“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)





19 April 2015


photo Neil Vesma, who tweets wondrously at @architectfrance

17 April 2015


Oak Table Wines The First Born Single Vineyard Clare Valley Grenache 2013 
$25; 15% alcohol; Diam compound cork; 92++ points 

I'd love to see some science pointed at my suspicion that the natural phenolics - particularly the skin pore tannins - of Grenache are particularly reactive to changes in background humidity. To over-simplify my evidence, start at the coast, on Gulf St Vincent, patron of viticulturers. The Murray estuary is just over the range on the other side. Constant maritime humidity. McLaren Vale Grenache is all cherries of both morello and maraschino types with soft tannins. Barossa - lower humidity - is more austere with old harness and often anise and licorice hints with its slightly sharper tannins, but it still has that lovely savoire of pickled morello cherry. Go further north into the high dry of Clare, even further from the Gulf, and the traces of primary fruit - cherries - seem usually replaced by non-fruity kalamata olive juice. Most of the good ones seem to have licorice and anise, which fit in there well.

Clare Grenache is neither common nor often stacked with cherries. Which I suspect makes it very difficult if you think your winemaking task is to make Clare Grenache resemble the more prolific Grenache wines of Barossa and McLaren Vale. It's getting hard to nudge into their shelfspace.

Tom Hagger, an assistant winemaker at Yangarra, where I choose to live, made this First Born after work. The vines are in the scraggly country behind the Clare caravan park. His wine shows an uncommon respect and fascination for this much misunderstood variety. Without replacing or hiding  the savoury edge of Clare Grenache with sheer alcohol, he's made a delicious red that seems to lob right in the middle of those three styles. It rocks.

It's got lovely cherry syrup.

Fifteen's a number of alcohols that sharpens my focus in the sceptical direction but that's no trouble here. The rest of the wine has sufficient complexity and urge to play the music with its ethanol as an equal up the front with the fruitcake and pannacotta. Nutmeg. Clarinets.

This wine has taught me not to generalise about Clare Grenache. It's a beautifully smooth silky wonder. It's alive.

For orders e-mail info@oaktablewines.com.au 

Freeman Secco Rondinella Corvina 2010 
$35; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93+++ points 
Along with Mark Day of Koltz wines at Blewett Springs, McLaren Vale, Dr Brian Freeman is the Australian boss of Italian-style dried fruit wines. His vineyard's at 560 metres altitude in the granite and ferruginous ├Žolian sands at Prunevale in the Hilltops region around Young, between Cowra and Cootamundra, north-east of Canberra.

A former professor of wine science at Charles Sturt University, Brian propagated Australia's only vineyards of these Veneto amarone varieties from just six cuttings of each type.

A wet 2009 winter had filled the dry ground with moisture, then followed a warm dry spring that set the canopies just schmick. Right on cue, early summer rain gave the vineyard a flush of life that saw this crop ripening well into the dry autumn.

Brian let the Rondinella and Corvina grapes hang three months longer than his other varieties, and picked in May. Some of the fruit was dehydrated in a neighbour's solar-powered prune drier, then added to the fresh-picked remainder for ferment.

Two years in old oak began to knock the edges off the severe tannins thus extracted; two years storage at 14⁰C in bottle finished the job.

This is ravishing wine. It hasn't got much of what I'd call overt raisin, because while that moody amarone complexity is there glowering in the dark, the wine has such finesse and acidity and structure that what we get is pure harmony.

Brian says dried cherries; my first reaction was a memory flash of Cherry Heering liqueur, but without that alcohol and sugar. The cherries aside, it's largely a textural thing. The wine has that steeped grainy attitude that's nothing like the tannins we see in ordinary wine.

The results are a drink which I think is the best I've seen from Freeman, which is saying something. Brian reckon's 2015's gonna be even better, so start saving up.

In the meantime, I'm putting some pigeons in the pot with speck, a gallon of baby red, juniper berries and late in the piece, baby beetroot. Spuds in the oven. Butter.

11 April 2015


The Australian hobby, Falco longepennis, is a 3/4 scale model of the Peregrine falcon, Falco peregrinus ... similarly savage, just a wee bit smaller  ... impossibly fast carnivore raptors like these need lots of sugar, so usually eat only the sweet sugary/bloody brains and hearts of their prey and move along ... Pat Harbison is a great South Australian marine biologist and estuary scholar. She lives in Gawler, South Australia with Doctor John

Falco longipennis
for Pat Harbison

What maddened verse gives raptors the rhythm
To thrash through shrubbage and scrub
Risking wings to get at the tucker 
And peck the brains from pigeon, parrot, and bat?

I just looked an Australian hobby in the eyes.
She’d done a wing on a vineyard wire,
Humping through the trellis to get the wee birdies
The vigneron erected plastic falcons to scare. 

