“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

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19 August 2014

KAESLER GOES FOR REFINEMENT

Wintry day in the old vines at Kaesler: Reid Bosward (CEO/chief winemaker), Stephen Dew (winemaker) and Sarah McMahon (sales and export manager) ... photo Philip White

Revisiting the Kaesler crew:
new directions at Barossa HQ
stalwart old viners move on
by PHILIP WHITE

It had to happen. The Kaesler crew were all too smart to leave it the way it was. So they've changed it.

Five or six years back the wine press gang gathered there among the old vines on the outskirts of Nuriootpa to taste the current Kaesler crop of products. Beautifully-made wines they were, but generally of the style beginning to look a touch de trop.

We'd just had fifteen years in which some bits of the world couldn't get enough terribly ripe, highly alcoholic and gloopy Shiraz.

Given the amount of sun and lack of fresh water falling on such parts in this New Heat, it's terribly easy to make gloop. Making a good consommé is a lot bloody harder.

And for awhile, if you're lucky enough to please a Dan Phillips (US merchant) or Robert Parker Jr. (US critic), gloop may be very easy to flog in that narrow window between hoovering unseemly profits and retirement or bankruptcy.

The fad reminded me of the export boom which followed World War II, when companies like McLaren Vale's Emu made a motza flogging what they called "ferruginous reds" to the impoverished English, who were on ration cards and needed fortification. After a few years Europe had stabilised and the likes of the Bordelaise were back in business and suddenly you had the whole of England remembering that it actually preferred the more elegant wines from just across the channel.

Boom? Boom over, babay.

The original tutored masterclass at Kaesler ... photo Leo Davis 
 
Anyway, after Reid Bosward and Stephen Dew and the Kaesler crew had tutored us in a perfectly-managed tasting of their 15 and 16-plus alcohol monsters those few short years ago, we walked a hundred yards from the tasting room to the winery where the Kaesler owners just happened to have opened two or three hundred thousand dollars worth of French exquisities which we were encouraged to swaller, rather than spit and scribble.

Other than their breath-taking prices, the only big thing about these wines was the size of their bottles: many were in jereboams, even imperials. Tellingly, their contents barely got past 13.5% alcohol.

Guess which tasting won the most praise?

The Sauternes/Barsac table ... photo Leo Davis

It was perversely relieving to scoot up to Kaesler for another drinking a fortnight back, without the er, incentive of the second part of the exercise. Reid, Stephen and Sarah McMahon sat in the cellar with me, chatting around a table with about three metres of ordinary-size bottles: new, old and future releases of the wines they make there from their suite of excellent vineyards in Clare, Barossa and McLaren Vale.

Without deserting those stalwart addicts of such alcoholic extravagances as The Bogan (15%; $50) or The Old Bastard (14.5%; $220), Kaesler has a cellarful of wines that have taken a decided turn to elegance and poise.

Like the new Clare Wine Co. Watervale Riesling 2014 ($20; 11% alcohol; screw cap; 93+++ points) which is as purdy as a Riesling can be, with all those citrus florals and leaf and handbag and bathroom fragrances opening your head for that tight stony austerity that only best of Clare and Eden have to offer. Fresh Coffin Bay oysters and limes, please. And a pepper mill. In the spring.

If that's too adult for you, bung on a Kaesler Barossa Valley Rizza 2014 ($20; 9% alcohol; screw cap; 90+ points) a smoky, bacony mush of delight made after the traditional Barossa spätlese style, which for some fool reason everybody's forgotten. It's what you have with your apricot or apple streuselkuchen at morning tea. While it smells fleshy and comforting, it also has plenty of dusty prickle. The modestly sweet flavours have no apricot botrytis but rather a calming viscosity which winds off into a long tingly sherbet acid finish. This'd be the wine for your local Thai: green chicken curry would sing with it, but tom yum or just about any of the chilli/lemongrass/ginger things would make you just as happy. 

