Australian Wine Vintages 2009 - Robin Bradley with Rob Geddes MW

The 'Gold Book' gets a Master of Wine

By Robyn Lewis
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Rob Geddes MW, author of Australian Wine Vintages

Rob Geddes MW, author of Australian Wine Vintages

Australian Wine Vintages 2009

The first thing you notice about this wine book is its colour (pure gold, like the contents) and a close second its size - pocket size. In this era of wine books with burgeoning waistlines, some so heavy they need wheels, the 'Gold Book' - as it has become affectionately known over its 26 vintages - remains refreshingly slim, elegant and lightweight, and packed with nuggets.

I fell in love with this little number about 15 vintages ago, when I returned to Australia from overseas to find we were awash with new wine labels and varieties previously unheard of. Author Robin Bradley - who was a pioneer in Melbourne wine circles in the 1970s -  became my constant handbag companion on trips to bottleshops and cellar doors. His book was simple to access and use, and demystified unknown wines without the hard read - simply refer to the name, check out the vintage, et voila: the star rating, drink by year and RRP. I was in wine heaven.

Some things have changed, some haven't. We now have twice as many wine labels, but we still need to cut through and sort the wheat from the chaff, often on the spot. We now have the internet, mobile phones, and multiple wine authors, but the necessary info is not always to hand when you think you've found a treasure in the bin end of your local supermarket, but aren't quite sure.....  More sophisticated food and foodies now abound, and with them the desire for better wine matches with food, but at the end of the day the main questions remain: is this wine any good or not,  is this a good price, and is it past it or not? I can save the in-depth reading and the search for funk and cherry notes for home.

The Gold Book would have to be the easiest wine book to use, by far. Yes, its smaller size means that it can't include everything - for those seeking more obscure wines, some of the smaller makers or explicit tasting notes, you will require backups, either online or in print. However all top quality wineries are included. In 2009 its founder Robin Bradley has taken on a co-author, Rob Geddes, the third and one of the few Australian-born Masters of Wine, and Robin is retiring to enjoy his music composition in rural Victoria. I for one will miss him.

But the Gold Book will live on - the concept is too good to die. Nearly a million copies have sold since its birth in 1979, and it is the longest running wine guide of its kind. It's based on simple star ratings, not points - of either the British 20 point system or America's 100, which are becoming so crowded at the top end of the scale as to endanger their meaning (wines over 100 points? 2 decimal places coming soon?). Stars are visual, understood globally, and it's not so easy to split hairs or move the goalposts. Today's 94 is not the old 88 - five stars means it's great wine for the price, and five golds (I counted 17 in this volume) rank their holders amongst the best in the world.

I asked Rob Geddes why this year there are so many 5 red stars? His simple answer: because Australia make a lot of good wines. Working down the scale, 4 stars are wines of outstanding quality, intensity and length of flavour for the price, 3 stars are good quality for the price and worthy of attention, and 2 stars are reliable and agreeable drinking.

"The more stars a wine has indicates how much better it is than other wines at the same price. ... Stars are about quality, pleasure and value for money. The difference between a 3 and a 5 star wine at the same price is that we don't think the 3 star has the same gravitas that other wines have. Equally ... 4 stars shows that we think this wine is amongst the best in that quality/price ranking."

A lot of wines do get up and down-graded - the 2009 vintage is slimmer than the 2008, when 80 pages of wines failed to make the cut - and looking ahead the 2010 will be up again, with 'a lot more movement both in and out'. All the wines are tasted, but if you are a winemaker, before you send Geddes your samples, get in touch (below) as he does not take wines without prior discussion, to 'save wasting time, money and wine'  - and the environment.

It is important to note that stars are not used to rank the winery. "We only include wines that we find interesting and freely admit we do not capture every interesting quality wine, so our focus is narrower and attempts more precision than awarding a winery's total production a star ranking." The prices are accurate at retail and at auction (for back vintages), as are the drink-by years. The vintage rankings are provided by the winemakers or vignerons themselves, and compare the wines with other vintages of the same producer, so are perhaps more accurate than one might expect.

My main gripe is that there is no quick reference section at the beginning, to save those looking for the five-gold-star winners the time  to search every page. Those gold stars don't exactly leap off the page when you do find them, either.

I had another small criticism of the map, which lacks latitudes which might help overseas readers in particular ascertain the relative whereabouts and climates of the 55 wine regions shown (apparently this will be recitfied in the next edition). Alongside it is a square rigger, "The Girvan", looking somewhat out of place until I discover that it's the boat in which Geddes' great-great grandfather set sail from the Orkneys.

It's fitting that the Gold Book will be in the hands of a man with a sense of history. Almost as long as its print lineage and trail of satisfied wine drinkers and collectors is the history of its companion software program for cellar management and valuation, Wine Base for Windows, which was first launched in 1992, and has provided the management tool for many substantial private cellars since. We can confidently expect that Robin Bradley's wonderful legacy will endure well into the 21st century.


Australian Wine Vintages was published by Geddes a Drink Publications (Sydney; 2008) RRPA$34.99. It is available to subscribers and Members of and Winepros Archive through our online book partners Seekbooks at 12.5% off RRP (postage extra).

Rob Geddes MW can be contacted via

Wine Base for Windows can be found at


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Who are the five-gold-star winners of 2009?











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June 18th, 2009
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