Great value in a $15 bottle!

There are many good bottles of wine to be had for $15.  My book Wine Sense focuses on how to ‘buy wine’ instead of ‘being sold wine.’  Once you know how to taste and have the confidence you know what you like, you can get some great values.  Over the years, I spend about double what I should have on wine until I learned to believe in my own palate.

Debertoli Vat 184One of the best $15 bottles I have had in a long time is the 2010 De Bertoli Deen Master Blend Vat 184.  It is a blend of Pinot Verdot, Shiraz and Durif.  It has a great mouthfeel, well textured and almost too easy to swallow!  It is 13.5% alcohol and lays nicely on the palate.  It has great fruit flavors with tastes of chocolate and mocha.  It is a wonderful wine to drink on its own or with food.  It would work well with game, roast chicken, some pastas, and tonight we are having it with pizza.  This wine has been awarded two Gold medals and one Silver medal, so I am not the only one who really likes this wine!

With some exceptions over the years, De Bertoli does not make great wines (they are best known for their stickie dessert wine, Noble One), but they do consistently make great value wines.  And they have blended the best features of three varietals into a very nice wine, the Vat 184.

De Bertoli is also one of the select members of Australia’s First Families of Wine, and continue to make wine as a multi-generational family.  When writing this post, I was not able to connect to their website, but it is ‘’

Try the Vat 184 – I expect you will enjoy it greatly and find it to be very good value!


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, available now!
© 2014.  Steve Shipley. All rights reserved.
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How do we taste wine? Ask Maurice O’Shea

How do we taste wine?  How do we appreciate what wine has to offer?  As explained in my upcoming book Wine Sense, we taste wine through our senses.  The concept of taste is cross-modal, using our eyes, our nose and our mouth.  Tasting wine comes together through all the human senses.  But four senses prevail when appreciating wine.  Sight, smell, taste (specifically through our taste buds) and mouth feel.  But our sight is so predominant, it often overrules what we experience with our nose and our mouth.  This sometimes causes stimulus errors which deceive us when drinking wine.  Wine Sense teaches us how to smell and taste wine better.  It provides an understanding and techniques you can use to trust what is in your nose and what is in your mouth.  Many believe they can never achieve this, but I do and that is why I have made the effort with Wine Sense in an attempt to help you to gain trust in your nose and mouth.

Maurice OSheaMaurice O’Shea was one of Australia’s, if not the world’s, best wine makers.  He also had bad eyesight.  I am reading Campbell Mattinson’s great book on O’Shea entitled Wine Hunter.  It tells of O’Shea having just found out he cannot join the French army in WW1 because his eyesight is so bad.  Happy about this turn of events (which allowed him to study viticulture and winemaking), he shouts a nice meal out for his friends in Montpellier.  They allow the chef to prepare what he likes.  They are happy, eating and drinking, but O’Shea realizes the texture and taste of the meat to be different, even though his friends do not.  They later find out they have been eating domestic cat as meat is scarce during the war in France.

As Mattinson relates of young Maurice: “he wondered whether his taste and smell had grown more acute as his eyes had dimmed, as if his other senses had become heightened, as if his sense of smell and his sense of taste had developed into his gift.”  Mattinson goes on to describe what O’Shea learned about himself that night: “and he knew something in himself that he had not known before – he could trust his mouth.  He could trust his nose. He could feel the taste of things that others could not.”

Until you learn to trust your nose and your mouth, you will be sold wine, you will be told how to taste wine, and you will be told what you like by others.  When you learn to trust your nose and your mouth to taste wine, you then learn to truly enjoy and appreciate wine more.  And as O’Shea points out, by dimming your sense of sight, you can attune your nose and mouth more acutely.  You can learn from others, especially when drinking in the presence of others who know more about wine tasting than you do.  Learn from them, but learn to trust your nose and mouth.

Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, due out July 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2014.  Steve Shipley. All rights reserved.
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1998 Tyrrell’s Vat 9 Shiraz – will it work with pork?!

I am experimenting this evening by opening a Shiraz to go with pork fillet, mash, vegetables and gravy.  Usually I would play it safe and go with a good Pinot Noir for this meal.  It is difficult to find a much better food / wine matching combination than a Pinot Noir with pork!

But I really wanted to try another bottle of the 1998 Tyrrell’s Vat 9 as it is a superb wine and at 15 years of age, I needed to check it out to make sure (that’s my excuse and I am sticking to it!) it will cellar for a while yet as I have about a ten bottles left.  I don’t want to wait too long, but I do want to pace drinking this wine over the next several years or longer if I can.  I would hate to wait too long and have it go off, as it is drinking very well now, but I am hoping to make it last as long as I can.

I have a great deal of respect for James Halliday and subscribe to his wine service.  But he missed the mark when evaluating this wine as he gave it an 86/100 and said to drink it by 2008.  This wine is still very big, yet elegant, with lively fruit, tasting of blackberry with light overtones of spice and leather.  It is well integrated, and nicely balanced with strong tannins.  The finish is moderate to long, and you can feel the accumulated tannins on the inside of your cheeks for a long time.  This is an excellent wine, regardless of how Halliday and others scored it.

I had this wine as one of my three red wines at my 58th birthday party over two years ago.  This was the first red, followed by the 2001 Yalumba Octavius Shiraz and the 1981 Penfolds Grange.  All three red wines were spectacular, but the 1998 Tyrrell’s Vat 9 got the consensus vote for the best red wine of the evening.  It could be that it was the sequencing and by the time we drank the 1981 Penfolds Grange, we were over-satiated.  Or it could be that the 1998 Tyrrell’s Vat 9 is just that good!

So why is having a Shiraz a risk with pork?  It is because a Hunter Valley (and many other) Shiraz’ are heavier and spicier than most Pinot Noirs and could overwhelm the pork and side dishes.  But the 1998 Tyrrell’s Vat 9 is an elegant, more refined Shiraz than many others.  I know it will be fine with the pork dinner and wanted to see if it works to provide some variety from always using a Pinot Noir with pork.  If not, I will go back to Pinot Noir!  But if you don’t try, you will never know!

I have also had this wine with spaghetti and it worked very well.  My wife, DAZ in the Kitchen, makes a very fine and spicy spaghetti and the 1998 Tyrrell’s Vat 9 matched up extremely well with it.  This is a versatile Shiraz!  Andrew Thomas made this wine while still at Tyrrell’s and I remember talking to Andrew about it several years ago and the fond memories he had for this particular vintage.

On its own, this is a great wine (I know as I am on my second glass while writing this) and it should be fine with the meal.  I will let you know in a follow-up blog post how it works with the pork.  And once I finish off the last of my 1998 Tyrrell’s Vat 9, I will move onto the 2007 Tyrrells’ Vat 9.  In fact, I will probably try my first bottle this weekend or next to see how it goes.  Halliday rated the 2007 Vat 9 at 95/100 and drinkable until 2025.  Campbell Mattinson rated it 96/100 and as one of the best reds released in 2010/11. This must be an amazing wine!  But for now, I am drinking the 1998 and greatly enjoying it.


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013.  Steve Shipley
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Wine writing rightly or wrongly

I entered the Gourmet Traveler (GT) Wine magazine competition for 2013.  While excited to do so, I was also hesitant and did not completely decide to enter until three days ago when I made my submission.

I write about wine for myself as much as I do a broader audience.  I find it helps to organize and remember my thoughts about wine and I enjoy the writing experience anyway.  I am thrilled to have a good following for SAZ in the Cellar which continues to grow and am appreciative of the good feedback I get as a ‘great wine story teller.’

