What are the chances of a drug-free London Olympics?
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) is finally going to charge Lance Armstrong with using performance enhancing drugs. For several years now, various ex-teammates of Armstrong have been telling the media what was going on. Tyler Hamilton told 60 Minutes recently that riding in Armstrong’s team was ‘a life filled with secret code words, clandestine phone lines and furtive conversations.’ He said, ‘Riders led double lives that revolved around performance-enhancing drug use, while publicly insisting that the team was clean.’
Hamilton talked about white lunch bags filled with the blood-booster EPO, human growth hormone and testosterone being handed out by team doctors ‘as if those bags contained sandwiches and juice boxes. The riders were also given little red pills that contained a testosterone oil they squirted beneath their tongues for a performance boost.’ http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/23/sports/cycling/tyler-hamilton-lance-armstrongs-teammate-describes-doping-system.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all
It wasn’t just Armstrong or Floyd Landis or Alberto Contador – in 2006 and 2007, entire teams were sent home for taking PEDs. The list of Tour de France riders caught doping is a long one, but I suspect the list of those who weren’t caught is much longer. What does it say about the effectiveness of drug testing, when a team like Armstrong’s can use all kinds of drugs year after year and pass every drug test? Armstrong says he passed 500 of them, and never tested positive.
Landis told the NY Times that the US Postal team's former doctor, Garcia del Moral ‘worked out of an office in the back of the team's bus, where he administered drugs and blood transfusions to the cyclists behind closed doors.’ Landis also said he used to go to del Moral's office in Valencia to have blood drawn and this blood would then be transfused back into him appear at the Tour de France. Meanwhile, Italian investigators say they’ve uncovered an almost half million dollar payment to another team doctor who has been sanctioned for doping – Michele Ferrari http://www.businessinsider.com/four-lance-armstrong-teammates-support-doping-allegations-against-team-doctor-2012-6
Not just Cycling
Garcia del Moral works with many other athletes in other sports such as tennis. How widespread is doping in tennis? This game has become very physical in recent years. And what about the London Olympics? Will these games be clean or have the cheats just become smarter? In the run-up to these games, the BBC ran a documentary on Olympic history called Faster, Higher, Stronger http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00v9bs4 .
In a review of that program, The Guardian’s John Grace said: ‘It should be impossible to make a documentary about the blue riband of the sprints without mentioning the use of illegal drugs, but this film just about managed it. Anyone with little knowledge of sport would have come away thinking that Ben Johnson was a lone rogue athlete ... ‘
As it happens, SBS ran a program last week titled ‘The Dirty Games’, which probed into the 1988 Olympics at Seoul and revealed that 6 out of the 8 runners in the 100 meter men’s final had used drugs. When you look at the muscle mass and their striations here, it’s pretty obvious.
Modern era sprinters have come to look like body builders, and that’s a worry. Here are some recent champs who’ve never tested positive: Maurice Green from the USA, Ato Boldon from Trinidad & Tobago, and Asafa Powell from Jamaica.
They sure look more like bodybuilders than sprinters, don't they? Have a look at Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics, where he ran a still almost competitive 10.2 seconds. British sprinter Adam Gemili next to him is only 18 but has run a 10.05 and won a gold medal at the World Junior titles in Barcelona just now. Surely he’s too young to be doping, and he looks refreshingly normal.
Anabolic steroid use tends to be easier to spot in female athletes. Flo-Jo famously set records at the 1988 Seoul Olympics that have not been equalled since. 12 months earlier, sports writers recalled, she hadn’t been running anywhere near as fast. Others reported that her muscles grew bigger and her voice deepened. The after and before photos here are pretty dramatic yet she never tested positive. She died at 38 from a seizure.
The Seoul Olympics became known as ‘the dirty games’, but the LA games four years earlier may well have been worse. There were lots of positive drug tests, but they simply disappeared (they were lost in transit). In the run-up to the LA games, at least 34 U.S. track and field athletes had tested positive or had possible positive tests during six weeks of testing by the U.S. Olympic Committee in 1984, according to the Orange County Register. The USOC simply covered it all up http://www.usatoday.com/sports/olympics/2009-08-03-1984-testing_N.htm.
It is now well known that the US cycling team used systematic blood transfusions – either reinfusing their own blood (‘autologous’ transfusion) or the blood of relatives/friends – to improve their performance at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. By the 1990s, EPO injections had become a more effective and convenient means to blood dope than transfusions. http://siab.org.au/what-is-blood-passport/passport-explanation.php
Sydney 2000 - systemic doping
The 2000 Olympics saw another female athlete win a string of gold medals (three gold and two bronze): Marion Jones. Here was one of the most frequently tested athletes in her sport yet she never tested positive. She only admitted to using drugs after her husband C.J. Hunter revealed all at the infamous Balco trial, and she was charged with perjury.
The picture tells the story once more. Victor Conte was the brains behind the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), which produced and supplied designer steroids to many top sports stars in athletics and baseball. Conte has served time in jail, and seems to have gone through a reformation of sorts. Last year in an interview with La Gazetta dello Sport, he said all eight 100 metre finalists at the Sydney Olympics were drug cheats – including Maurice Greene, Ato Boldon and Obadele Thompson.
