Monday, December 10, 2018

Classification of the cellaring wines of Australia

I have previously written about Australia's most collected wines. These are the wines that are among the most commonly found in wine-storage facilities, which means that they are suitable for at least short-term cellaring. Another way to investigate the wines most suitable for cellaring is to look at which wines appear most commonly at auctions, on the basis that these wines were originally purchased for storage and later sale (at a profit).


This is precisely what Langton's Fine Wine auction house has done, with their Langton’s Classification of Distinguished Australian Wines, currently in its VIIth edition. This lists the most collectable wines, as determined by their auction sales records. Langton's was originally an independent organization, but it is now owned by Australia's larger alcohol retailer (with just over 50% of the market), the Woolworths supermarket chain.

The Classification is updated roughly every 4.5 years, with lists produced in 1991, 1996, 2000, 2005, 2010, 2014 and 2018. Langton’s says the classification is compiled by analyzing the track records in the Australian wine auction market over several years — “It’s a combination of the volume of wine sold and prices achieved, balanced against release price. Our number crunchers use this combination of elements to arrive at a number, which is what determines the classification.” This has been likened to the process used for the 1855 classification of Bordeaux wines, but without the politics (see Introducing the fine wines of Australia).



The current Classification has three main levels (in increasing order): Excellent, Outstanding and Exceptional. However, the best of the Exceptional wines are distinguished as being Heritage. Previous classifications have used somewhat different names for the groups, and four of them (II-V) had an extra Distinguished level at the bottom.

The current classification contains 136 wines — 5 Heritage, 17 Exceptional, 46 Outstanding, and 68 Excellent. The previous classifications mostly had fewer wines — 34 (Classification I), 63 (II), 89 (III), 101 (IV), 123 (V), 139 (VI). Wines have come and gone among the classification lists, with a total of 185 wines having appeared among the seven classifications, although only 21 of them have appeared in all seven of the lists.

The current Classification

Most wine producers have only one wine in the Classificxaiton, although some of them do better than this — Grosset, Mount Mary, Vasse Felix, and Wynns Coonawarra Estate (3 each), Henschke (4), Wendouree (5) and Penfolds (10). The latter producer (part of Australia's biggest wine company, Treasury Wine Estates) is probably the best known among the appreciators of fine-wine outside Australia.

The Classification contains 116 red wines, 17 white wines, and 3 fortified wines. This extreme bias is the basic limitation of using auctions to classify wines — most people don't cellar white wines and put them up for sale on the auction market; and most Australian fortified wines are ready to be drunk when released, and so there is no point in storing them. We cannot treat this as a quality classification of Australian wine in general.

This next table shows the distribution of grape varieties among the wines. As expected, Australia's icon grape type is Shiraz, which makes wines stylistically quite different from the Syrah wines of the rest of the world — fully 40% of the wines are straight Shiraz. These are the Australian wines most beloved of Robert M. Parker, Jr (see The Parker influence). Next, 29% of the wines have Cabernet sauvignon as the dominant component, which generally produces a somewhat less heavyweight wine. Indeed, at least one of the Heritage cabernets has not at all met with Parker's approval (see Sharp differences of opinion over Mount Mary).

Wine type
Red
Cabernet sauvignon
Cabernet blend
Cabernet Shiraz
Pinot noir
Shiraz
Shiraz blend
White
Chardonnay
Riesling
Semillon
Fortified
Heritage


1


3


1


 
Exceptional

3
1

1
8
1

1
1

1
Outstanding

8
5
2
6
17
5

2

1
 
    Excellent

12
6
2
6
27
2

5
4
2
2

As for the origin of the wine grapes, 54% of the wines come from the state of South Australia, with Victoria producing another 26%, as shown in the next table. Most wines from South Australia can be considered to be warm-climate wines, while those from Victoria are mostly cool-climate. It is somewhat surprising that Western Australia still produces such a small percentage of the classified wines (11%), given its rapidly rising status over the past decade. It is, however, not surprising that New South Wales has so few wines — when I was young it was considered to be a premium wine-grape state, but it is now over-shadowed by most of the other states.

State
New South Wales
Queensland
South Australia
Tasmania
Victoria
Western Australia
Heritage
1

3

1
 
Exceptional
2

10

3
2
Outstanding
1

25
1
12
6
    Excellent
5

36
1
19
7

The next table shows the situation when we dig deeper, into the Geographical Indication areas (you can check out their locations in my prior post: Welcome to the wine regions of Australia). The world-renowned Barossa Valley is way out in front, with 19% of the classified wines. Margaret River, the best region in Western Australia, is next (10%), followed closely by Coonawarra, the coolest region in South Australia (9.5%). The Clare Valley is surprisingly next (8%), given that it is an often-overlooked region.

Geographical Indication
Adelaide, SA
Barossa Valley, SA
Beechworth, Vic
Canberra District, NSW
Clare Valley, SA
Coonawarra, SA
Eden Valley, SA
Frankland River, WA
Geelong, Vic
Goulburn Valley, Vic
Grampians, Vic
Heathcote, Vic
Henty, Vic
Hunter Valley, NSW
Langhorne Creek, SA
Macedon Ranges, Vic
Margaret River, WA
McLaren Vale, SA
Mornington Peninsula, Vic
Pyrenees, Vic
Riverina, NSW
Rutherglen, Vic
South Gippsland, Vic
Sunbury, Vic
Tasmania
Yarra Valley, Vic
South Australia
South-Eastern Australia
Western Australia
Heritage




1

1









1








1
1

 
Exceptional

4
1
1
2
1
1



1


1


2
1




1



1

 
Outstanding

12


4
2
1
1
1
1
1
2

1
1
2
4
3
1



1

1
3
2
1
1
    Excellent
1
10
2

4
10
2

1

2

1
4
1

7
4
3
2
1
2

1
1
5
4

 
Finally, it is worth noting that the the last three of the regions listed refer to wines blended across several GIs. This includes 10 of the wines, notably Penfolds Grange, which has always been at the top of the Classification, as Australia's most common auction wine. Worldwide, it is unusual for blended wines to be considered premium — indeed, it has been suggested that "the great contribution of Australia to the world of wine has been lifting the art of blending to a whole new level" (Specific site or blending?).

Mind you, Penfolds Grange currently retails for a price that far exceeds its recent auction value (for details, see Penfolds Collection 2018 – An outstanding release… but there’s a twist) — currently, it loses a third of its value during the year immediately after release. This has been going on for at least a decade (see Making, selling, Grange and other wine business).

Previous Classifications

Presumably, we are meant to infer from the relative stability of the wines numbers over the past three classifications that things are becoming settled. However, 16 wines were dropped between Classifications VI and VII, with another 13 being added. Furthermore, 13 of the wines went up at least one level and 15 went down. This means that 42% of the Classification changed in some way between 2014 and 2018.

