Money money money; or, why buying $5 wine is just as stupid as buying $500 wine.

Every single bottle of wine is good value*.

*this depends on what you value.

Fortunately for you people who value abysmal wines that are either so acidic you can't taste anything for a week or so dull that you may as well be drinking scented water, there are hundreds of bottles of wine that, for you, are absolutely fantastic value.

For the rest of us, it's a bit trickier.

Wines under five dollars are always, always bad. You wouldn't buy a sandwich for 30 cents (hint: rotten tomatoes, stale bread, and mouldy mayonnaise) and you shouldn't buy $5 wine for the same reason- you just can't afford to make it without cutting some seriously questionable corners. One such corner is known in the industry as the 'second bladder' technique: wineries replace the urinal in the local pub with a large vat, and collect the rather wafty micturitions of the local winos. This pungeant orange soup is dyed red and bottled. It is then sold for less than five dollars.

Wines under ten dollars can be alright. You do get the occassionl corner cutters who overprice their (already overpriced) tepid swill in the hope that those avoiding the $5 barrier will fall victim to their trap instead, but for the most part a $10 price tag means they've avoided the bottom of the barrel and have put at least some thought into it. These wines wont be amazing. The whites will not taste like urine, but they will probably be either quite sweet or a little too acidic. The reds will claw at your throat a little when you swallow, but for the most part they'll be kind to you.

The ten to twenty dollar mark is where things get interesting. Towards the top end of this price range, you might start to get some quality wine making. For example, you might get hand picked grapes, which result in wine that is made from (wait for it)- grapes. Cheaper wines that are machine picked result in wines that are made out of grapes, and twigs, and dirt, and any unfortunate grubs that were around the vines. If you're strictly vegetarian, you really shouldn't buy machine picked wine. If you're strictly into wine that tastes good, you shouldn't buy machine picked either. Wines under $20 will probably be less than a couple of years old, and are generally best drunk sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, it's possible to justify charging $20 for wine that is still pretty average. You can buy new French oak barrels every year (which cost absurd amounts of money) and still make bad wine. Your best bet here is to either taste at the cellar door or get to know your local bottle shop owner well.

Between twenty and forty dollars, you should be able to assume that the grapes have been treated well. You could also reasonably expect to see wines from single vineyards (which means it's better at expressing that particular year and grape as it's not made up of a pile of different grapes), and perhaps some that have been kept for a few years before they were released. If the world were just and fair, it would be impossible to buy a bad wine over twenty dollars. Unfortunately, however, the world in which we live is one where being confined to bed is a better excuse for missing work than going hiking in the sun; where spending more than an hour enjoying yourself a day is considered a luxury; where it's cheaper to order pizza than it is to make it yourself. In this world, then, you can still find questionable wines over $20. How to avoid them? Firstly, steer clear of the big names. Hardy's, Yellow Tail, and (god forbid) Jacob's Creek are sure fire ways to waste money. They, the Masters of Monotony, the Barons of Bland, aim to make every vintage taste just like the last. The wine isn't bad so much as it is boring. Shoot instead for someone smaller who doesn't have to please the plebs, but who can vary each vintage according to the conditions. You might find a few duds, but it's far more likely that you'll find a gem along the way.

When you get above forty dollars a bottle you're well into the territory where the price of production is overtaken by prestige. A bottle of Grange (~$500) doesn't actually cost all that much more to make than the spectacular Kilikanoon shiraz ($40), but you're paying for the brand, for the recognition, and for the fact that it's a bottle of bloody Grange! If you poured it into any other bottle, you could happily sell it for $50, but you'd struggle to get more than that. And hey, if you want the outrageous extravagance of a Grange, go for it. If we're just talking wine quality though, then you're getting ripped off just as much if you'd bought a $5 bottle of swill. Far better to get a dozen $40 bottles, which may not raise the eyebrows in the same way as a famous label, but will be amazing wine nonetheless.

