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2003 Alice White Shiraz, South Eastern Australia

This is my entry for WBW3, the third Wine Blogging Wednesday event online, where folks who have blogs all drink and review wines on the same day. This month's event is being hosted by Seattle Bon Vivant, so visit with her in the next couple of days for a complete listing of all the participants.

For last month's event, I drank a pricey, critically acclaimed, upper echelon wine. This month I'm doing the opposite. However, I was unable to get my (lazy) hands on a bottle of Yellow Tail Shiraz which is what I wanted to review. I know, I know! The stuff is everywhere, but today it wasn't at my local grocery store. I wanted to review it and talk about how their massive marketing and advertising campaigns related to the quality of the wine. Instead, however, I ended up with this bottle of Alice White Shiraz, and instead of a lesson about marketing, this entry is going to be about how to be an intelligent wine consumer, even if you're buying wines under ten bucks.

Don't just pick your wine by the label. I did.

Listen, I do this sometimes, like everyone else. We tend to think that most wines under ten bucks at the grocery store are sort of all alike, and therefore we just pick something that looks interesting, which means basically the one whose label catches our eye. This wine of mine has an appealing label with a nice blocky red pattern, and look it's got little kangaroos, too! alice.white.jpg While it's fine to reach out and reward an innovative firm by placing a nicely designed bottle in your basket, there's something you MUST do first.

I want you to read the label. Yes really read it, front and back. I didn't, and suffered the consequences.

Let's take a look at Alice's label shall we? We've already established that it looks nice. And here it says on the front Shiraz, South Eastern Australia.

This is your first critical judgment. Do you know where South Eastern Australia is? Have you heard of it before, sort of in the same way that you have heard of Napa or other regions like that?

In this case, the answer is definitely NO. You may understand what the words "south" "east" and "Australia" mean, but you have not heard of a winegrowing region called that. Saying a wine comes from South Eastern Australia is like saying a wine comes from The Southwest. We have really no idea where these grapes are from. OK. Our suspicions should be raised.

Turn the bottle around and see what they have to say about this wine. In our case we've actually got a cool little story about Nick the safari guide and Alice crossing a river with Crocodiles. Great stuff. I love the idea of injecting humor into the wine business. It's even got a website for you to visit to continue Alice's adventures. Excellent marketing, great attempt to make a connection with the consumer.

But down there below that, there are a couple of very telling words. These are words that should be paid attention to. No, not "ACCORDING TO THE SURGEON GENERAL..." above that:

Imported by Alice White. Gonzales,CA. Bottled By Alice White. Woodbridge, CA.

This is not real Australian Shiraz. Sure, sure, it is made, per U.S. Law, from no less than 75% Shiraz, and those grapes have come from somewhere in the half a million square miles that make up South Eastern Australia, but think about what actually happened to them in order for them to end up in the bottle that I'm holding here.

If we're lucky these unfortunate grapes were actually made into wine back in Australia. But we have no way of knowing. If we are lucky, they were shipped in temperature controlled, very expensive storage containers on boats over here to California. But we have no way of knowing. alice.white.cork.jpg If we are lucky those containers were bottled right away in sanitary conditions without sitting in the hot sun or without being treated by all sorts of chemicals. But we have no way of knowing.

Wine is very fragile. This wine is made in a way that maximizes the potential for spoilage and mediocrity, and even though it is six dollars a bottle, there were other choices that were much more likely to be better at the same price point. So please. Read. The. Label. You don't need to know much, just what I've taught you in the last few hundred words. Be suspicious. This isn't about being a wine snob, its about being smart about what you buy. If you don't, you might just end up with this:

Tasting Notes:
This wine is a medium garnet in color and has aromas of wood and alcohol. There's a tiny hint of some red fruit like cherry in there, but it is masked in the wood and light aroma of ethylene. In the mouth it is flat with flavors that are thin and watery but definitely cherry and plum flavored. Almost all of the varietal characteristics of the Syrah/Shiraz grape have been stripped or beaten out of this wine. I'm highly suspicious that it's even 100% Syrah. It tastes too much like merlot to me. The one aspect of the varietal that even makes a showing is a slight spicy peppery note on the drearily short finish.

Food Pairing:
I would suggest that if you're going to drink this wine, which you shouldn't, that you pair it with pork or beef that has a rich red sauce or spicy element to it.

Overall Score: 6

How Much?: $5.99

This wine can be purchased in most major grocery stores.

Comments (16)

11.03.04 at 9:14 PM

Sorry it was so disappointing, but what a great way to turn it into an educational opportunity! Bravo!

11.04.04 at 9:03 AM

thank you so much.
I am such a sucker for stylish pretty things and I am sure i am very guilty of being seduced by a label many more times than once. But as I am still in the learning stages of slightly more serious wine appreciation your tips are going to be of a great help to me.
Great angle!