There is nothing unusual about this instability, given what has happened in previous classifications. Of the 185 wines that have appeared among the seven classifications, 21 of them have appeared in all seven of the lists, and 25 of them in six out of the seven; 27 wines have appeared only once, and 34 twice. The Australian fine-wine market is not a stable one, at least as far as auction sales are concerned.

So, it has been pointed out that the Classification portrays an evolving winemaking culture in Australia. However, few people seem to have looked at this evolution (eg. A look at Langton's Classification from 1991 to 2005). I may do this at some time in the future; but for now I will simply look at which wines have been most consistently present in the Langton's Classification.

To do this, I have compiled all seven of the lists, which was no mean feat, given that Langton's literally replaces each list with the new one, and that the available documentation is unclear about Classification II (variously 62, 63 or 64 wines). I then simply scored each of the wines as 1-4 based on their classification level. From this, I have constructed a network of the 90 wines that had the highest average score across the lists, and were classified as Outstanding at least once. (Fortified wines were excluded, because they were not present in Classifications III-V.)



The 18 wines at the top-right of the network are those that have always been classified highly — presumably, these are the cream of the crop.

Those wines at the lower-right did not make it into the first and / or second classification lists. On the other hand, those at the top-middle have dropped down or off the list in recent classifications

Those wines at the top-left moved to the top of the list in Classifications IV or V, while those at the bottom-left moved to top in Classification VI. Those wines at the bottom-middle made it to the top only in the current classification (VII).

Conclusion

Neither the Langton's list of wines nor the Wine Ark list (as discussed in the previous post on cellaring wines) can be considered to represent all of Australia's finest wines. Indeed, I noted last time that there are notable differences between the two lists (and they also differ from the results of both wine shows and critic reviews — see How to find consensus on the top drops for your cellar).

Both lists refer solely to wines preferred for long-term storage, and therefore white wines and sparkling are severely under-represented (there have only ever been two of the latter on the list) — people buy most white and sparkling wines to drink soon, not to store (or sell). Indeed, the best sparkling wines are often not released until they are ready for drinking (most of these are from Tasmania), and neither are the fortified wines (mostly from northern Victoria, and South Australia).

Cult wines are also excluded, because they are not made in enough volume to affect the auction market, or to occupy much space in cellar-storage facilities. Quite a number of such wineries survived the cult-wine boom of the 1990s (see InvestDrinks), including the wines of Clarendon Hills, Fox Creek, Greenock Creek, Noon Winery, Three Rivers (aka Chris Ringland), and Wild Duck Creek Estate. The main cult winery in the Langton's list is Wendouree (with all five of its wines!).

Monday, December 3, 2018

Which people and publications are name-checked in wine-store emails?

Anyone who takes their wine seriously is likely to be inundated with email "blasts" from all and sundry. Moreover, if you have ever registered with a wine store or distributor, then you will be getting emails daily, weekly or monthly, extolling the virtues of the current crop of wines, and telling you just how advantageous are the current prices.


These emails may even contain more than a grain of truth. In support of that truth, wine sellers often use the opinions of well-known people and publications, at least when those opinions are supportive. Indeed, the more supportive they are, the more likely they are to be quoted. So, an email inbox full of these offerings does, in my mind anyway, raise the question of just how often particular people / publications get cited. Moreover, I have wondered whether the USA and Europe quote the same people to the same extent.

To answer these questions, I have used two sources of information. The data for the USA come from Bob Henry (a business school-educated, ad agency-trained wine marketer based in Los Angeles), who has long used Gmail to archive email-blast offerings from many of the leading US wine merchants (they are listed at the bottom of this post). I searched through the 14,403 emails from late 2006 to April 2017. The data for Europe are my own, which I collected from April 2017 to March 2018, totaling 1,728 emails. These came from merchants in Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom (they are also listed at the bottom of this post).

The results are shown in the following table.


Emails
Publications
Wine Advocate
Wine Spectator
Vinous
Wine Enthusiast
Decanter
La Revue du Vins de France
Falstaff
El Mundo Vino
People
Robert Parker
James Suckling
Stephen Tanzer
Antonio Galloni
Neal Martin
Jancis Robinson
James Laube
Ian D'Agata
Bettane & Desseauve
Tim Atkin
Jeff Leve
Daniele Cernilli
USA
14,403

7,212
3,802
879
510
431
8
2
2

6,890
1,209
1,143
1,015
447
118
94
36
7
6
4
2
Europe
1,728

45
127
3
45
75
0
87
0

1,107
66
0
13
2
10
6
24
0
0
0
0

Not very surprising, is it? [Note: I did search for other publications and names, but drew a blank for them.]

The Wine Spectator has had around 350,000 paid subscribers, while the Wine Advocate has had 40-50,000. In both cases these are likely to be predominately US residents. Mind you, the subscription penetration rate of habitual US wine drinkers is likely to be <1%. However, in the matter of marketing wines this is what the retailers have, and the Advocate is usually noted to out-perform the Spectator, in terms of quotability. However, this is only true in the USA. In Europe, the Spectator, the UK-published Decanter, and the Austrian Falstaff magazine appear to do better.

For individuals, Robert M. Parker Jr has been the world's wine guru for several decades, although his influence may now be on the wane. Perhaps he has been under-performing, since he only made it into 48% of the US emails? After all, he made it into 64% of the European emails! However, note that the US wine stores may mention either Parker or the Advocate (his former newsletter), whereas the European stores focus almost solely on the man himself, when quoting wine opinions.

Indeed, other than Parker, the European emails do not cite many critics at all. This is in marked contrast to the US emails, where at least three other people get quoted 5-10% of the time. This may have something to do with the fact that most of the critics are based in the USA, even if they do comment on wines worldwide.

The profession (or sport) of quotable wine criticism was developed in the USA — in Europe, there are far fewer critics whose commentary is worded in a manner likely to help sell a lot of wine. Indeed, the most quotable information is usually a quality score, and many of the European critics eschew the art (or sport) of scoring wines. For example, Jancis Robinson may well be "better known than Robert Parker Jnr, at least outside the US", but her wine notes (and lack of scores) are not the stuff that advertising copywriters dream of.

This, perhaps, is the situation in Europe — there is no reason why the local critics should be helping to advertise wine, as opposed to helping consumers identify desirable wines. So, the critics are not providing quotability. The US critics, on the other hand, are very much doing so, and are thereby being cited more prominently in their homeland. Parker and his Wine Advocate have provided the archetypal selling points (ie. quality scores), along with the Wine Spectator. It will be interesting to see what happens under the new regime at the Advocate.

