January jottings

Another very busy month of wine tasting has passed and the walkabout crew has experienced many lovely new cellar doors. Here are some of the conclusions/realisations we have come to this month:

Travel is worth it. We have managed to find some real gems on our travels but in some cases we have had to try A LOT of wines that we either didn’t like at all, liked but didn’t love or loved until we saw the price tag. Travelling the cellar doors, tasting, discussing and taking notes has meant that we are (mostly) staying within our budget and are putting some truly lovely wine away in our cellars.

There is a daily limit: On some tasting days (especially when we travel with a larger group) we have managed to visit four cellar doors in the one day but this was really a stretch; we are not professional tasters! Three cellar doors in the one day seems to be about the right number to visit, all in roughly the same geographic region (such as Geelong, Mornington Peninsula, Adelaide Hills, Margaret River) and we tend to taste a minimum of three whites and three reds at each destination, although there are some exceptions.

Planning pays off: We plan our visits always. Sometimes this is because we need to book accommodation… Basalt… Waipara… but usually it is so we can do some reading of winery websites to get a feel for the styles of wine the winery makes and a rough idea of price points. If there is nothing under $40 per bottle, we are probably going to give it a miss.

Start with a taste, then a bottle and then a case (or two…): Nearly everyone in our group is guilty of skipping the middle step in this process on multiple occasions… but in general our approach is to taste first and then buy a selection of bottles to take home and try again as a group at a later date. Those that make the shortlist (which is most of them) are then ordered by the case (in some cases multiple cases, depending on how many of the group want the wine added to their cellar). Cellar space is an absolute premium and having a second taste of a wine before committing to buying multiple bottles is always a good idea. It is also a great excuse for a catch-up dinner with the rest of the group.

Expert opinions can really differ (from each other and from us): We have tried wines rated 95/100 or above by expert wine writers or wine panels and been disappointed. We have tried wines rated under 90/100 by the same writers and been delighted and most of all, we have found some beautiful wines that have never been written up in a book or magazine by an expert (for whatever reason – some wineries only send their premium wines to be tasted). We do read a number of wine reviews and subscribe to magazines and buy books to read opinions to guide our travel choices, but we are also determined to form our own opinions. As a general rule, we find that many wines are OVER RATED by professionals and there is not enough differentiation at the very top of the points scale. We also have an issue with 85 points only just being a pass mark for a wine… but that is another story on which much research has been done.

Track consumption as well as purchases: Knowing how many bottles (roughly) each year of white, red and sparkling wine you consume is really useful to help decide which wines to try and then buy. Again, cellar space is premium and if you drink less reds than you think, you may end up with a cellar full of wines that are not being drunk and may also be missing the experience of a well aged white wine. This does take some time to work out, and can be a sobering experience to realise just how much you drink in a year… but it makes the purchasing decisions a lot more efficient. A cellar spreadsheet is a great idea, but remember to organise by “drink by” dates, not vintage, as different grapes mature at different rates.

Our top rated wine of the month: January 2019 has been a really interesting month for the tasting crew, with a number of purchase-worthy wines tried, debated, tried again and then added to the purchase list. It was a very close decision, but Provenance Wines 2017 Pinot Noir has narrowly defeated Tahbilk 2015 Old Vines Cabernet Shiraz for our wine of the month.

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