May is Aussie Wine Month, as decreed by Wine Australia. This is not an anti-imported wine campaign, but a reminder that we do produce great wines in this country and we should celebrate them. What better time for auction house Langton’s to unveil its latest Classification of Australian Wine, Mark VI?
I admit to misgivings about all classifications, especially when they’re produced by an auction house. Depending on which way you look at it, Langton’s classification can seem like an instrument designed to ramp auction prices. The gullible may be inspired to bid higher for wines deemed ‘outstanding’ or ‘exceptional’ than those that are not, for no other reason. (An alternative viewpoint is that the classification assists the promotion of Aussie wines in the wider world, which is in the winery owners’ interests.)
The fact that Langton’s is owned these days by Woolworths, the nation’s biggest liquor retailer, adds to the questionable nature of the exercise. The Langton’s classification was conceived when Langton’s was independently owned, but Langton’s was bought by Woolworths in February 2009, the year before classification Mark V was unveiled. Woolworths also owns retail chains Dan Murphy’s and BWS and online wine-retailer Cellarmasters.
For the record, there are 139 wines included in the new classification, which has expanded with every revision over the years from 34 wines in the first list, published in 1990. No wine has slipped out of the classification since version five, and the lowest grade, Distinguished, has been dropped. The Distinguished wines were promoted to higher levels. There are now three levels: Exceptional, Outstanding and Excellent. Penfolds Grange remains at the top.
What I dislike about classifications is that they tend to perpetuate established hierarchies. In Bordeaux, the 1855 Classification of the Medoc has arguably entrenched (did someone say fossilized?) the hierarchy: the top-ranked chateaux can charge higher prices which, in turn, enables them to afford to make the best wine.
The snobby aspect is one of the wine world’s least-attractive attributes. You can almost picture the aristocratic chateau owners doing the Frost Report’s class sketch, which featured Ronnie Corbett, Ronnie Barker and John Cleese. Upper-class Cleese looks down on both Ronnies; Barker, being middle class, looks down on Corbett but up to Cleese, and Corbett – who ‘knows his place’ – looks up to Barker, but not as much as he looks up to Cleese.
Would someone please re-shoot this sketch using Peter Gago, Wolf Blass and Gary Farr – but at least two of those might need something to stand on.