“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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18 April 2014

HAPPY HAPPY 50th MR MAYNARD 140417

Maynard James Keenan meets Ray Beckwith's pH meter, Penfolds Magill, last year ... photo Philip White ... three muscateers photo below, with Peter Gago, by Milton Wordley



17 April 2014

NOTHING NEW ABOUT ORANGE WHITES

photo Gus Howard

STOPPED PRESS:

After the twisty reactions triggered by the author's thoughts on the orange wines  served at the recent event at which he presented the Howard Twelftree Award, perhaps it's time to admit some history. 

Here he is - late Devo epoch - holding a white balance for producer/director/cinematographer Gus Howard soon after sunrise at The Steingarten in the High Barossa in the mid-eighties. You can see the thin line of the vineyard coming out of the author's head. It was one of the early morning starts shooting the first export promotional film for the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation, now called Wine Australia.

Not long after this the author swung in the back higher gate in the old Police Holley Hemi V8 Val with nervous/frightened winemakers Ron Laughton and Graeme Leith, only to interrupt some Orlando vineyard blokes studiously cutting the vines off at the roots with a very efficient mechanical pruner: one of the first the author had seen. The good workers said they'd been told to clean the vineyard out; yields were too low. It took a mighty tantrum in the Steingarten and a fast blast down the hill to MD Guenther Prass's office at Rowland Flat to get that destruction stopped. It had been a vineyard management decision. Guenther claimed he didn't know. 

One trusts that what they left of the Steingarten's still there.

For more information about the seventies Orange movement, click here. To tune your browser to the point where the DRINKSTER's attire is most accurately coloured, just twist the knobs till that piece of paper turns pure white. 

It's a kind of filtration.

That seventies Orange thing, the author felt, deserved a living piss-take of the randy rich dills in that very strange movement. How could you measure their success? By their desertions? 

How powerful is the new Orange People? One can hardly see somebody as straight down the line as Max Allen ever bleeding his followers to buy himself 93 Rolls Royces, like the Bhagwan did of his original mob of Orange followers. Not at all. Max might buy one, but they'll never have the money nor the greed for a fleet. 

Will cloudy orange wines take over the world? No. They don't have to. To paraphrase a bit of what Max said in his rousing speech, they were here from the start. They have been here since somebody first put rotting fruit in a bowl. They will always be here, somewhere. 

But we know how to make better wines. Even after the Armageddons to come, somebody will remember the anti-rot advantages of brimstone, and the clarifying capacity of the sieve.

A bright young Croser may come again. 

Maybe it'll be someone respectful of the Colin Gramp who put that Steingarten there with explosives fifty years back. Colin's desire for finer, brighter wines brought on the brilliant Rieslings he made in those days. He's getting very old, but when he pulls one of his good fifties or sixties out, one rises immediately above the clouds.

As for the author's Orange Lodge involvement? Well, that's a private Protestant issue. 

Beware of active Red Handers.


Perfect fruit box art portraying the active hand caught red, or orange: This image is by the great Ben Sakoguchi, from his Orange Crate Label Series


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16 April 2014

BIG VERSUS SMALL, BY GEORGE!

SMALL CHANGE? INDEED! BUT BIG VALUE


Small Change White
$20; 11.9% alcohol; screw cap; 93 points

Fillets, Flipper, Filth, Furber, Snow, Filster, Whitey ... I've had some nicknames in my time, some of them completely appropriate, but I've never been called Small Change. Pardon my presumption, but I rather like it. Rhys Howlett made the wine and named it. It's 2013 Verdelho from Langhorne Creek, made, dare I say, much after the retro-rad style of Luis "Louie the Duck" Pato, leader of the Portuguese white wine revolution. It reminds me of some of his exemplary Vinhas Velhas, like the 2010, which just manages to have the same modest number of alcohols as this. What a lovely number! Verdelho can be made to taste a bit like Riesling, and sometimes it tastes a bit like Chenin blanc, both of which are surprising for a variety the Portuguese cultivated on their tropical island colony of Madiera in order to make mighty concentrated fortifieds that would last for a century or more. It was common for sailors headed to the antipodes to call by there for a schlück, hoist the odd barrel or two aboard, and a bale or six of cuttings for their New World. So we grow Verdelho. And, oh yes, did I forget to tell you that most Australian Verdelho is very very boring. This wine is NOT boring. This one's made to taste and feel more like an actual wine than, say, your most flinty austere Riesling or indeed most Oz Verdelho. It has just the right drip of gingery Iberian sweat on its otherwise tropical flesh, and the right ping of lemony acid that draws your lips to a pucker as its tail disappears down your throat. Made to slurp with crayfish, scallops, sardines, Coorong mullet et cetera, it is a lovely thing at a shiny little spend. If it had a duck on it, like Luis's posh Portuguese blends, you'd be paying twice this.

