Reserve wine under $20? Get suss. If it’s less than $15, run for it. Under $10 – and I suspect the word occurs in this miserable bracket more than anywhere else – the plonkmonger should be running, with you hard on his tail, your cat’o’nine tails ready for when the filthy lucre in his pockets finally slows him down. Thrash him. Rub his reserve into his wounds. It’ll contain its own salt.
I’ve been a bit gender specific there, but surely a woman wouldn’t try such a cruel dupe.
My Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles lists its first definition of reserve thus: “Something stored up, kept back or relied upon, for future use or advantage; a store or stock; an extra quantity”. These were the accepted meanings by 1658. They hold to this day.
By volume, most Australian wine called reserve will be “for future use or advantage”. This often means it’s not good enough to be sold, so/and/or will be held over awhile to the hopeful winemaker’s advantage.
But too many use it “for immediate advantage”, meaning the infant wine deserves to be sold and guzzled immediately, as if to remove the evidence of the manufacturer’s crime against the gastronomic arts. Since the glut evaporated, there’ll be lots of wine - bladder pack quality two years back – now sold in $6-$10 bottles with reserve on the label.
It says a lot about the musty traditions of old Yalumba that they’re worrying about rewriting the meaning of such a fogey of a word – reserve - instead of making up a buzzy new one.
Rob Hill Smith has done a brilliant job of cutting his wine empire into many small camps, so it looks like a hoard of boutiques that have nothing to do with each other, when in fact they’re all part of his huge Yalumba. If he doesn’t make ’em, he’ll be distributing ’em through one of his wholesale arms. He could easily think up a whole new brand for a wine worthy of reserve status.
But, in a gesture Croseresque in its ex cathedra presumption, he’s issued The Yalumba Wine Company Reserve Charter. He adds to the Oxford lexicon the rulings that in Yalumba’s case, reserve wine will henceforth be “special… enhanced… more expensive… outstanding… above the norm”.
“Having been part of the problem, we now wish to be part of the solution”, he honorably says.
So Yalumba now has an edict, which, once published in the mainstream media, could be included in the next edition of the Oxford, under reserve, with a credit. If only it wasn’t so long.
Yalumba’s reserves will henceforth be only of cabernet, shiraz, merlot, pinot, chardonnay, or riesling. (No viognier, notice. No Spaniards; no Italians.) These Yalumba reserve wines will be from “sustainable” farms with “a history of achievement”. They’ll be made from “balanced yields” with “minimal intervention” using “traditional winemaking practices”, with “no shortcuts” and with “complete and full records”. They’ll be properly cellared at Yalumba until release, and finally be approved by a special tasting panel including experts not employed by Yalumba, and be sold with a money back guarantee of quality and longevity.
Rob’s admirable reserve edict followed the positive reception given his Old Vine Charter, which tightens the language Yalumba uses to describe the age of vines. Since old vines became a great marketing point after the wine industrialists sat back and watched most of them destroyed in the mid-’eighties Vine Pull Scheme, the term has been abused as much as reserve.
At Yalumba, Old Vine now means more than 35 years of age. An Antique Vine is 70-plus. A Centenarian Vine is over 100. A Tri-Centenary Vine is more tricky: it’s life has spanned three centuries, which means it could be between 101 years old and 300. Surely a planting date would sort all this, but at least Rob’s bracketed them for Yalumba’s back label scribes and marketing wallahs.
This is all good. Well, better. But isn’t it what wine is supposed to be about? Isn’t all Australia wine worthy of these values? What have they been selling us? What are they selling us? Should we only buy Yalumba reserve from now on? How much bullshit’s been going on? How much IS going on?
Perhaps Rob can lead his industry into the realms of truth and honesty by defining the meanings of “sustainable”, “history of achievement”, “balanced yields”, “minimal intervention”, “traditional winemaking practices”, and “complete and full records”.
He could also help me with “new”, “old”, and “small” oak, “low” yields, “minimal” irrigation, “high” country, “cool” climate, and “wine industry honesty”. I’m fair dinkum.
I already know what a “money back guarantee” is.
COMMENT FROM TRAVELLING GOURMAND
I agree. Wholeheartedly. All good questions. So, quality of the wines aside, how come our very own Gourmet Traveller is awarding Winemaker of the Year to Louisa Rose for the "impeccable quality of her flagship viognier" (notice they didn't call it "reserve", which leads me to query the meaning of the new "flagship" appellation), and Rob Hill Smith gets the Len Evans Award (read everything published on this site with the words Len Evans in it) for the "leadership shown" in "releasing their Old Vine and Reserve charters in 2007"?
COMMENT FROM PEACHES IN PROVENCE
Yalumba's cool Whitey. At least they're trying. But I can't help agreeing on some levels. Be more positive. Nah, don't.