You may also ask yourself why sites like CellarTracker are not quoted. After all, approval by a community site should, in theory, encourage other consumers. Perhaps it has a lot to do with the fact that the scores are averaged across a number wine drinkers, and are therefore lower than those of individual critics (a score of 89 will not sell a wine but 90 will). More importantly, perhaps, the scores do not accumulate until after the retailers have started selling the wines (post hoc scores will not sell wines but a priori ones will). This suggests that the critics will continue to wield power, at least in the world of wine marketing.



The emails came principally (but not solely) from the following stores.

USA:

Aabalat Fine & Rare Wines
Calvert Woodley Wines & Spirits
Golden West Wines
Hi-Time Wine Cellars
K&L Wine Merchants
Post Wines & Spirits
The Rare Wine Co.
D. Sokolin & Co.
Wine Access
Wine Cellarage
Wine Exchange
Wine Garage


Europe:

AporVino
Bernabei
eBuy Wines
Enoteca d'autore
Nickolls & Perks
SangiShop
Sicilstore
Superiore
Vinello
Vinissimus
Vinoteket
Vintjansten
WineFinder
XtraWine

Monday, November 26, 2018

The genealogy of grape varieties

We are all familiar with the concept of a family tree (formally called a pedigree). People have been compiling them for at least a thousand years, as the first known illustration is from c.1000 CE (see my blog post on The first royal pedigree). However, these are not really tree-like, in spite of their name, unless we exclude most of the ancestors from the diagram. After all, family histories consist of males and females inter-breeding in a network of relationships, and this cannot be represented as a simple tree-like diagram without leaving most of the people out. I have written blog posts about quite a few famous people who have really quite complex and non-tree-like family histories (including Cleopatra, Tutankhamun, Charles II of Spain, Charles Darwin, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, and Albert Einstein).

A history of disease within an Amish community

Clearly, the history of domesticated organisms is even more complex than that of humans. After all, in most cases we have gone to a great deal of trouble to make these histories complex, by deliberately cross-breeding current varieties (of plants) and breeds (of animals) to make new ones. For plants, we have also propagated genetic variants, thus making an even more complicated history (see my post Grape clones and varieties are not always what they seem).

In most cases, we have no recorded history for domesticated organisms, because most of the breeding and propagating was undocumented. So, the idea of reconstructing these histories is very different from the popular pastime of doing a bit of "family history research". Indeed, until recently it was effectively impossible. This has changed with modern access to genetic information; and there is now quite a cottage industry within biology, trying to work out how we got our current varieties of cats, dogs, cows and horses, as well as wheat, rye and grapes, etc.

Grapes

There are a number of places around the web where you can see heavily edited summaries of what is currently known about the grape pedigree. However, these simplifications defeat the purpose of this blog post, which is to emphasize the historical complexity. The only diagram that I know of that shows you the full network is one provided by Pop Chart (The Genealogy of Wine), a group that provides infographic posters for just about anything. They will sell you a full-sized poster of the pedigree (3' by 2'), but here I have provided a simple overview (which you can click on to see somewhat larger).

Grape variety pedigree from Pop Chart

You can actually zoom in on the diagram on the Pop Chart web page to see all of the details. This allows you to spend a few happy hours finding your favorite varieties, and to see how they are related.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to note is just how many modern varieties have what the French call Gouais Blanc as one of the parents. This white variety is actually an indigenous Croatian variety known there as Štajerska Belina. Try to remember this the next time you drink a glass of Chardonnay or Gamay, both of which are crosses between this variety and Pinot Noir.

Why are there so many missing bits?

Reconstructing grape genealogies is often a tricky business, even with genetic data. Originally, this was done using morphological characters (the study of grape morphology is called ampelography), along with whatever historical records exist. However, these days we use DNA from whatever varieties and cultivars are available for sampling (see my post Grape clones and varieties are not always what they seem). Perhaps the biggest problem is that many of the cultivars are no longer known (there have been at least 10,000 of them recorded at some time in history), so that the pedigree is full of question marks representing unknown (unsampled) parents.

This has an odd practical consequence, which is that the time direction of the pedigree will be ambiguous whenever there is a missing parent. That is, we cannot work how which is the parent and which is the offspring among closely related varieties. Technically: estimates of what geneticists call identity-by-descent (IBD) are calculated based on the technique of linkage analysis for all pairwise comparisons of samples. However, complex inter-breeding schemes can generate IBD values such that we cannot distinguish parent-offspring relationships from sibling (brother-sister) relationships.

There are many examples of this problem in the study of the grape genealogy. As but one example, there is an online page associated with the book Wine Grapes (by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz). One of the web pages shows some of the pedigree diagrams from the book, and on this page there are three possible pedigrees for Syrah. The current genetic data cannot distinguish between these three possibilities (shown here).

Syrah pedigree from "Wine Grapes"

This web page also happens to illustrate another aspect of drawing complex pedigrees. Sometimes, in order to avoid drawing intricate networks, and to make the diagram look more like a "family tree", authors resort to a standard subterfuge. The strategy is to show varieties multiple times in the diagram, to avoid drawing reticulate relationships (see my post on Reducing networks to trees, where I illustrate this using the pedigree of Zeus). This situation occurs in the pedigree for Pinot Noir (the authors note: "For the sake of clarity, Trebbiano Toscano and Folle Blanche appear twice in the diagram").

Monday, November 19, 2018

The smallest global wine production for 55 years?

The International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) has recently indicated that the 2018-vintage global wine production is "back to normal" in size (Global wine harvest bounces back).

However, a year ago the OIV reported that the 2017 global wine production had fallen to its lowest level since the beginning of the 1960s. This decrease was the result of the inclement weather that extensively damaged vineyards in the world’s largest production area, western Europe (containing the world's three biggest producers: Italy, France and Spain).


As always, I wanted a picture of what it looks like to have "the lowest production for 60 years". Is this decrease only a little bit lower than the past few decades or a lot lower? A graph would obviously answer this for me. However, finding this graph turned out to be much more difficult that I thought. I expected that somewhere there would be a graph of annual global wine production, stretching back for decades, but I turned out to be badly wrong.

The trusty Statistical Compendium presents the production data averaged across each decade, only (this was graphed on the AAWE Facebook page after I started writing this post); and the OIV online data go back only to 1995. At least the FAO online data go back to 1961, although it is measured in tonnes of grape must not liters of wine.

Production

Eventually, Kym Anderson (of the University of Adelaide) kindly pointed out to me that the spreadsheet associated with the Statistical Compendium does actually have the annual data, all the way back to 1860. So, here is the graph that I have been looking for, with global wine production shown vertically (a hectoliter is 100 liters — for comparison, a dozen standard bottles of wine is 9 liters), and time proceeding horizontally. The pink line shows the 2017 production level compared to recent decades.