Sheer arse in the Barossa: continued

I say potae-to and tomah-to. I also say shiraz. I don't really see the need for the posh 'shirah-z'. When it comes down to it though, shiraz or shirahz are both just sheer arse. Who cares how you say it? That which we call a rosé by any other name would smell as sweet.

Enough with these frantic semantics though- it's wine time.

Continuing from here, where we'd entered the Barossa and found a lovely spicy shiraz at Gibson:

Next stop is Kabminye. Before you can meet any of the wines, you need to meet Ron. He used to be an architect, then left all that behind and started a winery a few years ago. The building is glorious (he designed it himself), full of air and light, and quite at ease among the vineyards. Ron walks out from the kitchen- his hands are the size of dinner plates, and his girth takes up the majority of the space behind the counter. He looks like he could make wine just by staring at the grapes hard enough. Unlike Gibson, the shiraz here is hidden among a magnificent list of frontignac, grenache, pinot, and one of the rare zinfandels in the valley. Wine must be strongly genetic, because all his take after him- without fail, every bottle is a serious affair. You wont find anything nuanced or gentle here- it's WINE, fool, drink it! The flavours are huge, the alcohol is huge, and the tasting amounts follow the trend (which is dangerous for the desi). The shiraz though- where Gibson kicks off with the spices, Kabminye follows up with the dark, decadent richness of plums and blackcurrants. The spice is still there, but it sparks the front of the tongue for only a moment before the warmth of the fruit rolls over to the middle of the palate. Things are beginning to balance. We've got a winning first act, and Kabminye delivers the bulk of the plot, but the story needs a conclusion.

It's not too far though- Turkey Flat is just around a corner or two. The cellar hand here is actually engaged to Ron's daughter, so if he wasn't already guaranteed a life of delicious wine, he certainly is now. You enter Turkey Flat through a flimsy screen door that rests like a drunkard on its one workable hinge. The list here is shorter, but has a much higher signal to noise ratio- you'd be hard pressed to find something you don't like. Their shiraz is an elegant, refined wine to Kabminye's uncouth brashness and Gibson's juvenile energy. The pepper you tasted at Gibson is still there, and it melds seamlessly into the juicy, succulent plumminess that you found at Kabminye. Turkey Flat takes this a step further though- the note of spice in the opening bar finds its harmony with the rich fruit that comes next, and both of these are then reinforced and sustained when the tannin comes in with its lower register. The surprise here is how the flavour stays, swells, develops, and recedes long after the wine has been swallowed. The dry, smoky tannins pull this orchestration together and show you how the whole ensemble has a chance to live for decades. This is Barossa. This is shiraz. This is how (time for
capitals) it's Meant To Be.

And just when you've found your masticatory mecca, you'll stumble onto Two Hands. It's not that the shiraz here is better, per se, it's just that you can see how much can be done with it. Two Hands pride themselves on their shiraz list (and rightly so)- they have twelve different straight shiraz wines, not counting their several shiraz blends. Three of these are from the Barossa, the rest all highlight the strengths of their particular wine region (Clare Valley, Coonawarra, Langhorne Creek, etc). The lovely thing here is that each of these wines is unique, each has its own character. The Barossa Valley sets the benchmark for what a shiraz should aim to be, but even within that goal there are infinite variations.

Which one suits you best? Do you want it to knock you for six with each sip, or would you prefer the flavour to creep up on you from behind? Should the biteyness be strong enough to counter the juiciest steak, or would you rather it be so gentle that it could accompany a pan-seared salmon? Do you want to drink it now? Or in twenty years? There are a lot of decisions to be made here. Fortunately, as those followers of Moore's Law would agree, it is a task that is central to the enjoyment of life itself. Go forth, and multi-buy.

Sheer arse in the Barossa.

I say potae-to and tomah-to. I also say shiraz. I don't really see the need for the posh 'shirah-z'. When it comes down to it though, shiraz or shirahz are both just sheer arse. Who cares how you say it? That which we call a rosé by any other name would smell as sweet.

Enough with these frantic semantics though- it's wine time.

In bridge, it's considered prudent to lead with your winners. Get the trumps out, play your aces, then you can jostle for the scraps. With that in mind, there is no better wine to start with than a Barossa shiraz.

