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October 18th, 2018

Welcome to Wine Notes

What happens as wine ages ?

Wine spends most of its life in a bottle, yet it the ageing process represents a complex puzzle.

  • Drink a wine too early and you get fresh primary fruit flavours – delicious but lacking integration of all the elements.
  • Drink it too late and the fruit diminishes in intensity, leaving the wine dull and tired.
  • Wines go through periods when they seem to withdraw and become quite closed.
  • Wines made to age can be unpleasant to drink young as they require relatively high levels of acid and tannins for successful ageing.

Get the cellaring and ageing process right and the rewards can be fantastic.  A wine at its peak can be memorable.

So what’s happening as a wine ages?
We all know from experience:

  • Red wines lose colour; whites gain it.
  • Powerful fruit flavours become more subtle and savoury.
  • Acid and tannins fall away. The wine softens.
  • Fruit aromas become more complex as bottle age characters inter-mingle with the slowly declining fruit character.

Wine is complex solution of alcohol, acids, phenolic and flavour compounds.  It’s the chemical interaction of oxygen with polyphenols (tannins, colour pigments and flavour compounds), acids and alcohol in a wine that produce change over time.

Description of how a wine ages can be described in three different ways:

  • The balance or weight between the components changes as they themselves change;
  • A wine’s mouthfeel (front, mid and back palate) changes over time
  • The individual components interact with each other over time.

Tannins & Colour
The phenolic elements in wine come from the grapes – anthocyanins (colour pigments) from the skins, and tannins (structure) from the skins, pips and stalks.

Over time a red wine will lose its brightness.  Vibrant purple and crimson colours become garnet, perhaps with brown hues visible on the rim of a glass.  A white wine first loses its greenish hue that marks it as very young.  The bright straw colour increasingly turns golden.

Some of the phenolic chains become so large they eventually precipitate as sediment.

Acid and tannins act as a preservative, slowing oxidation and decelerating the flavour-changing reactions.  Just as lemon juice keeps cut fruit from browning, acid in wines slows the oxidation process, which means that acidic wines are better candidates for long ageing.

Tannins have an astringent, somewhat bitter taste making your mouth feel dry.  Over time, tannins “soften” because they polymerize forming long chains.  As the tannin molecules lengthen, they feel and taste less harsh – the wine becomes smoother with age.

Generally white wines, being very low in tannins, are less commonly good candidates for ageing.  But acidic varietals such as Semillon and Riesling are exceptions.  Cooler, high altitude regions such as Tumbarumba generally produce white wines with higher acidity which improve its’ longevity.

Note too, that as a wine softens and as the balance between the different components changes (what we refer to as “structure”) and alcohol sometimes increases its prominence in a wine (tasted as increased “heat” on your back palate).

Vine yields also influence a wine’s longevity.  A viticulturalist can manage vines and canopy to produce 10 tonnes to the acre or perhaps just 1 to 2 tonnes/acre.  The vines and grape each compete for nutrition.  A vine cannot bestow ten grape bunches with the same phenolic intensity and richness as it can five.  And so with higher yields, the ratio of polyphenols to juice is reduced.

Vine age is a factor too.  Young vines produce bigger grapes with more juice and thinner skins.  Their roots are more shallow so they suck up more water.  They produce grapes that tend to be less rich in phenolic components.

And as I said in my previous note (https://www.backvintage.com.au/blog/?p=251), oxygen affects the aroma and flavour of wine.  The fruit flavours and nose of a young wine fade and combine with wood and alcohol notes to produce something that’s more savoury.   Over time in a red you’ll get leathery, earthy notes whilst white wines develop nutty, yeast-like flavours.

Even the humble Winemaker has a significant impact on a wine’s longevity.

  • The length and temperature of maceration (when seeds and skins of grapes are left in contact with juice or wine for a longer period of time), during which polyphenols are extracted from the grapes, influences tannins levels – a longer and hotter maceration extracts more tannins and more colour.