The morning after the recent tasting ... photo Philip White

Another step off the old track is the brilliant Kaesler Barossa Valley Viognier 2013 ($25; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 91+ points). I love the fact that this doesn't smell like apricot. Which is what everyone thinks Viognier should smell like. I mean it's cool if it does, but I suspect that once you've begun to get those apricot/dried apricot aromas you're getting the damn thing too ripe; if it tastes apricotty you're probably teetering around fifteen alcohols. Far too much. That's hot not cool. This is not like that. Think fresh soft ginger root. But it's more savory, and I mean the herb savory, Satureja hortensis: a fresh meadow smell as green and creamy/buttery as tarragon. The flavours are right up that provincial French track, so start with a tarragon chicken and white wine casserole with shallots and you'll be singin'. This is a beautifully gentle wine whose texture is perfect for such fowl. Get some bad people around for your casserole and try this one agin Tim Smith's equally delish 2014.

Hard-core Grenache perves will enjoy the slide through Kaesler's take on the GSM clique/claque thing. They call it Kaesler Barossa Valley Avignon. The 2010 model ($15.5%; screw cap) is a Grenache, Mataro, Shiraz blend which exemplifies how the smallest amount of the dark charcuterie meats of Mataro can overwhelm the Pinot-like tenderness of properly-made Grenache. The new Kaesler Avignon Barossa Valley Grenache Shiraz 2012 ($30; 15% alcohol; screw cap; 94 points) is a much finer, more focussed and precise thing without that extra 0.5% gloop and the Mataro. It's all cherries and redcurrants and wild hedgerow raspberry, with a real dusty tickle, and it'd go zappy with anything from a quiche through a hearty omelette through that casserole above to a more gamey  rabbit casserole. (Uncontrollable twitching in the trigger finger at this point.)

As if to reassure my suspicions of a change of point at Kaesler, Stephen pointed my nose at a barrel of his forthcoming 2014 'Natural Grenache' which is like a Grenache made by, say, Romanée-Conti. South of 13.5% and vibrant with maraschino cherry and raspberry, I can feel this one coming over the horizon like a bliss bomb. Can't wait! 

Kaesler Old Vine Barossa Valley Shiraz 2012 ($80; 14.5% alcohol; cork; 93+++ points) takes us a little closer to the old style jampots, but not very. In fact hardly at all. It's typical of the best twelves in its tight, ungiving "so whatter you lookin' at?" glower. And would be even more so if picked any earlier. A sprinkle of coal dust; a hedgerow of briars and brambles and blackberries; a dry, dusty palate with just the right hint of black snake (serpent, not water hose); all in a long, lithe, delightfully elegant frame that makes me want to live at least until 2035, even with my mistrust of that cursed Portuguese bark plug jammed down its neck.

Which introduces the Kaesler Alte Reben Barossa Valley Shiraz 2012 ($150; 14% alcohol; cork; 95+++ points), a devilish beauty which will be dancing on like Carmen Miranda when the Old Vine's slumped exhausted, sweating at the bar. It's tight, lithe, intense, prickly, dusty, profane, confident, determined and Bacchus only knows how long it will take to touch perfection. From the company's 1899 vineyard at Marananga, this damn thing is a direct threat.

Welcome to the world below sixteen, eh. 

Stephen Dew at Kaesler ... really good winter rains have stacked the ground with water, reducing the need for summer irrigation ... photo Philip White

17 August 2014

MISS ELIZABETH HOWELL HITS 70

Libby Howell and a hundred or two good mates pumped the floor of the historic Adelaide Bowling Club last night. In a quiet acknowledgment of her completion of seventy laps of the Sun, Snooks La Vie and Proton Pill did the sonics [super; recommended!], an A-list of Adelaide bohemia did the moves, and most of 'em helped me with the absorption of refreshments. Shit it was good ... photos by Philip White


14 August 2014

A NIGHT ON THE WHISKY WITH GEORGE

Fellow DRINKSTER George Grainger Aldridge is working on a new exhibition of paintings from his place in the Flinders Ranges and sculptures and assemblages of bits he's collected from those wild parts. We enjoyed a bottle or two of malt last night, and bullshitted on about all sorts of stuff no end. The nude on the fridge is by Winston Head; the big portrait of George is by his nephew, the wall artist Lee Harnden. All the other works are by George. His beloved box of pastels is over a century old. All photos by Philip White ... thank the little Sony RX100II for helping with the focus ... if Sony built cars I would consider getting my driver's license back, after 25 years of abstinence.