Annual global wine production since 1860

Obviously, there was a slow increase in production until World War II, with a big dip in production during the war itself. In contrast, there was a dip for only one year during World War I, although that year (1915) had the lowest production after 1863. After the second war, there was a rapid increase in production until 1980, followed by a decline until 1990. Production has remained steady since then.

As far as the 2017 production is concerned, all production levels prior to 1962 were lower (ie. 55 years earlier). However, both 1991 and 2002 came close to the 2017 level.

This result differs somewhat from the OIV reports, which originally agreed with this but then changed their previous low year to 1957 (eg. World wine output falls to 60-year low). However, the OIV values are an average of 5 million hectoliters greater than the values shown here.

Consumption

This graph leads to the obvious question about wine consumption. After all, we have been told for several decades about a so-called "wine lake" caused by world-wide over-production. Indeed, in the past the EU paid to have excess wine converted to spirits, and more recently it has been paying grape-growers to pull up vines, especially in southern France. The government of South Australia tried the same vine-pull tactic back in the late 1980s.

Here is the graph that compares consumption with production, as recorded in the Statistical Compendium spreadsheet.

Annual global wine production and consumption since 1860

This shows that consumption kept close pace with production until 1963, although the relevant consumption is usually the year (or two) after production (since the wines do not appear on the shelves until then).

After 1963, production has almost always exceeded consumption. This is the origin of the wine lake — indeed, in some years production far exceeded consumption. Both consumption and production dipped towards the end of last century, which is when the various governments started to address over-production. Since then, consumption has slowly increased again, although production has continued to exceed consumption. However, the two levels were very close in both 2012 and 2017.

Supply and demand caused concern in 2013, when it was reported by Morgan Stanley that "an excess of 600 million unit cases (almost one quarter of global consumption) in 2004, [was] reduced to just 1 million unit cases in 2012." At that time, it was suggested that "there's little indication that world production can keep pace with the oenophilic hordes."

The production levels of 2013–2016 eased this situation. However, the low production in 2017 has once again led to reports of a sharp decline in French wine inventories.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Welcome to the wine regions of Australia

A few weeks ago, I noted that the wine-making regions of Australia are rather poorly known, except perhaps in Australia (How aware are wine drinkers of wine regions?). This blog post is an attempt to at least partially redress this limitation.

The wine-making regions of Australia

Where they are

Let's start with the geography. I showed a map in an earlier post illustrating that Australia is the same size as the continental USA, and much larger than western Europe (The rise, rise, fall and rise of Australian wine). However, the wine-making regions are restricted to a rather small part of the continent, mainly the south-east but also part of the south-west, as shown in the map above.

The reason for this is explained in another post (Growing degree-days maps of Australia and the western USA). For most of Australia, the heat summation is way too high — this is the sum of the daily temperatures above 10 °C (50 °F) during the grapes' growing season. Only around the southern coast is the summation suitable for grape vines (see the map further down this post), although in the high-altitude south-eastern part the vines are absent because the heat summation is too low.

Most of the suitable vine-land area of Australia already has formally named Geographic Indication (GI) viticultural areas. Most of these are shown in the next map — you will need to click on it to see the details.

The formally recognized wine-making regions of Australia

There is also the largest recognized region of all: South-Eastern Australia, which takes in the whole of New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania, plus those regions of Queensland and South Australia in which grapes are grown (see the next map) — this includes everything except the vineyards in Western Australia. This is the most likely region to appear on labels for bulk Australian wine, which indicates that the grapes come from several of the large inland-irrigated grape-growing areas. However, it can also mean that the wines are blends from more than one of the smaller named regions.


If you want to peruse more detailed maps of the GI areas, then they are available on the Wine Australia web site (the map links are near the bottom of that page).


What types of regions are they?

Wine Australia produces a glossy booklet describing some of the more prominent regions — Discover Australia Wine: Regions and Varieties. These GIs include (arranged by state):

South Australia:
Adelaide Hills
Barossa Valley
Clare Valley
Coonawarra
McLaren Vale
Victoria:
Mornington Peninsula
Rutherglen
Yarra Valley
New South Wales:
Canberra District
Hunter Valley
Western Australia:
Margaret River
Tasmania

Note that, at the moment, the state of Tasmania is a single GI zone. This is Australia's coolest region, and the focus of a burgeoning sparkling-wine industry. There are seven quite different grape-growing areas within the state (see Regionality: the future of Australian sparkling), and it is thus quite likely that it will soon be sub-divided.

Australia has areas within all of the Winkler Index zones, based on heat summation, from Cool (I) through to Hot (V). Therefore, all wine types can be produced in at least one of the areas, and usually in several of them. The GI regions are shown in red on the map below, which also color-codes the five Winkler Index zones from blue (coolest) to orange (warmest).

Growing Degree Days map of the wine regions of Australia

The best-known region internationally seems to be the Barossa Valley, which makes warm-climate Shiraz wines that are very unlike the Syrah wines of the rest of the world. However, this fame seems to date mainly from the discovery by Robert Parker, in the 1990s, that these wines suit his palate particularly (within Australia, the move to prominence started in the mid-1980s). While the uniquely Australian Shiraz and Shiraz-Cabernet blends have taken the limelight, many of the wines actually have Mataro (Mourvèdre, Monastrell) also present, which has been referred to as "the secret ingredient of the Barossa reds", whether it is mentioned on the label or not (see A dark horse with exceptional pedigree).

By way of historical contrast, back in 1974 the wine merchant Dan Murphy published Classification of Australian Wine, in which book he noted: "Although no wine authority has ever written off the Barossa Valley as a top quality area, I cannot remember any one of them giving it a special accolade as a constant producer of world class table wines." Thirty years later, the wine writer James Halliday, in the Wine Press Club of NSW Annual Lecture for 2005, pointed out that the wines of the Barossa Valley usually don't win Australian wine-show trophies, either.

The Barossa is actually part of a larger collection of GIs that follow a range of hills (the Mount Lofty Ranges) that run north-south through the state of South Australia (see the next map). This is sometimes treated as the epicenter of Australia's international wine reputation, at least for those who like Parker-style wines. The various regions included are described in The 13 Wine Regions of the Adelaidean – Mount Lofty Ranges.