You’ll see these terms bandied around:

 Cold Soaking – (typically 12 hours to 5 days) when extended maceration is used on unfermented grape juice.  The cool temperatures keep the juice from fermenting whilst
the skins and seeds macerate in the liquid,
Extended Maceration – maceration is used after the grapes have undergone fermentation (anywhere between 3 and 100 days).  Not only does extended maceration
increase the volume of tannins, it also causes tannin polymerisation, thereby softening the wine and reducing bitterness.

  • Yeasts play a role as they can help to fix (ie prevent from changing) colour.
  • Oak ageing, and particularly the amount of new oak used, is another strong determinant. Oak barrels add tannin, increasing a wine’s resistance to oxidation. The permeability of barrels enables oxygen to interact with the wine, encouraging the tannins and anthocyanins to combine.  This combination process helps to stabilise a wine’s colour and structure.
  • The amount of sulphur dioxide added to the wine makes a difference.  Suphur Dioxide has an antioxidant and antiseptic effect thereby limiting oxidation and eliminating the bacteria that make wines unstable.
  • Over filtration can reduce longevity by reducing solids in the wine.

Hopefully these notes help guide you through the wine “ageing process”.

And my Recommendation?

Find a wine you like.  Buy a case.

Drink a bottle once every 3-6 months and write down your thoughts and tasting notes about the wine each time you drink it. (how to write tasting notes is another future blog).

You’ll soon notice subtle and more substantive changes to the wine over time.

And you can decide when the wine is at its best to drink !

Cheers and good luck,




Click here for an Adobe PDF copy of this article

BackVintage Wines Australia Pty Ltd 2018

August 31st, 2018

Welcome to Wine Notes

Oxidised wine – what is it, how do I detect it?

Oxidisation of wine is one of the most common of wine faults (less so now that we use screw caps as opposed to cork seals of the past).

But that said, isn’t oxygen good for wine?  What about everything we’ve learned about introducing air to the glass (swirling of the wine) to bring out all its deepest, darkest aromas?

Like anything else, too much of a good thing can lead to a demise — yes, even for your favourite bottle.

It’s true – wine does need oxygen.  The whole “let the wine breathe” phrase isn’t nonsense.  Introducing oxygen to a newly opened bottle of wine or a freshly poured glass (hence, why we decant and swirl) is beneficial.  Oxygen allows the aromas in wine to become more present, making it easier to identify what exactly you’re smelling.

The moment that wine encounters oxygen, it begins to open up.

Introduction of oxygen also softens the mouthfeel of wine; this is due to the breaking down of tannins, the cause of that slightly harsh, dry sensation you may feel along your cheeks and tongue.  This practice is extremely beneficial in young reds, especially cabernets whose bright acidity and gripping tannins can seem austere and unpleasant at first.

However, too much oxygen leads to oxidation.   This can happen during the actual winemaking process or even after the wine has been bottled.  Two components of wine, anthocyanins and phenols, are very susceptible to oxidation – all oxygen needs is a catalyst for the reaction to occur.

So what’s the chemistry??
(yup, I completed a BE in Chemical Engineering at Sydney University many moons ago…!)

In simple terms, oxidation is a staged reaction:

Ethanol -> Acetaldehyde (smells like green apples) – > Acetic Acid (vinegar)

So how do I know if my wine is oxidised?
The wine may be slightly brown in colour, with little or no fruit aroma and a lacklustre palate, potentially displaying notes of vinegar.  It may have a woody, toffee-like smell to it.

Bright red colours will have turned brownish-orange.  Fresh tastes develop drier, more bitter characteristics.  The wine’s pigmentation will have decreased and there will be a corresponding loss of aroma and flavour.  And a bad case of oxidation will cause even a white wine to turn brown.

Think of an apple or banana that’s been sliced and left out; the abundance of oxygen causes the flesh to brown, the aromas to dissipate and the flavours to disappear.  Wine is no different.