Lenn wrote:
11.04.04 at 10:50 AM

Alder...BRAVO. What a great post...of course now I need to go home and read my bottle of the Little Penguin more closely.

I do know that it's from South Eastern Australia too...DAMN...how did I miss what that meant?

I'd still love to see you review Yellow Tail...pick some up sometime!

bonnie wrote:
11.05.04 at 8:25 AM

Cute cork!
We're all a bit wiser now...thanks!

rick wrote:
11.09.04 at 5:42 PM

Ha, South East Australia good point, what is that? When I see that I just think "Victoria" but obviously they would call it Victoria if they could. Your analogy of a US wine from "the southwest" is perfect.

Beware South East Australia! I can't wait to see a wine from "the Outback"...

Mike Smith wrote:
11.18.04 at 5:00 AM

South East Australia is not the way Aussie wines should be designated. You ought to be looking for a region like Barossa, Clare Valley, Padthaway. Ok, they are all in South Australia (which is the name of the state) - call me biased, that's where I come from!
This link references a lot of the regions.

Warren Davis wrote:
01.05.05 at 10:48 AM

Interesting report, but I must say that our party of three thoroughly enjoyed the wine. We had it at one of Philadelphia's finest restaurants, and they decanted and breathed it first, and that might have helped. It made a lively accompaniment to beef and veal dishes, and we enjoyed a second bottle. We drink a lot of shiraz, and found one this rates very well, at a good price.

Alder wrote:
01.05.05 at 11:09 AM

Thanks for the comment. I'm frankly shocked that a restaurant that you describe as one of Philadelphia's finest has a $6 a bottle Shiraz on their wine list. Regardless, I'm glad you enjoyed the wine, and if it was the same one I disliked so much, well, that's OK -- I'm just one opinion.

Rosemary McDaniel wrote:
02.15.05 at 5:29 AM

I haven't tried the shiraz, but you might want to give the Alice White lexia a try. Very pleasant to my taste buds.

ezdraft wrote:
06.28.05 at 1:41 PM

This is a good everyday wine, not the best but good taste and cheap.

Alder wrote:
06.28.05 at 1:51 PM

I beg to differ.

Roger wrote:
08.11.05 at 10:56 AM

hi, good points made in the review, and fair responses to comments. you make a valid point about the generic region tag, but I guess the reason they aren't more specific is the lack of Austalian regional knowledge in the major target markets. how many people who buy $7 wine know where and what the different Australian regions are? I must say that I've enjoyed many bottles of Kangaroo Ridge, mainly their Shiraz and Cab/Sav, which also comes with a "South Eastern Australia" tag. it's decent stuff, especially considering the price of around USD 7 per bottle.
anyways, keep up your wine blog, it's great for expanding my wine horizons!


Alder wrote:
08.11.05 at 12:55 PM

Actually Roger, the reason they aren't more specific on the label has nothing to do with the knowledge of their target consumers. Winemakers in Australia are governed by similar laws to the US and France, which dictate how wine must be labeled as to its place of origin. This wine CAN'T be labeled as anything other than South Eastern Australia because it does not contain enough grapes (by volume) from any single appellation (e.g. Barossa or Victoria), OR it does not contain grapes from ANY specific appellation (i.e. it is made from grapes grown outside all the major appellations).

Colleen Riggs wrote:
12.02.05 at 11:50 PM

I watched the commercial on tv one day and thought that it was interesting. and i could have sworn out of the corner of my eye i saw woodbridge, ca at the bottom corner, the only reason is because i live in woodbridge, ca. but the commercial claimed it was australian wine. so i saw the commercial again sure enough my eyes had not decieved me. so i bought a bottle, what a disappointment. despite the cheap price, it wasnt really worth the $6 i paid. not smooth at all, maybe with a few years of ageing it could improve but who knows. i still want to know where the winery is...

BoxWineGuy wrote:
02.04.06 at 7:57 PM

I just tried the 2005 vintage... cost a whole five bucks on sale. On first tasting, it was a bit thin and harsh. Oddly, after breathing for a while and sitting in a partially consumed bottle for a day, it developed a nice berry/plum jamminess and became noticeably smoother. By the time I drank the last glass, it was quite acceptable for the price.

Debbie wrote:
05.13.10 at 9:46 PM

We had a bottle of Alice White Merlot 2009, unfortunately, prior to reading your blog. Our first impression is that the kangaroo looked like a penguin. We were also confused as to why alice White was a Red wine. However, the bigggest concern is that it seemed to have been made from frozen grape concentrate shipped in the hold of an oil tanker and then reconstituted with selze water in someone's swimming pool in California. It was ok as a fourth bottle of wine with pizza, esp. since we got it at a Shell station for $5.

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