Archive for June, 2011

secret revealed about back vintage fizz

secret revealed about back vintage fizz

June 30, 2011  |  life, wine review  |  1 Comment

I’ve been reluctant to write about the Back Vintage Chardonnay Pinot Cuvee Brut bottle fermented sparkling wine, for fear of affecting the continuous supply. However, I’m assured that there’s plenty for all, so here we go.

We discovered this amazing value wine about 3 years ago and successive batches (suspect they are always a blend of vintages) have been consistently good, despite sourcing fruit from different cool climate areas. The current offer is a blend of chardonnay (56%) and Pinot Noir (49%) – the classical champagne varieties – from the King and Ovens Valleys in north east Victoria.

Back Vintage simply offers great wines at low prices. Julian Todd has developed a business without a middleman that is starting to be a burr under the saddle of Woolworths and Coles, who continue to bolt on liquor businesses (How does this happen ACCC?). One of the smartest moves by Julian was to engage Nick Bullied MW, to select and endorse all wines that are blended, bottled and sold under the Back Vintage brand. Bullied targets the best varietal – regional marriages and works to the target price point of $12.99 a bottle. The results have been stunning. Check the website and browse for yourself.

The current offering is mainly from the 2008 Vintage, Serve this wine masked against Croser, Salinger, Yarra Burn, Brown Brothers and Jansz and you might get a big surprise. Our guests over the years have been astonished by the quality, and many have become regular consumers. Now the secret is out!

My tasting notes include comments like, “clean dry, fresh with some complexity”. The wine rested on yeast lees for 18 months (how can they sell it for $12.99?) with attractive bread on the nose and clean apple and pear fruit towards the finish. My three daughters and wife have become known as the “fizz sisters” because whenever they get together, I need to restock this wine. They love it, as do I. 12.0% alcohol and rated an amazing 92/100. Get some today.

climate change attitudes part two

climate change attitudes part two

Encouraged by responses to my blog post last week on the role of ideology in driving opinions on climate change, I feel the need to follow up with another post based on the release of Lowy polling over the weekend. Why does community concern about climate changed appeared to have softened in Australia?

The annual Lowy Institute Polls on public opinion are useful background information. In the 2007 poll, Australians ranked tackling climate change as the equal most important foreign policy goal. In the same poll in 2009, it ranked seventh out of ten possible goals.  In the 2011 poll, released this week, 39% of Australians were not prepared to spend a cent on global warming, with the numbers prepared to take action even with “significant cost” falling from 60% (2008), to 41% (2011). What’s happened?

Remember the Howard Government’s plans to commence an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) in 2007? Despite differences of opinion around the edges, there appeared to be general bipartisan recognition of the issues and the need to act through a market based mechanism. It was carried forward by Rudd and Turnbull in their respective leadership roles. What has changed? In my view, it’s mostly to do with politics and communication.

Although climate change remains a complex and challenging issue around the world, in Australia and to a certain extent in the USA, the debate has been politicised and people’s inner worldview, and the opinions of their peer groups has prevailed. Apart from some of independent thought, people have now tended to line up along traditional conservative and progressive lines. The other driver of confusion, indifference and resistance has been the inability of the Rudd and Gillard Governments to adequately articulate the issues and the case for action – a disappointing lost opportunity for the Government and Australia.

Why have things become more politicised in recent times? In my blog post last week, I discussed the reasons why many conservatives may push back from acceptance of, and the need to act on, Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW).The theme I didn’t develop is the disproportionate influence of the religious right, many of whom adopt literal interpretations of the bible such as, “the world will end when God is ready”. It underpins the mindsets of many in the Tea Party in the USA and conservatives in Australia with strong influence. It is proving to be a significant contributor to the polarisation and politicisation of the issue.

Other contributors are some of the positions offered by the “dark greens”, who tend to crusade on issues rather than see them in the context of a dynamic and finely balanced economy. This causes reactions, push back and further polarisation. We need to understand the respective positions, debate the issues, play the ball not the man and work together with open minds. Failure to do so will cause more and more people to switch off altogether.