Each blog post takes about an hour to write with about half that time going into the initial draft content writing and the other half to establish links, find a suitable picture and to proof and edit.  Some blog posts take as much as two hours and I believe one even took four!  But in general, it is about an hour.  And I now have well over 100 posts in less than a year.  There is enough content there that I might even try to make a collection or book out of it.

However, to enter the competition, I needed to follow the competitions rules (which were not many nor onerous BTW), and I felt constrained in doing so for two main reasons.  The first is the upper limit of 1,000 words.  When I start writing, I do so without constraint to the number of words.  I focus on defining an article that I think will be educational and interesting.  It may end up at 500 words or it may end up at 3,000 words if I feel more detail is interesting and justifiable.  Had I written my competition entry as a blog post, I expect it would have been about 2,500 – 3,000 words and I probably would have actually turned it into a 3-part or 4-part blog series with about 750 words each.

The second constraint was that it need to be interesting to both wine buffs and also to people who are newly gaining an appreciation for wine.  Fortunately, I believe I have a entry that accomplished that, but I could only quickly come up with one topic where that worked, even though I thought about it for several weeks.  For blogging and not caring about the level of audience expertise, I don’t really target a topic to a particular  audience.  I figure that the audience will find me and read the post if they are interested.  But if you are writing commercially, you need to be conscious of the ‘real estate’ you are consuming in a magazine and make sure it is being used effectively to sell more magazines!  Therefore, both the number of words and audience reach are extremely important.

I had the interesting experience during writing for the competition that it seemed more like a job than a passion and I felt pressure to write my article ‘commercially correct’ (or ‘rightly’ as I say in the title!).  And that raised a concern or at least a caution for me. 

Many of us are often seduced by the idea of making a career out of our hobbies and passions.  We love to cook, so why not do it full-time and become a restauranteur?  Or if we love to fish, why not become a fishing guide so we can fish all the time?  Etc., etc., etc.!  But what happens when we treat our passion as a job or a career?  Well, for starters, we need to be focused and concerned about what our clients want to accomplish, not what we want to accomplish (and that is usually far less interesting to us!).  And secondly, we need to understand and manage it like a business.  And what I found happens in such situations is the passion drains away.

Dining room set I refinished in Graduate School and used for 30 years!

All my life, I have had a love and appreciation for timber and wood products.  Early on, I would refinish furniture and had the pleasure of enjoying using it day-in, day-out.  Then I got into wood turning and then making wood furniture.  I love the Australian and New Zealand hardwoods and have been working with them since 1988.  Then in 2000, when I tried to retire, I thought I could turn ‘working with wood’ from a hobby and a past-time into a profession.  In trying to do so, I found out several things:

  • What I could make financially  in 52 weeks of wood turning was the same amount I could make in 6 weeks of consulting.  Additionally, instead of turning what I wanted, I would need to turn what people wanted to buy, which would mean I was cranking out salad bowl sets and bed posts – not something I was really interested in!
  • A large capital investment was required to do the volume I would require and that combined with my skills disadvantage (to people who have been in the field all their life) meant I would be un-competitive

But what I learned the most was that when I treated it as a business, my passion drained away.  What I had enjoyed about the creative aspects and being an artisan were now replaced by managerial and administrative tasks.

Therefore, I am hesitant to turn my love of wine into a business, even just the business of writing about wine.  It may drain my passion for tasting and enjoying the wine lifestyle and I definitely do not want that to happen.  I will take it slowly, continue to blog, possibly write some short stories or a regular column if given the chance, and possibly do some teaching or being the Master of Ceremony for some corporate wine functions.  If that happens, that will be great.  But I am not going to push it because I know if I do, that I will lose my passion for wine the way I did for working with wood and I would not want that to occur!

Creating, retaining, and reliving wine memories

For me, drinking a great bottle of wine is like being at the Louvre or the Metropolitan Museum of Art and seeing an original painting.  It is an exquisite experience and even though I may never be able to experience it again, I want to retain and relive the memory.