Little change after the BALCO affair
Conte told the magazine: ‘I believe that, before the Balco affair, 80 per cent of athletes were using steroids, today that figure stands at about 65 percent. Conte also said he believed the enormous success of Jamaica’s athletes was suspect. He said: ‘It is very obvious that Bolt, Powell, Gay, Cheryl-Ann Fraser and many others are doping. Cheryl-Ann dropped her time by half a second in 2008. The ONLY way that is possible for a world class sprinter is to use PEDs.’
He said he’d heard they were given testosterone, EPO and other drugs, and that the Jamaicans were applying the same protocol that Conte had created at Balco at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. http://thehypelifemag.com/2011/10/22/american-doping-expert-victor-conte-claims-usain-bolt-other-jamaican-athletes-cheated-during-2008-olympics/
At the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, Usain Bolt ran the fastest ever 100 meter sprint in a time of 9.58 seconds to win the gold, taking over a tenth of a second off the previous best mark - the largest ever margin of improvement in the 100 meter world record. He also won the 200 meter sprint with a time of 19.19, and won by the biggest margin in World Championships history.
Whenever a sprinter wins by a huge margin against a world-class field, as did Flo-Jo and Marion Jones, there's a problem. After all, the other guys in the race are in the top ten sprinters in the world, and their times should be extremely close over these short distances. It's even more suspect when it happens all of a sudden, as it did with Bolt at the Beijing Olympics where he broke 4 world records and simply ran away from the rest.
There is another problem: 'To assume Usain Bolt is running clean,' as J.B.Cash points out, 'one must put forth the idea that not only is he able to run faster than everybody out there now, he is able to run faster than anybody who ever “cheated” by using PEDs.' http://www.castefootball.us/archives/better-running-through-chemistry/
Cash is talking about the eight 100m finalists in Sydney, among others. That Bolt can run much faster than they did without the help of drugs is hard to believe. Cash points out in passing that Glen Mills, the head coach of the Jamaican Olympics athletics team and Usain Bolt’s trainer, has also trained Kim Collins, Dwain Chambers and Ray Stewart. All three of them have been found guilty or strongly implicated in the use of PEDs. http://www.castefootball.us/archives/better-running-through-chemistry/
Steve Mullings is another Jamaican sprinter who tested positive for the drug Furosemide, a masking agent, in August last year. The Jamaican Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel handed him a lifetime ban from athletics. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Mullings.
Where is WADA?
Of course, it’s not just the Jamaicans. US sprinter Justin Gatlin, who won gold at Athens 2004, and set a World Record at Helsinki 2005, received a 4 year ban after testing positive. Disgraced former world record holder Tim Montgomery recently said he took testosterone and human growth hormone before the Sydney Olympics, and does not deserve the gold medal he won in the 400-meter relay. Montgomery never tested positive for drugs.
In August 2008, the International Olympic Committee disqualified Antonio Pettigrew and his gold-medal-winning 4x400-meter-relay teammates in the 2000 Sydney Olympics because he admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs. Pettigrew had never failed a drug test. But he testified in May 2008 under subpoena at the federal trial of his former coach Trevor Graham that he’d used performance-enhancing drugs at the Sydney Games and had been doping from 1997 to 2001. Pettigrew died two years later at the age of 42. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/12/sports/12pettigrew.html
A point Daley Thompson makes in teh MailOnline is that 'The World Anti-Doping Agency has spent £118million since 2001, and £18.6m in 2010 ... and they have caught virtually nobody. That’s before you add the almost £200m spent annually by international federations and national anti-doping agencies.' http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/olympics/article-2108454/LONDON-OLYMPICS-2012-Daley-Thompson-wants-drug-cheats-kept-away.html
The main thrust of Thompson's piece is the British Olympic Association’s lifetime ban of sprinter Dwain Chambers and cyclist David Millar. They appealed their ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, which ruled that the BOA’s lifetime ban did not comply with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code and was therefore unenforceable. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/olympics/article-2132301/London-2012-Olympics-Dwain-Chambers-David-Millar-win-drugs-fight.html .
What happened to the Olympic Spirit?
Can anyone remember what it is? After all these years of drug cheats winning medals, in sprinting and weight-lifting and who knows where else? And just now the admission by John Coates that Aussie Olympians will be paid a bonus for every medal they win in London. 'The new pay structure rewards performance,' The Australian reports. 'The top athletes are paid up to $25,000 initially, with the added potential to earn an additional $35,000 for an individual Olympic gold medal. The relay teams will split a $60,000 bonus. The pay debate was triggered early this year when Swimming Australia signed a major sponsorship deal with Energy Australia.' http://www.theaustralian.com.au/sport/london-games/pay-row-olympic-games-swimmers-should-think-themselves-lucky/story-fne3a96w-1226422894906
That's enough. I'll only add just one more thing: I won't be staying up to watch the Games.
A great Chardonnay came my way this week
Mountadam Chardonnay 2010
This one came with more than the usual rush of enthusiasm from Bert Werden at Winestar but this time, there was a difference. For one, I used to buy this wine in the eighties and nineties when Adam Wynn made it, and loved the style – French, on the big, complex side, fair amount of oak, needed a few years in the cellar for the fruit to push through. For another, Bert had cited what Huon Hooke wrote in the SMH:
‘CHEERS FOR CHARDONNAY
Australian chardonnay continues its glorious run of attention in the international media, with a glowing review in the March edition of The World of Fine Wine. Mountadam 2010 topped the tasting, much to the delight of winemaker, Con Moshos, who for many years was winemaker at Petaluma and knows a bit about chardonnay.