DOUGLAS NEAL CAME BY WITH SOME WINE



I have a vested interest to declare here. Douglas Neal (above) is a Geelong-based winemaking friend who personally presented these wines at my table, helped me through a night of grief over the sudden death in Brisbane of my dear friend, the wine critic Jeremy Pringle, then presented me with my honorary valence, or wine thief, a pipette for taking samples from barrel. Doug sells beautiful Serugue French oak barrels. I don't need barrels, but a valence is a different matter. I've never had my own personal valence before. So consider me on the take. And watch your barrels! 

Beechworth Star Lane Vineyard Quattro Vitigni 2012 
$28; 14.2% alcohol; screw cap; 92+ points 

Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Merlot and Shiraz makes the Quattro. It's a moody, midnight sort of a drink in search of the Kinda Blue Miles Davis. It has a very pretty blueberry and blackcurrant waft, like the perfume of a black satin evening dress I once helped a clever person from. It's sufficiently overt for me to recall that crunchy, abrasive sound of grosgrain. So that's a very encouraging start. It's lithe and slick and satiny of texture, too: more satin than silk. And it's black of flavour, not red or purple. It's on that crossover point where sinister mystery becomes satisfying reassurance. The tannins are velvety, not to stretch the fabric metaphor too hard. So it's blended after the "super" Tuscan style, at a fraction of their price. And it'll give many of those arrogant, loftily spendish aristocrats a proper run for their money. It's slender enough to handle veal without overwhelming it, but if, like the writer, you're more along the lines of your aged ox, an osso bucco wouldn't kill it either. In fact, it's athletic enough to kill the ox if proper restraint isn't shown. 

Hildegard Beechworth Shiraz 2012 
$45; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 94+ points

My goodness. This is the sort of Shiraz that Beechworth can do like no other region. It's plush and heady and swoony to sniff. It smells like a wine with many more alcohols. But it doesn't burn. So you get a hint at the luxurious wallow to come. The best Beechworth Shiraz (think Castagna) seems to have a sweet wave of meadow pasture, with that lush floral rush decorating the sweet buffalo grass aroma below (think the juicy herbal breeze of Żubrówka vodka, without the grain spirit). In a difficult-to-comprehend manner, these sweet country smells are more buttery than green, but this is a colourblind synaesthete talking. Put it inside you, and it's silky and luxurious, without losing a tad of its elegance. It is indeed a sensuous wine which will first tickle, then caress many senses, way out in the nether regions beyond base carnality. While it is of modest strength, it has an overpowering purpose: it satisfies yet sizzles so much at once that the poor drinker just has to have more. And more. I can imagine it with a cool rillette of hare, with crusty bread and butter, and a sprig or six of peppery watercress. 

Paradise IV Chaumont Batesford Geelong 2012 
 $45; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 94+ points 

Cabernet sauvignon, Shiraz, Cabernet franc and Merlot swim together in this rich pool. Once again, the wine's bouquet is so thick and meaty you'd expect another two or three alcohols. And it's dusty, smelling more ferruginous than its freaky granite-and-limestone ground. The deep ripe fruits below that acrid summery topnote are ripe like a warm year Pomerol Bordeaux. I love the ozone/gunbarrel glint the best Cabernet franc imparts: it's here in perfect proportion. After that full-bore aroma, the wine is supple and modest of frame, with tannins that seem to come from somewhere between pickled walnuts and grilled turnip greens. Which quite wickedly makes me imagine a peppery Fechner's Apex Tanunda Bakery pasty with tomato sauce and both those other ploughman's lunch sort of things. It could even handle a cold hard-boiled egg. At the other end of the scale, a pink steak in pepper sauce would be simply gooey. There is no wine like this made in South Australia. Bliss.