The wine-growing regions near Adelaide

In spite of the reputation of this region for foreigners, the Australian focus in the past couple of decades has been on the development of cool-climate wine regions, especially for white wines. Most of these regions are in the states of Victoria and New South Wales (see the Winkler map above), and especially the emerging region of Tasmania. These areas produce wines that are rarely to the taste of Robert M. Parker Jr (for example, see the 2005 kerfuffle over the cool-climate Mount Mary Quintets wine — Sharp differences of opinion over Mount Mary; and The differences of opinion continue: Mount Mary Quintets vs. Robert M. Parker Jr. part 2).

Another important point to note is that some of the traditional wine companies produce multi-regional blends made to a particular style, rather than having a terroir-driven set of wines. The classic example is Penfolds, the premier brand of Treasury Wine Estates. Of their top 10 wines, 7 are multi-regional blends (and thus list "South Australia" or "South-Eastern Australia" as their geographical indication). These style-driven wines are not necessarily to everyone's taste, of course; and many people (including myself) suspect that they are aimed at the wine-investment market rather than the wine-drinking market.

For further reading, there is one book specifically describing the wine-making regions of Australia, but this now more than 15 years old, having been first published in 1999 and then updated in 2002. This is John Beeston's The Wine Regions of Australia. Alternatively, there is the slightly more general Wine Atlas of Australia, by James Halliday, with editions in 1992, 1998, 2006 and 2014.

It is also worth noting that, in order to understand the nature of the regions in as much detail as possible, it was recently announced that: "The vineyards in Australia’s 65 wine regions will be accurately mapped for the first time using high-resolution satellite images and advanced machine learning, in a national census of Australia’s wine-grape area" (AI to map Australia’s 65 wine regions row-by-row). This would be a first in the New World, to compete with the detailed maps of the wine-making regions of Europe.

Wine tourism

Tourists in wine regions are a big deal in Australia. Marlene Pratt has an interesting description of the various types of wine tourists in Australia (wine lover 15%, wine interested 55%, wine curious 17%, plus 12% along for the ride). When I was young, you could simply arrive at almost any winery during business hours and someone would look after you. However, these days about one-third of wineries charge a small fee, which will be deducted from any purchase you make.

Earlier this year, Wine Australia conducted a cellar-door and direct-to-consumer survey, which showed that cellar doors are the driving force behind direct-to-consumer sales in Australia, accounting for 44 % of direct-to-consumer revenue, ahead of wine clubs and mail orders (Wine Australia release full survey findings on Cellar Door direct wine sale opportunities).

As for which regions are the most popular to visit, The Wine Front web site conducted an online poll from March 2017 until now, asking: "What’s the best Australian wine region to tour (ie. from a pure wine touring perspective)?" The next graph shows you how the 476 voters responded.

Wine Front poll of best Australian wine regions to tour

This list is not necessarily based on the quality of the wines, since wine tourism and wine quality are not always closely related. To check this, we could compare this list to one for the number of classified wines in Langton's Classification of Australian Wine, which is based on the prices of the wines at auction. This is shown in the next graph.

Langton's Classification of Australian Wine arranged by wine region

Note that the regions do swap about a bit in their rank order between the two graphs, but they also do have a great deal of similarity — good regions to tour do generally produce good wine. The Langton classification is dominated by wines from the two regions immediately north of Adelaide (the Barossa Valley and the Eden Valley), but these do have one major limitation for tourists — they are pretty much closed on Sundays, unlike most of the other regions. Here is David Farmer's comment (Thoughts on Margaret River):
Margaret River for my money is now the most exciting wine region in Australia, both for the wine tourist and the fine wine buyer. The beaches and ocean scenery, the wealth of winery restaurants, cheese and boutique breweries, plus excellent scenery, makes it unbeatable. My home town of Tanunda in the Barossa Valley looks very dreary indeed, as does the Barossa as a tourist destination.
Lonely Planet has very recently released a tourist guide called Wine Trails: Australia & New Zealand, covering 30 of the wine regions (plus 10 from New Zealand).

Conclusion

Dan Murphy, in the book quoted above, also referred to: "the world of Europe and the Americas, the inhabitants of which, oddly as it may appear, seem to think that the vineyards of Australia are far more distant from them than we think the Americans are from us." So, if you ever happen to be in Australia, you should certainly check out some of these regions. In the meantime, you could do a lot worse than try some of their wines, instead.

Monday, November 5, 2018

How many grape clones are there per variety?

I recently noted that the twin ideas of "varieties" and "clones" are basic to grape-growing, whether they are used for wine-making, table grapes, raisins, juice, jelly, canning, or rootstocks (Grape clones and varieties are not always what they seem). This leads me to ask the question posed in the title.

Illustration By Keith Ward

The number of clones is often related to the genetic mutation rate of the variety. Pinot noir is therefore recognized as one of the most mutable grape varieties. Indeed, it is so mutable that we have produced several different clones that we actually treat as being varieties, because they can be used to make very different wines (as discussed in the previous post). Indeed, Pinot noir itself also has more recognized clones than do most other varieties.

This is illustrated in the first graph. The data come from the list of varieties and clones currently approved for viticulture in France (Catalogue of vines grown in France). Each grape variety is listed horizontally, with the number of approved clones counted vertically. Only the 38 varieties with at least seven clones are shown — there are a total of 269 approved varieties, and 950 clones, although 161 of the varieties (60%) have only one listed clone.

Number of clones per grape variety approved in France

As you can see, Pinot noir is way out in front. Its history is, of course, associated specifically with Burgundy, although it is now an international variety. It is therefore interesting to note that the second variety in the graph is Gamay, the red-wine grape from Burgundy's nearest neighbor, Beaujolais. The people of this part of France have had a long time to keep an eye out for potentially useful mutants among their vines.

We can, of course, separate the graph into both red- and white-wine grapes, and this is illustrated in the next graph, which shows the 30 varieties of each type with the most clones. It is immediately obvious that red-wine varieties tend to have more clones than do white-wine varieties. Presumably, this reflects the historically greater interest that has generally been shown in producing "fine" red wines compared to white wines.

Number of clones per red and white grape variety approved in France

As usual in this blog, we can search for simple patterns among these data. Mathematically, the data from the first graph most closely fits a Power model, as shown in the following graph, where the added line shows the model. The most obvious place the model does not fit the data is the first two varieties — both Pinot noir and Gamay actually have fewer clones than "expected" from the model!


If we fit the Power model to the red and white varieties separately, as shown in the next graph, then it is interesting to note that the model fits the white varieties very well, although the first white-wine grape (Chasselas) has too few clones. However, the model fits the red-wine varieties rather more poorly, and especially Pinot noir and Gamay have many too few clones for this model . The latter results from the greater number of clones for the remaining red varieties — red-wine grapes generally have more clones than we would "expect" from a simple mathematical model.