That would seem quite easy to do in these times of social media with Instagram and Facebook.  We can take pictures of our drinking and eating experiences and immediately post them into a variety of public clouds to share with others and to retrieve whenever we want to.  But while those pictures provide great memories of the experiences we have had and the great friends and relationships we have, they do not focus on ‘the wine!’

I currently do four things currently to create and relive wine memories, and am about to add a fifth which I learned about from my good friend Dave who also has a place in the Hunter Valley.  The four I already do are:

Every time I look at an empty bottle, or a cork, I remember the experience and relive a bit of the wine drinking that went on that evening.  It also invokes memories of the friends and experiences we shared while drinking that wine.

The new thing I am going to do, is to create a wine map of the Hunter Valley and pin the wineries we have visited and plan to visit.  Dave has made one up, hanging in his hallway and we will be doing similar.  It’s a great idea.  Dave used a laminated map of the Hunter Valley, added some information regarding wineries and numbers to locate them, and pins with the coding for if they had visited them already or they were on the list to visit soon.  The back is cork board and he made the frame out of other wine corks cut in half.  This will provide more opportunity for me to use the good corks I have as my two Corkhaus boards will only hold about 110 corks and I certainly have more than that!

These activities are similar to keeping a photo album, but take a little more real estate, especially for the wine bottles.  However, it is not much of a difficulty and helps to reinforce and relive the great memories we have had. I am glad I do these things and recommend that some of them may enhance your wine drinking experiences and lifestyle.  I love having the constant reminders to prompt pleasant memories!

Entering a wine writing competition

I am very excited to be entering ‘Next Big Thing,’ the annual amateur wine writing competition of Bauer ACP Gourmet Traveler (GT) Wine magazine.  This is the fourth year running for the competition.  I am entering as a way to better focus on more serious wine writing than just blogging through SAZ in the Cellar.  While I do not expect to win, I would not be entering if I did not think I had a chance to be competitive.

The entries must be in by 9 January, 2013 and the entry limited to 1,000 words.  All the details and guidance are provided in the links above and here.  You may wonder why I am alerting others to this as it will only increase the competition.  The reason is that I want to be supportive of everyone increasing their enjoyment in the wine and its related lifestyle and by being part of and more knowledgeable of wine and wine-related experiences.  I also want to be more encouraging to anyone who wants to write and share ideas and knowledge with others.

I do not consider my knowledge to be my own or sourced from within.  We all learn from each other and are better for it.  Plus it increases the community of people we can learn from and share with.  My friend Blake Stevens, author of Still Stupid at Sixty wrote a blog post about the larger value of exchanging ideas than money which really struck home with me.  I want to live and fulfill that idea which is why I encourage others to write, even if in direct competition to me.  I do value the way I might interpret and articulate material and am therefore very much behind copyright protection and respecting peoples ability to monetize their efforts.  But the main reason  I write is to share and engage with others.

I have five weeks to finish and submit my entry.  I am starting this weekend as I have an idea already and I want to see if it works.  But there is a lot more to do in terms of positioning a winning entry.  I need to ensure it is a fun topic in which the judges can engage and enjoy, I need to validate a lot of facts and make sure it is accurate (not something I always do with my blog posts, but I know them to be directionally correct and factual), and I need to really ensure the writing itself is of high quality, concise and well structured, and well edited and proofed.  (This is something I also do to some extent, but not thoroughly, with my blog posts – if I did, they would take several more hours each instead of the typical 30 – 60 minutes to write.)

So wish me luck on my submission, and if you know anyone who may be interested to submit also, please share this information with them!

A little wine humor for the weekend

I have started using Pinterest more for several things and will be expanding that even more in the future.  I do enjoy collecting funny sayings and humorous cartoons regarding wine.  Since it is the weekend, crack open a bottle, have a good sip and enjoy some of the wine humor I have collected and posted on Pinterest.

