First of all, what does the Classification measure or reflect? It is a statistical analysis of the performance of wine at the Langton's auctions, the premier auction house in Australia. This means it is measured by wine consumers who like aged wine and by investors. As a result, it is inherently conservative, as both groups tend to favour proven names. The measure itself is performance against release price. It is therefore not an absolute measure of quality, and age-worthy wines which are not expensive can get in, as has happened with a number of cheaper Penfolds wines.
What are the trends against the last Classification, published in 2005? Let us look at three categories: which wines have dropped out, which are new and which have been upgraded (only two wines have been downgraded). Let us first look at grape varieties: Shiraz, which dominated the list in 2005, is the prime mover. Over half the new wines are Shiraz (18.5*), half of the upgrades are Shiraz (13.5*), and they also dominate the eliminated wines (6 out of 11). Cabernet Sauvignon has done well, with 8.5* new wines and 6.5* upgrades, and no elimination. Other varieties play minor roles: Pinot Noir (5 new, 3 out), Riesling (1 new, 3 upgrades), Chardonnay (1 new, 2 out), Semillon (2 upgrades). The result is clear, no major shift in grape varieties preference, except for a strong showing of Cabernet Sauvignon, which is contrary to the retail trade, where the focus is on immediate consumption.
What about regions? In the past, the Classification was dominated by wines from South Australia and Victoria. This has not changed, but the relative weight has shifted to South Australia. Victoria saw 7 out of 11 wines dropped, 4 Victorian wines were upgraded and 11 new wines added. South Australia saw 3 wines dropped, 13 upgraded and 19 added. The dominant region was the Barossa, with no wine dropped, 5.5* upgraded and 10.5* new wines. Coonawarra did pretty well, with no wine dropped, 2.5* upgraded and 5.5* new. McLaren Vale was almost as good. The other point to note is that NSW wines did better than Western Australia, thanks to Tyrells, McWilliams, Clonakilla and De Bortoli.
I find the regional results interesting. The most influential reviewers of newly released Australian wine, James Halliday and Jeremy Oliver, have a Victorian bias, and despising Robert Parker has become a bloodsport. However, in the secondary market, it is the big South Australian Shirazes which are valued most, even increasingly so. I must admit I like these wines, because they are uniquely Australian, although I am not keen on the excesses, for example Greenock Creek. Striving to make European wines here has always struck me as slightly odd. Having said this, I think we make some wonderful Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
By the way, wines which have done well in my polls have scored well, with e.g. Clonakilla and Grosset Polish Hill being upgraded to the top 'exceptional' category.
Langton's does not publish the exact methodology, and I have no doubt a fudge factor is applied. What would be nice to have, though, is an auction barometer, say based on the top category, or a timeline of price realisation for Grange and Hill of Grace.
Some people who clearly did not like the outcome of this Classification have said it is irrelevant. Do we have some evidence here that maybe the most quoted review compendiums are irrelevant?
I am interested in your comments.
*the 0.5 results from a split with Coonawarra in Penfolds blended wines.