“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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28 March 2015

ANNABELLE COLLETT: MATE JUMPS SHIP

Today I had lunch with three really good friends. One, Annabelle Collett, is going to live in Vietnam for a while. She'll be doing swaps with artists of her ilk there via her arts residency through Asia Link.

Annabelle makes art from just about anything she encounters. Usually you can hang it on the wall.

That's a photograph I took of her hands on another day; here are some photos from today.

This is Mick Wordley, who records musicians and runs the best studio in the south: Mixmasters, which he literally built from scratch. Mick is a good friend. He makes great records. I took these snaps at the Cafe Bombora on the Cockle Beach at Goolwa. I think this is the best and most true seafood restaurant in Australia. DISCLAIMER: Of course it's not possible for me to visit them all, but I can't imagine anything better than Bombora.

And here's Robyn Wordley, who gets perfect lunches for a mob of really lucky schooolkids and does like vital groundcrew at Mixmasters. In her spare time.

Annabelle rocks. Very thirsty. She lives in the Murray Estuary.

Below's some folks checking out some of her preserves a coupla years back at Milang.


A snap I got in her backyard. She collects stuff and keeps it all sorted ... here's something I saw phasing away on her veranda:

More preserves at Milang ... photos Philip White ... click on 'em to make 'em bigger ... that's Annabelle dancing on Ngarrindjeri country under the full Moon at Point Sturt

... and here's chef Joel Cousins outside his tiny kitchen at Cafe Bombora ... the wine list covers many of the local Southern Fleurieu producers, but this time we worked on a spiky/icy Hahndorf Hill Gruner Veltliner which offered a brisk counterpoint to Joel's seafood chowder, with all its mussels and cockles... Jane Mitchell must eat there too: her Clare Riesling's on the list.

In sharp contrast to the absence of instructional signage on how to use Point Sturt, the local signage wardens have been hard at work at the Cockle Beach ... I spotted this malignant outbreak of instructions on how to approach a beach on a previous visit ... I was surprised there was no warning to keep an eye out for boat people ... Indians on horses seem to be cool but it looks like wigwams are out ... the savage turtle warning has since been removed as the Murray River's hardly flowing enough to wash them out to sea.



26 March 2015

PINOT GRIS FROM FLEURIEU HILLS


Fleurieu Hills Vineyards 300+ Pinot Gris 2013
$17; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 93 points 

Sitting in the office of a big contract winemaker a dozen years back, I overheard a conversation. A huge retailer wanted this new stuff they had on Mornington Peninsula called Pinot grigio. The winemaker explained that his district hardly grew any, and he had none. The buyer yelled that he didn't care what it was made from, as long as by the time it got to him, "it had better be Pinot grigio!"

I think I heard him suggest Semillon.

Varieties that end in O were only just beginning their surprising surge in popularity. It was interesting that the buyer made it clear that regardless of the variety in the bottle, he certainly didn't want it labelled Pinot gris, which is the French name of the grey-skinned form of Pinot which is called Pinot grigio in Italy. The French, who grow it in Alsace, tend to make a longer-living, more austere version than most Italians.

All that aside, I have long held the suspicion that anywhere that can't grow good Pinot noir, which includes most of South Australia (Ashton Hills being a brilliant exception) shouldn't even attempt to grow the grey version.

So it was a delightful surprise to discover this lovely wine, which was grown by Linda and Trevor Desmond on the range beyond Willunga and made at Dennis Wines on McLaren Flat. The photographer Milton Wordley kindly brought me two samples saying "Try these, Whitey. I reckon they're pretty good."

Pretty good? It is a rare thing in my line of work to make a discovery like this. Thankyou Milton. I came over all emulsional.

Milton Wordley: hard at work ... photo Philip White
 
As the Desmonds are just south-east of the McLaren Vale boundary, their vignoble's called Southern Fleurieu. They're at 300+ metres of altitude in grey podsolic dirt spattered with ironstone the size of shotgun pellets, peas and grapeshot. Without even tasting, thus far, on paper, it all looks promising. Whitey really likes ironstone.