So, we may conclude that white grape varieties have clone numbers that fit a simple mathematical model, but red varieties have more clones than can be "explained" by any such model. This is likely to be because red wines have been preferred by consumers, so that the vignerons have been more keen to find "better" clones for lots of the red varieties but only a few of the white varieties.

Some comments

Lest anyone thinks that there is some restriction on the number of grape varieties that can be used in France, it is important to note that new varieties are being approved all the time (eg. for 2018: New grape varieties in France, some forgotten, some hybrids). The matter of hybrids is of particular interest, because they have long been detested in France but are now being seriously considered as a solution to viticultural problems like downy mildew (see French wine's hybrid dilemma).

However, the situation in France is quite formal:
Grapevine clonal material in France is subjected to extensive testing and certification under the aegis of the Ministry of Agriculture. The Institut Français de la Vigne et du Vin (IFV) is a national agency certified to manage and coordinate the French national clonal selection program. The responsibilities now entrusted to the IFV were formerly performed by an entity known as the Etablissement National Technique pour l’Amelioration de la Viticulture (ENTAV), and include maintenance of the French national repository of accredited clones, and administration of the ENTAV-INRA authorized clone trademark to protect the official French clones internationally.
The list of approved French cultivars is important, because only cultivars from this list can be used in wines given legal protection under the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) scheme administered by the Institut National de l'Origine et de la Qualité (previously INAO). Recently, INAO has allowed other varieties from the list to be used in AOC wines as "grape varieties for climate and environmental adaptation", which means that issues such as climate change can be addressed by trialling new varieties.

There has been some concern expressed about restricted use of clones in many vineyards, especially outside Europe (eg. Genetic instability and how it affects wine). In the past, vineyards tended to be a mosaic of clones, but modern agriculture (not just for grapevines) has shown a strong move towards using single clones — those that are seen as being "the best" in some ineffable way. For example, Cabernet sauvignon clones 07 and 08 have been the basis of many of the California Cabernet vineyards for decades (see The guide to wine grape clones).

However, this approach is asking for trouble — when problems occur in the field they are likely to affect all of the plants at the same time, because the clones are genetically identical. Resilience to the vagaries of different seasons (especially weather, pests) is based on diversity, not lack of it. As has been noted (Myles et al., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 108:3530-3535):
Vegetative propagation [has] discouraged the generation of unique cultivars through crosses. The grape currently faces severe pathogen pressures, and the long-term sustainability of the grape and wine industries will rely on the exploitation of the grape’s tremendous natural genetic diversity.
To this end, of the known varieties, 7,200 are grown at the Centre de Ressources Biologiques de la Vigne (CRB-Vigne) de Vassal-Montpellier, near the town of Marseillan in southern France.

Perhaps at issue here for the growers is that some clones will produce mediocre wines when grown in certain regions but not others. For example, it has been noted that the original Chardonnay clones used in Oregon came from California, where the climate is warmer and drier, and that this situation was much improved when clones were imported directly from Dijon in Burgundy, where the climate is more similar (see The role of grape clones in planting grapes)

Also, there is the matter of intellectual property rights — the use of some clones requires the payment of royalties (see How wine clones are already taking over). The Foundation Plant Services Grape Registry currently lists 594 grape varieties used for all purposes in the USA, which is more than in France, but many of these are proprietary. The latter do include, of course, the ENTAV-INRA authorized clones.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Should there be a "floor price" on retail alcohol sales?

In amongst all of the discussions of whether there are health benefits of moderate wine consumption, it has been universally accepted that there is such a thing as excessive alcohol consumption, and that this is unhealthy. There is no universal definition of "excess" in this case, but clearly it involves such things as addiction to alcohol, and consuming alcohol under circumstances that are likely to lead to serious problems, such as when you are pregnant.

Most societies have long been concerned about this, not least because alcohol is often related to both domestic crimes as well as seriously anti-social public behavior. However, what to do about it is another matter entirely. How does a society as a whole restrict unhealthy alcohol consumption while still maintaining at least a semblance of societal freedom?


Here, I look at the possibilities that have been tried, before outlining the recent one of having a minimum (floor) price for alcohol beverages.

The past

Health warnings have long been mandatory for tobacco products, and they are becoming more common for alcohol, as well. For example, warning labels advising pregnant women about the dangers of drinking alcohol are soon to become mandatory in New Zealand and Australia (Alcohol to have mandatory warning labels after move backed by transtasman health ministers). Ireland is set to introduce even more serious warnings (Cancer warnings on labels: the latest battle in alcohol regulation), and California has recently introduced the similar "Proposition 65". However, there has also been strong resistance to this idea elsewhere within the wine industry (New health warnings on wine bottles could 'damage the soul' of France, winemakers say). Mind you, the medical professional has a justifiably jaundiced view of the alcohol industry (Is the alcohol industry doing well by ‘doing good’?).

The setting of a minimum age for drinking and/or purchasing alcohol is common in most countries, but this is usually hidden amongst a whole series of other restrictions on the young, including driving, voting and having sex. There is, of course, no universally accepted legal minimum age for any of these activities.

Another obvious approach has been to restrict activities when people are affected by alcohol. To this end, for example, most places in the world have a maximum permitted blood alcohol level for driving a motorized conveyance. This level varies widely from country to country (see Wikipedia).


Some decades ago, the USA and Canada tried one possible extreme action, which was attempting to ban retail alcohol sales completely, which they called Prohibition. This turned out badly. In fact, the major effect was to proliferate and entrench Organized Crime syndicates, the effects of which are still being felt even today. The publication of photos of Hollywood celebrities openly drinking in speakeasies was simply one of the most obvious indications that the public at large was not all that impressed by Prohibition. Only a few other countries have gone down this same route (see Wikipedia).

Some of the Nordic countries tried almost the opposite tack, including Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. This was to have the government take control of alcohol distribution. This did not mean that the government tried to restrict alcohol availability or consumption in any general way, although this is often claimed in the foreign media even to this day. Instead, rigorous requirements could be implemented to restrict alcohol availability to minors and to inebriated people. Furthermore, education programs could be initiated to dissuade people from drinking spirits until they became blind drunk, which had been the traditional approach to alcohol. Instead, the idea was to persuade people to switch to beer and wine.

The 17 liquor control states of the USA

Quite a few locales have tried this tactic elsewhere in the world (listed in Wikipedia), including some states of the USA as well as Canadian provinces. According to the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association, 17 US states (shown in the map above) control the sale of distilled spirits and, in some cases, wine and beer through government agencies at the wholesale level; 13 of those jurisdictions also exercise control over retail sales for off-premises consumption. Perhaps not the least incentive of this approach for governments has been the potential tax windfall.

