Where did all the wine guides go?

Tempus Fugit, as Mork from Ork might say. Almost half a lifetime ago, I spent 7 months living in Canberra. Despite being bored and frozen and probably not doing my career any favours from that adventure, I do not regret it for three reasons. The first is making two close friends who are still amongst my closest friends. The second is that living in a strange city (and Canberra is pretty strange) outside of my comfort zone is the sort of experience everyone should have every now and then.

And the third reason was that I learned a lot about wine during that time, which I would not have done so quickly if I had been in my normal haunts. Partly this was from listening to and drinking with a number of colleagues who knew a fair bit about wine. Partly this was from browsing bottle shops and buying a lot of wine in escalating quality from Rosemount Diamond Label Shiraz Cabernet right up to Penfolds Grange (I do not dare open the 1994 vintage which is sitting in the bottom of the esky in the spare room – it is way too valuable to drink). And partly it was because I bought and read a lot of wine books to pass the time, when the only things worth watching on TV at night were Ally McBeal and the AFL.

I still have a few of those wine books on my shelf. The Oz Clarke 1997 Wine Advisor, which I bought on discount (it was outdated by then) and the 19th Edition of Australian Wine Vintages for example. Some of the others I bought then or a few years later I then replaced with updated versions, giving the older versions away to friends who were less methodical about wine. (For example, I only ever bother owning one edition of Halliday or the Penfolds Rewards of Patience.)

But I still have most of the editions of what was commonly called The Penguin Good Australian Wine Guide which I bought annually for many years, until the authorship changed and the new writer took to picking obscure and inaccessible wines which I had not heard of or ever seen in a bottle shop.

I have not seen this wine guide in a long time, and nor have I seen Jeremy Oliver’s wine guide in a while.

Which does get me wondering, as to how many wine guides are widely published in Australia now? 20 years ago, there would have been about 5 or so that I can name off the top of my head, which were published annually or close enough: Jeremy Oliver, Halliday, The Penguin, Langton’s, and Australian Wine Vintages. I don’t think I see any of these, aside from Halliday, in bookstores anymore.

Even a quick peak inside my cover of The Rewards of Patience indicates that it is a 2004, and if I had held onto all my 2004 Penfolds vintages, they would make mighty fine drinking right now.

I was once told by someone who worked in a bookshop that in the suburbs, the main books that sold were cook books (and by extension books about alcohol), vampire romances (eg Anne Rice and now Twilight and who knows what next), and mummy porn (ie 50 Shades of Grey etc). So I cannot see why there would not be a market for more Australian wine guides, particularly ones addressing current vintages.

Of course, I have some tips for whoever would write such a book:

  1. Most of your readers are only going to set foot in a Liquorland, BWS, Bottlemart, Thirsty Camel, Cellarbrations, Duncans, or Dan Murphy (are you impressed that I can reel off so many names of common bottle shops so quickly?). Focus on ensuring that at least 50% of your wines are those which are readily available in those shops.
  2. Sadly, most wines in common bottle shops are from vintages which are not yet toddlers, ie you are lucky to find vintages older than 2019. Cover these, as most wine which is bought is drank immediately.
  3. A lot of people buy from online clubs like Vinomofo or The Wine Collective or Naked Wines these days. (I buy in bulk on discounts from those a lot more than I did.). It would be smart to see what those places are selling.
  4. There is some room for including older vintages and more prestigious wines. Some of us who read about wine do have class (sometimes anyway!).
  5. Leave out too much detail about wineries and their histories. This is what makes the Halliday almost as heavy as a phone book, and not comfy for me to read whilst laying about on the couch.

And my final suggestion to a potential author is to get cracking. Whilst we flicker in and out of covid caused lockdowns, we need our wine a whole lot more than ever before, and the 2017 edition of Halliday is both too out of date and too cumbersome to guide me.

Published by Ernest Zanatta

Narrow minded Italian Catholic Conservative Peasant from Footscray.

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