Cuisine magazine’s tastings of New Zealand Syrah and Australian Shiraz are the feature of Cuisine Issue 159 for July 2013. This issue marks a change in presentation, away from publishing all the reviews of the 4-star wines in the magazine, and referring the reader to the new Cuisine Wine website (www.cuisinewine.co.nz) . This was necessitated by the increased number of tasting notes of 4-star winning wines taking up the available print space, thus reducing the amount for other wine related articles.
It’s a good move in many respects, as for the general reader, a wine section of just tasting notes has little appeal. Cuisine have taken this opportunity of adding in a solid profile of a prominent winemaker and a number of snippets of wine news, as well as supporting articles in the Syrah and Shiraz featured tastings. The reduced number of tasting notes, now dedicated to the ‘Top 5’ or ‘Top 10’ , as well as the ‘Best Buys’ makes the articles short and snappy, if not snazzy and concise, but brighter and more varied in content and in the visual presentation. If a reader wants to see the full list and view the descriptive tasting notes, they must go to the website.
There are a few detracting points in that one must take the extra step of redirecting one’s attention from a magazine to the internet, and the number of potential viewers will be lost on the way. And of course, it makes the tasting articles considerably less substantial than before. The opinion that the Cuisine wine section is less serious could be made. It’s a fine balance in deciding the balance between attracting and holding the attention of those new to wine or putting some more serious and heavyweight, if not technical material into the magazine to keep the interest of those who are more sophisticated in the subject.
I’d personally like to see a leaning towards the latter, and for example with this issue, it may have been more interesting to discuss the specific quality factors the judges look for in the best examples, rather than just explain why New Zealand Syrah is slow on the up-take. Likewise, a discussion of the new emergent cooler-climate styles, as being rewarded on the show circuit versus the traditional, fully ripe and sweet, warmer climate styles, would be more interesting than the good value of the Aussie wines. These are current and poignant topics that could be explored better than what was put forward.
A point to note that the wine section in Cuisine remains relatively small, in this July issue, being 15 pages, including advertisements, out of a total 180 pages (outside cover to outside cover). It’d be good to see the proportion raised in a magazine with the subtitle “food, wine & good living”.
A Thought on Tasting Notes
I believe that tasting notes are the core of any serious wine publication. The views of experienced judges are always sought by newcomers to wine as well as those who may be peers of the judges. I must admit, most of us ‘trawl’ through articles with masses of tasting notes, and take attention to those that are relevant. But therein lies the dilemma. The writers and editors just don’t know which tasting notes will be read by the viewer! All of the tasting notes must be included in an article for the sake of completeness as well as proving the work has been done by the judges in assessing a broad if not comprehensive representation of the subject and what’s out there. On-line publication allows full notes to be shown as there are no restrictions on space, and only the attention span of the reader is the decider of what will be perused. So Cuisine magazine has taken a positive route here.
There is a tendency to gloss over tasting notes at present, especially at discussion time at tastings, often in favour of a tangential topic. Tasters and even panellists who are keynote speakers are increasingly not given the opportunity of expressing their views on wines they have just tasted. The ‘explanation’ usually is “we all have good palates, and can make up our own minds about a wine, and therefore the opinions don’t really matter, and don’t need to be aired” This is utter nonsense and takes away from the joy of wine, as it’s all about sharing views and perspectives which will be different for each person. That’s why we have overseas and guest judges from whom we can learn from and avoid an insular viewpoint.
It’ll be good to see a little more respect to the ‘tasting note’ and allow tasters to offer their opinions and views. Of course, this should be done with sensitivity and fairness not only to the fellow tasters, audience and readers, otherwise they’ll lose interest!
New Zealand Syrah is still being seen by local and overseas authorities as being our next ‘great wine hope’. Of 57 New Zealand Syrah tasted by the Cuisine panel consisting of John Belsham, Ralph Kyte-Powell, Rod Easthope, and John Saker as associate judge, there were five 5-star wines, two 2 ½ stars and eight 4-stars, this relatively low success rate indicative of the more challenging vintages of late. The 5-star Syrah wines were, in order: Coopers Creek ‘Reserve’ Hawke’s Bay 2010, Vidal ‘Reserve Series’ Gimblett Gravels 2010, Vidal ‘Legacy Series’ Gimblett Gravels 2009, Sacred Hill ‘HALO’ 2011 and Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ Gimblett Gravels 2011. The four ‘Best Buys’ were the Vigal ‘Reserve Series’ Gimblett Gravels 2010, Sacred Hill ‘HALO’ 2011 Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels 2010 and Ti Point 2011.
As mentioned above, the value of the Australian Shiraz wines coming through was particularly notable. Of 75 wines tasted, seven were awarded 5-stars, for awarded 4 ½ stars and 16 gained 4-star ratings. Cuisine has listed a ‘Top 10’, but here are the 5-star wines in order: Wolf Blass ‘Yellow Label’ 2011, Penfolds ‘Koonunga Hill’ 2010, Quarisa ‘Johnny Q’ Shiraz/Viognier 2009, Wynns Coonawarra 2011, Wirra Wirra ‘Woodhenge’ 2011, Shingleback ‘The Gate’ 2010 and Jim Barry ‘The Lodge Hill’ 2010. Of these, the Wolf Blass, Penfolds, Quarisa, Wynns and Jim Barry were listed as the 5-star ‘Best Buys’.
I can’t help but reiterate a comment I’ve made earlier about the Australian Shiraz results in Cuisine. I wonder how many of the true premium Shiraz wines are being entered? For Wolf Blass, whose ‘Yellow Label’ gained top honours here, there is the ‘Gold Label’, ‘President’s Selection’, ‘Grey Label’ and even ‘Platinum Label’ which any wine interested person knows are better regarded. Are wine producers only entering their commercial wines to be judged – as they know the readership is inclined that way? Without such top-end wines, the concept of comprehensiveness is questioned. With the start-up of a Cuisine Wine website, there is the potential to take the Cuisine tastings up a step and include the very best wines. And in doing so, the standards of the consumer will be lifted too. www.cuisine.co.nz