The tasting, by Andrew Jefford, Anthony Rose and Jancis Robinson, included many of Australia's most fancied wines, including Cullen, Leeuwin Estate Art Series, Giaconda, Penfolds Yattarna, Tiers Vineyard from both Petaluma and Tapanappa, Coldstream Hills Reserve, By Farr, Pierro, Philip Shaw, Tyrrell's Vat 47, Oakridge 864 and Shaw + Smith.
The top nine wines came from nine regions, underlining the diversity of origin of our best chardonnays. Yattarna 2008 came second to the Mountadam, and the average alcohol strength of the most favoured wines was 14 per cent (range: 12 to 14.5).’
That was a big wrap, but it wasn’t Huon’s. He is the wine reviewer I have the most respect for (and agree with most often), but he was just the messenger here. As usual, there was only one way to find out whether Decanter heavyweights Robinson, Rose and Jefford had got it right. Of course, Bert also cites the words of wisdom of numerous Aussie reviewers who all thought this was a pretty good Chardy - http://www.winestar.com.au/prod1480.htm
Is the Mountadam really that good? Good enough to beat all comers regardless of price or pedigree? In a word: NO. Is this Mountadam a good Chardonnay? Absolutely! In fact, it has all the qualities we expect to find in Chardonnays 2 or 3 times its modest price. Yes, it must be modest since I don’t usually write about wines here that cost more than $25. That’s the good news. This is a serious Chardonnay, and very similar in style to the original Mountadams. That’s a big compliment for the winemaker ‘Love your work, Con.’
Just like the old Mountadams, this one will take a few years to show its true colours (as a serious Chardonnay should). Right now, the oak dominates the fruit. It’s a tight mix with some barrel ferment characters thrown in for complexity. It opened up with 48 hours in the bottle and started hinting at white peaches, apricots and nectarines. It may not beat the best Chardonnays we make, but it’s good enough to give them a big fright, and it’s good enough to grab your credit cards and back up the ute to load as much of this as you can afford to. 14%. $24.99 at Winestar.
Update: an email from Winelistaustralia offers this wine for $22.99 in a dozen lot (winestar's price is for mixed dozens and includes free delivery to most places)
Frogmore Creek Chardonnay 2010
Pristine and ripe cool climate fruit drives this wine, and is supported by gentle touches of classy oak and a clean, long finish. It's a classy, appealing Chardonnay, which lacks some complexity in comparison with the Mountadam. It's more fruit-driven and more approachable, which will apeal to some. At just over $25 ($25.65 at Dan M’s), it's a good example of the finer cool climate style, overshadowed here by the outstanding Mountadam.
I'll give this wine another run here in case the two above are too expensive. It has a lot of flavour and complexity to offer, and some potential for growth. It's more gentle than the Mountadam, and more enjoyable at this time - and it's another back-up-the-ute bargain at $18 (Dan M, but be quick - there's not much left).
Woodlands Cabernet Merlot 2009
Here’s a Cabernet Merlot that had me racing around the internet looking for some place that might sell me more. No such luck, sadly, except that the winemaker says the 2010 is even better. I don't agree, and prefer the 2009. Dan M's website said there was more 2009. They aren't always right about the years but this time it worked out.
This is about the first Aussie Cabernet Merlot that made me think seriously of those glorious and hideously expensive wines from Pomerol. The wines from the ‘left bank’ of the Gironde (the Haut Médoc which is home to Margaux, Paulliac and St Julien) tend to be high Cabernet blends with smaller amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, polished with small new and very classy French oak, long and balanced and taut and terrific. Clear as crystal. St Emilion on the right bank maintains some of that line, with Cabernet Sauvignon still playing a role (even if it is a minor one), but Pomerol turns its back on the aristocrat of red varieties in favour of Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
Some say that these wines are more rustic, but that doesn’t really define the difference well. To be sure, these wines come from much more modest estates than the grand chateaux of the Medoc, but it’s the Merlot and Cabernet Franc grown on the chalky lime soils here that provide the distinctive character. Pomerols tend to be softer and more approachable, with ripe but opaque fruit that hints at dusty soil and slate. Some can be drunk much younger than Médocs, and others have surprising backbones. Chateau Petrus is the best-known example of the latter.
The Woodlands Cabernet Merlot 2009 was on the softer end of that scale, but it had things most of our Cabernet Merlots don’t have: guts, substance if you like, and depth. The fruit isn’t the usual stewed plum compote either but far more intriguing and nuanced. The flavour is of dark berries and dusty tracks lined with cedar, with the elements all fully integrated and hard to pick apart. There are goodies here that make you nose the wine some more, and taste it some more to plumb its depths. Lovely!
Hereford Shiraz 2009
Interesting label, isn't it? Hereford is made by Tisdall at Echuca from Goulburn Valley and Heathcote fruit, and Dan M is the only place that sells it. For less than $13 right now for the 2010 version, which is very similar. The 2010 has a touch more structure and the 2009 has a touch more sweet, rich fruit. Wonderful cherry fruit, Heathcote making a noticable contribution here. This is really well-made and very good drinking, and not nearly as big as the label suggests. 13.8%. Bargain.