Incidentally, white wine is much more susceptible to oxidisation than a red, because reds have higher tannin levels which act as a buffer.

Last but not least, once a wine is oxidised, the only place for it is in the sink – oxidisation cannot be reversed.

Click here for an Adobe PDF copy of this article

BackVintage Wines Australia Pty Ltd


December 9th, 2015

Stanton & Killeen Oak Barrel and Rutherglen Muscat Promotion Winner


Congratulations to Graham Porter from Resolution Marketing for winning our fabulous Stanton & Killeen Oak Barrel and Rutherglen Muscat Competition. Graham will receive a beautifully crafted Oak Barrel filled to the brim with 15 litres of Stanton & Killeen Rutherglen Muscat. Well done Graham, and enjoy your prize!

November 10th, 2015

What, or who, is Brett and what is he doing in my wine?

Written by Nick Bulleid MW

I recently attended a wine tasting with a work colleague who is, I believe, quite knowledgeable about wine. Some of the reds that I liked, he said had Brett in them(?). Judging from his reaction I took this to be a fault. What, or who, is Brett and what is he doing in my wine? Am I wrong, (or worse, uncultured), for liking some of these wines?

A. A good question and a very timely one!

Brett is short for Brettanomyces, a yeast that is present on grapes and in many wineries. (Strictly, it should be referred to as Dekkera.)

We use yeasts to ferment our grapes into wine and produce the carbon dioxide to make our bread rise. In most cases we use yeast strains which have been selected as quick, strong fermenters, but there are many yeasts occurring naturally which have many different characteristics, not all of them desirable. Brett is one of these. It’s a weak fermenter, but is able to use the very low concentrations of sugar that sometimes remain in our wines – principally in reds. Brett produces a variety of by-products, the most widely recognised being a compound known as 4-EP, which has a smell described as horsy, Band Aid® or earthy. Another is 4-EG, which has a smoky, clove-like smell and is related to the compounds responsible for the charred oak smell in wine and for the smoky taint found in wines made from grapes affected by bush fires. Both compounds also give a gritty, dry, metallic edge to the tannins in red wines.

Almost all red wines contain these compounds, particularly those matured in oak barrels, but the concentrations are usually below our threshold of detection. However, we all vary in our sensitivity to various smells and tastes. In my classes with winemakers at Charles Sturt University, I have seen some people reel away from Brett-affected wines while other, equally experienced, tasters haven’t seen what the fuss was about.

I’m only moderately sensitive to Brett myself and quite like the complexity it brings to wine at very low levels although, equally, I’m disgusted by it when it’s more obvious. Red wines from Bordeaux, the Rhône Valley and, in the past, the Hunter Valley and Italy have tended to have more noticeable Brett, and one high-profile Californian winemaker deliberately used it for complexity, which I think too dangerous. Good cellar hygiene and sound winemaking usually keeps Brett taint to below the limits of detection, but occasionally any winemaker gets a surprise.

You may find that you recognise Brett more readily in future with more frequent exposure, but this isn’t necessarily the point. As consumers, we all differ in our likes, dislikes and sensitivities in our food and beverages and, provided the characteristic doesn’t injure us – which Brett won’t – it probably doesn’t matter. This is the full text of the article submitted. The published version may have been edited. Australian Wine Selectors Winter 2006.

October 8th, 2015

Anyone for a rosé?

With summer fast approaching it’s time to switch from reds to whites, or is it? Anyone for a rosé?

What is Rosé?

A common myth is that rosé is made by mixing white and red wine, however this practice has been outlawed in many countries and is not seen in Australia. Rosé is made by leaving the juice from red grapes in contact with the skin for a short period of time, imparting a pink colour and lovely red berry flavours. It is then finished like a white wine to preserve the fruit flavours and freshness. The result is a wine that has the ripe red fruit aromas of a red wine with the delicate flavours and crisp acidity of a white.