Small Change Red
$22; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 92 points

Same bloke; same gastronomic ethic and wit; same region; made from 2013 Langhorne Creek Grenache and Shiraz. It's beautifully heady and scented, somewhere well beyond morello cherries, past beetroot, even past Guinness, away out in those swoony nether regions of black fruits and spooky licorice roots which have not yet evolved. It's viscous and silky and barely tannic, as if August Clape were suddenly to make a Beaujolais, or Pope Frank were to burst out in tongues and begin chasing shielas round the nave. It makes me crave those big gamy Calabrian snags they build out of scrapings and other odd shreds of critters that fall off or get sliced or ground or chewed off or blown away, even get run over, and miraculously escape the smokehouse, ending up in ordinary feral sausages for the grill. Which makes me realise the wine has no discernable oak, which pushes it even further out and away from the mainstream plonkers. I get the feeling Rhys has been plotting these wines through all those years of exile he spent working for the Bordelaise winemaker, Jacques Lurton, at his Kangaroo Island vineyard. Neither of these two Small Changes happened without a lot of thought and an uncommon wallop of gastronomic intelligence. Try here to buy' em.

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HIDDEN GRANGE CLAIMS SURPRISE SCALP


BREAKING NEWS: 

One bottle of tired old Grange ... New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell has promised to quit for forgetting it.

"As soon as I can organise a meeting of the parliamentary party next week, I will be resigning the position and enabling a new Liberal leader to be elected," O'Farrell said at this morning's press conference.

When challenged yesterday by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), O'Farrell denied being given the bottle by Australian Water Holdings (AWH) executive Nick Di Girolamo. 

AWH is being investigated over allegations it invoiced Sydney Water for lucrative expenses then used this taxpayer's money for handover to political parties, executive salaries and other dodgy business.

The ICAC inquiry has already reached far into the top ranks of Prime Minister Tony Abbott's Federal government, triggering the 'standing aside' of Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos.

This followed the ICAC inquiry hearing claims that Sinodinos, a former AWH director and treasurer of the NSW Liberal Party, "stood to make up to $20 million from a contract with the state-owned Sydney Water Corporation."

Sinodinos was also the right-hand man of former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard.

O'Farrell this morning admitted to a "significant memory fail on my part" after yesterday telling the Commission he was "not a wine connoisseur," and denying the gift was delivered.


He claimed yesterday he could not recall the 28-second phone call transmitted from his phone to Di Girolamo's at about the time Di Girolamo claimed he'd had the wine delivered to the Premier's door to congratulate him for his 2011 election victory.

The Grange label was dated May 24, 1959, which happens to be O'Farrell's birthday. The gift is not listed on O'Farrell's pecuniary interests declaration. The rare bottle, said to be worth AU$3000, is from the last of the 'Hidden Vintages' of Grange, when winemaker Max Schubert made the wine secretly, against the instruction of his Sydney-based employers, and their savage MD, the fearsome Grace Longhurst.

ICAC officers linked the gift to allegations that AWH had lobbied O'Farrell "over an agreement with the state-owned Sydney Water to roll out water infrastructure."

Di Girolamo had told ICAC that O'Farrell phoned him to thank him for the gift.

At this morning's press conference, O'Farrell admitted that a personal note from him to Di Girolamo was in the possession of ICAC.

O'Farrell insisted his forgetfulness was truthful, but said "I do accept there is a thankyou note signed by me ... As someone who believes in accountability, in responsibility I accept the consequences of my action," he said.

"In no way did I seek to mislead wilfully ... That would go against everything I am.

"But this has been a clearly significant memory fail on my part, but I accept the consequences of my actions."

It must be said O'Farrell's scalp was an unexpected result for the ICAC inquiry.

Barry O'Farrell image taken this morning from the website of the Premier of New South Wales

Respected journalist Mike Carlton tweeted this morning "Have to say it's a shame about Barry O'Farrell. He was a good premier, and I am sure he was honest. I liked him personally ... 

"I suspect BOF genuinely forgot about the Grange. And the thank you note. I've known him a long time. He's not a liar. 

"If we send a bottle of Grange to Abbott it might work its fatal magic again. Anyone want to chip in?"

Plenty of opportunity here for those seeking to scalp politicians ... photo by Milton Wordley, from our book A year in the life of Grange ... this morning's shenanigans would have made a perfect final chapter!
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14 April 2014

TWELFTREE AWARD GOES TO WELGEMOED


Duncan Weldgemoed's selfie of the first Howard Twelftree Award, charged with Grenache made by Maynard James Keenan and Taras Ochata at Basket Range in the Adelaide Hills. Inaugural winner Duncan, the brilliant chef at Bistro Dom, is toasting a painting by Stephen Langdon ... Bistro Dom is decked with artworks, all of which are for sale.
 