Of course it’s hard for people to give things up to fight a cause which is difficult to see and understand. AGW is a global issue and there are now more than 30 countries with an ETS or some form of carbon tax and many more without such measures. While there is a majority belief that action needs to be taken by Australia on climate change (latest CSIRO survey), this belief seems tempered by the respondents’ key concerns about the cost of living and financial hardship.

Perhaps the essential challenge for society is to clarify the relatively minor costs of acting now compared to those of acting later. We need to find a path forward that proactively addresses the needs of individuals while encouraging action on climate change.

In Australia, the polarisation and politicisation of AGW is disappointing and short sighted. Both sides of politics are guilty and should lead the chorus of apologies to our children for our collective inability to lead, build consensus and act. The apologies will be all too late when decision makers “get it” in 20 years; when people can actually see that the melting of the polar ice caps has caused devastation to hundreds of millions of human beings; when they can ultimately see before them the outcomes that the ostriches said wouldn’t happen in 2011.

Sadly, by then it may well be too late to save this planet from irreversible damage. Sometimes it is necessary to lead rather than look in the rear vision mirror and ask people what they think. To reinforce the point, watch James Hansen talking with David Letterman in an entertaining yet disturbing treatment of the subject.

Seduced by the prospect of power at the next election, both sides of Australian politics have dropped the ball. The Government has done a lousy job in building consensus and articulating why they feel the need to act. The Opposition has passed up a once in a generation chance to show bipartisan leadership on an issue which will affect the planet, and the lives of all future generations.

the elefante in the room – a spanish tempranillo

June 27, 2011  |  wine review  |  No Comments

What a surprise it was to open the 2009 Elefante tempranillo – shiraz, from Tierra de Castilla. Castilla is the setting of Miguel de Cervantes novel, Don Quixote, and is the spiritual heart of Spain. Elefante is named in honour of a bull that achieved a unique feat – twice receiving a pardon for exceptional bravery.

Despite favourable exchange rates, it staggers me that such a fine wine can be on sale in Melbourne at – wait for it – $10 a bottle. The wine was purchased from Cloudwine – a specialist retailer with three stores in Melbourne. Cloudwine focuses on small producers and have some gems, which they will deliver anywhere in Australia. Contact details are sales@cloudwine.com.au or +613 96996700. Ask for Chris.

Elefante thrills! It is a bold wine and opens with lifted berry/cherry/stewed fruit and some burnt wood (oak chips?) It’s travelled thousands of kilometres, however the wine is in great condition with enticing brick red colour. Elefante delivers, in true tempranillo fashion, a savoury palate that makes it an excellent food wine. It’s full bodied and beautifully balanced and has length to delight to the finish, even though the charred oak hangs around. I’ve never seen this blend before. It works well with the savoury and structured tempranillo complemented by the ripe berry characters of the shiraz.

I have scanned domestic producers for wedding wines – many much more expensive – but have not found anything to match the quality and value of this little gem. Apparently it’s still available so do yourself a favour and get a case. The wine is 14% alcohol; 60% tempranillo and 40% shiraz. I have given it 90/100 – which surely must represent the best value wine on the planet.

conservative ideology and climate change

conservative ideology and climate change

I see that lobbyists are paying to bring Christopher Monckton – the high-profile climate denier – on another speaking tour of Australia. Earlier this month, Monckton accused Australia’s climate advisor, Professor Ross Garnaut, of being a fascist. People’s behaviour in the climate change debate, or what passes for sensible debate in this country, has been interesting and frustrating. Denial and spoiling tactics have been adopted by people who seem to carry an agenda. It is an immutable fact that the vast majority of these people are conservatives and reactionaries, rather than progressives and true liberals. Apart from their characteristic resistance to change, I’ve struggled to understand this particular conservative rationale and driving purpose, until reading the insights presented by Tim Dean in the Drum in March 2011.