When should I drink Rosé?

Rosé is a very versatile style that can be enjoyed on many different occasions. The fresh flavours and crisp acidity combined with the typical lower alcohol levels of rosé make it the perfect summer drink to share over lunch with friends. It can be matched with anything from pasta, fish, white meat, red meats and even cheese.

Try it with pan seared tuna salad with citrus dijon vinaigrette

To make the vinaigrette whisk even parts of olive oil, lemon juice, orange juice, dijon mustard and white balsamic vinegar. Toss salad greens, carrots (thinly sliced) and green onions (thinly sliced) in the vinaigrette. Coat tuna in olive oil and sear on both sides. Serve your tuna on a bed of salad with a chilled glass of BackVintage Central Ranges Rosé.

September 9th, 2015

Ageing wine under screwcap compared to cork

Written by Nick Bulleid MW

In this edition of Ask the MW, Nick Bulleid MW looks into the ageing process of wines stored under screwcap compared to wines sealed with natural cork.


Cork allows oxygen to enter into a wine bottle and the amount varies from very high to low. This means that wines sealed with cork will age over time in a different manner from bottle to bottle. Do wines sealed with a screwcap allow oxygen into the bottle? Does this assist the ageing process or do screwcap wines retain their closed character?

You are quite correct that a cork closure allows a variable amount of oxygen to enter the bottle. (Occasionally, it’s variations in the bottle’s bore that allows the variability, but usually it’s the cork.) Screwcaps do allow oxygen in, too, but at a rate that’s much lower, and closer to the lowest transmission of “best” corks. Unlike cork, however, the rate differs little between bottles, provided the cap hasn’t been damaged. The consequence is that wines in screwcapped bottles develop at about the same rate as the freshest or slowest of the batch under cork.

However, there are many who believe that wine develops perfectly without oxygen, including Prof. Pascal Ribereau-Gayon at Bordeaux University, who has stated, “The evolution of a wine doesn’t require oxygen. The wine develops its own organoleptic capacity in a reductive environment where it acquires superior quality characteristics.”

I’m not sure what you mean by “closed character”, but there are distinct differences in the way wines age under the two closures. In my experience, whites retain more fresh fruit under screwcap, while still acquiring complex developed flavours. There’s less “toast” and also none of the slightly oak-like flavour that you get from the cork, commonly called “cork-wood”. I have not come across sporadic oxidation in screwcapped whites, this being the huge variation in development under cork, from “fresh” through “developed” to “oxidised” in the same carton. I think screwcaps are the perfect closure for whites.

With reds, the case is less clear as it depends on what you want from your wines. If you want to drink your reds with complex, developed flavours and not have to wait too long, then go for cork, but you had better be prepared for bottle variation, including some dullness and the odd oxidised bottle. If you want the most consistent aging and are prepared to wait, go for screwcap. The flavours will be fresher and more intense, but the complexity will also be there given time. With very big reds made for long ageing, the tannins may be a little tough at young age, depending on how the wine has been prepared for bottling.

Don’t be concerned about what you might read of reductive pongs under screwcap. The issue has been overstated and, besides, these are often present with cork, too.

When referring to “cork” I’ve meant natural cork. However, the new technical corks, made from fine fragments moulded together under pressure, seem to be excellent – more consistent than natural cork and almost entirely free of cork taint.

This is the full text of the article submitted. The published version may have been edited. Australian Wine Selectors January 2007.

August 10th, 2015

What’s the difference between Barossa Valley Shiraz and McLaren Vale Shiraz?

Written by Michael Dijkstra

The first post in a new series ‘What’s the difference between’ looks at the two big players in Australian Shiraz: The Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale.

They are always side by side in the bottle shop and for most people it’s hard to know what the difference is—ultimately it comes down to personal preference but knowing the regional characteristics of each can assist your wine buying decision.


