“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”


DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)


.

.

.

.

18 August 2017

AN ANTIDOTE TO SAUVIGNON BLANC

Nothing semi about this Semillon
by PHILIP WHITE

This is personal. After my preceding hissy about common or garden/grassy Sauvignon blanc being a tad too mindlessly garden/grassy and offering very straightforward ethanol whilst lacking wine-like character and enjoyable gastronomic comfort, I found an antidote right under my nose. 

In that whinge I'd reflected on a couple of Sauvignons I really like because they were principally the Semillon variety, and were blended after the dry white recipe of Bordeaux. Trouble is, since the 'seventies, the Adelaide trade has always said it can't sell Semillon, sometimes because they regard it as Hunter Valley variety but usually because "nobody knows how to pronounce it." 

Funny how we all learned to pronounce Pinot noir and Viognier. 

As a result, there's very little Semillon grown here, which is silly as it was a key variety from the beginning of the colony. It's nearly all gone. 

The late Neville Falkenberg was a great champion of Semillon. When his role was to develop 'The White Grange' at Penfolds, his first trials were with fabulous Semillons. The powers that were, however, insisted it had to be Chardonnay, so Yattarna Chardonnay  became the business. Neville was summarily fired under the direction of Philip Shaw after Bob Oatley's contentious 'White Knight' reverse takeover of Southcorp

Charlotte Dalton Wines are the work of Charlotte Dalton Hardy, of Basket Range. She sent two versions made from 30-year-old vines at The Deanery Vineyard at Balhannah, one called Love You Love Me, which was so drop-dead lovely that Charlotte's quickly sold it all. There's some left in a couple of the better shops, and 'on pour' in a few wine bars and of course Fino, but if you don't have the urge to hunt, there's an even better one available to hold you over until the 2017 LYLM release, which is about to hit the bottles. 

Charlotte Dalton Wines Ǣrkeengel Adelaide Hills Semillon 2016 ($42; 12.6% alcohol; screw cap), like the Love You Love Me, is barrel-aged and lees-stirred, but with more yeast lees and a lot longer in the barrels. 

Which is not to say it's oaky. Rather it has all the slender stylish poise of the Bordeaux types. But it's also very Australian: as fit and fast as Sally Pearson: not one wasted gram of fat or flab. 

So it has the basic frame of a lot of Savvy-b but it's a vast step above: it has better form; it's more determined to stand out for its rare finesse. It's tighter. It clips no timber in the hurdles and barely touches the grass which is far too dominant in those Savvies that I can't hack. It flies straight, looking neither to left nor right til the job's done and the medal's won. 

Bouquet? While it has just the perfect degree of that grassy methoxypyrazine, the natural insect and predator deterrent the Sauvignon skins produce until the seed is ready to germinate, in this instance the stuff is oxidised until it's like that dusty, sacky whiff of burlap or hemp. It gives the wine a subtle country zephyr, a summery edge. 

Then comes a lovely assemblage of carambola, cherimoya and Bosc pear, all dryish and fine but maintaining that perfect athletic poise. And it's very gently buttery, like my current favourite, the French Elle and Vere. Yes, I'm being unfaithful to Paris Creek. 

Combined with the pear influence that buttery bit reminds me of loquat, a character much beloved by the great Neville Falkenberg. 

The texture is the first part of the drinking to impress: it's firm and very slightly granular, like that Bosc pear. This immediately sets the juices a-flow, stirring the hunger so a whole flick-pack of food images whirrs through the mind, stalling on the odd dry white cheese and a fresh sliced Bosc, or the even more granular Passe-Crassane, my favourite among pears. 

This wine leaves the tongue twitching for more in a most thought-provoking manner, but is sufficiently complex and impressive that it's also quite satisfying. 

Above all that, it has amazing staying power. Under this screw cap, it'll last longer than me. 

So. A great wine of significant gastronomic intelligence, made by such a person for grown-ups. Take a bow, Charlotte Dalton Hardy.