 My blog post is stimulated by his piece, but largely expresses my own frustration with the situation we find ourselves in today. Of course, these views don’t apply to all climate change deniers or all conservatives. I am trying to understand the motives of deniers rather than to bash them. It is not about conservatives being bad and progressives being good. Clearly all conservatives and progressives don’t think and behave in the same way and not everyone will agree with this generalisation of the conservative view, however analysis of specific demographics, ideologies and patterns of behaviour can be instructive.

Why is it that so many conservatives appear immune to the overwhelming scientific evidence and rational argument that suggests Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is real? The answer may lie in the fact that to conservatives, climate change is not about science or economics – it is about an ideology and politics, as Clive Hamilton points out in his book “Requiem for a Species”. Most of us decide at some time or other where our political beliefs sit and rarely stray from this belief. When a concept like AGW comes along, we tend to reference our political belief system before assessing the evidence. When facts don’t support the pre-existing belief system, then the facts must be wrong! Often rational thought processes are subsumed in the emotional responses to challenges to a political belief system or to our implicit worldview. AGW represents a fundamental threat to the conservative ideology or worldview. Denying it doesn’t make climate change go away, it only makes dealing with it even harder, for us and future generations. There is also an argument that the more climate change is associated with the Greens, the left and environmentalists, the less comfortable conservatives are about embracing it.

 Various Newspoll and other polls have consistently shown that a big proportion of the conservative demographic behaving as climate change deniers, are over 50 year old males. Why? Maybe they want to eliminate challenges to their comfortable existence, despite the consequences for future generations, at any cost. Dealing with climate change is uncomfortable for many of them as it requires, at least to some degree, embracing social consciousness and stepping away from selfishness and mass consumerism. Unfortunately the vested interest of many conservatives is so strong that only climate related disasters of increasingly devastating magnitude, which personally affect them, will have any chance of changing their world view.

 The one thing that intrigues me is the veracity of their sense of purpose on this issue and their relative indifference to other issues. Maybe it relates to control – one thing this demographic holds disproportionately strongly. The thought of losing control of control, control of wealth, and control of assets certainly sharpens their minds, as do potential changes in power relationships in society. But have they really thought things through? Ironically, conservatives have the most to lose from the impact of AGW, as they control most of the money! Why can’t conservatives see nature as an asset that supports humanity? Failure to do so is to support an unsustainable world. Perhaps, as Lewansoky points out, conservatives with a free market ideology will be more able to accept AGW science when it is framed in a favourable context (lots of technology, opportunities to make money etc.)

 In even further irony, the tactics many deniers adopt, either deliberately or unknowingly, generally become supporting proof for the issue they are trying to discredit. Spoiling tactics take on many forms including exaggeration of potential harm, use of irrelevant issues, appeals to personal freedom and magnifying disagreement among scientists. Suddenly, non-scientists claim that science is about opinion rather than fact. Or they talk of the need for more peer review. Clutching at straws, they selectively search the haystack to find the needle represented by a dissenting scientist. Whether by ignorance or spoiling, they confuse weather patterns with climatic change. They confuse El Nino and La Nina cycles, and Ice Age effects, with AGW. They reserve the right to “make up their own minds” on this issue, while accepting what science says as the truth on other issues.

When their arguments start to flounder, they resort to saying that Australia (as the biggest per capita polluter in the world) shouldn’t act because the rest of the world isn’t acting! You should see the massive greenhouse gas reduction programs in the latest 5 year plan for China!! When all else fails, they play the man rather than the ball, attacking the motives and integrity of the scientists.  Assisted by News Limited media and “shockjocks”, who have irresponsibly confounded the debate on this subject in Australia, they throw mud so that some sticks, causing doubt where there should be acceptance and a desire to understand more and seek the best solutions. Please forgive me for drawing the analogy with conservative Anglicans who thought that Darwin was a left wing activist as he used massive amounts of scientific evidence to overthrow dogma and ignorance.

