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On Tasting
A Response to an eBay Customer About Barossa Cabernet
Monday, 27th August, 2012  - David Farmer

Opinions differ about wine so debates are common and these reveal strongly held views. When handling upset customers it is best to remember the old adage that the customer is always right. Occasionally I rise to the bait and do so with this customer who purchased one of our wines on eBay.

"Dear glugwine,

the wine you sold me is off. i would like my money paid back to me in full . your discription of this wine was that it was good not off its off. i will report this to ebay tonight and then take legal action if need be.

lxxxxx5"

Dear lxxxxx5,

I thank you for your view about our Unlabelled Barossa Valley Cabernet 2005. Naturally our concern at all times is to keep customers happy and there is a full refund for any wine which is not to a purchasers taste. Indeed I imagine any wine retailer in Australia would have the same policy. We act together to keep the community of wine drinkers secure with this knowledge because we know wines are not simple, the range of tastes is enormous, and customer tastes differ. This of course is important when it is not possible to taste the wine before purchase.

I hope your thirst for knowledge will allow you to read on as I am troubled by your use of the word 'off'. The following note is crafted to help you enjoy and understand wine a little more.

When I teach wine I introduce one of my favourite sayings which is; 'Don't just talk to the wine, let the wine talk to you'. I illustrate this by placing a glass to my ear. Wine is a great teacher about ourselves as it can help us from taking impulsive actions. In this case you have talked to the wine with great certainty and that is not a good starting point to learning.

About this wine I was saying only last week that it really belonged in 'Farmers Favourites'. This is a small section on the Glug website where I recommend a few wines from our extensive list. The reasons for my selections are many. For this Cabernet these included the very low price for the quality and also the interesting provenance.

The Provenance of the Waechter Barossa Valley Cabernet

I vividly recall the purchase. The owner was Robert Waechter and I called at his home in Light Pass on a Sunday afternoon in late 2006. The Waechter's are avid bird collectors and the first hour was spent viewing and discussing the vast array of native birds. Leaving the birds behind I was then shown unusual breeds of goats and sheep which seemed more than curious about the visitor.

The barrels of wine were in a large shed together with assorted farming implements which brought back fond memories of buying trips in France. For sale were 10 hogsheads of cabernet and 8 hogsheads of shiraz. I purchased both lots.

Like many growers Robert had decided, beginning I think in 2002, to make a small quantity of wine each year. He even had a label designed and asked if I was interested in buying the design. I declined but this did prompt him to open some older vintages which confirmed the worth of my purchase. Robert though had discovered a great truth about wine; making it is easy, while selling it is hard. The Waechter vineyards are in the sub-region of Light Pass, and abut Light Pass Road. A few days later I toured the vineyards, to see first-hand the source of the grapes.

For the 2005 vintage the wines were made at the Rocland Winery in the Barossa Valley. The chief winemaker is very well known though it is unfair to mention a name as to do so suggests he was personally responsible for this wine. In any case the purchase decision was mine.

The Cabernet was duly bottled on the 19th March, 2007 and 260 cases were produced.

The wine was called Bin No 8 Barossa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, this being the days before Glug had developed a label portfolio and we used Bin numbers.

I liked the wine from day one and still do though technically the wine must be pointed down because of an overt eucalypt, green capsicum aroma though to me this was swamped by a delicious, juicy, fruity palate which was soft and inviting. This origin of this odd aroma may be due to foliage problems which shaded the grapes though it may have other causes. It reminded me very much of the character shown by the Lindemans St George Coonawarra Cabernet 1980, which was awarded the Jimmy Watson though it was recognised later that this character was not desirable.

We last recommended this wine to Glug customers in August, 2011, and I described it thus;

"Outstanding Barossa Bargain"

"I have a glass in my hand and pronounce the wine delicious. A fully mature Barossa Cabernet for such a low price is a bargain indeed. I love the wine though I must point out a purist will see in the aroma a eucalypt-menthol character which these days is not approved of. Most sensible buyers will come back for another case".

As the Glug customer base is quite small the remaining cases of this wine with about 30 others have been used to trial sales on eBay.

The Tasting Frame of Reference

One of the great difficulties about coming to a judgment about the taste of a wine is that we are limited not only by numerous, inherent cultural biases and genetic differences but also by tasting experience.

One of my favourite teachings is to refer to what I term 'your frame of reference'. I liken this to looking at a window. Within the frame are all of the world's wines. The taster however is down in a tiny corner surrounded only by what they know. Removed from this tiny corner and placed elsewhere it is difficult to comprehend why others are so excited about their local wines. It is true that there are some fundamental tasting blocks that can guide you over a long journey through unfamiliar wines but they are not easily acquired. A cellar palate all too easily develops in even the experts.

Let me explain further. When teaching about white wines I use two methods to move tasters from their comfort zone. In a masked line up I will add to one wine a coloured tasteless food dye while another is to include an unfamiliar taste such as a very pale coloured, fino sherry. Both of these wines cause enormous confusion which is the point. These are the steps though which will move an amateur along the tasting trail.

Thus while it is easy to reject a wine, before you do, it is as well to ask the wine if it has something to say.

When is a Wine Off

To say a wine is off is to make a bold pronouncement as one person's off wine is another's drink. Most wines are well made and as they age they change, and at some point become an uninteresting drink as they fade away. To be off you must be able to define the cause. For a young wine to be off you must recognise bacterial or yeast spoilage, or oxidation may set in prematurely, but even so there are degrees before the wine is undrinkable. If a young wine tastes of vinegar, it is off though I can only recall a few in my career. An aroma or flavour which does not meet with approval perhaps has nothing to do with a wine being off.

So while any wine retailer will refund a purchase, make far fewer pronouncements about wines being off, and think about holding the glass to your ear so you may hear what the wine says. I would also avoid lawyers as not only will they take up valuable drinking time but the costs would be better spent on fine wine.

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