PS: There's also a very racy, intense young punk of a Shiraz, but that's another story ... 


vineyards at Balhannah, Adelaide Hills ... Lenswood ridge on horizon

17 August 2017

AUSTRALIA'S MOST POPULAR WHITE

Hills Sauvignon of the blanc rank 
by PHILIP WHITE


One of my favourite Adelaide Hills Sauvignon blanc wines was made by Tim Knappstein about thirty years ago. It was mainly Semillon. 

I suspected at the time that wine was the result of the friendly rivalry extant in Clare between Tim and Michel Dietrich, the Alsatian French winemaker Remy Martin had put in charge of their Quelltaler Estate. That outfit started when Francis Treloar planted a vineyard in 1853. The old winery, later owned by Buring and Sobels, is mothballed at Watervale, which is English for Qelltaler. 

Michel made a cracker wine. He picked the Semillon early to get flinty chalky greenness usually expected of the Sauvignon blanc and let the Sauvignon ripen til it had lost its simple green methoxypyrazine edge then softened it even more in subtle oak before marrying the two wines. It was more like like the serene dry whites of Bordeaux than the woody fumé blanc Sauvignons of the Loire Valley. 

Isobel and Michel Dietrich at Watervale in 1984 ... photo Philip White

Michel had reversed the roles of the varieties in pursuit of elegant complexity rather than grassy simplicity or fashionably overt oak. 

Pure 100% cool region Savvy-b is another thing. I was about to write 'another kettle of fish' but there are rarely any fish in it: too often it's just the old smashed windscreen acid and lawn clippings soaking in cold water. Maybe nettles. Unripe gooseberry. Soursob. Rhubarb. Weeds. Sheep food. And ethanol. 
 
Australians love it. Sauvignon blanc is our biggest-selling white. Drink enough of it and I reckon you'd start to smell like mutton. New Zealanders grow it. We drink around $350 million worth of their Sauvignon each year. But then about a quarter of us still drink Coke at least once a week, and I notice the Golden Arches and Colonel Sadness are still prolific intrusions along our roadsides. 

The jaundice my jowls show in reaction to the paler Savvies seems to be my physiology turning up the yellow to show the wines an example of proper colour. The Adelaide Hills have become as adept as New Zealand at growing such wine. There are pale ones made with lovely musky florals and rose-and-jasmine scents like the exemplary elegant favourite from Paracombe, but too much of the rest is the sort that brings on my yellow jaundice and the fear of smelling like cold Kiwi mutton fat. 

So it was with certain wariness I opened a box from Matthew Hill Smith. The bottles within had survived the long trip from Brisbane without as much as a cardboard divider: I could hear them clinking against each other. Never a source of confidence, the cardboard box full of loose bottles of Adelaide Hills wine from Queensland. 

Sho nuff, there was the Savvy-b, in one of those frosty-looking bottles designed to give the wine even more of that green water appearance. Mark's Vineyard Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($25; 12% alcohol; screw cap) treads the wire. It is pristine, like a mountain brook fed by a sward of nettles and soursobs. It has a little more texture than actual flavour, which affords it a shard of comfort. It's slightly sweet. 

This is straight-down-the-line lower-priced Kiwi juice in style. It could be top drinking chilled in the tropics, a bit like the juice of the starfruit, Averrhoa carambola. Or in fact the juice of the Kiwi fruit, which is really the Chinese gooseberry, Actinidea chinensis. I can imagine it being cooling and refreshing in the Brisvegas humidity, a perfect partner for your salt'n'pepper squid or a ham-and-pineapple pizza with a little chilli. 

It is what the trade called a grease-cutter back when I was a boy. 

While the Mark's Vineyard Adelaide Hills Pinot Gris 2017 ($25; 13% alcohol; screw cap) is one alcohol bigger I think it's more along the lines of the Italianate grey Pinot - they call it Pinot grigio. It's not much like the more characterful grau/gris ones from Alsace. 

Other than that, it's pretty much of the Savvy-b school, without the grassy bits. There's not much along the lines of your actual Pinot tribe marching through this glass.

To feel a little like I was somewhere on the equator, I used a big tip of the first wine in the hot fish curry I have just cooked, and drank this second wine with it. Not too bad really. No challenges. Clean. Sauvignon blanc, by the way, is my favourite cooking wine in stir fries and asian stews. Its acid works perfectly. 

