Sunday, 22 April 2012

Australia's Most Expensive Wine

I had a remarkable dinner last week at Au Jardin in the Singapore Botanic Gardens, at which the following wines were served:

·         1999 Domaine Leflaive Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet;
·         2001 Domaine Armand Rousseau Chambertin-Clos de Bèze;
·         2007 Parawa Estate Ingalalla Grand Reserve; and
·         1982 Château Trotanoy.

Can you spot the odd one out?
Funnily enough, the Ingalalla was the “hook” which persuaded me to attend the dinner.  According to my host, his friend WM (who is the publisher of a prominent wine magazine in Australia and New Zealand) had turned his hand to winemaking and was producing some very interesting wines, for which he was now looking for importers/distributors in Asia.   I had expected that more of his wines (and none of the French) would have been served at dinner, but on occasion, fortune does favour the brave.

WM told us he set out to make and market Australia’s most expensive wine, period, and yes, that includes the recently launched 2008 Penfolds Bin 620 (A$1,000) and Torbreck's 2005 "The Laird" (A$700).  The Ingalalla, a Bordeaux blend from WM's Parawa Estate in South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula, has an "ex-cellar" launch price of A$1,100, around US$1,150 at last reckoning.  With a production per vintage of only 2,400 bottles and having spent 4 years in a mix of new and seasoned French oak, its assemblage is similarly interesting, with its major constituents being around 35% cabernet sauvignon and 30% petit verdot. 

In the middle of WM’s pitch, I felt a slight sense of concern about the following:

·       He was not going to market this wine in Australia at all, the reason being his magazine reviewed thousands of wines annually and he felt he had an unavoidable conflict of interest if the wine was available on the Aussie market.

·       His target was going to be Singapore, Hong Kong and China.  Indeed, he mentioned that the vertical design of the label (the name “Parawa” being spelt vertically down the bottle) was partly intended to mirror the traditional style of rendering Chinese script.

·       He had a panel of four Australian Masters of Wine blind-taste the Ingalalla on two separate occasions, along with the likes of Lafite, Latour, Haut-Brion, Mouton-Rothschild and Margaux from the 2007 vintage.  WM said the Ingalalla came first on one occasion and second last on the other, defeating only the Margaux.  According to WM, he was not claiming that his wine was better than the French, but merely that it could hold its own in such company.

·       Objectively speaking, he was aiming for a very elevated (obscene?) price point and relying heavily on the exclusivity factor.  WM even had his figures downpat over how much rarer and more exclusive the Ingalalla was than the great names of Bordeaux, such as less than half the production of Le Pin and 1/40th that of Haut-Brion.

I have my views on each of the above points but I leave it to you to be the judge.  I note only that the Bordeaux blind-tasting results should not be taken at face value, in that the Ingalalla’s competitors were all notoriously slow-maturing wines from a very mediocre vintage. 

The verdict?  The Ingalalla is a decent wine, perhaps even a good wine, but it is not by any measure a great wine.  Pleasant enough bouquet albeit with a volatile, almost onion-y edge which thankfully blew away later on, dusky fruit which struggled to make its presence felt over the oak, sturdy acidity (petit verdot influence?) but not much by way of tannins, and a smooth, medium-length finish.  For me, the lack of tannin and fruit casts doubt over its longevity.  I note WM did not suggest that this was a flawed bottle in any way.

WM said he would have preferred to have let the wine air overnight, so I need to give it the benefit of the doubt on that point as we decanted it only 2 hours before dinner.  However, WM did tell us that he had tasting appointments earlier that day, so he had the opportunity to present the wine to the restaurant and ask them to decant it well beforehand had he so wished.  As three members of our party were high-profile members of the wine trade (and potential distributors of the Ingalalla) and another was a prominent wine journalist (i.e. NOT me), I would suggest that this was not too much trouble to ensure that the wine was showing at its best.

The problem here is that when you set out with the express aim of selling Australia’s priciest wine, people’s expectations are built up, and that is normal human behaviour.  We also compare price outliers against our personal tasting benchmarks, and that is also normal human behaviour.  I had the pleasure of the 1996 Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste last Saturday - a great wine and drinking beautifully at the moment - for a mere fraction of the cost.  For a New World comparison, I felt all of the Colgin wines (see here) were far superior to the Ingalalla, albeit for a larger fraction of the Ingalalla’s launch price than the G-P-L but still well under 50%.

I will set out my concerns as to his Asian focus.  Yes, Asians (speaking generally, and definitely not in my specific case!) are going through a period of unprecedented prosperity and are increasingly spending large amounts of money on luxury products such as wine.  However, they tend to shell out the big bucks either because (a) they are buying a prestigious label which becomes a conversation piece or for “face”/status reasons; (b) the wine has an excellent track record as an investment and will appreciate in value; or (c) they love the wine so much they will stop at nothing to get it.  Whatever you think of Penfolds’ strategy in launching its Bin 620 in Shanghai, it could at least rely on the history and success of Grange as Australia’s foremost icon wine.  Yet the Ingalalla cannot tick boxes (a) and (b); made by a mostly unknown maker (how many of you have heard of Parawa Estate before this?), this is its first vintage and hasn’t even been released commercially. 

As to box (c), there is no accounting for personal taste, so I would invite the reader to taste it and make up his/her own mind as to the merits of this wine.  That is, if you have a cool US$1,150 to shell out for a bottle.

23 comments:

  1. J'ai apprécié quelques verres de la Ingallala Parawa à Vérone lors de Vinitaly. avec un associé du vigneron. Toutes les personnes présentes et les sommeliers ont été très impressionnés!

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    1. Bien sûr. Mais voulez-vous l'acheter? Il n'est pas pas cher. Pourquoi ne pas la Bourgogne? Bourdeax peut-être?