 Perhaps we should cut some slack to those people not trained as scientists, because they don’t know what they don’t know. Doing post graduate science, I can remember my professor saying, “a science graduate is a person who is introduced to bodies of knowledge in such a way that he or she can continue to relate to them”. The undergraduate degree taught us to gather evidence, test, analyseand think in a logical way and establish hypotheses that can be subsequently confirmed. I’ve heard deniers and sceptics who claim to have better knowledge and the right to be heard as they have “read many books on the subject”, yet understand neither the concepts of theory, probability and proof in a scientific context. It’s amazing how many of them believe they have the technical and intellectual capacity to look at the data themselves and arrive at the correct conclusion, and how their conclusions are radically different to those with the relevant training and expertise. Then there are others – people with a genuine desire to learn, who are vulnerable to manipulation by legitimate sounding conservatives without adequate science, and to the propaganda of some hard line Christians and the resources sector lobby.

 Climate change deniers don’t have a mortgage on being selective in the information they seek and use to support their ideologies. While progressives are more accepting of the science, they can also be selective in mounting their arguments, and can also be driven by their own worldview. So how do we break the deadlock of our implicit, and often irrational, worldviews or our political attitudes? The circuit breaker is awareness. When considering an issue such as AGW, we should pause and reflect on whether our feelings are inspired by evidence and reason, or by a strong emotional inclination. Think about how we’re approaching the issue, and how we’re injecting it with value, and the benefits of keeping an open mind.

 Science has established beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of the greenhouse effect (without which our planet would be a frozen wasteland), increases in CO2 levels produced by humans and increases in global average temperatures. The science has also established, on the balance of probabilities to at least a 90% level, that humans are the primary cause of that change. We should be at consensus on this point and now be sensibly considering what action to take. That’s the subject of another blog post.

syndromes not found in the textbooks

syndromes not found in the textbooks

June 10, 2011  |  life, main blog, philosophy  |  2 Comments

Do these four syndromes resonate with you? Family fun and embellishment over time has seen them take on a life beyond their original application.

1.       PCS – post church syndrome

An hour in church will probably bring it on – Sunday School backed up by church will guarantee it! When released, the urge to charge around like a rabbit released from a burrow, or to drive people crazy with incessant babble and nonsense, seems to prevail. As kids we had PCS most Sundays. And we still get PCS! Now it seems to come on after a long meeting, the completion of a report or project, or on a long road trip. I guess it’s a bit like TGIF. It’s all about release and liberation, in contrast to captivity and discipline.

2.       FNCS – First night conference syndrome

Conferences – internal to the work place or external – bring an opportunity to reflect and also connect. Given the anticipation of such an event it’s not uncommon that the first night can be a big one. Clean livers and the excitement of the few days ahead, catching up with colleagues is a precursor to FNCS. How many of us have been to an event and blamed our lack of subsequent sharpness on FNCS? Of course we see FNCS extended more widely including Friday night drinks, family reunions and travel experiences. In September my daughter is getting married – not a wedding, but a three day festival. I’ve threatened to wear a policeman’s hat with “FNCS” written on it to ensure that enthusiastic Friday night revelry doesn’t compromise the big day.

3.       CPAS – Car park attendant syndrome

Without wishing to diminish the role of car park attendants, there are some who, when given a hi-vis vest, assume extraordinary assertiveness. Ok mate, we can see where you’re pointing! We’ve all seen doses of CPAS with others in uniform and positions of authority. In all organisations there seem to be some “blockers” with CPAS, who seem to get off on the power given them by the position, rather than pursuing higher level or agreed team objectives.  What is it about authority that corrupts judgement?

4.       FNS – Fred Nile syndrome

Have you ever been preached to about matters of consumption by someone on a new diet or who has given up the grog or the smokes? How about someone sitting in moral judgement taking a “holier than thou” position? Perhaps we’re giving Fred too much publicity by naming this syndrome after him. To Christian Fred , “Gays are immoral, the Greens anti-family, and there should be a ten year ban on Muslim migration”. Hmmm. Well, there are a few other people we all know who have bouts of FNS as their prejudices surface, or as their moral high ground allows them to assert it on others.

What other syndromes have you identified and would like to share?