Modernist wine author Nick Stock completed his second edition of this utility guide to wine late last year.
Having heard the book had changed dramatically since first published under the authorship of Sydney writer Huon Hooke and Melbourne columnist Ralph Kyte-Powell, I bought a copy.
Nick says his mission with writing this book is to be up-to-date and be relevant to wine buyers about what’s on the shelf.
He says it’s all about the wines and nothing more. “If you require winery ratings I have left that to James Halliday’s Wine Companion which is an incredibly comprehensive dictionary of Australian wines,” he adds.
And Penguin 2010 is not just about Australian wines as was the publisher’s original concept.
However, from the 70s imported wines dominated Australian wine lists until the rise of Australian product during the 80s, and imports fell away significantly again save for Champagne which has kept this country as the 7th-9th world ranked consumer for decades.
A new segment of import wine has steadily grown for the past five years, quite broad in content, good value rather than the highly expensive Burgundy and Bordeaux which has always found a select niche.
The Penguin Guide surveys the ultra-modern varietals coming from Austria, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Chile, Argentina and more recently South Africa.
Importeds are about 10 percent of total wine sales, and last month shipments increased by 15 percent.
The greater proportion is Kiwi wine which forces Nick to taste sauvignon wines in great profusion to stay relevant – even though this style is a wine for “sheep followers” rather than for drinkers who think through what they buy.
Nick has a complete section on Champagne, probably one of the most thoroughly published recent reviews on French bubbles for some time.
Curiously his points scores commence at 90, and I wondered if that was his starting point.
When asked if there were poorer champagnes not reviewed in this section, the answer was yes, and really his scoring system is only applauding silver medal level wines and higher, unlike a wine show where there are plenty of bronzes around.
And again like a wine show Nick asserts that he does not know the identity of the wines he tastes until after the notes are written and the score assigned.
It appears that few book authors take this stance – and in conversation with the current writers of the Big Red Wine Book who have the wine label in front of them, the same way as wine drinkers would have it, the assessments are made.
You can draw your own conclusion about the potential level of bias that can creep in with open tasting, but that is not my interest in this review.
Nick spends extra effort to be relevant which therefore means tasting the current vintage wines before each edition straight after the vintage, and this gets a little controversial because the wines are unbottled (tank sampled) at tasting.
His method of achieving this is to visit the region rather than have a pile of ex-tank samples pointed towards his Melbourne tasting bench.
So for the 2010 edition he visited Clare to taste the entire new riesling vintage on site, and repeated that in other regions where this type of pre-publication tasting is important for styles which lose their vintage relevance and drinker interest very quickly (riesling and sauvignon blanc).
The Penguin Guide was once perceived as a value book of value wines. That’s no longer the case because a book called Quaff reviews the bargain basement wines around.
So reading this blog review: http://stubbyholder.blogspot.com/2009/10/penguin-good-australian-wine-guide-2010.html shows how times will change.
The Penguin Guide has a top section on pinot noir (our most expensive red grape varietal). Nick has accessed many rarely reviewed Tasmanian drops which now lead the country in quality as hotter ripening temperatures grip the mainland and dumb down this heat-shy variety.
As a final play Nick promoted the reduction of the Guide’s selling price from $32.95 in 2008 to the current $24.95. http://www.penguin.com.au/lookinside/author-profile.cfm?AuthId=0000006023
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