I will be doing that myself while getting into a little of the 1977 Dow Vintage Port this evening and comparing it to the 1980 Lindemans Vintage Port.  I will let you know the results in a few days.

Talking party wines on Food In Focus on FM 89.7 with Natascha Moy this Saturday!

This Saturday (10 November, 2012), at 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm, I will be joining Natascha Moy and two other guests on her very successful gourmet food and wine show Food in Focus on FM 89.7.  This show has been running successfully for four and a half years with a star’s line-up of great chefs, restaurant and specialty food owners, wine makers, winery owners and others who are passionate about good food and wine.

I am privileged that Natascha has asked me to join her party this weekend and excited to participate.  Without giving too much away, I will be talking about Party Wines and bringing along three good bottles which are excellent examples of what good party wine is all about.  This is live radio so it will be exciting to find out what Natascha is going to ask me and the other guests.  I just hope that I can contribute and continue to help her grow her following.  My only goal is to help you be able ‘to impress’ the next time you bring a bottle of wine to a party or other function.

I met Natascha through social media as we share a common interest around good food and wine.  We started following each other on Twitter, became friends and started to communicate and share ideas on Facebook, and now will finally have the opportunity to meet and share some good wine and good ideas and discussion together.  I love witnessing (and even better, be part of!) examples where social media really works!

Natascha is a real ‘pro’ in the radio and journalism game as evidenced by her long-running success with Food in Focus.  She has a background in magazine journalism with a Bachelor of Journalism degree and has participated in traditional and online media for years.  She has published her own food newspaper and now continues to share her insights through her radio talk show Food in Focus on FM 89.7.

Natascha and I also share a passion around gender diversity.  This year, she founded a networking movement called Girl Power which has been founded on the principle that women in business have brilliant brains but deserve something more. She runs bi-monthly networking events attended by approximately 60 women talking about everything from sales to sex, and fashion to nutrition.

Once the show is completed, I will write a blog to summarize what we discussed on Party Wines to share with you, but if you can join Natascha, me and her two other guests for Food in Focus this Saturday at 4 pm, we would welcome it.  Hope you are there with us!

Great success with Wickman’s Fine Wine Auction

As many of you know, I have been clearing wine out of my cellar.  Once I had inventoried the total amount I had, and also realized that my tastes had changed somewhat over the last decade, I realized I needed to get down to a more reasonable sized cellar.  Plus I made a commitment to myself that I could not buy any more wine until I I had cut the cellar in half or down even further.

This is really a bad time to sell wine, as there are far more sellers than buyers and prices are quite depressed.  I have been fortunate to sell about 1,500 bottles direct to friends who know I have done a good job buying quality wines in the past and storing them well.  For the first 600 bottles I sold, I was getting between 90% and 120% what I initially paid for the wines.  Yet, my friends were getting a good deal as (1) I usually secured the wines at a better price point than they could have, and (2) I put some age on the wines and these were now some special wines not available through normal retail, or only available at higher price tags at auction.

I then move an additional 900 bottles by offering a 25% discount on the wines and sold quite a lot over a one-month period.  With the discount, I was now getting between 70% and 95% the price I had originally paid.  I also sold about 50 bottles through the Wine-Ark Exchange (now run by Langton’s), and got about 90% what I paid and had to pay an additional 12.5% commission over that (as did the buyer).  And the wines on the Exchange did not sell fast at all.  I think I have cleared about 35% of the wines and have been doing this for eight months now.

I had been following Wickman’s Fine Wine Auction for 18 months and was impressed with how much stock he moved and how he achieved the best buy and price point for buyer and seller.  I worked with Mark to go through my inventory, and he gave me an appraisal of the likely Reserve prices he would establish and the range each bottle would likely sell for.  I then packaged up 400 bottles to send to him for his October auction.