Her falconer had set her up well,
Never holding her down like the dreaded vet,
Keeping her weight up, earning her trust
’Til she up and off, one crook wing tip hanging just

Enough to attract that peregrine that
Drilled a shocked silent hole in the sky,
Smashing all sound of bird into nothing:
A sudden feather-free vacuum of death. 

But she came back, that broken one,
Now setting herself on her ground crew’s glove, 
Staring black and yellow to my soul, as if to say
“You thought I was fucked then didn’t you”.     


Philip White
1 April 2002

10 April 2015


Just in from Milton Wordley, who's in Spain: Big Bob's last long lunch? "Last week while I was at McLean's Farm to interview Bob for my new blog People of Wine - Ten Questions, two or three others dropped in. Bob phoned Wilma and within ten minutes she arrived with lunch. That's Bob, who was too ill to stand, with Chateau Tanunda general manager Matthew McCulloch, the Riesling master Colin Forbes and Wilma. Matthew bought along some of the 2013 Chateau Tanunda 1858 Field Blend. Bob seemed to enjoy it. Keep an eye on my blog - when my feet hit the ground I'll download the entire interview. Bob dropped a few bombshells. Here's another shot: Big Bob in his St Hallett days."

09 April 2015


photo: Bob, last Wednesday, Milton Wordley 


A message from Big Bob McLean:

The time seems right to release a statement to confirm that these rumours of my death are true.

That dyin' business was fuckin' killin' me anyway.

Wilma, Adam and Sarah were with me through the last slide, which in the end was a bigger deal for them than it was for me, the wonders of modern medicine being what they are.

Thanks to all the crew at the Angaston Hopital. You were great.

The vet told me this was happening months ago when my liver wore out, so we've all had plenty of time to get used to it.

It was a good 67 years. A long ride from Clare, through Peterborough and Hamley Bridge. School at Marist Brothers. Became an electrician. A bouncer at the Old Lion. The Redlegs Club.

It was pure arse that I met Syd Gramp and Tom Morrison who liked the cut of my cloth, and gave me a job at Orlando. Started at the bottom of the pile. I was the assistant to the assistant to the assistant. And on it went.

Add caption
Bob with the New South Wales 'guvnr', Sir Arthur Roden Cutler VC, AK, KCMG, KCVO, CBE (24 May 1916 – 22 February 2002) ... Hard to tell whether Sir Roden was taller than Bob, even on his wooden leg, or whether Bob made himself a wee bit shorter ... good lunch following ... Bob was all over Sydney, pouring Pol for Orlando ... he called it 'doing PR.'

All those years at Orlando. Petaluma. St Hallett. Banksia. Building brand Barossa. And now the top of the story at the top of the hill.

People always said I was a PR person. I’m more of a communicator than anything. When I was running hot in the '70s people wanted to know why I didn’t open my own PR thing or go into marketing. They said I'd kill it. But I'm not a marketer. I make things work but that's not marketing, it's problem solving, it’s communicating. I get everybody talking. I can get enemies to talk. I can set things up: I’m not a bad adjudicator.  I'm a good chair because I listen. My version of chair is that you shut up and listen and make sure everyone gets a say, everyone gets a fair go.

I’ve been lucky. I've always set the rules even within corporations. Ive always been able to back my decisions. One of my sayings is don't rip anyone off. I’ve never done a deal yet that fucks anyone over, ever. It's equal equal, win win.

Bob at the Juker ... photo Milton Wordley
I was never really a star at anything, but I participated in everything. That's the secret. You don’t have to be a star. Just participate. My advice to everyone that will listen is to participate, learn teamwork and your natural leadership qualities will come out of that. You know the ones that you’re good at, and the ones you're not good at.

With Wilma and the kids I've spent the last years of my life building our Barr Eden vineyard into an absolutely unique winemakers' vineyard. Wilma selected the territory, Wilma bought this, I simply paid for it. Wilma is the total influence.

Stephen Henschke with Bob and Wilma in the McLean's Farm/Barr Eden tasting room ... photo Philip White
I want this vineyard on the mountain viewed forever as a winemaker’s vineyard. I planted it as bush vines so you can’t get a mechanical harvester into it. You can’t mechanically prune it. There's no water. It's all dry grown, got its own roots, all in the old original style. It's all rocks. We get the best grapes up here in the cross flow winds. Barr Eden’s designed for the winemakers to come here - to look for quality - to perve on the quality and then fight for it.

Now I've cast off in Bessy the boat with a Barr Eden Shiraz Mataro Grenache to marvel about how quick it all was.

Tongue in cheek I even stopped being a winemaker, because I never was. I mean, I'm a dreamer, a story teller. I think about things, create and get it done.

There I go again, lapsing into the present tense. I sorta like that. I'll leave the future with you.

Cheers, Bob.

ENDS ...  