Xanadu Next of Kin Shiraz 2010
This wine hides its 14.5% alcohol under layers of sweet, fresh, lifted berry fruit touched with just enough oak. Almost reminded me of a big Pinot. Very well-made, clean commercial red with a ton of instant appeal - perfect bistro red, not going anywhere but who cares? This wine would’ve leapt out of the judges’ glasses at wine shows, which explains why it has won several trophies. It’s not that good, but at $15 it’s a pretty good deal.
THE JURY IS STILL OUT
Annie’s Lane Quelltaler Watervale Shiraz Cabernet 2010
This wine had me scratching my head. Annie’s Lane is the new name for the old Quelltaler winery in Clare, which now belongs to Treasury Wine Estates (hived off from Fosters last year). Winemaker Alex MacKenzie says he was inspired to resurrect this style after tasting identical blends from the same Clare Valley vineyard dating back to the 1970s. He means Shiraz Cabernet, and here the similarity ends.
The old Quelltaler reds were aged in big old barrels, where this model has new small oak written all over it. It’s highly aromatic oak, very pleasant but too strong for the sweet, ripe fruit in my view. Hides its 14.5% well. The style reminds me more of the Wolf Blass Jimmy Watson winners of old than old Quelltaler reds: instantly appealing but highly concocted, with no future to speak of. It sure convinced the judges, just like Wolfie’s concoctions used to:
Winner, 2011 - The Great Australian Red competition
Trophy, Best Overall 2011 - The Great Australian Red
Trophy, Best Shiraz Dominant Blend - 2011 The Great Australian Red
Gold Medal, 2011 The Great Australian Red
Top Gold Medal, 2011 Royal Melbourne Wine Show
If you like this style of red, $20 (Winestar) may be a good proposition.
Barwang Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Another McWilliams wine that failed to convince me. This Cabernet is made from fruit grown in the Hilltops region of NSW 500 metres above sea level, and is matured in French and American oak. There are a lot of competing flavours in this wine – berries and spices and oak and more – and they don’t seem to be really comfortable with each other. Will time help integrate these? I don’t think so, and I don’t think the wine is built for the long haul.
Seppelt Grampians Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
This is the twin of the 2008 Shiraz I wrote about in my last review post, but it tastes like it comes from a different family. Where the Shiraz was tight and restrained, this Cabernet just about falls out of its corset. It's ripe and ready to drink. Easy on the gums at 13.5%, was part of a any 3 for $30 deal at 1st Choice (they've changed the promo since).
Buy some great 2010s while you still can
In 2011, Australia’s major wine growing regions in Victoria and South Australia had four to five times the amount of rain they typically receive. The white wine grapes did better in the soggy conditions than the red varieties. In South Australia, fair whites were made in 2011, but you’ll be lucky to find great reds. Most red varieties had a hard time from the Clare all the way down to Coonawarra - some vineyards weren’t picked at all, following widespread attacks of downey mildew, powdery mildew and botrytis.
The Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Geelong and other areas in Victoria also copped too much rain and suffered a similar fate. So did Tassie. Again the reds reflect the conditions more than the whites. NSW had far too much rain as well, from Cowra to Orange to Mudgee, and not enough sunshine. Only the lower Hunter Valley escaped, for once, and had a decent vintage.
Grab them while you still can
The bottom line: if you like reds from the south-eastern wine regions of Australia, buy the 2010s while you still can. Some of the best sub $25 reds I really like from this great year:
There are loads more 2010 reds out there which I haven't had a chance to taste, but be careful: not all the wines are great just because it was a great year. There are still plenty of good 2009 reds on the market as well, and 2009 was a good year in South Eastern and Western Australia. For my money, the best of the 2009 reds were
Talking about the West, Margaret River escaped the big wet of 2011. This area had a very warm and dry season with the hottest March on record, and saw a very early vintage similar to 2007 (big, ripe wines). If you prefer elegance, you may prefer 2010 on this side of the continent as well. Then again, 2009 was also a great year over here, and 2012 is said to be the best in a while but a hot one (early vintage, very ripe fruit).
A few great 2010 Chardonnays are still out there waiting to be snapped up:
The Mountadam has just now come into our $25 limit – it’s typically around $30 or more. This is the kind of bargain that falls into our lucky laps once in a while, and we should jump on fast. I haven’t posted my tasting notes on this yet – all I can say is that it has the quality, complexity and potential for development we usually see in wines that are two to three times this price. It reminds me of the Mountadam Chardonnays of old, and that’s a big compliment to Con Moshos who makes the wine these days.
With Sauvignon Blancs and Semillon blends, and with Rieslings, we’re going to start seeing 2012s appear in the next few months. This seems to be another exceptional year for South Australia, on par with 2010. Jim Barry says: ‘The 2012 vintage was nearly perfect for us and probably the best we’ve had in a decade. Growing conditions were ideal, with rain coming just at the right time and having a very positive effect on our vines and the quality of the fruit they produced.’ He rates 2012 as high as the great 1977, 1989 and 2002 vintages.
Jacobs Creek Chief winemaker Bernard Hickin says: ‘Vintage 2012 has produced an exciting line-up of wines across most South Australian regions with both reds and whites having exceptional quality and intense varietal character. . . Early indications are that 2012 will go down as one of the great Australian vintages for the last 20 years – comparable with 1990 and 1991.’
Victoria had a good year as well, with crops reduced by as much as 25%. The fruit is reportedly ripe and concentrated, from the Yarra Valley to the Pyerenees. It’s a similar story in Tasmania.