But then I pour a glass and realise the table is flooding with the creamy aroma of ripe white peach. Pure and honest and wholesome. Stick the nose in closer and it simply becomes more intense. It's not that overt yellow peach that used to mar rich Chardonnays like the dreaded Upper Hunter Valley Rosemount Roxburgh, which is now a coal mine, nyah nyah, but clean and unblemished ripe white peach grown somewhere cold. Maybe some buttery pear, too, like the Anjou type. It makes me think how delightful it would be to smell a human with flesh like this. Second bet would be to simply find a scrubbed one and pour this on. Nipple polish.

The texture is pretty much what you'd expect after such a fragrance: viscous and a bit thick: like a ripe Pinot noir. It's what that empress of Mornington Peninsula Pinot gris/grigio, Kathleen Quealy quite correctly calls 'slime'. And it's the sort of wine I'd expect only to find down on that cool protrusion into that fizzy southern ocean.

After that comforting fleshy bit, the tannins arise, very fine and dry, much along the lines of what you'd find in a middle-range Burgundian Pinot noir from a warmish year. Imagine the raspberries and cherries of that wine replaced by white peach and you're on the money. I think that served in a black glass, many would imagine this to be a red wine because of that reassuring textural form.

This is close to the best example of the variety I've had from South Australia, and one of the best from the whole bloody country. I can think of nothing better than wrapping it around a crayfish cut in half lengthways and cooked until its shell begins to blacken on a char grill, presented with lemon juice and a little hot chilli, fresh basil and crusty white bread with great chunks of Paris Creek butter. 

Fleurieu Hills Vineyards Pinot Gris 2014 
$20; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 94+ points 

Similar, but a little more precise and tight to sniff, this one has the slightest edge of carbide or cordite, a little like the aroma of that wasted, infertile grey podsol after a sprinkle of summer rain. Below that the fleshy part of the bouquet is a smidge less peach and a bit more pear - the Bosc in this case - and maybe a touch of loquat.

The texture is much like loquat: not quite so syrupy as the 2013's, but sort of fluffy at one end and precisely dry and acidic at the other. So it's both satisfying and tantalising, which is pretty much what I hope for in good wine. The pear and loquat is dominant in this flavour, as it is in the fragrance.

This is a finer wine than its predecessor. Which is saying something. Like it will be the best one I've had from Australia. It reminds me much of the remarkable wines Jean Dietrich made from the same variety in Kayserberg, in Alsace, in the 'eighties. Shit it's good.

To add extra fascination, that loquat character reminds me very much of one of the trials Neville Falkenberg made when he was commencing Penfolds' quest for a 'White Grange' in the mid-nineties. That wine was from a few kays south of this vineyard, but it was Semillon. I thought at the time that it was a much more refined wine than any of the Chardonnays in the same rigourous trials. I wonder what would have happened if they'd over-ruled the marketers and stuck to Semillon.

It was the same sort of marketers and wine grocers who gave the Semillon the thumbs down that convinced the Desmonds that they should drop the 300+ from their label. They said it was confusing. What nonsense. Totally friggin abject nonsense. These are the types of minds that would have tried to get vendors to remove the word 'plain' from flour.

Accompanying food? Two crayfish please, served as above. 

To order wine, e-mail cellardoor@fleurieuhills.com

24 March 2015

TRICKY BUSINESS, WINE WRITING


It's not scratch and sniff, but there are plenty of evocative aromas here: wood, passports, blokes' hairoil, paint, cotton,  cordite, roses, slate, sunflowers, Elizabeth Taylor ... 

Having a bit of a write:
the tricks of evoking smell and
flavour in wine description
by PHILIP WHITE

"From the sweet tinge of bubblegum to the metallic tang of blood, the world of wine is home to some less than ordinary tastes and aromas."

Thus wrote Lauren Eads in the prominent international boozemag, The Drinks Business, at the weekend. She listed ten aromas or flavours that newcomers to wine description find, well, strange, if not plain unlikely.

Bacchus knows I'm the last old bastard to discourage anybody from having a bit of a write, but he too must cringe at the limited way the wine world approaches its descriptive language, which is the issue Lauren addresses. I'm not one to grieve too hard at the contemporary deconstruction of the formal language my generation was taught - thankyou Miss Mizing for your dazzling English classes - but I wish like hell that as much effort went into the wit and twist available to the thinking communicator as goes into the current fashion of abbreviating stuff.

Feed me another TLA* and I'll choke.

