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?
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?
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?
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.