Mark's Vineyard C3 Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2016 ($35; 12.9% alcohol; screw cap) smells like a blood orange marmalade with plenty of rind and a little minced ginger. It also has insinuations of honey and butterscotch. The flavours are a smooth segue of the same, and the wine has more texture than the other two. It's still very safe and sound, neat and tidy and unsurprising. The extra tenner buys you a suggestion of oak. Those mobsters in Melbourne shoulda had this with their lobster and kept the Grange for the quiet privacy of the shooting range. 

I made a blend of this Chardonnay with one third Sauvignon and ended up with a Sauvignon blanc I could like ... somewhere toward the lines of those Knappstein/Dietrich blends from a previous life.

A previous life: Tim and Annie Knappstein in the Clare valleys in the late '80s. That's Tim's Boeing Stearman, which was a tidy aerobatics performer

Mark's Vineyard Adelaide Hills Point Eight Shiraz 2016 ($35; 14.9% alcohol; screw cap) is peppery, as rocket and cress can be quite peppery. Behind that piquancy there's a fathom of fresh soft licorice, mulberry and cassis. 

It's quite soft to drink, too: almost fluffy until that pepper reappears in the tail, with timber and the hot miasma you'd expect of a light-bodied wine with this ethanol. There isn't much tannin. 

So there. Four top varieties of the Adelaide Hills. 

To explain a bit of this patriarchal Hill Smith stuff, Wyndham Hill Smith had two sons, Robert and Samuel. Wyndy's brother Mark had Michael and Matthew. When Rob and Sam bought Michael and Matthew and 25 other family members out of the business in a cleverly-planned surprise coup, Michael started Shaw and Smith at Oakbank with Martin Shaw, the son of his mum's twin sister. 

With some of his share of the buyout millions, urged by his sons, Mark planted this vineyard at Woodside. It's actually called Marko's - the company is Marko's Vineyard Pty Ltd. Both Wyndham and Mark are long deceased. 

After some sort of family difference in 2015 Matthew bought Marko's from his mum and brother and now has the wine made somewhere by contract. Matthew no longer drinks alcohol and boasts of being a farmer who doesn't own a tractor. He has sold his Brisbane restaurants. Now he has wine to sell. 

Knappstein sold all his Lenswood and Clare vineyards and winery and now runs the Ripost brand. 

Remy sold Quelltaler to Wolf Blass who changed its name to Eaglehawk. It became Black Opal and then Annie's Lane. 

Karl Sobels' ancient dry-grown Semillon vines in the chalky Quelltaler Karlsfield overlooking Watervale were bulldozed by Vic Patrick when Fosters bought that historic heart of large-scale Clare winemaking and shut it down when they absorbed Mildara-Blass. 

Typical of a Coonawarra bloke, Vic replaced that Semillon, which I thought was the best in Australia, with a forgettable clone of Merlot. 

Michel Dietrich has lived in Bordeaux for thirty years, where he makes lovely inexpensive blends of Semillon and Sauvingon blanc at his 80 hectare Château Haut-Rian winery and vineyards on the Premières Côtes de Bordeaux and Entre-Deux-Mers at Cadillac. He surprised me with a visit a couple of years back. Both he and Isobel were in fine fettle. They love driving across vast extremes of desert. Nowdays, for leisure, they usually drive around north Africa, but hey, it's safer to cruise a renter from Darwin to Adelaide. By Bacchus and Pan it was good to see them!


15 August 2017

ROUNDUP TIME AGAIN

After a lovely hint of spring, rain's belting down today and there are a few more days of it to come. 

This will delay budburst. 

Yesterday's warm sun saw the Shiraz over my fence beginning to fur up nicely. The vineyard crew began moving the sheep back toward their normal pastures before they discover the juicy new vine growth. 

The lambs are weaning and have all been tagged. The little rams are already head-butting each other and mounting the infant ewes. 

They've left a lovely neat sward with a complex mixture of pasture along with perfect little lumps of fertiliser.

