Whatever happened to Aussie plain-speaking?

aussie wine

Dabbler drinks correspondent Henry Jeffreys is disappointed to find that even the Australians have succumbed to wine marketing gibberish…

Last year the BBC documentary Chateau Chunder charted the rise of the Australian wine in Britain, and what really shone out of it was the Australian genius for marketing and plain speaking. Now you probably think that marketing and plain-speaking are mutually exclusive, but the way that Australian wine was sold in the 1980s really did make sense to British drinkers. Wines were sold through brands and grapes varieties. It was unpretentious and classless. It was refreshing seeing red-faced men with names like Len talking about wine as if they were fixing an old ute (utility vehicle ie. pick-up truck).

Penfolds epitomise this no-nonsense attitude towards wine. Their wines are given numbers and they exhibit a cheerful disregard for the modern shibboleths of regionality and localism. Many of them are blended into a house style from fruit bought from all over South Australia. The most revered wine in Australia, Grange, is made this way. You can’t get less pretentious than Penfolds. However, something seems to have gone awry in their marketing department. Here’s the tasting note for their Bin 150 Shiraz:

A waft of ristretto coffee – first-run – synergises with soy and a dark char, almost tar and pitch. . . . Bright red fruits conspire to create an amalgam, a continuum of flavour basking texturally avec sheen, gloss. These fruits do not travel solo – chinotto, licorice, bread and butter pudding flavours peddle (sic, one assumes) in parallel, quietly courted by stylish oak(s).

I think we can all agree that this is terrible even for wine writing: a mish-mash of mixed metaphors, tautology, marketing jargon and malapropism. I expect they mean that the chinotto etc. are pedaling rather than out selling clothes pegs door-to-door but that scarcely makes more sense. It’s like a parody of Malcolm Gluck (former Guardian wine writer.)

The Bin 150 is one of their newer wines, a single vineyard one as opposed to a multi-region blend, but not even the venerable Bin 28 can escape the corporate gibberish:

Mocha/ malt and spice sequentially volatilise, consorting to form an initial aromatic wave.

There was always something not entirely convincing in the old Australian line that making good wine was just a matter of applying common sense. Nowadays, of course, the Australians have embraced terroir, and are, in my experience, making far better wines than they’ve ever made. Sadly some of them have also embraced the flowery prose that goes along with this and they’re simply not very good at it. Rather than being honest-to-god haughty French pretentiousness, they’re doing it in a matey Australian way and the results are just horrible.

Both wines in the 2010 vintage are excellent, with the Bin 28 particularly wonderful having a traditionally Australian generosity combined with lovely balance and freshness.

Henry Jeffreys writes a weekly column about wine for The Lady magazine and blogs at worldofbooze.wordpress.com
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About Author Profile: Henry Jeffreys

Henry Jeffreys was born in Harrow, Middlesex. He worked in the wine trade for two years and then moved into publishing with stints at Hodder & Stoughton, Bloomsbury and Granta. Under the name Henry Castiglione, he reviewed books for the Telegraph andthefirstpost.co.uk. Under the name Blake Pudding he was a founder member of the London Review of Breakfasts website as well as a contributor to the Breakfast Bible (Bloomsbury, 2013). Since 2010 he has been writing mainly about drink under his own name. He is wine columnist for the Lady magazine, contributes to the Guardian and was shortlisted for the Fortnum & Mason drink writer of the year 2013 for his work in the Spectator. He is writing a history of Britain told through alcoholic drinks called Empire of Booze. He blogs at Henry’s World of Booze.

2 thoughts on “Whatever happened to Aussie plain-speaking?

  1. finalcurtain@gmail.com'
    May 24, 2013 at 15:48

    The rot set in years ago Henry, before Liz Hurley convinced Shane Warne that the ‘Ken Doll’ look was something to aspire to. I remember Pino More, an anti-diuretic marketed for the older customer who wanted to cut down on the toilet-breaks, and that side-splitter Rene Pogel which, read backwards will….well, you get the picture. Bad jokes and poofed-up men. What a world.

  2. markcfdbailey@gmail.com'
    May 24, 2013 at 16:46

    That was the old Oz, Henry

    I fell in to conversation with an Aussie nurse at the hospital the other day and expressed surprise that she had decided to live in London rather than her home town, Melbourne, given our fabulous summers. She said..”I love England. I love the way people say what they think. Oz hasn’t been like that since before I was born in the Seventies”.

    She’s right of course. Australia has become PC and H&S central. You only have to listen to a speech by its two latest PM’s, Rudd and Gillard, to know that. The last vestige of the old character – Bruce, Sheila and bonzer mates – finally turned up its toes in the Nineties.

    Their wine’s alright though, if they can control their tendency, like the Californians, to make it a barrel-chested, high alchohol thumper.

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