The big difference between the two regions is the climate. The Barossa Valley is a Continental Climate and therefore experiences great weather extremes—cold winters and long hot summer days. McLaren Vale on the other hand is a Mediterranean climate. It has a more moderate temperature with a warmer, wetter winter and a hot dry summer. Being situated near the coast and the Mt Lofty Ranges, McLaren Vale also experiences cool gusts of wind in the evening and early mornings.

Barossa Valley Shiraz

Overall the more extreme summer temperatures (and more sunshine hours) that the Barossa experiences results in full bodied wines which are generously flavoured. The typical flavours are dark berry fruits (blackberry) with rich dark chocolate. The juicy berry fruit and depth of flavour that you find in a Barossa Shiraz is unmatched by other Shiraz wine growing regions. In pursuit of picking wines at optimum ripeness (fruit and tannin) the long hot summer days often result in wines with high alcohol (15%).

McLaren Vale Shiraz

The Mediteranian climate of McLaren Vale results in soft wines that develop rich red berry flavours (raspberry and cherry) accompanied by black pepper and spice (nutmeg and cloves). The cooler nights protect the grapes and allows the wines to develop great acidity and structure. McLaren Vale produces very approachable Shiraz wines and the complexity of pepper and spice makes them unique. Overall they are slightly more subdued than a big Barossa, saying that you can find plenty of big McLaren Vale Shiraz wines.

The Difference

The Barossa produces generous wines with juicy fruit and unmatched depth and length. These are big wines and you often need to accompany them with food to get through the whole bottle.

McLaren Vale produces softer, more approachable wines with great fruit intensity and spicy complexity. Whenever we throw a cocktail party McLaren Vale Shiraz is always our go–to wine (they just go down so easy).

An afterthought…

Keep in mind that the soil, altitude and the slope of the vineyard a wine comes from will of course have a great affect on the style and flavours. Each wine you drink will be a reflection of the site it has been grown on.

July 11th, 2015

What is Terroir, Really?

Written by Nick Bulleid MW

When a tree falls in the forest, and there is no-one there to hear it, does it make a sound?

There would be few people now who doubt the influence of terroir on wine. After initially condemning it as European mumbo-jumbo, even the New World now accepts the concept, and it would be foolish not to. After all, the proposal that the character of a wine will be a reflection of where the grapes were grown is hardly remarkable. But what exactly terroir is and the role it plays, or is allowed to play, remains divisive. Wines at the recent Frankland Estate International Riesling Tasting (FEIRT) posed many questions but provided little unanimity.

Every wine demonstrates terroir – to an extent. Even Jacob’s Creek and Bin 65 speak of where they come from – warm areas in Australia. Local regional or site differences may have been lost in the blending – and who cares? – but they are still what they are, warm area Australian wines.

In Australia, we commonly think of terroir as an expression of broad inter-regional differences, where climate is the main determinant. Not so in Europe, however, where terroir is more often used to express the differences between neighbouring sites. At this level, the broader climate is a given, and soil, aspect and local climatic differences play the major role. It was these differences, and the ways in which they were expressed in the wines, that were the basis of discussion at FEIRT.

When European winemakers speak of terroir, however, they generally avoid discussion of two issues, management in the vineyard and intervention in the winery. Do these complement terroir or destroy it? Does carting the eroded topsoil back up the slope of your Rhône Valley vineyard maintain the natural terroir or interfere with a natural process? Does trucking in river gravel to embellish the soil surface of your Médoc vineyard simply maximise an existing soil characteristic, or is it subversive terroirism? And in the winery, when should the winemaker intervene? If a wine is so volatile or oxidised, through poor control of ullage or lack of SO2, that you cannot taste its characteristics, how can it express terroir?