I'll have to start mowing my own grass again, which is a bugger, but it'll be great to grow some fresh herbs and vegetables again.

 photos by Philip White

12 August 2017

BEST RIESLING FOR BURGER WITH EGGS

If I ever get a proper Russian hamburger like this and the vodka stares at me too hard I'll tell it to wait while I first share of bottle of the best Clare Riesling I know, the O'Leary-Walker Drs Cut Polish Hill River 2013, which is still available as a matured release at their Watervale cellars. 

Miraculous. 

This 'Doctors' vineyard was Grossett's original source of fruit: it made him famous. But in all the years he had sole access to that fruit, I don't think he ever made a wine of this stature. 

Here's the view of the Watervale Côtes du blanc from the bold and beautiful O'Leary Walker tasting and sales room. 

The Polish Valley is a few kays over that range. Its ge9logy is generally several hundred million years older.

Here's the last Pole to live there (below): the beautiful man, John Ruciak, who was born in this house and lived there all his life with no plumbing or electricity, but a couple of shipping trunks full of the incredible  copperplate natural history diaries he wrote every day. 

When John was failing thirty years back I suggested having them moved to the Mortlock Library so they'd be safe in archival storage and folks could use them in research, but the locals ferreted them off elsewhere.

You can see those sandstone/schist rocks in John's wall are a helluva lot different to and older than the baby acid rain calcrete the Watervalers pretend is limestone.

I've always believed these much older rocks make the better wine.


ECHIDNAS RETURN TO YANGARRA SANDS

All pruned and ready to roll: there's plenty of æolean, or wind-blown sand at Yangarra: this High Sands Grenache thrives in its big dune. 

It's not seaside dunal sand, but stuff that simply blew in during the last few thousand years. 

A few metres down you hit a layer of red clay peppered with ironstone. Below that lies the 200-300 metres of coarse Maslin Sand, which washed down from the mountains that lived up the escarpment until they all wore off.

When my neighbour Bernard Smart planted this in 1946 the vines went so well without water they doubled the vineyard the next year. That summer it got hot and dry and windy and the dune moved to bury that new section. Imagine that vineyard you can see simply disappearing under drift sand.

So we know that if you clear the native vegetation and the grass dies, all of what we colloquially call 'Blewett Springs sand' can move quite readily. 

Standard industrial viticulture, with all its repetitive tractor work and sprays, is the enemy of the native Echidna, or spiny anteater. 

With the platypus, the Echidna - Tachyglossidae - is the only monotreme. Both critters lay eggs and carry them in a pouch. 

Echidnas love sand. They are expert and rapid diggers in the right terrain. 

Now, nine years since the Yangarra crew abandoned the old conventional management regime to convert to organic and biodynamic practice, it  seems the Echidnas are returning. 

This fat greedy guts, now called Spike, scared the daylight out of Neva the Cleaner, who found it this lunchtime in the pristine winery lab.

No ants there: poor old Spike was in a panic! It didn't want to go in the bin.

As you can see, I've had a long-term affinity for Echidnas. I kept a pet one in the mountains when I was a kid. But I dunno where George got the panda. We'd been joking round the campfire about the Dadaists, who got their name for their habit, when being presented in the courthouse for obscenity or other errant artisitic behaviour, sang da-da-da-da, da-da-dadada to the tune of the French national anthem ... 


11 August 2017

COATES DOES ROAM

Coates La Petite Rouge 2015
($18; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 300 dozen) 

 "We have been asked by customers and the wine trade if we could make a less expensive, everyday drinking wine and we have worked on ways of keeping costs down," writes winemaker Duane Coates. 

"We have started with good vineyard sites, but kept down costs by not using new oak, utilizing less expensive glass for our bottles and maintaining a 12 month barrel maturation regime. The base wine uses 2/3 Langhorne Creek Syrah and the rest Adelaide Hills pressings." 

Nevertheless Duane let natural yeast do a three week ferment before shovelling the pulp into his  "favourite ½ tonne Mori basket press ... that gives a great flavour and soft tannin profile ... [our] traditional approach precludes the use of the additives and fining agents such as tannins, enzymes, egg, fish or milk products. Bottled unfined and unfiltered in February of 2016."  

