One of my cornerstone books on wine was the ‘Gold Book’ or ‘Australian Wine Vintages’ first published in 1979 by Robin Bradley. As a wine drinker, buyer and collector, it was invaluable, offering ratings of a multitude of Australian wines across all the vintages made, and best drinking times. The annual editions became collectors’ items; the books were rare and treated like gold-dust, given pride of place in the Australian section of my wine library, even though the gold colour made them stand out, anyway. After a dozen years, the book came across competition from the likes of James Halliday and Jeremy Oliver, and became one of a number of guides. It then became hard to find on New Zealand book retailers’ shelves.
To my delight, I’d discovered that the ‘Gold Book’ had not disappeared, but undergone a refit, with Robin Bradley handing over the reins to Robert Geddes, Master of Wine, after 26 editions. Robert Geddes’ first effort was the 27th edition for 2010, which I missed. The 2011 edition was released in September last year, and I’m very pleased to have it in my library now.
There have been a number of changes made, the most important that the ratings of the wines are those of the author rather than that by the wineries supplying the wine. This objectivity is most welcome, but understanding and agreeing with Geddes’ palate is necessary. However, the author describes his preferences and approach. “I am not a big fan of high alcohol wines but recognise that many people are” and his aim is to include in the book a wide range of wines and styles that include value and suitability with food, and “wines with personality that can mature”. The Australian wine industry produces an ocean of wine, varying in quality from outstanding, to those that are hard to enjoy. To cull what is available to the selection what is included in the book is a major achievement by Robert Geddes. The fact that he is a Master of Wine, thus carrying considerable credibility, helps in seeing the final selection positively and indeed accepting it.
The heart of the book is made up of tasting notes of well over 2000 wines from over 300 wineries. For each wine listed, there is a rating, from 3 star to 5 star, and a super-premium 5 gold stars category. Each of the wines has the most recent several vintages scored by Geddes using a 100 point scale, a drinking window, price and % alcohol on the label noted, as well as a miniature reproduction of the label. This is all very useful information for the buyer and collector. The controversial aspect is the 100 point scale used to rate each vintage. The scale used does not relate directly to the more common 20 point scale that one can easily align to the show medal standards. However it is similar to that used by other influential commentators, such as James Halliday in Australia and Bob Campbell in New Zealand, though Geddes is a little more restrained in his exuberance. This is in this book’s favour, obviously, as when a wine has earned a top rating, it really merits it.
The book also lists a ‘Top 100 Wines’, such as the 2005 Heggies ‘Reserve’ Riesling, 2007 Leeuwin ‘Art Series’ Chardonnay, 2008 Ashton Hills ‘Reserve’ Pinot Noir, 2006 Mount Pleasant ‘O’Shea’ Shiraz and 2007 Yarra Yering No. 1. And also listed are 120 ‘Gold Star Wines’, such as Brown Brothers ‘Patricia’ Pinot/Chardonnay Brut, Cullen ‘Diana Madeline’ Cabernet/Merlot, Henschke ‘Hill of Grace’ Shiraz, Philip Shaw ‘No. 11’ Chardonnay and Tyrrells ‘Vat 1’ Semillon. Those who want to, can easily see the very best as recommended by Geddes.
I was very fortunate to attend a tasting session with Rob Geddes, who was supported on this occasion by highly respected wine judge Mike de Garis, and it was very instructive to see Rob’s approach. He is very open to comments and suggestions from other tasters as all information adds to the global picture of each wine and indeed the larger industry perspective. But he certainly operates within parameters that are set by his viewpoints, feelings and experiences as well as the history he has seen with each of the wines. The wines are tasted in manageable numbers, at a relaxed pace, allowing for proper assessment. We tasted wines from Tyrrells, Woodstock, Lindemans, Wynns and Yarra Yering among others.
Under Rob Geddes’ direction, the Australian Wine Vintages now has a national wine travel guide listing recommended places to stay and eat in each region, and an ‘After Dinner Drinks’ section with tasting notes for Australian fortified wines, spirits and liqueurs. All this makes this little tome, which has over 535 pages a handy package packed full of information that will be a boon for anyone interested in buying and cellaring top Australian wine, whether in wine retail shops, on-line, or touring wine regions in person. As I stated above, I’m very pleased to have the 2011 edition now, and will be looking forward to seeing the new developments over the past year, and adding the 2012 to my library when it is released.
Australian Wine Vintages 2011, 28th Edition, Robert Geddes MW, Geddes a Drink Publications Pty Ltd, Sydney, 2010
RRP A$34.95 www.thegoldbook.com.au