Australian wine gibberish

Like many people in the British wine world, I watched the recent BBC documentary, Chateau Chunder, which charted the rise of the Australian wine in Britain. What really shone out of it was the Australian genius for marketing and plain speaking. Now you probably think that marketing and plain-speaking are mutually exclusive, but the way that Australian wine was sold in the 1980s really did make sense to British drinkers. Wines were sold through brands and grapes varieties. It was unpretentious and classless. It was refreshing seeing red-faced men with names like Len talking about wine as if they were fixing an old ute (utility vehicle ie. pick-up truck).

Penfolds epitomse this no-nonsense attitude towards wine. Their wines are given numbers and they exhibit a cheerful disregard for the modern shibboleths of regionality and localism. Many of them are blended into a house style from fruit bought from all over South Australia. The most revered wine in Australia, Grange, is made this way. You can’t get less pretentious than Penfolds. However, something seems to have gone awry in their marketing department. Here’s the tasting note for their Bin 150 Shiraz:

‘A waft of ristretto coffee – first-run – synergises with soy and a dark char, almost tar and pitch. . . . Bright red fruits conspire to create an amalgam, a continuum of flavour basking texturally avec sheen, gloss. These fruits do not travel solo – chinotto, licorice, bread and butter pudding flavours peddle (sic, one assumes) in parallel, quietly courted by stylish oak(s).’

I think we can all agree that this is terrible even for wine writing: a mish-mash of mixed metaphors, tautology, marketing jargon and malapropism. I expect they mean that the chinotto etc. are pedaling rather than out selling clothes pegs door-to-door but that scarcely makes more sense. It’s like a parody of Malcolm Gluck (former Guardian wine writer.)

The Bin 150 is one of their newer wines, a single vineyard one as opposed to a multi-region blend, but not even the venerable Bin 28 can escape the corporate gibberish:

‘Mocha/ malt and spice sequentially volatilise, consorting to form an initial aromatic wave.’

There was always something not entirely convincing in the old Australian line that making good wine was just a matter of applying common sense. Nowadays, of course, the Australians have embraced terroir, and are, in my experience, making far better wines than they’ve ever made. Sadly some of them have also embraced the flowery prose that goes along with this and they’re simply not very good at it. Rather than being honest-to-god haughty French pretentiousness, they’re doing it in a matey Australian way and the results are just horrible.

Both wines in the 2010 vintage are excellent with the Bin 28 particularly wonderful having a traditionally Australian generosity combined with lovely balance and freshness. Slurp have it for £18.95 a bottle which seems reasonable though I’m sure it used to be a lot cheaper not that long ago. 

About Henry

I’m a drinks writer. My day job is features editor at the Master of Malt blog. I also contribute to BBC Good Food, the Spectator and others. You can read some of my work here. I’ve done a bit of radio, given some talks and written a couple of books (Empire of Booze, The Home Bar and the forthcoming Cocktail Dictionary).
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7 Responses to Australian wine gibberish

  1. Urgh – who writes that garbage for the wine industry?! It’s appalling and is making shivers go down my spine!

  2. Henry says:

    Amazing to think that someone in power at Penfolds HQ read this and then said, yes, this is how I want our wine described.

  3. worm says:

    aiieeee! the words! they burn!

  4. Keith McLennan says:

    From the rear label of a bottle of Barefoot Shiraz:

    “Barefoot Shiraz is a full bodied, deep purple wine with lavender aromas and robust flavours of blackberry jam. Hints of mocha and toasty vanilla complete the velvety smooth finish.”

    You might think that lavender and blackberry jam would be a rather limiting combination. But no! The blurb continues: “perfect with steak, chicken, red sauce pastas and sharp cheeses. Enjoy with family and friends! GET BAREFOOT!”

    A sticker on the front also describes the wine as “SOFT & JUICY”, a slogan that seems to be recycled from Juicy-Fruit chewing gum.

    One can only conclude that the bottlers, Barefoot Cellars of Anzac Street, Chullora, have pretty low expectations of their customers. As Nellie Melba is reported to have said, “Give ’em muck.”

  5. I agree. Many Australian wines that are exported around the world are sub-standard, unremarkable and not an accurate reflection Australia’s finest wines.

  6. Pingback: More madness from Penfold’s | Henry's World of Booze

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