The result's a sinfully smooth, intense, adult, juniper-and-fig beauty, with the texture and some of the flavour of the heirloom "peach plum" I recall from my childhood, and peppery Dutch licorice without the salt.
 
Then, yep, soft and fine tannins. Schlurp.

I admit to harbouring a shard of doubt when Duane suggested the wine would still be drinking well in eight years, but here I am finishing this bottle a week after opening, and it still tastes bloody lovely. It'll go a decade easy. 

Which is probly why it's sold out. 

Watch for the '16 model!  

Coates Robe Vineyard The Malbec 2015  
($25; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 240 dozen)  

Malbec, or Cot, is another of the Bordeaux red varieties left in the shade - or the wake - of the big hit Cabernets. It now lives on both sides of the equatorial Andes, and a little in Patagonia. 

It makes muddy soft floodplain red at Langhorne Creek, gunbarrel blue juniper and ozone elegance at Frankland Estate in Great Southern near Albany, and some of the best, most intense and elegant red of all in the formidable arsenal of Wendouree in Clare. 

Because of the climates and proximity to the Great Southern Ocean, I approached this expecting its Limestone Coast fruit to show similarities to the Frankland wine. It's not quite so fine and taut as that: stylistically it's somewhere between that Frankland form and the blues-and-funky soul of the traditional Langhorne jobbies. So atop all those usual black-and-blue fruits, there's that chocolate Mississippi mudcake, but also a most intriguing whiff of the curry tree, Bergera koenigii

Like the Petite Rouge, this more surly natural yeast wonder is still drinking fresh and clean after a whole week of air. It'll live for yonks. Lamb korma, ta. Or kedgeree. 

Coates Langhorne Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2014  
($30; 14% alcohol; screw cap)  

This mudflat baby is chockers with the minty eucalypt those Langhorne vineyards exude. It smells like your first big inhalation when you alight there from your car. Not to mention the feeling y9u get through the aroma and flavour sensors in your skin. 

There are the usual maritime Cabernet characters, too: blackcurrants, blueberries, juniper and cedar. 

It confirms my forty-year suspicion that if managed carefully and harvested before it turns to gloop, Langhorne Cabernet can get very very close to that other estuarine vignoble, Medoc in Bordeaux. It's almost as austere as an average Medoc, but that extra Oz breeze of red gum in with the forgivable, nay, likeable brash edges of youth: it will tighten and polish up to a shimmering sheen in five years. Masterly wine. Brilliant. 

Pity so few Langhorne winemakers ever get near this. Maybe they're just too busy drinking beer. 

Coates The Iberian McLaren Vale Langhorne Creek 2013 
($30; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 270 dozen) 

Touriga Nacional (44%), Tempranillo (14%), Monastrell (11%), Syrah (9%), Carignan (6%), Garnacha (6%), Cinsault (6%) and Malbec (4%)? Why the hell not? 

How does one little Peninsula, this bonnie Fleurieu, produce wines so akin to Hermitage, Bordeaux, Italy and Spain? Why do so few winemakers understand this amazing potential? And how come so few ever get to squeeze those visions so successfully into bottle? 

Intelligence. Worldly knowledge. Acute epicurean awareness. Patience. Wisdom. Money. Skill. 

Of all this suite, this is the ravishing black-haired beauty that has just grown more sultry and broody over the week I've taken one glass per day. Now on the dregs, I wish I'd missed days two to six, and still had five glasses to go over the next days. 

Maybe it would start to show signs of fatigue during that remarkable excursion. This is indeed very Iberian. Black ham; warm black olives; chorizos ... yum. Then it tends to yearn its way east toward the more perfumed Bandol and I think of Helmut Newton photographing Charlotte Rampling naked on the table in the bullfighting committee's meeting room in the Hotel Norde Pinus in Arles ... 

"The use of selected French cooperages (Seguin-Moreau, Nadalie, Marsannay, Dargaud & Jaegle)," Duane writes, "in a mix of puncheons, hogsheads and barriques provides complexity, integration and harmony with our intended style." 

Very few winemakers can say that. Very few have dreamed or attempted a wine like this. 

And $30? You gotta be jokin.