Germany is currently rediscovering its terroir; perhaps “discovering how to express its terroir” would be a better description. German wine has been going through an upheaval. The 1970 Wine Law promoted an over-reliance on the oechsle scale – the sweetness of the must – and, in a falsely egalitarian way, suggested that all vineyards were, at least potentially, equal. Not only was the importance of site disregarded, the Law actually created grosslagen, local regional descriptors, which masqueraded as vineyards. German wine gradually became damned in the public’s eyes as being entirely lolly-water Liebfraumilch – sweet, simple and the same.

However, since 1980, the top producers have been looking for a way out of the mire and this has led, amongst other moves, to the founding of the VDP (Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweinguter). This group of the top 200 growers has promoted a range of measures to encourage quality and promote fidelity to site. This has involved lower yields and mostly drier wine styles. In 2002 the VDP published its own unofficial vineyard classification which identified its greatest sites – Erstes Gewächs and Grosses Gewächs – many of which had been recognised for hundreds of years, as had those in Burgundy.

But how do you best express the terroir of these great sites? German winemaking is in a considerable state of flux, as each producer tries to find how best to bring out the characteristics he or she wants from the fruit. Long skin contact, oxidative (rather than protective) handling, spontaneous fermentations (which may last for three to four months), malolactics, long ageing on yeast lees etc. etc. are all being tried. Superimpose these on a wine of 13 to 14% alcohol, and you can understand that there are some pretty powerful Rieslings out there, a big contrast to 8% Liebfraumilch. But do these wines truly express terroir? What is the level of winemaker intervention that best allows the wines to speak of their origin?

Two groups of Rieslings from Ernst Loosen each showed dramatic differences across different vineyards. The first were three Spätlese trockens from the Pfalz in 2004. These were made in what you would call the modern Pfalz style – wines picked late, with around 13% potential alcohol and then fermented largely dry. (Trocken requires the wine to be less than 9 g/l of residual sugar.) The wine from the Pechstein vineyard was the most floral of the three, with lime aromas and a very fine palate, a relatively light body and tight acidity. Ungeheuer was fuller on the nose, with stonefruit characters, a rounder fuller body and slightly softer acidity. Jesuitengarten was a little more subdued on nose, albeit still intense, yet had the broadest palate, with great body and texture. These three vineyards all lie within the village of Wachenheim and could be enclosed within a circle of 600 metres, and yet the wines were utterly different.

The second group was from the Mosel, all again from 2004 and all auslesen in the traditional Mosel style – that is, around 8% alcohol with a substantial level of residual sugar – over 70 g/l – and yet tasting only semi-sweet. Wehlener Sonnenuhr was limey and very delicate, with outstanding length. Ürziger Würzgarten was intensely limey and floral, with more fullness than the Wehlen wine. Erdener Prälat, from a very individual site warmed by overhanging rock outcrops, was by far the fullest of the three, with a softer, rounder palate. These three vineyards are all on the Middle Mosel and about 3km apart.

Now all these wines had been made in a manner which the U.K. press would patronisingly call “squeaky-clean winemaking” – grapes pressed with no more than minimal skin contact and with reductive handling, juice cold-settled, perhaps filtered, ultra-bright juice fermented cold with a cultured yeast. After fermentation, the wine cleaned up early after short yeast lees contact and bottled early. The wines within the two groups had been made in the same way and yet each showed absolutely different characteristics. All showed pure primary fruit, each different in character from the other two and with a contrasting structure, and with no sulfide, VA or obtrusive secondary characters to get in the way. What better way to observe differences in terroir?

Other wines showed mixed results from various winemaking methods – Nonnberg from Robert Flick (skin contact and long ferment) was excellent; Lurentiuslay from Nik Wells (3-4 month ferment) was sulfidic and bitter; Morstein of Philip Wittmann (skin contact, natural ferment often well into the following year, maturation in old casks) was clean, intense and soft. All were from the 2004 vintage. (Other wines mostly showed their flavours and structure well, while a small number had sulfide and/or bitter phenolics, but I have no winemaking information for them.)

