Tastings

Huon Hooke
Wine writers Tyson Stelzer and Matthew Jukes have run the Great Australian Red, a competition aimed at finding ...
Wine writers Tyson Stelzer and Matthew Jukes have run the Great Australian Red, a competition aimed at finding Australia's best reds blended from cabernet sauvignon and shiraz. Photo: Michael O'Sullivan

Try before pulling the cork

The Coravin is an invention that enables you to taste a wine without actually opening the bottle (as long as it's cork-sealed). A hollow needle is inserted through the cork and wine drawn out of the bottle. Argon gas replaces the wine you took out. The makers reckon you can sip and enjoy your wine without having to commit to drinking the entire bottle. They suggest you can explore your collection, bottle by bottle, and come back to them later. They also suggest you can use the system for wine and food pairing: ''We're having fish for dinner, but, oh, wait, this wine isn't so good with the fish, so let's try another.'' They also encourage us to compare vintages of the same wine this way. I'm not convinced argon or any other gas can replace wine without being deleterious to the wine that remains. Or that the cork isn't compromised by being skewered. If you've been sampling your wines for years, the integrity of your entire cellar could be questioned. And as most Australian wine is screwcapped, Coravin's use in this country is limited. If you want to have a play, it'll cost you US$299 ($334). Go to coravin.com. The founder says Coravin will change the way we enjoy wine. Well, I'll be happy to eat my words if I'm proven wrong.

Paying for half a bottle

Adelaide restaurant Press Food and Wine has a list of 750-millilitre bottles it is prepared to serve by the half. Presumably the staff then offer the remnants of the bottle to other customers, which further expands the idea of service. Press has only two each of sparkling, white and red in actual half-bottles, but also three whites and three reds on the ''full bottles by the half'' list. If you take this option, you're charged half the price of the 750ml bottle. I notice that Sydney's Tetsuya's restaurant has a similar offer. Many wine bars, of course, do this as a matter of course. Reader Graham Donaghy has revived the call for more wines in 500ml bottles. Donaghy, who has worked as a wine retailer, sommelier and restaurant manager, gives his reasons: One bottle is enough for one person (375ml just doesn't work for me). Ten bottles a case makes it easy to calculate price. The price by bottle is competitive. And 500ml bottles age better than 375ml.

Great Australian red

For the past seven years, two wine writers, Tyson Stelzer and Matthew Jukes, have run the Great Australian Red, a competition aimed at finding Australia's best reds blended from cabernet sauvignon and shiraz. The ''cab-shiraz'' blend is a traditional Aussie combination, which is seen in some quarters as a trifle old hat. But the wines are often exceptional. Penfolds Bin 60A 2004, Wolf Blass Black Label 2004, 5, 9 and 10, Penfolds Bin 389 2004, 5, 6, 8 and 10, Jacob's Creek Johann 2002, 5 and 9 and Yalumba The Reserve 1990, 2001 and 4 are all examples of trophy or gold-medal winners. The organisers are hosting a trade tasting in Sydney next month, and casting my eye down the list of top wines to be poured, I was shocked at how few of them came from smaller or newer wineries. Kaesler and Lake Breeze are two smaller wineries; Aramis is about the only new one, although Annie's Lane Quelltaler Watervale 2010 shiraz cabernet is a new wine from an established producer. Stelzer tells me Barossa winemaker Wayne Dutschke was inspired to create his St Jakobi Vineyard cabernet shiraz after judging in the competition. But he agrees cabernet shiraz blends tend to be overlooked by younger and smaller wineries. ''It's interesting to note that the very top wine in the portfolios of Yalumba, Jacob's Creek, Penfolds and (besides Platinum) Wolf Blass is a cabernet shiraz blend. All have thrown big resources at the blend at two, three or four different price-points for decades, so perhaps it's no surprise that they dominate the trophy list,'' Stelzer says.