Mark was also insistent about the provenance of the wine to ensure it has only been stored under the best conditions.  He asked me to take pictures of the how the wine was properly stored, and provide the history of where I bought and stored the wine.  For 95% of my wines, he gave me the second highest rating he has.  Had I worked harder, and pulled from my files the purchase records of the wines I bought direct from the cellar doors and their receipt in Wine-Ark (where I store all my wine), I expect I could have got the highest provenance rating he had for about 85% of my wine.

Mark then sent me a final listing of Reserve prices and while lower than I was hoping for some of the wine, it was clear that he knew the market far better than I did and how to move the most product in a tough market.  Therefore, I went with his recommendations (except in one case for two bottles which did not sell BTW!).

For the one-week auction, I was amazed at the results!  We sold 56% of the wine at an average price of $44 per bottle.  I had evaluated my stock overall at $50 per bottle and it is true that Wickman selected and was trying to move some of my more expensive wine, but overall this was still a great result.  And I sold almost $10,000 of wine in one week, which would have been far harder and taken more effort to sell doing it myself.  I was hoping to move between $2,500 – $4,000 worth and did far better than that.  And I still have the November auction to sell most of the rest.

I am definitely looking forward to the results of the November auction, and may also look at sending Wickman another 150 – 200 bottles for his auctions starting up again in 2013..  It is very tough selling wine in today’s market and receiving a good price for it, but Wickman understands the market extremely well and certainly knows how to move wine!  I had far better results than expected because I trusted in him and his knowledge of the market.

If you need to move some serious volume and have been having trouble with Langton’s, or other big-named players, then I suggest you give Wickman’s Fine Wine Auctions a call!

What to drink with Lebanese food

First off, Lebanese is a lot of different types of food.  From Hummus, vine leaves, and pickled vegetables to potato coriander, chicken shawarma, spicy beef sausages and much more!  What wine could possibly match up well with such a variety of food?  The simple answer is Semillon!  I had a lunch the other day with 13 different Lebanese dishes and the Semillon worked beautifully for the entire meal.

I also imagine that a spicy Shiraz could could well if you wanted to switch from Semillon in the middle of a Lebanese meal also if some of the guests really prefer red wine.  I am confident that you cannot go wrong with Semillon for Lebanese food.  I have had three Lebanese meals in the last month, and I have had the 2005 Kelman Semillon, the 2003 Terrace Vale Campbells Old Vine Semillon and also the 1994 Waverley Estate Semillon.  These are three very different styles of Semillon and they all matched exquisitely with Lebanese food.

And for one of the meals, I also brought an open bottle of an excellent Riesling to try.  On its own, most people would say the Riesling was far superior as a wine to the 2005 Kelman Semillon, but the Kelman matched far better with Lebanese food.  That is why I continue to empasize the ‘right grape with the right food.’

Both the Kelman and the Terrace Vale where a little crisper (and much younger!) than the Waverley Estate.  The best Semillon I have ever had (even superior to the iconic 1999 Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon) was the 1990 Waverley Estate Semillon.  This is among the top three white table wines  I have ever drunk.  But the 1994 Waverley Estate is very close!  It has a golden color, smooth, rich mouth feel, and tastes of orange and tangerine flavours with a touch of lemon.  It is simply heavenly and a great match for Lebanese food.

I found the smoother texture and richer taste of the aged Semillon to go a little bit better with the rich sauces for the shish barack and the yogurt.  It also matched up beautifully with the hummus with mince and pine nuts.  The 1994 Waverley Estate Semillon is just a better wine (and about twice as expensive) than the other two.  But the 2005 Kelman and the 2003 Terrace Vale Semillons are very good wines.  Most people would call then excellent wines and I have gotten great reviews from people I have shared them with.  But 15 – 20 year old Waverley Estate Semillons are in a class of their own.

There is no need to review the menu at a Lebanese restaurant to determine what wine to bring.  Just bring a Semillon and order what you like.  You won’t be disappointed.