The present

Recently, Australia has tried yet another approach to the issue, which is to introduce a so-called floor price for alcohol, which sets a minimum allowable sales price for alcoholic beverages. The idea is to eliminate the availability of really cheap alcohol, so that getting drunk becomes an expensive activity, thus providing a deterrent.

Discussion of the topic in Australia dates back to June 2012, when the Australian National Preventive Health Agency (ANPHA) published a formal Issues Paper - Exploring the Public Interest Case for a Minimum (Floor) Price for Alcohol (A government inquiry has been told wine is cheaper than bottled water). It pointed out research showing that price and availability are two of the main drivers of problem drinking, such as binge drinking and under-age drinking, and investigated a model for a floor price on alcohol. Public comments were called on the Issues Paper, prior to recommendations being delivered to the federal government the next year.

Among the responses, public health experts called for a crackdown on websites that promote ”ridiculously cheap” alcohol (Cheap wines provoke health fury), and The Winemakers’ Federation of Australia (WFA) claimed that “There is no clear consensus in the relevant research that a minimum price would reduce harm” from alcohol abuse (Aussie winemakers dispute data behind minimum alcohol pricing). An alternative proposal, from the Distilled Spirits Industry Council, called for all alcoholic beverages to be taxed according to alcohol content, instead (Cheap wine could get more expensive, spirits cheaper, under proposal for alcohol tax overhaul).

Interestingly, it was the latter proposal that the ANPHA ultimately recommended, apparently finding little support for the idea of a minimum price on alcohol (Australian National Preventive Health Agency calls for volumetric tax on cask wine). So, there was a reform of the so-called “wine equalization tax” and the implementation of volumetric taxation, in order to reduce the availability of cheap wine, in particular. Both winemakers and distillers were happy not to have a floor price on packaged liquor, but the distillers were happier than the winemakers with the concept of volumetric taxation. (Note: Scotland recently introduced a minimum price based on alcohol content.)


However, one of places with the strongest call for a floor price has been the Northern Territory (NT), a federally managed Australian territory occupying the north-central part of the country — it is the bit containing Kakadu National Park, and the Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park (aka Ayers Rock), which are the only Australian things most foreigners recognize aside from the Sydney Opera House. Drinking for the sake of getting drunk has long been recognized as a major social problem in the NT (Wine cask haul fuels call for grog law changes).

So, earlier this year, it happened, anyway. In August, the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education recommended that the NT Government introduce a minimum price level of AU$1.50 per standard drink, to reduce consumption levels and related harm. That recommendation was adopted as NT law as from the beginning of October, although AU$1.30 was the price chosen (Northern Territory brings in $1.30 per standard drink floor price on alcohol). This effectively bans the cheap AU$4-5 (= US$3) bottles of wine favored by alcoholics (and possibly other people), because the minimum price of a bottle of wine in the NT is now AU$9.

The WFA has noted that this action may breach the Australian Constitution (Alcohol floor price may breach Australian Constitution), but it will support the NT Government because of its “special problems” around alcohol: “We are supporting the NT government in developing good methodology to assess its effectiveness. We would hate to see other states bringing in a measure that is not only illegal but doesn’t work.”

That last comment is a reaction to the fact that the Western Australian state government announced back in 2017 that it has been considering the same option (WA Government mulls minimum price on takeaway alcohol), and it has renewed this intention since the NT action (State government continue to mull over minimum alcohol price). A recent community survey indicates that they may have the voters' support in doing this (Majority of WA adults support introduction of minimum price on alcohol).

Conclusion

Alcohol continues to be a legislative problem throughout the world. No one solution has apparently yet been proposed to the issue of balance between social activities and social problems. You'd think that health-damaging activities would obviously be avoided by human beings, that this is clearly not so. What should societies, who as a whole bear the brunt of the problems, do?

Monday, October 22, 2018

Repeatability of wine-quality scores

I have written a couple of times about the ability of experienced wines tasters to reproduce their quality scores when tasting the same wine two or more times:

In the first of these posts I presented six datasets in which someone tasted the same wine / vintage combination on two separate occasions. The first table here shows the percentage of the variation among the quality scores that was reproducible. As you can see, no more than 50% of the variation in the scores was reproducible — the rest was what we politely refer to as "random variation".

Taster
Jeremy Oliver

James Halliday
Wine Spectator
James Laube
Jancis Robinson  
Wine
Penfolds Grange Bin 95
Penfolds Grange Bin 95
Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot
Château Lafite-Rothschild
1986 vintage California Cabernets
Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz
Scores
38
45
19
34
45
23
Value
54%
51%
5%
11%
30%
37%

This does not seem like a particularly good situation. Indeed, it leads me to ask whether other people have found this same result when they have looked at the issue of reproducibility.

It turns out that Robert Ashton asked the same question back in 2012 (see the literature references at the end of the post). He found six published studies that had collected data to investigate reproducibility, five of which I have summarized in the second table.

Study
Brien et al. (1987)



Lawless et al. (1997)



Gawel et al. (2002)
Gawel & Godden (2008)

Hodgson (2008)
  
Group
Study 2
Study 3
Study 4
Study 5
Panel CB
Panel G
Panel PB
Panel C

Reds
Whites
Panel Q
Panel x
People
6 / 8
6 / 8
6 / 8
6 / 8
6
8
7
7
?
571
571
4
4
Lowest
15%
12%
3%
31%
1%
10%
1%
0%
24%
15%
17%
0%
14%
Average
53%
20%
29%
55%
28%
37%
18%
10%
21%
20%
12%
12%
8%
Highest
83%
35%
58%
100%
58%
72%
64%
48%
96%
94%
94%
59%
80%

Each of the studies involved several tasters, often grouped into subsets for the study, as indicated in the table. Indeed, one of them was a large-scale study carried out over several years, with several hundred people. So, in the table I have listed the percentage reproducibility for the most successful person in the group ("highest") and the least successful ("lowest"), along with the average reproducibility across all of the participants.

As you can see, these results are perfectly in accord with my own — less than 50% of the variation in wine-quality scores is reproducible, even for experienced  tasters. This is true irrespective of whether the wines are tasted on the same day, the same week, or the same year.

This compares very poorly with most other fields in which people make quality judgments. In his paper, Ashton lists 41 studies across six other fields with which he has been familiar (meteorology, business, auditing, personnel management, medicine, and clinical psychology), and cites average reproducibility rates of 49-83% (compared to the 8-55% shown above for wine).

Wine tasting is obviously not an exact activity, at least compared to other fields of human endeavor.

References

Robert H. Ashton (2012) Reliability and consensus of experienced wine judges: expertise within and between? Journal of Wine Economics 7:70-87.

Chris J. Brien, P. May, Oliver Mayo (1987) Analysis of judge performance in wine-quality evaluations. Journal of Food Science 52:1273-1279.

