“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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22 July 2014

THE DONKEYS AT THE EDINBURGH CASTLE

While everyone was off worshipping at the Adelaide Festival Center at the annual Guitar Festival Sunday night, The Donkeys played three blistering sets at the Edinburgh Castle in Currie Street. Apart from gigs at Chris Crago's party (Saturday) and another at the Semaphore Commo's Club, Mick Wordley (bass) Jeff Algra (drums) and Lech Karski (guitar) had not played together for three years. Knowing their mastery of spontaneous gigging, I jokingly accused them of doing it without rehearsal when they insisted they had, and then Jeff said "Well we did go to dinner." Their previous gig had been at my 50th birthday at Gomersal Wines in Barossa a decade before that. Took about 2½ songs for them to settle in, then they just caught fire, as they always do. Plenty of Rev Gary Davis, Al Green and the other business, and a sizzling model of Alex Chilton's The Letter to finish everybody off.  Shit it was good ... the Ed's hot, scrunchy and growly with a good smoker's yard, simple gutsy tucker (pizza; wedges and chilli) and a short list of top booze, a bit like the West End's version of The Ex ... she's gubernated by art dealer Tony Bond ... that's Johnny Guitar Preece with Jeff below ... photos Philip White, who's thinking of having another bit of a party soon .
 

21 July 2014

GEORGE FLIES IN ON PERCY GRANGE AIR

George Grainger Aldridge (below), DRINKSTER's illustrator, is a nephew of Percy Grainger (left), the eccentric Australian musical genius.
 

ON LOSING ONE'S SENSE OF SMELL

Sensual things go real blurry when your nose turns off ... but only to you, the observant pervy sniffer,  feeling left right out ... painting by DRINKSTER hero Ian Francis

The horrors of total anosmia:
language comes back last of all,
the words for the worst bits first
by PHILIP WHITE

A few years ago I took a drive through the Adelaide Hills with Paul Drogemuller, founder of Paracombe wines. It was a balmy, windows-down midsummer night: warm and slightly humid. As we wound our way through the orchards and vineyards he named the sprays and chemical applications each farmer had applied. These horrid stinks overwhelmed the original wholesome smells of woodland, pasture and fruit. Paul had, as a young man, worked in a farm supplies store, so his expert nose knew its way round the petrochem business.

In that game, a good nose can save your life. Which is nothing new. It's like sleeping by the fire in a cave when you suddenly smell lion. Like, "LION!!!"

Nowdays, Paul puts his excellent organoleptic skills to work on the sensuous bouquets in his wine glass ... you won't find many smelly petrochem aromas in his family's beautiful vineyard at the top of Paracombe, where the wines are clean and delicious.

When I was a little kid on a farm in Gippsland's Strezlecki Ranges, about the only imported smell on our farm, apart from grease, udder wash and pollard, was superphosphate, the omnipresent fertiliser made from birdshit from Nauru. That acrid stink was delivered in hemp/burlap/hessian sacks, which added their dry, nose-tickling methoxypyrazine reek to the phosphates. By tucking one bottom corner of the sack inside the other, we'd make hoodie cloaks from them when we were caught out in the Gippsland rain, so I remember that smell well. It got in my hair.

Smell that? Marron and yabbie platter with Sauvignon blanc at Two Wheeler Creek, Kangaroo Island ... photo Philip White

Methoxypyrazine occurs naturally in tomato leaves, hemp and bell peppers, and is the grassy stuff predominant in many cool region Sauvignons blanc. It also appears in greener Cabernet sauvignon. Added to some phosphate-like whiffs brought on by wild yeast and maybe specific terroirs combined with sulphur dioxide, the preservative, this combined whiff can be found in some wood-aged Sauvignons, like the fumé blanc of the Loire Valley in France. You'll also find it in some cold-region Semillon.

Most of the more memorable smells on our farm (apart from the malty breath of the Jerseys  and the steaming fresh manure of the cowshed) came from the surrounding ferny forest, the rich meadow pasture, its hay and silage, the orchard and the old weatherboard grange, where we kept all our orchard fruits, radishes, onions and potatoes.

A firm believer that most of our adult aroma vocabulary is formed before we're ten years of age, I find many of these early smells invaluable in my wine tasting. Trouble is, most modern people have no such childhood to recall, as we tend to grow up in city or suburban buildings, so my vocabulary is becoming less effective as a wine communication device. People don't know those smells.

Our sense of smell develops as quickly as our sense of vision and probably much earlier than our sense of self ... it's all settled in real early ... very confident young feminist at The Currant Shed, McLaren Flat ... photo by Philip White

Like, hands up those who remember the fatty acid aromas of junket, which are replicated in some creamy Chardonnays via malo-lactic fermentation? Who's ever stuck their head in a used burlap superphosphate sack?