NSW was once again deluged by monsoonal rains, from the Riverina to the Hilltops region, Orange, Mudgee and the Hunter Valley. Crops were huge but lack of summer sunshine was a serious issue. As always, some good wine will be made against the odds, but the odds look tough for NSW in 2012. It comes back to the quality of the fruit.
Closing the gap to DSLRs?
As I said in part 1 of this series, CSC cameras should logically fill the gap between the better digicams (up to $350) and entry-level DSLRs at $700. That kind of money will buy you a very competent Nikon D3200 kit with an advanced 24mp sensor, and that serves as a useful benchmark in this survey. In part 2, we’ll look at CSC cameras that use similar size sensors to the Nikon D3200.
A very late entry into the EVIL section of this market is the just announced EOS M system. It looks like Canon crammed the T4i's technology into a compact system camera. 'From the new Hybrid AF system to the stepper-motor-driven STM lenses,' Imaging Resource reports, 'the menus to the touchscreen and most of the special capture modes, Canon T4i owners will feel right at home with the new EOS M.'
The EOS M uses the standard 18-megapixel APS-C size sensor that graces most of Canon's consumer SLRs, and a 3" touchscreen that reduces the need for physical controls on the Olympus-PEN size body. There is a mode dial on the back, and a hotshoe on top for the new Speedlite 90EX and older Canon Speedlites. The initial offering includes the 22mm prime and an 18-55mm zoom lens.As you'd expect, there's also an adaptor for Canon's existing lenses.
What's missing is any kind of provision for a viewfinder. Another issue for many will be the EOS M's Hybrid Autofocus system, again borrowed from the T4i. Imaging Resource calls the T4i's Live View mode autofocus 'terribly slow. Both the T4i and EOS M have a new sensor with phase-detect sites embedded near the center, as well as contrast-detection autofocus. But the Live View autofocus speed is very slow on the T4i with the 40mm STM lens, averaging more than 1.2 seconds to autofocus in single-point mode, and more than 1.7 seconds in multi-point AF mode. That's just unworkable in a modern mirrorless camera.'
The final problem is that the EOS M comes out of the blocks carrying a hefty $800 price tag with a new 22mm prime lens. To me, the whole effort looks a bit like Canon got into the CSC market reluctantly and very late, took some pretty obvious shortcuts and said: 'Let see how many people really want to buy this kind of thing.'
More details here:
Sony set a cracking pace once it got serious about the CSC market, shooting out new models like a biscuit factory. An interesting aside: once the Japanese copied American and European technology; these days the Japanese have become the innovators. Not just in the camera market - think of hybrid cars and bullet trains. In the last decade, Japan had more new technology patents approved than any other country.
Sony brought back the pellicle mirror in its DSLRs, and perfected it. In the CSC space, Sony has developed the smallest camera bodies with the highest computing power. They’ve rightly been called micro-computers with lens mounts, and herein lie two problems: navigation becomes complex with all the options on offer, and handling is a real issue.
The latter is true of all CSC cameras, but it’s worse with the bigger sensor brigade because the lenses are so big, relatively speaking. Even an 18-55mm lens is a front-heavy lump on a Sony NEX, and the 18-200 is a ridiculous misfit. The bigger body and shape of the Nikon D3200 DSLR makes for much better handling and easier shooting. However small these CSC bodies are, by the time you add anything but a pancake lens, you have anything but a compact system. As always, a picture beats 1,000 words:
Today, Sony lists 3 models on its website, but the top dog Nex-7 is well over $1000 so we can ignore it here. The NEX-F3 is the new entry level camera, while the NEX-5N is one peg up but just $100 more. The NEX-F3 looks good on paper with the same 16mp sensor, an added a flip screen and a built-in flash. What’s more, the F3 has a bigger, more ergonomic body – perhaps Sony has recognised that Twiggy and Big Bertha are not a perfect match.
Once the Japanese were the best copiers, often improving on the originals in the process; now it’s the Koreans. Samsung is dogged in its determination to compete with Sony and Apple, the two big guns in consumer tech. Samsung appears to make its own sensors – 20mp for this range – and lenses. Right now, Samsung’s US website lists 3 models in the NX mirrorless range:
In addition, Samsung has released an NX 210 and NX 1000. The numbers are inverse, i.e. the bigger numbers are for smaller cameras – the NX11 and NX20 are DSLR-shaped compacts, the rest have small bodies like the Sonys above. The NX1000 is the entry level model at $700 with a 20-50mm kit lens, the rest are closer to $1,000 and of less interest to us in this survey.
Samsung calls the NX1000 ‘approachable’ and says it ‘combines the imaging power of a professional camera with the portability of a point-and-shoot. Then there’s an ‘eye-catching design and compact form-factor suitable for a small bag and a night out on the town.’ The kit weighs just 360g. Features include a bright 3.0-inch AMOLED screen, 1080p HD video, Smart Auto 2.0 technology and Smart Link Hot Key for sharing photos via Wi-Fi. Samsung knows the consumer market well.
Now part of Ricoh, Pentax was a late entry into the CSC market. It’s a curious entry with a big body and in-your face styling, very different from the rest of the CSCs. The reason for the thick body is the reliance on its existing lenses, which meant Pentax had to maintain the same back-focus distance for compatibility. The other CSC makers created new lens mounts and new lenses to allow for a shorter back-focus distance, and slimmer bodies. The K-01 looks like Pentax simply removed the mirror mechanism.
