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The selection of Wines presented for evaluation on the Wine Spider is as broad a range of wines as is possible to taste in any one year. I taste wines virtually every day and it is a combination of the following:

(1) Samples supplied from producers

Producer samples come from every corner of the globe and are welcome. These samples are provided graciously and evaluated as wines on their own right, whilst by practical necessity being tasted in groups from a particular class. Since I have no investments in any of our suppliers or vested interest, we do not have a preferred supplier or a mates system. This I might say gets us into a lot of difficulty from time to time, as particular suppliers want a favour done to move a specific problem wine. I have always, as has my family valued our independence and our strength has been built on one word - INTEGRITY. From the perspective of a family business, all members work the shop floor and are in direct contact with our customers - our staff are encouraged to do the same. It seems logical, that it is easier to sell something that you believe in, than something you might have to move - so we fill the stores with wines we believe in.

However, we also undertake to produce a critical assessment of all winemakers wines. These notes appear on our Wine Spider Internet Site. Warts and all. I believe that the public is entitled to have an educated informed critique of a product by a professional.

(2) Samples that we purchase

Some of Australia and international producers are very small with limited production to be able to provide samples gratuitously. In such cases we buy the wine. It is also in our best interests to taste as many wines as possible from as many producers as possible and hence if we have to buy samples, then that's what we do.

(3) Special Trade Functions

Sampling wines at special trade functions is a difficult task, unless the function is in the form of a structured tasting. There are too many distractions, both physical and mental. The way that we have developed to overcome these problems is to get to the function before the rest of the trade do. If it's a tasting of 20 wines - usually I get there 1 hour before the official start, find a quiet corner and taste and write. That way a meaningful result can be produced.

(4) Vineyard Tastings

Sampling wine at vineyards can be as difficult as tasting in a crowded trade show, however, one does ones best. Usually, these tastings are supplemented with a normal Wine Spider tasting to cross check results. The notes on perception are particularly relevant when tasting in this environment.

(5) Wine and Food Society Dinners

My comments regarding distractions apply equally here, but they often provide the opportunity to taste super expensive / rare wines that normally are difficult to come by. Careful notes and attention is paid during the tasting which are done prior to tasting the food.

(6) Customers Discoveries

Wine people around the world are exceedingly generous with their hospitality, and it is not unusual to be given a wine, or to be sent a wine from the far ends of the viticultural world by a customer who is particularly appreciative of your help. We continue to find wonderful wines from this special 'source.'

I must say, that I am in a position to taste just about everything that comes into the market, and thus I can say that the Wine Spiders are very representative of the Australian Wine Industry (in its broadest sense) and the evaluations are done without fear or favour. Everything tasted is put through a Wine Spider, evaluation process.

THE DESCRIPTORS

This is a very long topic, and a full discussion is available on the Advanced Course of Vintage School at www.vintageschool.com. In brief, wines smell and taste in a particular way for a reason. The green bean smell is due to a specific chemical compound that may be found in certain green vegetables, and can also be found in unripe Cabernet grapes. I have developed a comprehensive outline of the various smells and tastes that occur in wine and food and from these descriptors I have my tasting notes. I endeavour to use words that can correspond to a chemical compound, so that if we say vegetal, then methooxypryrazine can be attributed to it, and so on. What I am saying is that for each specific smell and taste there is a reason, and the nose and palate are capable of being trained in identifying the smell and consequently the relevant chemical compound.

On the question of taste, let me say, there are far more taste sensations than salt, acid, bitter and sweet, and further more let me say that the taste map that is currently found in textbooks is a myth. Taste sensations occur in a matrix form over all parts of the tongue and mouth. Taste sensations which are not considered by current wine writers include such aspects as, pressure alkaline, alcohol, umani, capsicum, fats and oils, water, chemical sensation, pain, mouthfeel, temperature and electricity. Not all these sensations will manifest themselves in a wine but they can all be experienced, and should be observed and recorded when they occur.

Each grape variety will have a set of descriptors that are relevant to it, based upon the level of ripeness of the grapes picked. Unripe Cabernet tastes very different to ripe Cabernet. To add further complexity to the task, a winemaker may modify the smell and taste of a wine through the winemaking process by use of specific yeasts, different oak, different fermentation techniques etc. Time too plays a very important role in modifying the smell and taste of wine as does temperature. Each of these many variables has a descriptor which is capable of having a chemical compound assigned to it. What to the layman may appear to be Mumbo Jumbo and rather a fanciful use of descriptors, has in fact its basis in science.

It must be pointed out that idiosyncratic descriptiors must be discouraged and remain in the realm of uninformed humorous comment, fit for comic books rather than a serious appraisal of wine.

There is much discussion about demystifying wine and breaking down the rules, but before you embark upon such a journey consider where these calls are coming from and why? Firstly the advocates for breaking down the rules tend to be relatively inexperienced uninformed wine writers with a fetish for being trendy. Today's trend is to break the rules, tomorrows trend will be to blend port with beer or what ever, just do it, hang the consequences.

In all fields if endeavour, there is a science and a process, which should be followed. If you wish to relegate your life to ignorance and live in an automated world, where your base instinct for hunger and thirst only are satisfied then I think you're going to miss out on a lot of worth while experiences.

It is easy to sell 'garbage' to an uninformed public. It is easy to homogenize a product, food or drink and turn it into a manufactured item. Its easy to mass market such products, but its very difficult to mass market an individual vintage.

The counter argument of course will be that the majority of wine production is or is in the process of becoming standardised. Massive inter regional blending can ensure that Jacobs Creek is a very good consistent red wine, with no disappointments and no surprises year in year out. I commend the work that has gone on to develop such wine as Jacobs Creek, as it becomes the first stepping stones on the long journey of discovering the vast array of smells and tastes.

Whilst basic stepping stones are very necessary to begin the journey on the path of discovery and without these stepping stones the journey could not begin. Let us not for the sake of the convenience and mass marketing, remove the stones that lie beyond the first stone in the journey of discovery of smell and taste.

THE CELLARING TIMES

One survey conducted by a major wine company a couple of years back indicated that the average cellaring time for most Australian wine from the time of purchase was 17 hours. What that means is a lot of people buy and drink their wines without the benefits of bottle development. As a consequence, many winemakers produce wines that are ideal for early drinking, and are a great introduction to wine collecting and cellaring.
However, for the large number of enthusiasts (that have wine stored under their houses or in cupboards or under beds etc), the joys of pulling out an aged red, and witnessing the sublime subtle developed flavours combined with velvet smooth tannins and a long aftertaste, the experience of cellaring wine is a worth while activity.

In my experience all wines tend to converge in old age. The fruit flavours disappear and the tertiary developed flavours move in. Regional variations are often lost and what remain are mere skeletons of their former selves. Like senility, the genius of the past may be recognizable but in a form that does nothing to enhance the reputation of youth. Old reds are not all great - age is not by itself a mender of winemaking mistakes nor a means of correcting a poor vintage or bad viticultural practices.

My recommendations as to cellaring potential are invariably on the cautious side. I prefer to drink wine whilst the fruit flavours is still left in them. I have also taken into consideration the fact that most people do not keep their wines in ideal cellars, and that in a warmer environment (warmer than say 14°C - 15°C), a wine will mature faster than one kept at an ideal temperature.

I trust that Wine Spider will give you a more meaningful insight into the complex world of wine and that as you journey through many vintages form many countries that you will gain great rewards as to the remarkable delivery of smell and taste that only wine can bring.

Cheers
Nick Chlebnikowski December 2008