The Barossa Valley is about an hour's drive north of Adelaide. About four hundred million years ago, the Delemarian Orogeny built a serious series of mountains that have now come to be known as the Adelaide Hills. In an inspired moment, the Barossa Valley was thrown in. A relatively small drainage depression between the moutains and the coast, it is close enough to the ranges to receive the rich erosional soils and sands, but close enough to the coast to rely upon a bit of natural AC. If one believed in Intelligent Design, then this would be your cornerstone: surely such a perfect shiraz growing region is the result of a supreme being?

Holy history or not, the Barossa is hot for shiraz. They were made for each other. Together, they make wine that defines what a shiraz should be. Other regions can try, and some do a great job. Coonawarra makes a soft and subtle shiraz, very demure and rounded. The Adelaide Hills give it a good shot and generate some warm, rich, heady bottles. Even for those who prefer these variations, they are still judged in comparison to the Barossa.

The best place to start your education is Gibson. Walk in the door and you'll be greeted by... no one. Wait a moment, and a scruffy lad in flannellette will follow you in from behind. He's got dirt on his hands, sun in his eyes, and cares not for the mud his scuffed boots track in to the cellar door. He'll show you their whites happily enough, and lead you through the reds, but there's clearly a goal here. The shiraz is where it's at. They release them young here, only a year or two old, so the wine's still growing into its boots. It can be a tad awkward, not yet used to civilised company, but it clearly shows its pedigree. The Gibson shiraz is big, bold, and boistrous. It's yummy. Your mouth fills with spice and pepper, but the flavour is gone as soon as the wine is. It's time to move on.

I mean that literally- it's time for you to move on. I've got to head off, so you may as well too. The rest of the Barossa shall have to be covered in a day or two.

Wine and roses

A poem:

So life's year begins and closes,
Days though shorting still can shine,
What though youth gave love and roses,
Age still leaves us friends and wine.
-Thomas Moore

Now, if we take this poem as absolute fact (and we will), then there are two things to note:
1) Love and flowers are transient, ephemeral pleasures. There is no need to dedicate much time to them.
2) Friends and wine are what we're stuck with when we're old.

Therefore, to lead a truly enjoyable life one should dedicate themselves equally to developing good friends and good wine. I call this 'Moore's Law'. It rhymes, see? It also sounds a little like coleslaw, but that is purely coincidental. Enough of this though. Onward:

The nature of friendship is such that this will require many years of shared joys, a gradual development of trust, and countless hours of communication.

Fortunately, the nature of wine is such that you can just buy it ready made.

Based upon our incontrovertible premise (that a good life will be spent seeking wine and friendship in equal amounts), then one must spend as much time drinking wine as one spends with friends.

"But wait!" (I hear the uneducated cry), "we barely have enough time to spend with friends as it is! How can it be that a truly moral life requires us to match this in our search for wine?"

My first response is this— this is the method for a good life, as prescribed by the above poem. It was never claimed to be easy. Nonetheless, there is a solution to the dilemma of chronological constraints. Pay attention now, as this is where it gets complex:

Drink wine with friends.

In doing so, the poetic faithful can fulfil their obligation to strengthening friendships as well as their obligation to drink wine, and can do so with maximum temporal efficiency.

In conclusion: though it may be difficult, those who seek the holy path must drink wine and have friends. Praise be to Moore.

Addendum: this is the origin of the phrase 'Please sir, I want some more' in Oliver Twist. Dickens, a devout follower of Moore's Law, penned the original phrase thusly: "Please sir, I want some Moore". At the time, this was a common way to request either a rendezvous with a friend or a tipple of vinified beverage. Young Oliver was, therefore, asking for a glass of wine to help him on his way to enlightenment. Unfortunately, Dickens' editor was a soulless heathen to Moore's Law and made the 'correction' that has since become part of the text we know.

The believers among us can attempt to resist this gentrification of the phrase by saying "can I have some Moore?" whenever our glass is empty. Listen out for it. We're everywhere.