The K-01 is not just thick, it also weighs in at a hefty 560g (more than our benchmark Nikon 3200 DSLR). Reviewers say the camera sacrifices function to form, complaining about the awkward-to-hold body and the controls and the poor handling. There’s no viewfinder either, not even as an option. The sensor is the same 16mp affair that graces the Pentax K-5, so the body/lens combo should deliver in spades. As always with Pentax, body-based image stabilization is part of the design.
What is curious is that Pentax has designed the world’s flattest pancake lens for this camera, perhaps to make up for the body’s bulk. Obviously, the existing lenses are quite bulky but existing Pentax accessories also work here, flashes for example. Maybe this is a CSC for Pentax users? But if there’s no ‘compact’ advantage here, what’s the point ?
‘In retaining support for existing K-mount lenses,’ Imaging Resource sums up, ‘Pentax has presented a camera that still has most of the size of an SLR, but loses its most important advantages over mirrorless cameras: the fast phase-detect autofocus, and the optical viewfinder. In their place, the Pentax K-01 has slow and too-often unreliable contrast detection autofocus, and offers no viewfinder at all--not even an external accessory.’ http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/pentax-k01/pentax-k01A.HTM
This is a different system where the body is merely a base for lens units and supplies the function buttons and LCD. The lens units include the sensors: APS-C size sensors for lenses in the normal range, and digicam sized sensors for tele lenses. The lens units are expensive propositions at around $500-600 each, but you can get a basic kit for about $600 (with a 28-300mm equivalent lens), and the 28mm f/2.5 kit for $900.
A few months ago, Ricoh at last released a 24-85mm lens unit which matches the focal and aperture range of standard kit lenses for DSLRs. Image quality is said to be excellent with the APS-C sensor and nine rounded aperture blades in the lens. The problem once again is price – the lens unit and GXR body together add up to nearly a grand.
The recent release of an M-Mount adaptor has opened the GXR system to a range of highly regarded old lenses from Leica, Minolta, Voigtlander and Zeiss. They’re all manual-focus lenses, of course, for which Ricoh provides some electronic trickery to make the task of focusing easier. The new M-mount effectively turns the GXR into a cheap Leica.
The GXR is a bold concept, and Ricoh is to be congratulated for putting it into production. However, I suspect it will mostly appeal to those who love fresh and different technology, and to pro shooters as a small back-up system.
I’ll list the X-Pro1 system here because it is APS-C based but, like the fixed lens X100, it is priced on the wrong side of $1,000. It's designed for Pr shooters as the name suggests.
I’m convinced that our benchmark Nikon D3200 is the equal of any sub $1,000 CSC camera when it comes to image quality, and it makes for better balance and handling with lenses attached. A real viewfinder is included, and so is a flash, which saves money and delivers convenience. Another alternative is the Nikon D5100, which is currently cheaper than the newer D3200 and offers an articulated screen and more shooting options such as HDR and interval timer. Image quality is as good or better. Here’s a good comparison:
While some of the CSC systems are more compact than even a small DSLR, none is so small that it’ll fit comfortably into a shirt or trouser pocket. The smallest Oly or Panny with a pancake lens attached might in a pinch, but more likely you’ll have 2 or three lenses which means you’ll be taking a small bag to carry the camera gear in. The Nikon D3200 fits into a pretty small bag as well, so in the end there’s not that much in it.
Some comparison tests that shed more light on the CSC subject
This link will take you to Part 1 of this series
Is this the package that made Gago go Gaga and commission that Penfolds $168,000 Ampoule?
The curious thing is that the Penfolds Ampoule - see sidebar - wasn't commissioned for any special occasion, not the 100th birthday of Penfolds or the 60th vintage of Grange. No it was just popped out there into a marketplace of wealthy collectors who have clearly cruised through the GFC that is still crippling entire continents.
Each of the 60 limited edition decanters contains a special blend of grain and malt whiskies that has been maturing since 1952 in a cask of English oak from the Queen's Sandringham Estate, the Telegraph tells us. 'Two small casks of the blend were rested at the Royal Lochnagar Distillery, on the edge of the Balmoral Estate, before being bottled in February 6, exactly 60 years after the Queen acceded to the throne. Each bottle is sold in a bespoke cabinet made from oak and Caledonian pine from Sandringham, and inlaid with marquetry using veneers from Commonwealth countries.'
This is what bornrich.com wrote when the John Walker special was announced:
'The packaging as one may notice is equally cherishable as the golden liquid beverage inside. Involving the work of 60 artisans including Royal Warrant Holders, and Britain’s premier silversmiths, Hamilton & Inches, the 6 legged Baccarat crystal decanters are being worked on, which represent each decade of her majesty’s rule of the kingdom. The casing for these bottles will be decorated with sterling silver set along with half a carat diamond, the royal coat of arms, and even John Walker & Sons monogram, and also individual numbered seals.
'Along with this, there would be Crumbia crystal glasses which have been engraved by Philip Lawson, along with a commemorative book by Laura West and personalization by Sally Magnum, who all come by special appointments from her majesty, Queen Elizabeth. This is what true collector’s items are made of.'
Please don't wait for my tasting notes
And Turkey Flat, Jim Barry, Fox Gordon and Hensche
We keep working hard to bring you the month’s best bargains, and there are more than a few this time.
