Death, yoga, what next, USA and ecstasy

Too young

I was very sad to hear of the death of Matteo (Matt) Zema on Saturday, July 23, at his home in Melbourne, aged 56 years.

I only know the Zema family slightly, but the dealings I have had with them have always been easy and friendly. Their wines are always of a high standard and well priced.

They are a close-knit family and Matt’s death at such a young age will be a great loss to them and other members of the Coonawarra community. My condolences to the family.

IMG_0104Stress, relaxation and meditation

The Winemakers’ Federation of Australia Outlook Conference and the Australian Wine Industry Technical Conference opened on Monday, July 25. This was the day that had the greatest interest for me, so I booked to fly from the Gold Coast to Adelaide on Sunday lunchtime, dine with friends in Adelaide and present myself at the conference at 8am Monday morning.

The flight was cancelled and I wouldn’t get to Adelaide until some time Monday afternoon. Therefore, instead of listening to the presentations, I sat at home writing TKR. I will try and include some information on the conference when I receive presentations or any information. Unfortunately, it will lack the nuances of attending in person. I compensated by attending a yoga class early Monday morning, hence these photographs, taken by my teacher Josie Cain.


Whatever next

In the 40-plus years I have been involved in wine, the words “whatever next” have passed my lips or entered my mind on many occasions.

Fashion and changing tastes mean what wine is in one year may not be in the next. Like many in the 1980/90s, I fell in love with ripe Australian chardonnay and then had enough of it and went back to more austere styles, though some are now too thin and weak in flavour and at times I want just a tad more plumpness.

Reading an article in Off Licence News on July 18 by Martin Green, those words entered my mind again. The story was headed: “Chinese wine tipped for more prominent role on UK shelves by top Conviviality buyer.”

Green writes: “Andrew Shaw, who is now in charge of buying wine for the Conviviality group – including Bargain Booze, Wine Rack, Bibendum PLB and Matthew Clark, among others – said he ‘firmly believes in the quality of Chinese wine’.”

Exchange rates were given as a reason for the predicted growth of Chinese wine, along with the UK’s relationship with Europe after Brexit. But is the quality of most Chinese wine up to an acceptable standard to compete with the cheaper southern French or Spanish wines available in the UK? Cheaper Australian wine is also available. Though most seems to have topped £4 ($7) now, there is still a fair selection under that figure.

The article raises the question: is it quality, price or novelty that Shaw seeks? This opening paragraph from an article in the UK Guardian in May 1999 sums up wine fashion in my time:

“In the 70s it was Hirondelle. In the 80s it was Piat d’Or. Now it’s Jacob’s Creek. John Cunningham reports on the vintage Australian plonk that became Britain’s wine of the 90s”

This past decade it’s been New Zealand sauvignon blanc in the UK. Is Shaw pushing for the “whatever next” to be Chinese wine? He admits the company has something going on with China and plans to introduce one brand later this year and two early next year. These are interesting times. Whatever next.

Suffer the sulphur

An article worth a read appeared in the Financial Times by Jancis Robinson on July 22.

Headed “Sulphur in wine: friend or foe?” it starts:

“Since the beginning of this century, virtually all wine labels have advertised the fact that the wine ‘contains sulphites’. What does this mean?

“Sulphite is a term that covers every form of sulphur, which is a natural by-product of fermentation: all wines contain a small amount of sulphites, even if none has been added. The adjective sulphurous may have unappetising connotations, but sulphur is not irredeemably evil. As sulphur dioxide, it has been used since classical times as an antioxidant (a virtuous word nowadays), a preservative and a disinfectant. Mentioned by Pliny and Cato, it is still widely and liberally used in the production of dried fruits, often described on packaging as E220 (known as 220 in the US).

“But those who suffer from asthma and rhinitis can react badly to an excess of sulphur dioxide. It catches the back of the throat, and can also cause coughing, wheezing, a runny nose and even flushing of the skin. Because of this, all wines with more than 10 mg/l sulphites have to state on the label that they contain them…”

American restaurant wine list

The American restaurant wine list discussion continued this week. Matt Lane, Torbreck’s man in the US, added his view. The full chain of comments can be found here

What Lane reminds us – and I have written extensively on this in the Wine & Viticulture Journal – is of the need to back the brand and not rely on importers or distributors to do the job. A snippet from Lane’s post:

“But you are all missing one key point here. The depth and distribution of Australian wine whether on a list or not is at the fundamental mercy of the now consolidated goliath distribution houses. They do not nurture brands, nor build brands any more, nor do they have the capacity to hold the hands of brands, let alone hand-sell, to which most, if not all Aussie wines need in our recovery stage. Some very unfortunate truths, but pure reality.” 

Cheap thrills

Splendour in the Grass, a huge music festival, took place near Byron Bay last weekend. A young person said they took ecstasy because alcohol was too expensive. Think on that.

Whatever the week brings, let it not involve hanging around in airports and spending hundreds of dollars going nowhere.


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