The most confronting incident I've experienced with common modern smells occurred on a recent trip to Canberra. I left the beautiful country bouquet of the vineyards and bush of Kangarilla, climbed into a taxi with one of those stinky little pine-tree-shaped "air fresheners" and thence into an aircraft full of plastic, deodorant, detergent and perfume pollution. The Canberra airport smelled pretty much along the lines of the taxi, purged as it is by relentless cleaners with their petrochem arsenals. Another stinky cab took me to the parliament building, which offers a full palette of such "cleansing agents". Even the National Gallery stank of chemicals.

Which had me wondering about the sensual organoleptic skills of our politicians and bureaucrats, who live constantly with those horrid petrochem toxins. The whole of Canberra stinks of them. It's on the nose. The town needs an aroma consultant, urgently.


All these sweet-and-sour memories were severely challenged these last weeks when I fell ill. A gastric virus weakened me, then the sniffles started. These turned into a full-bore head cold, which eventually invaded my lungs, which filled with body fluids in a matter of hours. I was drowning in mucus. Bubbling. Gurgling. By which time I realised I'd lost my sense of smell. Regardless of the vocabulary, the scents, bouquets, fragrances, smells and stinks made no difference. I was suddenly, scarily, aroma blind.

Apart from a few instances when this had occurred as a result of full anæsthesia, I'd never experienced it as something which simply happened within me as a result of a few savage viruses and bacteria.

The sense of smell gradually returned as my strength seeped back over the weeks, but a very strange thing occurred: something I cannot recall happening before. While I could smell, I found it really tricky relating each aroma to its word: the sensory perception department has lost contact with the memory and language box.

As a person who lives by his nose, my livelihood seemed to have evaporated before me.

Healing has been like learning to walk AND talk again.

So far, a fascinating thing has happened. Those childhood memories of aroma, which were predominant language informers all my life, have declined, giving way to the modern smells of the petrochem world. I find myself having to reach back through these modern aromas and their cold, horrid language, to grasp the more sensuous and sensual natural ones, with their descriptors, from my childhood, my infancy.

This becomes easier day after day, and the fear and confusion of having lost it all is gradually being replaced by a sort of child-like excitement, as my brain slowly reforms the links between the memories of the original fragrances with their relative words.

One of the first infant memories to return: the delicate carrion twang of Old Baldy ... strange thing is that after the aroma came back, it took days to remember what it was ... the author photographed by James White, Strezlecki Ranges, South Gippsland, 1955

While I lay there wasting and sniffing in my feverish puddle, I thought at great length about those unfortunate souls who have permanently lost their organoleptic senses through extreme tension, illness or physical trauma, like petrochem poisoning, car accident or assault. Such folks are surprisingly many.

Humans also have a wide range of specific anosmias, the aromatic equivalent of colourblindness, which I also suffer. While I get confused between reds, greens and blues and their myriad combinations, I see a world stacked with colour, and cannot imagine there being any more of it than I can detect: more of it would be total overkill.

Then, while we have sophisticated tests to detect the various degrees of colourblindness - you'll find some good ones on the net - it seems to me that these may detect various specific inabilities, but fail to prove that we all see, say, blue, as the same colour. I suspect it's our learned language link to colours that remains constant across the populace, regardless of what we can actually see.

Like, everybody knows that the sky is blue, whatever we see.

Or what we think we see, in the presumption that others see precisely the same thing.

With my recent experience, this suspicion intensifies, reassuringly, as my words find their way back to their relative aromas.

The scariest bit of all this is the possibility that if you're lucky enough to recover from being stricken by total anosmia, it's only the words for the most recently learned aromas that return. The horrid modern smells. That'd be a total friggin nightmare. It may be very reassuring to have a superlative hooter like my mate Drogemuller, but by Bacchus and Pan I also want all that childhood sensuosity back and fast.

Bad lads: Droggy and me ... great hooters when they work ... photo Annabelle Collett ... it's Paracombe's annual special reds weekend this coming one, but if you want a perfect Drogemuller family repast, you gotta book
 

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18 July 2014

QUINCY JONES EATS ADELAIDE PALETTE

Timothy John, the Adelaide painter, gourmand and Eat The Planet Facebooker, sent this photo of Quincy Jones with The Secret Garden, a painting he personally  commissioned from Tim. It's just as well that many of our American friends seem to appreciate South Australian creatives more than our own countrymen do: some of us would starve even faster without folks like Quincy.  That's Timothy at work in  his studio below, back in the old Rundle Street days, when the East End was the most concentrated community of artists, writers, designers and architects South Australia has ever seen. This thriving creative precinct was destroyed when the 'developers' arrived and rents went through the roof. Now it's a string of boutiques that sell really expensive underpants for women.   Timothy often paints with a red in one hand, brush in the other, and a tenor  sax around his neck. Lauren Bacall is another USA  collector who buys his work. Well done, brother! 