Tarra Warra Estate Chardonnay 2010
This is my idea of a good Chardonnay: medium bodied, ripe fruit in the white peach spectrum with hints of cashews thrown in, and some lifted, creamy oak. There’s good length, a clean finish, and enough acid to hold it all together nicely, and there’s potential for improvement over the next 3-4 years. 13.5%. Great value for $18, but the 2010 is now a little hard to find in Sydney. Dan M only has small quantities in most stores, but the winery still has some at $22 (less 20% if you become a member - cost is $120 or you can buy $864 of wine - for discounts at the cellar door and restaurant plus special offers http://www.tarrawarra.com.au/wine-buying/wine-buying )
For some reason, I haven’t tasted any TarraWarra wines for years so these were a nice surprise. James Halliday gives the winery 5 red stars and a rave review. I tried the Chardonnay because their Pinot Noir was one of very few that impressed me in my on-going search for decent sub-$25 Pinot Noirs (see sidebar). My take on that wine:
Tarrawarra Estate Pinot Noir 2010
Good strong red colour and a nose that hints at all the right savoury elements plus some sweet cherries. There’s good Pinot flavour here, a nice balance of savoury and fruity elements plus a hint od smokey oak, and there’s real body, depth and complexity. The best part is that this wine will get better over the next year or three, while most of the 2010 Pinots in the sub-$25 range either have nowhere to go except downhill. $13.8%. Strong on appeal and value at $18.
Jim Barry Watervale Riesling 2012
Brilliant. Has that lovely floral lift and hints of bath powder and talc that you only see in great Rieslings from a great year. 2012 looks terrific in the Clare, if this wine’s a reliable messenger. The back label tells us that 2012 is up there with classic years like 1977, 1989 and 2002, and I think Peter Barry is right: Concentrated ripe lime-juice fruit and delicate minerals sit in perfect harmony on a long, fine acid backbone. Lovely and fresh now, it will improve for many years - buy all you have room for. 12.4%. $13 at Winestar.
Gooseberrys are such a welcome change from the passionfruit and SOLO- sugary -lemon sweetness of most cheap Kiwi Sauvignons. More savoury than fruity, which I much prefer with this style, with a long, well balanced palate and a clean finish. Perfect with grilled seafood. Online special at Dan M’s for $14 at the time of writing. $17 elsewhere and still a good buy.
Seppelt Grampians Shiraz 2008
Despite the 2008 date stamp, this wine is quite undeveloped. The colour is a dense purple, the nose still closed even on the second day, and the palate is a tight core of cool climate Shiraz fruit wrapped around a fine acid backbone. Well balanced but will need years for the fruit to come out of its shell. This is a surprise packet, given that it was part of a ‘any 3 for $30’ deal at 1st Choice.
I can’t find any intelligence on this label on the web, but I'm happy to stick my neck out: it’s a steal and a sleeper if you have the time and patience. The 3 for $30 deal includes a 2008 Grampians Cabernet as well. I can only add that I haven’t drunk a bad Seppelts red in a long time, and that understatement and restraint are hallmarks of Seppelt winemakers Emma Wood and Jo Marsh.
Some of the reviews I've read suggested that this wine was a ball of tight muscle which would take years to relax. A lot can change in a year with Grenache, a red variety that ages with alarming or appealing speed (depending on your viewpoint). I reckon it’s as good as it’ll get, cause it’s wide open and offering up all its charms of cherry ripe and sweet, spicy fruit and pepper and thyme and liquorice and Christmas pudding. It’s actually pretty gentle, all things considered. 14.5%. $22 at Dan M’s.
Thorn-Clarke Shotfire Quartage 2010
A blend of 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Cabernet Franc, 12% Malbec and 12% Merlot matured for 12 months in French oak hogsheads. I expected a great deal from the 2010 and was disappointed because it's much riper and softer than the tight, elegant Bordeaux blends of 2008 and 2009. This wine is as lush and rich as a southern belle, and there’s not a lot of acid or tannin in her make-up. If you like them soft and fruity and ready to enjoy, you could do a lot worse than $18.
I liked the 8 Uncles Shiraz from this winery, and I like this wine even more. The Temperanillo really gives the Cabernet a Fandango kick, and the combo works surprisingly well: it’s Cabernet with a more vibrant personality than usual. Like a German with a Spanish mother. The Temperanillo also fills out the middle and softens the finish. Good stuff. 13.5%. $15 at 1st Choice.
Evans & Tate Metricup Road Margaret River Cabernet Merlot 2009
This wine has been in the shops for some months, and there’s plenty of it around. Not long ago, Evans & Tate went through financial difficulties which ended up with McWilliams buying the company. Despite all of that, this wine is a pretty decent effort for $17. I’ve said before that I’ve yet to have a McWilliams wine I really like, and I have to say that this wine comes close. I like Cabernet Merlot blends, but find that they lose something in the translation from Bordeaux to our shores. Mostly depth of flavour, complexity and aging potential. The wines we make tend to be soft, with simple fruit in the plum compote spectrum.
This one is a little leaner than most, and the Merlot is more restrained. Medium bodied and elegant, this wine has good depth, length and balance. Most of all, it has a real spring in its step that lifts it out of the ordinary. Great with lamb shanks now, a few years to go to reach its full potential.
