometime!

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28 Katie Pizzuto November 10, 2011

If you did all that, my job here is done 🙂

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29 1WineDude November 8, 2011

From all this you’d imagine that there must be something learned….! 🙂

Katie… thanks for sharing these thoughts. I would HIGHLY encourage you to try Plantagenet’s Great Southern Riesling (remember, this is coming from me and I am a fiend on Riesling…), it’s an exceptional value and in my mind proof-positive that GS could become another spiritual home for Riesling…

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30 Katie Pizzuto November 10, 2011

Completely trust you and will hunt it down!!

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