Realising that gadgets like Twitter are hardly great avenues for essays on the confounding world of sensory perception, the best tweeters still manage to find a way around such restrictions with clever thought, supported by a learned measure of audacity and an appreciation of the perverse thrill of risk.

Lauren's mention of blood reminded me of a typically cryptic tweet the great pianist James Rhodes hung out a few days back. "Why," he asked, "does glass always taste like blood?"

James - @JRhodesPianist - is as wicked with the language keyboard as he is at the piano and is a good man to follow for dry wit as much as his beautiful music. All would-be wine writers can learn from his brevity and his ability to invoke strings of puzzled thought that eventually lead the reader to an understanding of his point. While the microprocessors of the brain whirr like topsy to unlock such puzzles, scouring its vast repository for linguistic keys, it teaches itself new things as it opens the content of countless thousands of long-forgotten files.

Which is a furtherance of my longstanding belief that writing about smells and flavours and the feelings they impart is as imprecise a sport as writing about music or fine art.

To take it back to James' primary communicative skill, his music, here's a recent intro he tapped to encourage us to listen to a skerrick of Bach he'd just put on Soundcloud

"Brilliant, if stupidly difficult, gigue from Bach's 1st Partita," he tweeted. "Hands crossing everywhere all over the keyboard like an angry fly on meth." Bugger The flight of the bumblebee ...

In her Drinks Business piece, Lauren referred to an earlier interview with Charles Spence, professor of experimental psychology at Oxford. He's been working on taste with celebrity chef Heston Blumethal, and insists that our old dogma about the mouth being able to detect "only about five basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and recently umami" is plain nonsense. He went on to insist that there are "at least twenty different tastes detected in the mouth, like fat, metallic, calcium, astringency and hotness."

I've always wondered about our receptors for that obvious essential, water. Those few basic tastes taken as scipture for over a century have never stretched to explain our appreciation of the very compound which makes up about sixty per cent of our body mass: plain old H₂O.

In her story, Lauren also lists nail polish remover, petrol, burning rubber, eucalyptus, wet wool, banana, shit and lead pencil as wine components she considers "less than ordinary."

Plenty of eucalyptus bouquet at the vast Currency Creek arboretum of Dean Nicolle ... left to right: eucalyptus king Dean Nicolle, artist Rita Hall and Tony Kanellos and Stephen Forbes of the Adelaide Botanic Garden ... photo Philip White

Surely the wonder of these things has largely to do with their ordinariness?

As science drags its feet in its rote laboratory attempts to prove that people like me cannot possibly see the range of things we claim to find in drinks like wine, it should nevertheless be encouraged. Now that Tony Abbott seems to be throwing money back at the scientists he had only just removed it from, all in the pursuit of lost pollster points, I suspect he'd scratch a few points back, not to mention a few important backs, if he allocated some of our money to the exploration of how our organoleptic senses choose to make us avoid certain aromas and flavours while sending us greedily in pursuit of others. This could by a back door method help unlock many of the abovementioned puzzles. It may also assist us to avoid eating the poisonous berries his underfunded health officials let through to the shelves of Woolies and Coles.

Who knows? It may even replace some of the precise language study which has stupidly fallen off this nation's school syllabi.

When describing drinks, I'm reluctant to insist precisely that certain chemicals are present in them: I'm not a biochemist, or even an organoleptic technician. Sure, there are many compounds I am confident to suggest, but like my burgeoning cohort of wine experts, Masters of Wine and members of the quaintly-named Wine Communicators of Australia, I am as ignorant of the true science of our mystifying abilities to detect such things as is our Prime Minister, his love of raw onion notwithstanding.

So with confidence I ply the waters of simile and metaphor, hoping the beloved reader at least gets a feeling.

Of course tits and bums have aromas all their own ... but never be tricked: these are the heads of George Grainger Aldridge and Jo Vallelonga which I photographed at the Humbug Club

Before we set out to write of certain tinctures, wine "communicators" frequently forget to ask ourselves one vital question. Are we here to ingratiate ourselves with favoured producers, or indeed to bring joy to the faces of those who bother to read us and risk taking our advice?

It seems to me that too few in this racket can seriously call themselves wine critics, which may explain why most of them don't. On the other hand, most have no hesitation in using the word "writer."