THE JURY IS OUT
Were Estate Single Vineyard Margaret River Chardonnay 2010
Bert Werden at Winestar offered a super deal on this $30 premium Chardonnay – at $19, it looked like a bargain. Since I’ve fallen for Bert’s super sales pitch more than once, I made a rule to always buy a bottle to check before buying quantities. This wasn’t possible since Were Estate wines aren't stocked by any shops I know. The winemaker is Clive Otto, however, who also makes the wines for the highly regarded Fraser Gallop Estate.
Halliday’s review says ‘Straw-green; a complex, structured wine barrel-fermented and matured in new French oak for eight months; both bouquet and palate give multiple messages, with creamy/nutty melon, white peach and pink grapefruit woven together with oak and bound by a skein of acidity. 13.8% alc. 94 Points.’
This sounded like my kind of Chardonnay – not the fashionable ‘Minceur’ style most reviewers promote as the cool climate model we should all admire, which serves up unripe grapefruit with dry minerals, 12.5% alcohol and a bucket of acid. I like my Chardonnays rich and mouth-filling if not blousy, with fruit in the peach spectrum and creamy oak that hints of cashews, and with complexity and aging potential. If I want a steely, mouth-puckering white, I’ll reach for a young Riesling.
The bottle of Were Estate I opened showed sweet fruit and obvious nutty, creamy vanillan oak, but the fruit was simple, or simply sweet, and the wine lacking balance, length, complexity and aging potential. I’m not convinced, but I put this wine in the ‘Jury Out’ group here because I’m only human – maybe I didn’t get it.
Saying you’re unimpressed by Henschke reds is like saying Penfolds don’t make reds worth drinking. Many years ago, I enjoyed Henschke wines ranging from Hill of Grace and Mt Edelstone to the Rieslings and the White Frontignacs. Over the years, Stephen Henschke cranked up the prices of his reds so much that even the humble Keyneton Estate went though my $25 ceiling (and changed its name to Keyneton Euphonium - shades of Andrew Pirie's Opimian).
Henry’s Seven sounds more down to earth, and is one of the newer labels Stephen has added to his bulging range. It’s made from 66% Shiraz, 19% Grenache, 8% Mourvèdre and 7% Viognier. The colour is a big solid purple-red as you’d expect (14.5%), but the nose is quite shy even after it’s had plenty of time to breathe. The flavour comes in with a bang, the fruit is chunky and the finish is abrupt. It’s like a heavy main course with no entrée and no dessert. The Shiraz dominates the blend, and the wine lacks those sweet fruits and spices we love in our best GSMs. It costs the same money as Kym Teusner’s Avatar, which makes Henry look pretty clumsy, frankly. $25 at Kemenys.
I should add that Henry 2009 didn’t appeal to Campbell Mattinson, and that JH gives it a great wrap, 95 points and a special value star. There you go.
Deep Woods Margaret River Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2011
This was a new label for me, adorned with a couple of gold medals. It struck me as pretty bland at this stage but Semillon can be deceptive in its youth. The wine could well improve, it has the structure to do that. What it doesn’t have, to its credit, is that sweet and sour Sauvignon Blanc overlay we see in the cheap Kiwis. $13 at Dan M’s
Wolfberger Riesling 2010
Talk about a steely, mouth-puckering white! It’s clean, it’s long and lean, typical of European Riesling from a cooler year, but there's isn't enough depth I fear to reward the years of cellaring this needs. And the fruit is not of the highest order, but then this is just $16 at Vintage Cellars. The 2012 Jum Barry above is a much better wine.
I have an apology to make: a while ago, I took Tyson Stelzer’s word for the quality of the Lanson 2002 Vintage Brut (I did say so), and put up a couple of positive posts when Dan M offered it for $50. I did so because Tyson Stelzer is the Louis Roederer International Champagne Writer of the Year 2011, and (according to his website) ‘a multi-award winning wine writer with an annual readership of four million worldwide. He is the author and publisher of thirteen wine books, a regular contributor to various magazines, a frequent judge and chair at Australian wine shows and has presented at wine conferences in five countries.’
This is what he wrote about the 2002 Lanson: ‘If you thought you couldn’t afford truly great vintage champagne, this is your wine. I have waited in eager anticipation for seven months for Lanson 2002 to land in Australia, and oh the rejoicing when it hit my local Dan Murphy’s last week! The most profound Lanson since 1996 carries a formidable tension between energetic vitality and sheer concentration. At an insane $60 at Dan’s right now, this is the bargain buy of the year in big house vintage champagne.’
So I thought it was safe to recommend, and bought a bottle myself. Now I don’t drink a lot of champagne, but I opened this bottle with a couple of friends a few weeks ago. We couldn’t find anything profound here for love or money, let alone the ‘formidable tension between energetic vitality and sheer concentration’ Tyson talks about. This was a bland bubbly of little weight or consequence, or finesse and charm. Even the bead and bubbles were disappointing. A bad bottle? That's a pretty rare event with French champagne from big houses.
A bottle of the same wine from the 1999 vintage, tasted a week later, was everything a good vintage champagne should be.The 1999 is a steal at Kemenys at $60. It won a blue-gold at the Sydney International Wine Comp and found a place among the top 100. Here are the judges' comments: http://www.top100wines.com/wines/showoneitem-new.asp?CategoryID=1&Year=2011§ion=top100&pn=7