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I was invited to dinner by wine merchant David Ridge and Tim Gregg, hotelier at Adelaide's famous and fabulous Lion Hotel, where we dined memorably. It's a very risky thing to order a proper pink steak; mine was perfect. The entry fee was a bottle of something good and unusual. Like many who simply don't have a cellarful of such wonderment, I made a blend of equal proportions of the best wines open on my work table. So, my magnum included Star Lane Beechworth Nebbiolo Sangiovese Merlot Shiraz 2012, Hildegard Beechworth Shiraz 2012, Paradise IV Chaumont Geelong Cabernet Shiraz Cabernet franc Merlot, Yangarra High Sands McLaren Vale Grenache 2013, Yangarra Old Vine McLaren Vale Grenache 2012, and Paradise IV Dardel Geelong Shiraz 2013. It was a delicious, beautifully perfumed complex-yet-elegant drink with the sort of gradual tannin finish that lasted about five minutes per swaller. Ridgey thought it had a lot of Shiraz in it but mentioned something about Super Tuscans, the rest of us thought it was a friggin good drink and the decanter emptied in minutes. Never be scared to blend stuff at home; you'll learn much from it. Not being parfumiers, but instead being crippled by the old 'cellar palate', most winemakers have little idea about the art of blending. That's a pity. What I did, of course, was not art, but a simple exercise in wine dada. It sure worked.

Left-to-right: Anthony Madigan, publishing editor Wine Business Monthly, wine and food critic David Sly, wine merchant David Ridge, professional sceptic Brian Miller, hotelier Tim Gregg and journalist Nigel Hopkins having a top sesh at Tim's Lion Hotel in Melbourne Street, North Adelaide ... all photos by Philip White




13 August 2014

TINCTURES FOR A FREEZING WINTER


Brrrr ... Dawn frost, Brancott Valley, South Island, New Zealand ... photo Kevin Judd , Greywacke Wines. Kevin is a master of both photography and very fine wine.

A winter of hybrid sniffles:
when even a red won't do,
try Dr White's homemade brew
by PHILIP WHITE

This be the winter of hybrid sniffles! For months the farmyard's been marked by men with wheezes and lurgies of many insidious breeds. Short of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, I can think of little worse than pruning through such a bitter break.

It's been bad enough in here at the desk. The thought of being a proper farmer getting out there and doing what vineyard workers do every winter has made me wince like a wuss.

Greenock Creek Seven Acre Vineyard ... pruned in the freezing cold by the proprietor, Michael Waugh ... photo Philip White

One indirect effect the ill season's had is the depressing confusion it brings to winemakers preparing to release their 2012 reds. The honest wines are tight and ungiving - it's a vintage thing - and having been freshly bottled, seem more confusing than usual, so there's been a fair bit of peer group reassurance being sought about release dates.

It's winemaking by group therapy. Like "You still on the cough lollies, mate? No? Ah cool can you take a quick look at these reds for me ... I can't work out where the buggers are going." The makers who are nervously keeping their wines so close to their chests that not even their mates can offer reassurance will learn the least in the end. 'Twelve will bring us some true beauties, but the best look like taking their time.

My attempts at red appreciation have been faltering at best. Looking back, I may just as well have surrendered to that cursed Dry July fixture, but only as far as red wines go. I've still managed to enjoy austere whites, like the more acid-crunchy high country Rieslings.

And I've been forced to get the blending brain working again to make a cleansing and comforting drink to get me through these nights.

This year's stalwart is based on raw Buderim ginger. Get the really fleshy fresh stuff if you can - the drier old stuff will blow your juicer and the kind of blue smoke juicer donks are capable of exuding will do nothing for your blocked scone. For my 1.5l jug, I start off juicing enough ginger root to fill a cup with juice. The novice may prefer much less, but the ginger's important. I put a few chillies through at the same time. Similarly, don't go nuts using chillies you're not accustomed to. The very shy may settle for a glob or two of Tabasco.

I've tried that Buderim Ginger Refresher Cordial, with its cheery back label advising this product is "the natural enemy of bland ... our famous zingy cordial takes you away from drudgery to a place where flavour is its own reward." I'll bet this was written by a person with a haircut. Forget zingy, replace reward with obscene sugar, push the bottle to the back of the fridge for a year or two and juice some fresh ginger.

Then I squeeze three or four lemons.