17 July 2014

HICKINBOTHAM VINEYARD STARTS AFRESH

We had the most joyous and delicious lunch today at the Jackson Family's Hickinbotham Clarendon vineyard to launch four new red wines which I think have set a new high bar. Not just for McLaren Vale, but for nilly the whole damn thing. Take that with a pinch of salt if you will: I live on their nearby property, Yangarra Estate, where I rent a small flat. I will write about these  beautiful wines when I settle down. 

But while the memories are fresh, let me hang a few photos of the remarkable people who did the business. 

Working from left to right, that's the local member of parliament, Leon "Biggles" Bignell, Minister of Tourism, Agriculture, Food, Fisheries, Forests, Sport, Racing, Tourism and Recreation. Leon is a stalwart lover of his district and state. He was the very brave hingepin that stood against the relentless housing developers and helped us bring on a law that quite simply stops housing creep in the prime viticultural country of McLaren Vale and the Barossa. These two great Australian wine regions owe their future to him. No bullshit.

Then comes Michael Lane, the horticulturer who manages both Yangarra and Hickinbotham estates. Michael leads the national pack in responsible green farm management: having turned Yangarra into what I suspect is Australia's biggest certified biodynamic/organic vineyard, he's now focused on the rejuvenation of the Hickinbotham vineyard. 

That's Shelley Torresan behind Michael. With manager Peter Fraser, Shelley's made the Yangarra wines since the beginning. Shell's a stalwart.

Then you see David Swain, the brilliant chef at Fino, and his amazing floor manager and business partner, Sharon Romero. They presented a lunch that has made me weep as I reflect upon it, and the way it interlocked with the brave new wines. Their Fino restaurant at Willunga, along with Bombora Cafe on the Cockle Beach at Goolwa, and the Elbow Room in McLaren Vale, are South Australia's best regional restaurants. Full stop. Go eat.

That's the Napa highlands Cabernet king at the back. Chris Carpenter. He makes all the Jackson Family ultra cool mountain vineyard  Cabernets ... Chris has become a valued friend over the last few years, as he comes here from California to make the Hickinbotham wines at the winery which is a hundred metres from my back door. I love watching these dudes cook. 

Then you see Peter Fraser, manager of the Jackson family's Australian vineyards and  winemaking, and then Charles Seppelt, who makes both the Yangarra and Hickinbotham wines with the whole team above. 

I'm a very lucky man to live in the midst of this, watching and marveling.

By Bacchus and Pan we had a great day!

all photos by Philip White



 

LONGHOP TO CHARLOTTE IN PAMPLONA

 
Forrester Estate Margaret River Alicante 2010 
$40; 15% alcohol; screw cap; 90+ points 

Like the Caucasus red, Saperavi, the Spanish Alicante bouschet is one of the few red grapes which actually have red juice. While most reds have white juice and take all their colour from their skins in the fermenter, Alicante is all red already, so is usually used to make simple gulping rosé, where the vigneron can get all the desired colour and flavour without pressing or long skin contact, which would see the fruit's significant tannins intrude. But this is a serious alcoholic black red with smooth aromas of plum and prune, even beetroot and borscht, complete with the yoghurt swirl. Somebody's given it a fine dusting of white pepper. There's a hint of the dark beetroot leaf, too. It's simple of flavour, and isn't the sort of red that would make the whole table go quiet - as the label says, it's charming. But if you were sitting there with chorizos, black Spanish ham and warm black olives, watching those poor bulls squashing savage idiots in Pamplona, I could think of nothing more suitable and satisfying. After a glass, the tannins seem to soften. After another, the alcohol seems to decline to harmlessness. Once the bottle's done, which happens fast, you sorta hope some other idiot gets the horn up him as you fumble around for another. Then you discover you're speaking in very short sentences, like Hemingway. 

Longhop Mt Lofty Ranges Rosé 2014
 $18; 13.5% alcohol, screw cap, 94 points

This rosé is pale and gently burnished to that autumnal russet hue of brown onion and pheasant eye. It's made by the dreaded Torzi-Freeland duo of the Barossa tops and the Adelaide Plains.  They've used high country Grenache, but rather than let it ooze out simple raspberry, like most dumb rosés exude, they appear to have given it the business in the shed, with some serious time on wild yeasty lees to let its fatty acids chub up. It has that curdled turn of isovaleric acid, the calming pheromone of mother's milk which will make grown men turn savage and kill each other if they get too much of it ... the frightened bullshit and sweat smell of the Pamplona lanes, or the hairoil in the beret shop where the bullrunning committee meets and Helmut Newton photographed the naked Charlotte Rampling on the ancient oak table in the backroom. Sorry, I'm off the track. This is a very pretty and seductive rosé with elegance, complexity and texture. Without all its blackness, it's more complex and profound than the Alicante above. And a much more grown-up drink than that other famous local lollypop called Alicante. This one's tannic. It has as much oak as that table ... see, dammit there I go again ... like pink Krug is two or three hundred dollars and it's majestically the best with bubbles and here you have one without the little round CO₂ cavities drifting up and it's $18? $18! Santa Maria! Play that bit back will you Sancho? Santa friggin Maria!