I suppose we do indeed write - that appellation insinuates no measure of accuracy, knowledge or skill.

Which leads me to the vital lesson firmly tattooed on the inside of my forehead. It's Leonard Cohen, reflecting on his long entanglement with the bottle.

“I only drank professionally", he recalled. "I found this wine: it was Chateau Latour. The experts talk about the bouquet and the tannins and the fruit and the symphonies of tastes. But nobody talks about the high. Bordeaux is a wine that vintners have worked on for 1,000 years. Each wine has a specific high, which is never mentioned.”

My limited science aside, the single most important thing about wine is the way it makes me feel. Try as they might, no underfunded whitecoat can disprove anything so personal, nor can they deny my right to explain this in my own language.

Which I shall continue to practise. But from now, I'll scarcely manage to put a snifter to my lips without wondering about blood. Note to self: don't bite the glass, Whitey.

Then I'll want to hear James Rhodes play the piano, see?

Koltz winemaker Mark Day never bites his glass ... photo Philip White

*FOOTNOTE: TLA: Three Letter Acronym. I've often wondered at the Wine Communicators of Australia acronym, which reminds me of the olden days, when blokes would ask "Where's your WC, eh?"
 

ALL IN THE LINE OF WORK

The regular Wah Hing mob felt it might be time to look at a few '05 Bordeaux reds at ten years of age, so somebody sold their wedding ring or car or kids or something and we looked ... A few great Australians found their way into the queue. Not to mention Chris Carpenter's stunning Lokoya Napa Cabernet and Jason Barrette's equally ravishing Barden Pinot from Santa Barbara.

That's the late-stayers above: Cheong Liew, Chris Carpenter, Anne-Marie Chin, Jason Barrette and Milton Wordley ... not one plate left unlicked ... photo Philip White

SIMON BURNELL TAKEN BY THE SEA

"It kinda sucks working long hours in the best months of the year. The view from the office can ease…"

Just days ago, at the peak of the vintage, Willow Bridge winemaker, Simon Burnell - @SmellBurnell - posted this last photograph of his beloved ocean, which took his life in a windsurfing accident on the weekend.

A crack and canny winesmith, Simon was a great contributor to the feisty conversations the wine world shares on Twitter.

He never ever bullshitted me. 

Heartfelt regards to all his family and friends at the winery and the mob down the beach.

Sleep real deep, you good man. I'm gonna miss your wine and your cheery, acute repartee. 

Clink.



23 March 2015

THE HOMELESS GRAPES LOSE THEIR STALKS

The Homeless Grapes spent a cool night sleeping under the verandah at Yangarra Estate. First thing this morning they were tipped into the grape sorter.
















That's Yangarra winemaker Shelley Torresan running the show this morning. Her husband, Damien, runs Torresan Estate, the bottling company that has volunteered to bottle the finished wine, supply the bottles, corks and boxes, and stick the labels on.

That's the sorting machine.The grapes go in the hopper, up a very gentle escalator into the destemmer at top left. The stalks get spat into the blue bin. Then, with a combination of shaking surfaces and the venturi blower, shrivelled over-ripe berries, leaves and all the insects and grubs and whatever that were hiding in the bunches are are ejected into another bin. The machine is adjusted to suit each batch of fruit. The individual berries are then lifted by another escalator belt to be dropped through a tiny crusher in the bottom right. This is set fairly open to let most berries through intact: only the rare fat one gets a squashing.



 So here they come: clean intact berries with no contaminants. Machines like this will revolutionise winemaking and the flavours we eventually drink from the bottle. They are far superior to human bunch sorters as they can select individual berries according to the machine's set-up, at a rate of about four tonnes per hour. Of course it's good to have a fastidious human like German visitor Julia Bauermann picking out the last bits and pieces.

Jock Harvey, of Chalk Hill Wines, donator of the grapes, tempts innocent observers with a taste of the reject fruit. Until such machines were invented, we drank all that stuff, and indeed still do in the average bottle.  All good wineries should have a sorting machine.

And here's the first of the selected fruit, ready to go into the fermenters. That free run juice in the top corners of the vessel is not yet stained by decaying skins. If you made a wine from it, it would be a very pale rosé. Once in the fermenter, this fruit will be left sitting at a cool temperature for a day or two, so more juice oozes out and the skins begin to decay. 