A pair of contrasting events
Murky delights in candlelight
And a bonnie day in the country
by PHILIP WHITE

The inaugural Howard Twelftree Award was presented to the radical Adelaide chef, Duncan Welgemoed at the weekend. The handover took place at a surreal shedster Food and Wine Festival dinner at Fall From Grace in Willunga.

Duncan and his crew made the food. They'd been hired well before the award recipient was decided, and were completely unaware of what would unfold.


Duncan@GastroPunKoz (above) is best known for his remarkable Bistro Dom in Waymouth Street in Adelaide. It was this kitchen some cobweb fools blamed for Maynard James Keenan losing his voice during last year's Tool tour, forcing the 24-hour postponement of the gig. I can personally assure you it was neither Duncan nor his kitchen that damaged the bullet-proof Tool voicebox. The repast the Bistro Dom crew delivered that night was memorable for its restorative wonder; the damage was committed by quite separate bacterial goings-on in the royal froat and Maynard was in exquisite  scream after a day locked safely away with an appropriate spray.

As a mark of respect for the world's most famous premium winemaker, which Maynard is - at his Caduceus winery on Mount Mingus at Jerome, Arizona - I wore my Barons of Barossa robes to the concert. Tool fans said stuff like "Way cool, man, you're sooo ooold, and you're at Tool? Who you the mayor of?"

But back to the business.

The author and Howard Twelftree dining in Neddy's in the mid-eighties ... note the common interest in red ties and braces with white polka dots ... for more about Howard, and his first ever food column, click here... photo Milton Wordley

For thirty-three years in The Adelaide Preview, and then The Adelaide Review, Howard wrote exquisitely of gastronomy under the pseudonym John McGrath.  He was found dead at his desk in June last year, new phone in one hand, instruction manual in the other. The award is made by a disparate mob of his friends, editors and dining allies, some almost lifelong. It will be presented to any individual who makes an exceptional contribution to the gastronomic life of South Australia. It may go to writers, chefs, waiters, architects, designers - some years we may not even make an award. Which would be a pity, but, you know, we don't want this thing becoming too thick on the ground.

The Fall From Grace dinner was a sell-out. Gill Gordon Smith has closed her tiny wine bar in the main street of McLaren Vale and re-opened in a bigger, older, more cosy premises at 29a High Street, Willunga. The long 'tasting garden' at the back has a splendid galvo shed which was bespangled with fairy lights and candlesticks and jam-packed with tables. Guests walked through the perfumed smoke of Duncan's fiery 'kitchen' as they were led to their chairs.

A small portion of the diners at the Fall From Grace dinner ... cloudy 'natural' wines were the order of the night ... Duncan's food was naturally brilliant ... photo Philip White

As well as being spectacular on the eye and nose, the affair was also decidedly evangelical.  Wine critic Max Allen was imported to preach his passion, so-called 'natural wines', which he did with much fervour, if indeed a bit short of a hard-core hot-gospeller like Billy Sunday.

One got the feeling that Max preached to the converted. There was more than a whiff of sanctimony in the night air.

Various vintners and committed naturists were there, tip-toeing through the fairy lights with unlabelled bottles of their cloudy wares, affording guests and friends wee trickles of mystery. 

As I addressed my naturally orange hangover with things more unnaturally spiritous the next day, I Corinthians 2:14 descended as a sort of Heavenly salve. I quote the original 1611 edition of The King James Bible: "But the naturall man receiueth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishnesse vnto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."

So there. I too can show God-blessed sanctimony when it's called for. Selah.

The unwitting Duncan was caterer for the evening: his repast was delicious in the most crazy and sensitive of ways. When he was dragged from his fires to the fore, he thought we were about to applaud him for his wizardry before he'd even served dessert. You know: one of those awkward march-the-kitchen-and-floor-staff-out-for-applause-and-silly-speeches sort of rituals. So he was genuinely taken aback when I thrust a mighty decanter upon him and announced it was indeed the first Howard Twelftree Award, suggesting he should only ever use it by tipping three or four different wines in there together.

In the end, Duncan gave it the Sense of Compression Adelaide Hills Grenache made jointly by Maynard and Taras Ochata of Ochota Barrels at Basket Range. A goodly schlück.

Next day, Howard Vineyard of Nairne mounted a similarly outstanding Fresh! event which was more Woodstock than hot gospel and was devoid of any wisp of Exclusive Brethren sanctimony.