Lake Alexandrina, Murray River estuary ... just a-walking in the rain ... photo Philip White

While this is underway, I'll have a large teapot brewing. If you can't get real herbs, I'll admit to accepting the Madame Flavour line of packaged tisanes. One little baggy of mint and lavendar; one of lemongrass, lime and ginger, and one of licorice. All in together. And one of Nerada Organics Camomile; maybe two. You'll find the lavendar, licorice and camomile settling and snoozing you off, while all the other stuff works as a nose and throat clearing agent.

It's a bit back-and-forth, but if you've used sufficient camomile, sleep will fall.

If you must have a little sweetener, use a dob or two of Leatherwood Honey. R. Stephens' Golden Nectar Organic Leatherwood from Mole Creek Tasmania has been a stalwart all my life, but it's hard to find. There are honeys available which purport to be leatherwood: beware. I'm sure there are fakes. I bought one in a huge sugar and fat shop recently that tasted like it was made from ground-up joggers. On the other hand, a truly lovely pot I bought from Buzz Honey, at Ding Dong Road, Dawesley, made clear its source: Tarkine Rainforest, Tasmania. Where your actual leatherwood grows. The rainforest that former Federal Environment Minister Mark Butler decided was tough enough to endure a mine or two. Presuming, I suppose, that the miners would vote Labor. That's always silly with miners.

Anyway, you gloop your Leatherwood honey into the bottom of the jug, and dissolve it by pouring  the steaming herbal brew over it. Then add your ginger, lemon and chilli.

At this point, I confess too to the yearning for, and surrender to, a shloosh of scotch and/or vodka. Two or three nips, and stirrr. You may also garnish with a few slices of lemon and ginger if you have somebody there you need to impress.

Not to tease you, but if you can get it, I also recommend you place three or four sticks of Ku Ding in your herbal brew. Ku Ding has remarkable properties and is a vital cornerstone of many Chinese barefoot doctor remedies. I prefer the mildly caffeinated Ilex kaushue type, from the holly tree; there are others. The leaves are picked and rolled into a stick then dried. Thus the Ku Ding Cha name: bitter nail tea. In the brew each 'nail' unrolls to become a fresh-looking intact leaf. The infusion is very bitter, but I swear by it - in the summer I drink it cold. Give it a Wikki.

And if you put Ku Ding in your infusion, you might desire another teaspoon of leatherwood honey.

Peter's Creek, Yangarra ... it took awhile to get started this year, but she flowed pretty much on schedule once she did ... that's rain, not snow, but it's sure been cold enough for snow ... photo Philip White

So there. Once I've tipped my hot brew in on the honey, and then the juices, I'll refill the teapot and let it sit, so if I find my jug emptying half way through the night, I can top it up.

One more thing. It may make your skin sting a little, but rather than resort to the types of nose and sinus-clearing squirters and tablets the officious ladies at the pharmacy recommend, buy a little bottle of Ti-tree oil, melaleuca. Using your fingertip, carefully wipe just a few small drops around your ear holes, and you'll be astonished at how quickly the antibacterial fumes infest your nasal passages, driving the awful stuff away.

On another level, you might always try a Bullshot if you're in a hurry and you happen to have some properly clarified beef consommé in the fridge. Have it in shot glasses, half-and-half with freezing vodka and Tabasco.

See you for a few reds when the days get longer, eh?

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Another thing I like to do with ginger root: if you have a little Italian espresso pot for the stove, grate sufficient fresh ginger to fill the coffee receptacle without packing it down. Put one star anise on the top, and brew it just like you do with coffee. You can easily run two pots of water through the same lot of ginger: the second batch is usually smoother. I let this liquor cool in a wee jug, and have it with a good clean vodka, like Absolut. About half-and-half does the trick. A touch of lemon will give it more tang; a shot of Tabasco more hellfire. Very good for the dark gizzard. Chiz!

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As the whisky boom continues, and the giant corporates pillage Scotland's barrel stacks to blend all sorts of cheap scotch - and some far too expensive for its quality - I find many of these new opportunistic brands tainted by too much caramel, or too much raw new or bretty old oak. I find most of these borderline whiskies more palatable when blended with Absolut. 

McLaren Vale in a gloomy winter ... in the teeth of the front ... you need lots of feisty tincture on a night like this ... photo Philip White
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