This text is adapted from Bob's last interview, which Milton Wordley recorded last week. Watch here for details of the publication of the full text.

One last slow lunch ... or another one of 'em, anyway ... Bobby trying to hide the Soave he was enjoying ... it wasn't Barossa, but there we were in his beloved Barossa, at Roaring Forties ... he said that at the top of the season, their tomato pizza was as good as it gets ... it was perfect ... shit I'm gonna miss him ... photo Philip White


Golden Grove Estate Granite Belt Joven Tempranillo 2014 
$24; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 90+ points

Tempranillo thrives in the high Spanish desert, where the ripening temperatures plunge from over 40C at noon to below zero at night and film crews hang about chewing cheroots in the wind and dust, making spaghetti westerns like My Name Is Trinity or Trinity Is Still My Name. You can hear the doo-wokka doo-wokka Morricone soundtrack. With that in mind, much Australian Tempranillo continues to surprise me, as the sites chosen to plant it bear no relation to that source terroir.

Australian vignerons never seem to think about stuff like this. Not a thought for the soundtrack. Not a poncho in sight. I mean they're confident enough to pinch the style and presume they can equal such ancient lines of wine with a bluff disregard for the geological, geographical, climatic and cultural majority of its provenance. I spose it's a bit like the Italians going to Spain to make American cowboy movies.

Yet the dear old Temp is forgiving and malleable: it seems to thrive at Maslin's Beach, for example, where that maritime diurnal range would be down to nearly zero comparitively. And now here's a real whizzer from the sub-tropical Queensland heights.

Joven means young, as in meant to drink like that. This baby has all the juniper berries and blackberries after the lightning and the electric fence spark of much more expensive imported versions, and while it's maybe a bit short in the primary fruit division it's lithe and intense and sits around your mouth like A Choo Choo Bar for fifteen minutes anyway. Get the chorizos and warm black olives and that black Spanish ham rockin and you could chug-a-lug this by the jug. I'd even risk the blasphemy allegations and say it'd make a really sick sangria. 

Golden Grove Estate Vintage Grand Reserve Granite Belt Nero d'Avola 2012
$45; 13.4% alcohol; screw cap; 93++ points 

Even the winemaker's name finishes in O at Golden Grove. Winemaker Raymond Costanzo's grandparents started this outfit in 1946; he's taking over from his parents, Sam and Grace. The farm's 820 metres up in the granites around Ballandean Queensland. This is a much more refined slink of a drink than the two savage South Australian locals I've raved about, Fox Gordon and Kays. It's Grace Jones before, not after, the show. Those other two are afters.

Maybe it's as much the highland cool of the Granite Belt as the winemaking which polishes the lapels of this tux. It'll tickle and prickle your nostrils till they twitch, but it's polished to a sheen. Oh I see, you're not wearing a shirt. It's intense, and living up to its name, it has black a-plenty in a modern willowy frame. If it's fruitaveg references you want, let me suggest that like Blue Poles Teroldego 2012 - from an Alpine Italy grape now grown in Margaret River - it has a line of lovely dry olive leaf essence wrapped in all that silk and satin plush. But don't you worry about that. It's elegant, svelte, and lissom, with plenty of cracking natural acid and tannin as fine as a Tim Smith wine.

What? A decade of dungeon? Try it in five. No, we'll slurp it now. Bring me a wedge of caciacavello, please. Or an old pecorino with peppercorns. Or take me to Sicily. No, no, no ... don't worry about the shirt. Keep your jacket on. Forget the shirt. Just sit down. I'll get the cheese. 

Ballandean Estate Wines Messing About Granite Belt Malbec 2012 
$42; 14.3% alcohol; cork; 93 points

 Just between you and me, nobody's messing about here: this is Malbec at its stand-alone best. In form it somehow fits between the broad cuddly Malbec of Langhorne Creek and the tighter, more focused examples you'll find in Clare or Great Southern in Western Australia. Intense, taut juniper and blueberry light up the fragrance, with a tweak of lemony oak and a dusting of musky confectioner's sugar. There's blackberry and mulberry simmering way below.

The wine has a highly polished form. It's been worked to be ultra-smooth and silky, with none of the quirky edges the brilliant Malbecs show in Alkoomi or Frankland Estate at the opposite end of Australia in Great Southern. Or indeed the extreme altitude Argentinian Malbecs from Mendoza in the Andes like you'll find in Vintage Cellars. What tannin there is seems barely discernable, but whippy cool climate acidity draws its tail out to a beautiful slinky taper that simply slides and slithers away, leaving the drinker trapped in the belief that the finish will be somewhere in the next glass, or the next bottle. In other words, more, please.

I started thinking of oh-so-polite juicy pink lamb cutlets but soon realised we're talking about a whole sheep on the coals, Argentinian-style. And lunch will lazily become dinner.