Camp­bell Mat­tin­son an­swers your press­ing wine ques­tions



On a re­cent fam­ily hol­i­day to the US, we tried some great wines from California; caber­net in par­tic­u­lar was con­sis­tently good. It would be great to buy some of these wines here, but they don’t ap­pear to be avail­able. The larger re­tail­ers seem to only stock one or two wines from larger pro­duc­ers (e.g. Ken­dal­lJack­son). Is our mar­ket too small for US pro­duc­ers to con­sider ex­port­ing or do we ap­ply tar­iffs that make it unattrac­tive?

David Parr


The sums just never seem to work. And it’s frus­trat­ing. No ar­gu­ment there. It’s a combination of fac­tors: a) cur­rency gen­er­ally works against us, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to re­tail Cal­i­for­nian caber­net in Aus­tralia at at­trac­tive prices, b) de­mand for Cal­i­for­nian caber­net in Aus­tralia isn’t high (chicken and egg though, of course), c) as a fel­low New World pro­ducer there isn’t enough point of dif­fer­ence to push the pre­vi­ous fac­tors aside, d) caber­net isn’t sexy in Aus­tralia as a gen­eral rule, and hasn’t been for some time, and e) Aus­tralian caber­net across all price points is just so good. In short, there are higher bid­ders and higher in­ter­est else­where, so pre­cious lit­tle of it makes it to our shores, and that’s un­likely to change any time soon.


There’s been a lot writ­ten about Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence (AI) and ro­bot­ics in re­cent times. The prospect of self­driv­ing cars, AI lawyers and ro­botic sur­geons all seem to be quite close. So if we as­sume we al­ready have the tech­nol­ogy to per­form a com­plete chem­i­cal anal­y­sis of wine in a mat­ter of min­utes, is it pos­si­ble we could see AI wine show judges at some time in the fu­ture, able to al­lo­cate a sin­gle ob­jec­tive score to each wine tested? Per­haps we might even see AI wine writ­ers pre­pare tast­ing notes?

Bernie Rus­sell


Not on my watch, to the lat­ter sug­ges­tion at least. But se­ri­ously, AI will be in­ter­est­ing for wine. There have been a lot of at­tempts over the years to au­to­mate the sen­sory eval­u­a­tion of wine, and while it’s easy enough to do at a chem­i­cal, non-sen­sory level, it has so far proven im­pos­si­ble to do in a hu­man sen­sory sense. Wine is no more likely to be judged by a com­puter than the Archibald Prize is. It’s hard, there­fore, to see AI tak­ing over the sen­sory eval­u­a­tion side of things, but be­fore wine show judges and/ or writ­ers breathe a sigh of re­lief, it’s en­tirely likely that AI will in­flu­ence, hugely, the way wine in­for­ma­tion is used. If, for in­stance, you pre­vi­ously en­joyed wine X when eating dish Y, then the best match to the dish you’re about to or­der (or make) from the list of wines avail­able (on the wine list, in the wine store, or from your cel­lar) is wine Z. AI may draw on the re­views of wine crit­ics or it may well sim­ply draw on crowd-sourced re­views, but it’s easy to see the at­trac­tion of this kind of sys­tem.

One other in­ter­est­ing point about AI is in its ap­pli­ca­tion to driver­less cars. If no one has to drive home, will al­co­hol con­sump­tion in­crease, or will dif­fer­ent wine styles/types de­velop a greater or lesser ap­peal? The gen­eral view is that for­ti­fied wine sales, for in­stance, have been se­verely im­pacted by more strin­gent drink driver reg­u­la­tions and polic­ing. The specifics are un­known, but it seems clear that AI will bring sig­nif­i­cant change to our beloved world of wine.


Over the Christ­mas pe­riod, my fa­ther-in-law and I were dis­cussing how so many Aus­tralian red wines are now very high in al­co­hol; 14 per cent and above seem­ing nor­mal. It was raised be­cause we were drink­ing a 2010 Sally’s Hill caber­net blend, which was lower in al­co­hol but amaz­ing. What does the higher al­co­hol ac­tu­ally add to the wine? And do you think some pro­duc­ers would make bet­ter or lesser wines if they low­ered the al­co­hol lev­els?

Rick Mitchell


I’ve been writ­ing on wine for nearly 20 years and dis­cus­sions about (ris­ing) al­co­hol lev­els have been com­mon through­out that time. It’s not a new or re­cent phe­nom­e­non. I don’t keep records but a) al­co­hol lev­els of Aus­tralian wines seem to be gen­er­ally lower now than they were a decade ago (not­ing that the Sally’s Pad­dock you ref­er­ence is from eight years ago), b) al­co­hol lev­els of Aus­tralian wines are still much higher than they were 30 years ago, c) higher al­co­hol of­ten means sweeter or richer flavours, though not al­ways, and d) higher al­co­hol can help build greater ‘mouth­feel’, though there’s a point be­yond where this ef­fect is burnt off. That said, the ef­fect of cli­mate change, where grapes ripen ear­lier and there­fore quicker, can’t be dis­counted here.

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