At the previous Sydney FEIRT, in 2002, I tasted six wines from Heymann-Löwenstein, in the lower Mosel, all from the 2000 vintage. Reinhard Löwenstein has been a very influential winemaker, championing lower yields, skin contact, low-intervention winemaking and drier wine styles, with commensurately higher alcohol, typically around 12%. He has been described by the erudite Stuart Pigott as “A blend of philosopher, country-boy, one-man show, wine-freak, entrepreneur and salesman, a rarity on the German wine scene.” – clearly the sort of person German wine needs at present. Löwenstein explained that Heymann-Löwenstein were “Not taste producers.” Nor did they manipulate wines with acid or sugar. Instead they favoured a “communication of terroir”.

I found the wines uneven. The Kirchberg, off red slate and a first growth vineyard, was intense and tight, with good acidity and floral and lemon fruit characters – an excellent wine. Von blauen Schiefer, off blue slate, was distinctly different – fuller, rounder and more tropical – another attractive wine. However, any comparison of these with Röttgen and Uhlen was rendered difficult by the high levels of sulfide in the wines, the former also showing strong bitterness from phenolics. Schieferterrassen also showed phenolic bitterness. Didn’t this concern him, I asked after the tasting? He shrugged his shoulders. “It’s the terroir”, he said, in effect. “I don’t like to interfere.” It’s worth adding that most of these wines come from vineyards which are terraced, to overcome the steepness of the slopes. Does terracing a vineyard constitute interference with terroir, or is it allowing terroir to speak?

If a vineyard tends to produce sulfidic wines because of nitrogen deficiencies, should a winemaker (or, better still, a vineyard manager) correct it? In the past, many Chablis – often Grands Crus – Hunter Valley Shiraz and McLaren Vale Shiraz smelt strongly of sulfide. Was this part of regional character or did it confound it? Surely, wine’s sense of place speaks through its fruit flavours and structure, not through a selection of secondary characters or, worse, faults.

Several of the winemakers at this year’s FEIRT voiced the opinion that, after the eight or 10 years bottle-age that their Rieslings needed to reach their best, all the eccentricities of sulfide, phenolic grip and so on would have dissipated, allowing the true characteristics of terroir to be seen. But hang on, guys! Weren’t these terroir differences clearly seen in the Loosen and J.L.Wolf wines at the age of one year? What’s more, Loosen wines back to 1988 at the FEIRT tastings have opened brilliantly, demonstrating the characteristics of their origin, and have clearly not suffered from “squeaky-clean” winemaking.

So where does that leave winemaker intervention? Who has intervened more, the winemaker who ferments clean juice or the one who allows calculated skin contact and ferments on solids? The winemaker who deliberately uses a neutral yeast culture or the one who allows wild yeast fermentation (whatever that means)? The winemaker who deals with what he or she perceives as blemishes as they arise, or the one who is happy to let the wine run its course? Many wine flavours are derived from flavourless precursors in the grapes that are converted to aroma compounds during fermentation, so it’s inevitable that even minor decisions by the winemaker can change the way those terroir-derived flavours are expressed.

Ultimately, every single decision a winemaker makes – time of picking, choice of winery equipment, SO2 concentration, time of racking and bottling – is an intervention. Ultimately, those who are able to make the decisions that best demonstrate the characteristics of their wine’s terroir will be those who get recognition, success and will continue to prosper.

The forest is always there. So is the terroir, but no-one can taste it until the winemaker is heard.

This article was written by Nick Bulleid MW.
This is the full text of the article submitted. The published version may have been edited. WBM May 2006.

June 8th, 2015

What is a Master of Wine

Written by Nick Bulleid MW

Every BackVintage wine is independently selected and endorsed by Master of Wine, Nick Bulleid—but what is a Master of Wine?

Master of Wine is a qualification issued by The Institute of Masters of Wine in the UK. Although it is not an academic degree it is highly regarded in the wine world.