Folks enjoying the day at Howard Vineyard ... photo Philip White

I have always thought that somebody smart may someday combine something along the lines of the thriving Hahndorf Fruitaveg Market with your actual dining and some properly good wines and appropriate music. Outside, in the country. I mean it's been done, but not quite the way I envisage.

Howard Vineyard marketing man Nick Whiteway and winemaker Tom Northcote got close to  realising my dream on Sunday.

Around four hundred happy people - all ages - sat under the Autumn sky and the oaks and dined, and played, and danced and drank.  And stayed all day. You could taste and purchase wines from Howard, By Jingo, Jericho, Sam Scott, and Top Note, and craft beers from Gulf Brewery and Prancing Pony. The fine food vendors included Melba's Chocolates, Woodside Cheesewrights, Newbury and Watson Artisan Smallgoods and Bald Hills Olives. I even scored a jar of stunning Tarkine Rainforest Leatherwood Honey from those committed Dawesley apiarists, buzzHONEY.

Thinking about wine at Howard Vineyard's weekend mini-festival ... photo Philip White

All these honest-to-goodness participants were local, and I got the feeling a good proportion of the polite crowd were, too.

The very smart coffee was by Myrtle and Mae and the splendid music was by the tireless trio, Ragged But Right. They sang and played an encyclopædic canon of old-time/good-time/Americana mountain music. It was just perfect for the day. There's nothing like the bright tinkle of a well-played mandolin to lift the knees and the spirits; add to that expert three-part hillbilly harmonies and you got me.

Taras and Amber Ochota and their bonnie wee laddie, right foreground, enjoying the masterly hillbilly music of Ragged But Right ... photo Philip White

Dogs, dads and kids chased footies, grandmas toted chocolate-smeared infants, ancient journalists sat soaking it all in - one boasting to me about never ever looking at the internet: it was indeed a bonnie and wholesome thing.

photo Philip White

While I sat there supping, gazing and marvelling, I couldn't cease churning over the contrast between the two events. Of course they had different purposes, and very obviously poked their barrels - or amphoræ - at quite different markets.

But, c'mon, these natural people and their murky brews ... what's the point? Sure, rebel against the gross industrialisation of the worst mass-produced wines with their mindless petro-chem. They deserve an uprising, pointed straight at 'em. But claiming that a filtered, or strained wine cannot be called natural?

What's natural about a pair of pruning snips? A basket press? A grape crusher? A bottle?

photo Philip White

Whatter they do with their coffee? Their tea? Their potatoes, for chrissake? According to this dodgy dogma, potatoes get two levels of sin: first, they're boiled. Second, they're strained. Are those poor spuds not natural?

I sit with my glass of biodynamic/organic (certified) red, marvelling at its honest beauty, wondering why it's barred from this natural word/world simply because it's been strained. But then I'm smugly satisfied that a mob of zealots of the size and fervour of these sanctimonious murkists and orange hangover-mongers have one thing going for them. We know where they are, just as we know where the petrochem wine industrialists are. It's a bit like the tribal mob mentality of the football. When there's a big match on, a normal non-gang human knows where they are, in their mob-whipped fervour and regimental regalia. They are at the footy.

For those few short hours, a bloke like me can walk down the street with impunity.

Ragged But Right, named after their theme song, the great Riley Puckett's biggest hit ... Michael McGregor (left), Ian Davis and Paul Reynolds ... heartily recommended by the DRINKSTER for good-time feelings at whatever function you plan ... and that brilliant retro microphone, for you audiophiles, is The Louise,  from Ear Trumpet Labs, in Portland, Oregon ...  just perfect for this type of two-foot-back music ...photo Philip White


FOOTNOTE: Just by the way, Howard Twelftree and the Howard Twelftree Award have nothing at all to do with the Two Hands winery proprietor Michael Twelftree - other than sharing an unusual Irish name -  or the Howard Vineyard at Nairne. It's just been a big fortnight for Howards and Twelftrees.


BY JINGO DROPS OFF AFTER ALCHEMIC 14

Vintage is over at By Jingo, and the great man has finally crashed. Last night DRINKSTER was fortunate to taste a few barrels of John Gilbert's stylish new efforts with off-the wall varieties from arcane sources. Typical exchange: "How did you approach this wine, John?" "With disdain." Which means minimal normal human intrusion in the endogenous alchemy, we think. His Montepulciano is always a favourite at Casa Blanco. To taste and purchase the current wondrous range, and a get sneak look at the mysterious new Sangrillo, John and Annick are having another of their highly popupular shed tastings on the weekend of Saturday 3rd and Sunday 4th May. Door opens at 11am at 8 Bradfield Lane, Wistow (off Wellington Road, south of Mount Barker township) ... photo Philip White