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5.0 out of 5 stars Vin Extra-Ordinaire, 8 May 2003
This review is from: Australia's Liquid Gold (Mitchell Beazley Classic Wine Library) (Paperback)
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"Liquid Gold" will become the essential text for anybody wanting to gain a detailed understanding of Australian wine. It looks closely at the history of our industry and the trail-blazing vignerons who have elevated our wine to world-class status. Nicholas Faith's thesis is that Australians have underplayed the importance of "regionalism". He then demonstrates that each Australian wine district has very distinctive and attractive attributes.
Faith is an Englishman, so the book is written from an outsider's perspective. However, his expert credentials are undoubted with Faith having made his name as author of The Winemasters, the classic study of Bordeaux. The history of the Australian wine scene is covered elsewhere in more detail by other authors, but Faith has put the last 200 years of development in a very relevant, topical and balanced context. Although not stressed by Faith, he reminds us there are now dynastic Australian wine families eg the Smiths and Wynns, with up to five generations of viticultural, oenological and wine marketing skills behind them. Interestingly, members of these families are still at the cutting edge of wine innovation.
Faith looks at the very topical issue of the two opposing trends in our industry. With the recent large-scale mergers and international rationalisations eg Rosemount/Penfolds and Hardys/Constellation— there is a risk that Australian wine making will become "commodified". Some critics (particularly the French) argue that industrial scale wine production (even at a high technical standard) leads to bland and characterless wine. The discounting power of supermarket's liquor buyers, and the squeeze they are putting on the growers and winemakers (both large and small) is seen as the biggest threat to our industry's continued success.
Thankfully, there are still the innovative smaller-scale producers who are prepared to experiment and "push the envelope" when it comes to making their vines and wines sing and dance for our pleasure. Optimistically, it is the increasingly important role of estate-grown (individual vineyard) and "hand-made" wines that will ensure Australian producers will continue to carve out valuable niches at the premium end of the market
A close reading of the book reveals a few annoying typos and oversights. One example is the name of Penfold's former Chief Viticulturist in South Australia: David Murdock. Faith spells it Murdoch.
Late in the book, he tells us that the Margaret River region of Western Australia is the only region in the world that was recommended geologically as having soil-types suitable for wine-grape growing — this was before the first vine was planted. However, in an earlier chapter we are told that the founders of the Barossa Valley region in South Australia in the 1830s also consulted a mineralogist before committing to their vineyard plantings. In both cases, a good dose of science lies beneath the success of these wine regions.
One remarkable aspect of both the earliest and current generation of Australian vignerons is the large number of medical doctors who were (and still are) involved in the wine scene. Faith tells us about the pragmatic and pioneering doctors of the 1800s who grew grapes and recommended wine as a health-giving tonic. The modern generation of winemaking medicos seems to be more inspired by the need for relief from the pain of taxation. Either way the restorative power of Australian wine is firmly based.
When you finish reading "Liquid Gold" you will be obliged to lift a glass and thank Mr Faith for writing such an informative and entertaining book. Cheers.
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