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    2. Si j'ai eu beaucoup de l'Euro, alors pourquoi pas? La vie est trop courte pour ne boire que des vins de France!

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    3. Mais la vie est trop courte pour gaspiller de l'argent. Si vous voulez payer pour le mieux, acheter le meilleur.

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  2. Cynical attempt to cash in on the Chinese market... we are not that silly!

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    1. Just like BHP, Woodside, Rio Tinto, all the luxury goods makers of handbags etc etc

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    2. I saw the CEO of Jaguar/Land Rover today at the Beijing Motor Show - they said the only place they can get the margin WAS in China, so does that make them greedy? Or is that just a free market?

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    3. Hi Wine Snob - agree "we" are all not that silly, but with production of only a few thousand bottles only need a tiny handful of the market to buy the product and its sold. Nothing wrong with raising the bar as they say - and who says only the French can produce and sell a super premium wine? BTW have you tasted it?

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    4. Penfolds can sell Grange at its price point because decades of experience show that the market can absorb it and indeed, still can't get enough of it. Similarly, Torbreck has built up its cult following since the 1990s.

      Sure, the Parawa may appeal to the curio-seeking crowd, but outside novelty value, let's look at the unembellished facts: unknown winemaker, unheralded region, no pedigree/track record/reputation, young vines.

      There is a difference between a super-premium wine and a wine selling at a super-premium price. To take examples from another continent, the Colgins and Araujos make wines every bit as good and noteworthy as the French. There is no hidden Francophile agenda here.

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    5. Interesting comment - you refer to decades of experience? Its history that Penfolds did NOT want Max Svhubert to make Grange in 1952, and it was really only a build up of marketing spend that gave the wine its "icon" status in the late 70s and 1980s onwards. Also re a wine having to have hsitory, I refer to Le Pin - first vintage only in 1979 (in a garage) and now selling at AUD $2252 in Australia.
      And by the way the winemaker has been in the industry for over 35 years. In the USA they reward and encourage those who reach out to do the "impossible", but down in Australia they seem to want to "cut them down" (referred to as the tall poppy syndrome)! Anyway I hear its already in Italy and Hong Kong.

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    6. Yes, I did refer to decades of experience. Late 1970s...we are now in 2012.

      The winemaker...do you mean Peter Simic (oops, should that be WM?), or any of the gentlemen who have been at Parawa Estate since 2006? If you mean Simic, making wine and having "been in the industry for over 35 years" as a publisher are two massively different matters. It's like expecting a food critic to step into the kitchen and whip up a three-star feast for 80 patrons in one sitting.

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  3. Hi,
    I had the privilege to taste the Parawa Inglalla Grand Reserve 2007 at Vinitaly this year at a dinner where it was pre-launched prior to its official release this winter in Asia.
    I found it to be a beautifully made wine, silken tannins, elegantly structured, red fruit and a long finish. I believe it could stand up to and compete with any French bordeaux.

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    1. oui, il était amusant de voir les sommeliers italiens descendre sur leurs genoux et «rendre grâce aux dieux du vin", lorsqu'ils eurent goûté de l'Ingalalla - J'ai ri si fort que j'ai oublié de prendre une photo!

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    2. Je ne suis pas Italian e je ne suis pas en genoux, c'est semplement ma sincere opinion, je suis Americaine e je le droit dire ce que je pense. Also I don't hide behind an anonymous name but put my name and last name here publicly on this blog. Cheers :)

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    3. Folks, let's keep things civil. No need to get personal.

      Deika, thanks very much for sharing your first-hand experience of the wine. While my opinion of the wine is not as favourable as yours, that could be down to a myriad of reasons (as mentioned in my blog), or maybe just personal preference.

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    4. Singapore Wine Enthusiast24 April 2012 at 04:38

      Deika,

      Thanks for the honesty. For the record, I have read some of your writing and enjoyed it. I also note that you are perhaps (?) friends with the winemaker or his team (since you tagged your origincal tweet about the Parawa tasting as #friendsinhighplaces), but I can also assume this hasn't coloured your opinion of the wine.

      So, having not had the pleasure to taste this wine myself, I must ask you honestly - you say on your blog thst the wine will probably retail for around $2500 - would you buy it?

      Melbs

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    5. Hi,
      thx for your comment, I tagged my tweet #friendsinhighplaces because thanks to another blogger who knows someone who knows someone I was invited to the dinner during Vinitaly and also other cool aperitivo's and parties, so I was referring to her. Not to assume a defensive posture but really whilst there are people who do review wines or write for a fee...I am not one of them. Alas currently I do not earn enough to spend say $2K or thereabouts on a bottle of wine, but this wine impressed me and made me think how far Australian winemaking has come.

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  4. Hi,
    I do not know the wine maker and was invited to the tasting dinner as a blogger, several of us were present at the dinner. I write about wine strictly for my own pleasure and never write about what I don't like. If I like a wine I review it, if I don't I keep silent. I am not paid for it or compensated in any other way. It is just a hobby I am passionate about I am a consumer and I write as one. Cheers :-) Deika.

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  5. I enjoyed two bottle in Beijing this week. very excellent wine and my freinds were impresed. Zhu Chong

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  6. Thank you, Zhu Chong, for sharing your personal account of the wine.

    You must be a very well-travelled individual, what with being in Beijing this week and writing your comment from Adelaide.

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    1. Yes - we own a winery in Barossa Valley and in the Yarra Valley. Thank you for your interest.

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  7. some pretty impressive MW reviews on their website Julian!

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    1. Indeed, and I am really happy for Peter and his team that the wine is getting this kind of support from the community. He has embarked on a very unique marketing strategy and he will need such support for it to succeed.

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