It’s Christmas time, and Santa has lots of wine books for dad
The first thing that struck me about Nick Stock’s new oeuvre was the weight of the thing. It has ads in it so the whole thing is printed on heavy duty paper. The edges are sharp as well, so it becomes painful to hold in your hands when reading in bed.
What about the content, you ask. There is a lot of it since Nick fails to deliver on his promise in the Intro that ‘Life is too short to even waste time reading about bad wine. So instead of having to sort through vast pages of average wineries and wines to find the good stuff, the 2013 Good Wine Guide brings you straight to the leading edge – the cream of the crop.’
Cream or low-fat milk?
Is this a dig at Halliday, I wonder. Then I check the number of pages: almost 500, and the number of wines reviewed is almost 1600. Is Nick seriously telling us that the cream of Aussie and Kiwi wines numbers 1600? There are lots of wines here with scores of 90 or less but, on Nick’s scale, wines that rate 87 -89 are ‘good wines that are defined by high quality fruit, quality winemaking and impressive balance.’
Oxford Landing? Tyrrell’s Lost Block or Old Winery? Yalumba Y series? Brancott Estate? Cream? Some of these wines get 90 points from Nick, who writes that ’90 - 92 is where serious quality starts to kick in. Greater concentration and purity, superior in every aspect.’
These wines are desultory concoctions, and that's not just my view: Huon Hooke captures the essence of the awful Brancott Estate Savvy 2011 perfectly: ‘... green, shrill cut capsicum aroma. Not properly ripe. Sweet and sour taste: residual sugar fights a losing battle against high-pitched acidity. Hard and a bit too green for my tastes. Rating: 85/100.’
Wines that are on your shelves
Another quote from Nick’s intro is: ‘I
also make a point with this book to cover the wines that are actually on your
shelves [I think he means the shelves of your bottle shops], and that’s a major
difference from most other Australian wine books.’ He’s not saying that the
wines he reviews are readily available, only that they are current vintage wines
– mostly 2012 whites and 2011 reds. That's a promise he keeps most of the time.
Nick has a point there, of course: these kinds of books tend to hit their use-by dates in just a few months as new vintages and releases overtake them – great for publishers who get to do it all again year after year. Halliday’s wine companion provides an online database of reviews, but even that fails to turn up new wines you’re looking for half the time.
The good bits are the extras
The 2013 Guide is divided into sections, by grape variety or style. There’s a champagne section, Sauvignon Blanc NZ and Pinot Noir NZ sections, imported white and red sections, Italian and emerging varietals sections and more. There are lists of best wines and best wineries, pieces on cellaring and glossaries of wine terms, and maps and directories.
The NZ sections are clearly helpful, even if you’ll never see most of the wines listed there in Oz. It’s a similar story with the list of imported wines. As for the rest, more than half the wines reviewed are fairly well known quantities. The reviews themselves are excellent, 4-5 short lines on average, and concise in their descriptions.
BEST OF lists are popular, and Nick is going for the Olympic record here – they seem to take up the first 50 pages of the book. There are even ‘wine of provenance awards’ for wines that have established a pedigree over ten vintages or more. An obvious question comes to mind: why is there only one wine of provenance in each state?
Nick’s selections hold no surprises, sadly. Winery of the year: Penfolds. Wine of the Year: Giaconda Chardonnay. Best Pinot Noir: Sangreal by Farr. You get the idea - yawn. Worse, none of these wineries has relevance to ordinary drinkers. Not even Penfolds, which is concentrating all its efforts on its icon and luxury goods range for the Chinese aspirant market. Nick Stock isn’t James Halliday, so why isn't he a bit more adventurous?
The best of the best lists run through all the usual suspects, the ones you’d buy if cost were irrelevant. A few of the Rieslings dip below $25, but plenty of the rest are on the wrong side of $100. Who is this book written for? I mean, most of us can put lists like this together when cost is no object, with some help from Langton’s classification. Even John Elliott can http://jdereport.com.au/australia%E2%80%99s-greatest-wines/
Yes, there is a best-value wines $25 and under list as well. There are good
choices here but the list is tarnished once more by the inclusion of Oxford Landings and basic Tyrrells, Brancotts, Angoves, Jacobs Creeks, Toi Tois and Villa Marias. These sit shoulder to
shoulder with wines from Hoddles Creek, O’Leary Walker, Teusner, Xanadu, Fraser
Gallop and Voyager Estate. It's like lumping Hyundais with BMWs into the same group of cars.
Nick would’ve been better off cutting the low life out of the lists and the reviews. Listing those cheap concoctions alongside real wines just makes a mockery of the 'cream' idea. A tighter, lighter Guide focusing on the real cream of the Aussie and Kiwi wine crop would’ve been much more useful, and a lot easier on the hands.
Here’s a curious twist: the only review of this book I can find is by Nick Stock himself. Well, not quite – it’s an article in the SMH headed A toast to the best, where Nick promotes his wine provenance awards and the winning wineries. And his Guide, of course. http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/restaurants-and-bars/a-toast-to-the-best-20121119-29l9h.html .
Seriously, I get the impression that Nick did this tome pretty much on his own, which is an effort of staggering proportions. By contrast, I suspect that old Santa Halliday has many little helpers these days that help him get the Wine Companion out each Christmas.