Halliday and the Chamber of 99 Point Wines.

Gliding into the NGV in my freshly dry cleaned Pin Stripe suit, I could not help but feel apprehensive. My mission was to pour the awarding wining wines from James Halliday’s 2017 Wine Companion. 97, 98, 99 point wines will be on display.

Really, how hard is it to pour 9 glasses of wine? I’ve probably had a night or two where I’ve banged that out for myself. But this is for 30 people. Not just any people thought. Wine makers, wine importers, wine types, wine lovers who have spent a more than a couple of dollars to be part of this experience. And they’re all sitting down having a meal while I do it. Not being a Sommelier and cheerfully calling myself a wine unprofessional I feel that perhaps I well and truly out of my depth.

Walking into the briefing area I see enough familiar and smiling faces that I realise if I completely mess up these guys will look after me. But still, the ever looming threat of pouring wine on to a person instead of a wine glass was nagging at by hyper alert consciousness.

And these aren’t just any wines. These are the best wines in Australia. Within these flights are iconic producers, newer brands and the year’s best winery, best wine, ten or so best in category wines. And this is exactly why I am here. The lure of being able to taste some of the best wines in Australia as judged by Australia’s most respected wine critic. I just had to keep myself tidy for the pouring before I got stuck into the wines too far.

270 odd glasses of wine later and now confirmed hits on guests and it was time to look at these vaunted wines. They are classy one and all. Chatting to the guests and hearing their thoughts it was clear that the pack was hard to split. The mission was three each of Riesling, Semillon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc for whites, plus a glass of Arras Sparkling. The reds were Pinot Noir, ‘other reds’, Shiraz, Cabernet.

Now for the ‘Sommelier’ (I am not a sommelier, I had just proven I can pour wine but still!) tasting.

What struck me is almost universally the wines were clean, bright and free of funk and savoury characters. The exception was the Pinot bracket with Bass Phillips Premium Pinot Noir definitely bringing the funk. I wonder is this what the great wine public of Australia are drinking? Most of those wines I have not sold and my customers have not asked about them.

There were some amazing wine in there, I sent some emails to producers the next day. The Chardonnay was inspiring.

The other point that struck me are these were all very young wines (except the 100 year old Para Port. That was quite old). Youthful, pure and a lot were in need of time. This is in part a function of the Australian wine industry. That was all that was available at the time, there is not the scope to hold wine in the cellar.

So, the questions for me is: Does the score of 98 points equate to what is in the glass tonight? Or is it for the potential the wines offers? Is the Bass Phillip Premium an 87 point wine now but will evolve to a 98 point wine at its peak in 15 years?

And that is where you need to read the notes. Without context the scores are just arbitrary numbers plucked from the cosmos. It is like just looking at your score for an exam or essay and accepting it without reading the feedback and seeing where you won and lost marks.

How does a wine sit 2 point from perfection which most judges say is unattainable anyway? Therefore the scale becomes a 99 point scale and some Bass Phillip has achieved a score of 98.99%. Add to the fact that the book itself doesn’t seem to contain a score under 88 making it a 11 point scale. And lets be really honest. If someone scores 88 then they aren’t getting flooded with inquires after the book is launched. It is basically a score of 0 to most punters.

A week after attending this celebration of Australian wine I heard this great report on the ABC. This is may be a bit of attention seeking from a writer who has not kept up with the modern Australian market but some of the points raised (ha!) are valid and useful for all wine lovers to keep in mind when accessing any wine writers notes. I feel that if you know the wine writers preference for wines and scores you can reliably work out if this is the wine for you IF and I mean IF you read their notes. Which is what everyone on the ABC report said to do too.

Ultimately though. The best wine reviewer you know is yourself. The more you taste, the more you trust your palate, the more likely you are to get to drink the wines you want.

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