To become a Master of Wine you must pass the rigorous examinations which are designed allow you to prove you have a very high degree of practical and theoretical knowledge and understanding of the wines of the world. Currently the exam consists of three parts:

  • Theory: four exams covering viticulture, winemaking, the business of wine and contemporary issues.
  • Practical: three blind tastings of 12 wines each where every wine must be assessed for variety, origin, winemaking, quality and style.
  • Dissertation: a ten thousand word original study, relevant to the wine industry.

Once a candidate has passed the rigorous Master of Wine exams they are allowed to use the abbreviated MW at the end of their name. Currently there are only 339 Masters of Wine globally, and only 23 Masters of Wine in Australia.

The benefit of having a Master of Wine selecting and endorsing each of our wines is that you can buy wine risk free. Nick Bulleid MW assess each wine we sell to ensure it truly represents the region it is grown from, great quality and most importantly value for money. Nick is often visiting the wine regions of Australia consulting and assessing wines, so with him signing off on every wine we sell we can be sure we’ve always picked a winner. If Nick doesn’t approve the wine then we won’t sell it. It’s that simple.

The next time you are reading your favourite wine reviewers column, have a look at their name and see if they have an MW at the end. Are you getting advice from someone regarded as one of the elite in the wine world?

May 9th, 2015

Why am I allergic to some wines??

Written by Nick Bulleid MW

In this edition of Ask the MW, Nick Bulleid MW explains the types of additives and allergies associated with wine.


Hi Nick,

I have loved wine for most of my adult life (most particularly Clare reislings and Hunter shiraz) and have lately developed allergies that have an effect on my sinuses and skin. For some reason, white wines now tend to effect me less than reds. Why is this so? Also, I have to really watch what is in the wine and now take more notice of what is written on the label. I now read things like “contains preservative 220” and “produced with by-products” but have little understanding of what that will mean for me. Can you please demystify what additives are used in wine?

The issue of allergies is a very complex one and requires more space than I am able to use. Here is a brief explanation before I refer you elsewhere…

Firstly preservatives. In wine, this almost invariably means sulfur dioxide (SO2) and its related compounds, commonly referred to on labels as 220 and 224. SO2 has been used in most wines for hundreds of years, although it has only been since the 1980s that Australian wine labels must mention it, if used. It’s also used in other foods, such as take-away fruit salads and dried apricots. At the levels used, it does not cause problems unless an individual is particularly sensitive or is a severe asthmatic. Cask wines generally have higher levels than bottled wines and, amongst these, whites are higher than reds and young wines higher than old. If reds seem to be causing you greater problems than whites, SO2 is unlikely to be the cause.

Additives and by-products are used to improve wine balance and stability but don’t usually remain in the wine. For instance, a little egg white or milk is often used to reduce the rougher texture that tannins from grape skins and seeds can give a wine. The additive either settles or is filtered out before the wine is bottled, but the label should indicate it has been used if the winemaker thinks a trace may remain. This is why you may see references to milk or nut products on labels. Again, most of these have been used for hundreds of years and so are unlikely to be the cause of your recent problems.

Naturally occurring compounds called histamines have sometimes been implicated in people’s reactions against wine. While these may be present, they are at lower concentration in wine than in many foods, such as cheese, dates, bananas, eggplant and fish. Reds are often believed to have higher concentrations than whites, which may be suggestive in your case, but this is not necessarily the case. In any event, it is unlikely that all reds would affect you equally.

Our reactions to various things we contact, including foodstuffs, change with time. A past research colleague of mine had to change his job because he suddenly became sensitive to the laboratory rats he used to handle every day. In the last few years, I’ve found I have a reaction to eggplant, with my tongue burning slightly (which hasn’t stopped me eating it!). It is possible that there are naturally occurring components of some wines that are affecting you and it will be difficult to identify which these are without some trial-and-error. You may find some grape varieties affect you differently, for instance.

I hope you find a solution.

This is the full text of the article submitted. The published version may have been edited. Australian Wine Selector Special Winter Edition 2006.