Called a cold soak, this next stage of the winemaking procedure will see the water-soluble aromatics extracted from the skins. By water, I mean the sugary juice, which has not yet been influenced by yeasts which produce ethanol. When it eventually forms as the winemakers let the fermenters gradually warm up in the coming days, such alcohol will remove another range of aromatics from the skins. The water-soluble aromatics are the prettier, more fleeting fragrances, like violets, roses and other florals: the bits that give the eventual wine its alluring topnotes. Follow DRINKSTER to learn the whole procedure.

The Homeless Grapes project is an initiative of Chalk Hill, Vinomofo, Torresan Estate and Yangarra Estate. Most of the wine has been sold to its customers by Vinomofo, which has already donated the income, $36,000(!) to the Hutt Street Centre, a noble cash-strapped charity devoted to feeding, clothing and assisting the homeless people of Adelaide. 

BLUE POLES TEROLDEGO 2012


Blue Poles Margaret River Teroldego 2012
$30; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 93+++ points

Having worried this bottle for three days, I think I am beginning to listen to it.

Until vigneron/geologist Mark Gifford shyly sent it with a lovely hand-written letter, I had never heard of the variety. Upon opening, it was a tightwad Presbyterian spinster of a thing, exuding not much more than parsimony, sanctimony and piety. Not white and laced and powdered, but black and tanned. What rendered that confusion worse, perversely, was the fact that over those few short days, the Prezzies have gone to the Devil and approved open marriages and the wine seems to have followed them in.

Praised be his precious and healing name!

After three days it's got the sort of smell that makes one's nostril's twitch, as if coming home to one's wife to detect that wicked fleeting whiff of Zorro having just escaped through the casement. The curtains are still moving; the lass is sitting at the hearth, a little flushed. Patting the dress down.

Fanning herself.

It's all black satin and grosgrain and boots of Spanish leather. Moustache wax. Black cigar; licorice. Gun blue. Essence of olive leaf. What was that bastard doing in here? Thrashing the missus with a kalamata branch?

Reminding myself that it's a drink more than than the paranoid dream of the cuckold, I tip some in there. It's a rapacious, slender, wicked sort of thing, intense and slinky, with the sheen of a black panther, the cat not the cats, with tannin like the lick of its big pink tongue. Never had anything like it.

Teroldego, of course, comes from the Tyrol. The Alto Adige, Trentino part of alpine north-eastern Italy, where one can smell the Austrians over the hill. In fact, it smells a little like their Bläufrankisch red wine, with its beetroot and borscht replaced by that rakish whiff of friggin' Zorro.

The extent of these mexing of my mitaphors is a good enough indicator of how the damn thing leaves me twitching, wondering whether to say anything or not.

I would drink it with grilled cacciatore sausage made from the Tyrolean bear larded with the sparse fat of the wild alpine boar. And then I would get down on my knees and grovel to her. I don't want to smell of that. I want to smell like Zorro.

All this confusion comes leavened by the thought that Blue Poles is geologically and vino-spiritually as close as Australia gets to Pomerol and St. Emilion, where I'm sure one can be cuckolded, but I've never smelt Zorro there, yearned for sizzling bear sausage there, or even had the faintest hint of a dream of a drink like this. 

Blue Poles makes Merlot and Cabernet franc and stuff. Probably the best examples in Australia. This red makes them blue-bi-polar. North pole or south? Where's Jackson Pollock when you need him? Oh, of course. He's screaming up and down the Springs-Fireplace Road in the Olds full of liquor with the top down and a coupla lasses. But look at this fine mess he's left us. Right. Yeah. Nah.

Does that help?

These images are from my 1972 diary. Let them both be a lesson to you. 'Keep a clean nose, carry a fire hose; you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.'

PS: Next day: This is the fourth day I've had this bottle open. The wine is finally settling to a sinuous, lissom, bone dry, wickedly tannic beauty that's beginning to smell like wine. It's a marvellous thing indeed. I'd recommend you flirt with your first bottle for a similar period of time, then stack a six-pack away, and try one each year until you devour the last in 2021, when I'm certain it will blow your cotton pickin socks clean off your feet. I stand by my initial food recommendation. It's a great wine to discuss - keep me informed of your reactions, eh?