Richard Gawel, Peter W. Godden (2008) Evaluation of the consistency of wine quality assessments from expert wine tasters. Australian Journal of Grape and Wine Research 14:1-8.

Richard Gawel, Tony Royal, Peter Leske (2002) The effect of different oak types on the sensory properties of chardonnay. Australian and New Zealand Wine Industry Journal 17:14-20.

Robert T. Hodgson (2008) An examination of judge reliability at a major U.S. wine competition. Journal of Wine Economics 3:105-113.

Robert T. Hodgson (2009) How expert are "expert" wine judges? Journal of Wine Economics 4:233-241.

Harry Lawless, Yen-Fei Liu, Craig Goldwyn (1997) Evaluation of wine quality using a small-panel hedonic scaling method. Journal of Sensory Studies 12:317-332.

Monday, October 15, 2018

How aware are wine drinkers of wine regions?

A couple of decades ago, I used to order book from Barnes & Noble, in the USA, and have them sent to me, in Australia. I stopped doing this when twice in succession the books went to Austria, instead.1 B&N were charging me airmail rates but providing me with surface-rate service — Powell's bookstore, also in the USA, used to send me books by seamail, and they got to Australia faster, by not going via Europe.

The point here is that geography is not most people's strong suit, and they rarely consult a map — everyone "knows" that Australia is a small island somewhere off the coast of South America; and that Sweden (my current location) is somewhere in the Alps. It is only the locals who know where they really are.


So, how can we expect the average wine drinker to know where their wines come from? It turns out that we can't. Even awareness of the names of wine regions is very poor amongst the average wine drinker.

Wine Intelligence, a London-based organization that provides information support for the wine industry, conducts many surveys each year,2 and some of those surveys involve questions about wine regions. One of the 2018 surveys included a list of named wine regions, worldwide, and 4,000 "regular wine drinkers" in the USA were asked to specify which ones they could actually recall as being wine regions. The results are shown in the first table. [Note: the arrows refer to changes from previous surveys.]

You will note that there are 5 US wine-producing regions in the list, which all make it into the top 12 in terms of awareness. It is not surprising that Napa Valley heads the list, but you might like to ask yourself why 27% of the respondents have not heard of it, at least with regard to wine. Moreover, you could ask yourself why some of the foreign wine regions are better-known than the local ones. In particular, the winemakers of Oregon seem to have a lot of ground to make up.

Wine Intelligence survey of US wine drinkers

The French actually do better than the Americans, in the list, having 3 out of the top 5 regions, all with >50% awareness. The Italians do reasonably well, although you may be surprised that more people are aware of Sicily as a wine-producing region than they are aware of Chinati, Prosecco or Piedmont. We are repeatedly told by wine writers that Tuscany and Piedmont are the best-known Italian wine regions, but this survey says that they may have to revise their opinions.

No region outside of these three countries makes it into the top 20, or gets more than 20% awareness among the US wine drinkers.

Almost this same survey was also given to 2,000 well-to-do Chinese people who self-reported as being drinkers of imported wines. Their results are shown in the next table. Note that the general awareness of the names of wine regions is less than it is for the US drinkers (possibly due to the language barrier).

Wine Intelligence survey of Chinese wine drinkers

Bordeaux is the only region that achieved >50% awareness, even though French wine massively dominates the Chinese wine-import market. Moreover, Bordeaux handsomely beats the only Chinese region in the list. Other countries do better in this survey than in the American version — for example, the Australian regions have greater awareness, which is not unexpected given that Australian wine is second only to the French in China.

For me, the most interesting result is, once again, the position of Sicily in the list, which has considerably greater awareness than all of the other Italian wine-making regions. It is only a dozen years or so since Sicily returned to the "wine map" of Italy, as drinkers and critics alike started to realize the vinous potential of the island, but it has clearly come a long way in that time.

Australian wine regions

Wine Australia, the nationally funded statutory service body for the Australian grape and wine community, has been interested in the awareness of Australian wine regions, outside of Australia. To this end, they commissioned Wine Intelligence to conduct a bespoke survey in July 2018, in both the USA (1,000 people) and China (2,000 people). The survey had two parts: (i) a list of 15 Australian wine-growing regions, used as a prompt for awareness; and (ii) a request to list Australian wine regions without any prompting.

Wine Intelligence survey of US and Chinese drinkers

The results are discussed in this report: What’s in a name? A look into awareness of Australia’s wine producing regions. I have summarized the data for the prompted list for both countries in the above graph, which shows the percentage awareness. [Note: the tables shown above are reproduced directly from this same report.]

Note that the recall of the names of Australian wine regions is much greater among the Chinese than among the Americans — indeed, the greatest US recall is equal to the lowest Chinese recall. Furthermore, the four regions labeled in the graph indicate that the Americans and Chinese recall very different wine-making regions from Australia.

The final table (below) shows the responses from the US drinkers when asked to name some Australian wine-producing regions without any prompting. The table lists the top 15 responses, listed from top to bottom in terms of frequency; and they are grouped into columns based on what the names actually represent.

Wine Intelligence survey of US drinkers

The most popular response (from only 6% of the respondents) was the name "Yellow Tail", which of course is the name of the most popular imported wine brand in the USA (see this blog post). The wine-producing region for this brand is actually called South-Eastern Australia, since the grapes come from several irrigated grape-growing areas.

So, only 4 of the 15 responses listed in the table are actually the names of wine-making regions in Australia; and 3 of the others are not even geographical terms, but merely words from wine labels.

This reminds me of another recent report I read, which showed that UK drinkers do no better — when asked about the most famous Australian wine region, the answer by the majority was apparently "Jacob's Creek", which has been the most popular Australian wine brand in the UK.

I will have to redress this general lack of awareness of Australian wine geography in a future blog post!



1. The name "Austria" comes from the Medieval Latin word "Austriaca", which is the Latinised form of the Old High German name for the country "Ostarreich", which translates as 'eastern kingdom'. The name "Australia" comes from the Latin word "Australis", translating as 'southern', as used in e.g. the expression "Terra Australis", the southern land.

2. The survey methodology is described as:
"Invitations to participate in an online survey programmed by Wine Intelligence are distributed to residents in each market. Respondents are directed to a URL address, which provides access to the online survey. Based on given criteria (e.g. age, beverage, frequency of wine consumption) respondents will either proceed or be screened out of the survey. [We] monitor completed responses to build samples representative of the target markets’ wine drinking population based on the most recent calibration study. When a representative sample is logged, the survey is closed. Wine Intelligence will then clean out all invalid data points (e.g. those who sped through the survey or gave inconsistent answers to selected questions) and weight the data in order to ensure representability."