“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 January 2015

ON OUR SICK WANKING OVER GASTROPORN

"You would think that journalists, of all people, would have interesting and exciting material to share with each other besides, you know, whether they got avocado on their salad ... somehow we've got to put food back in its box ... we still have to be able to do things between meals" ... author Lionel Shriver on the obsession with body size, diet and the "nutritional nazis" who purport to run these bullshit rackets ... listen HERE

This is really encouraging. Lionel's address runs for about 35 minutes.

PIZZINI SHARPENS [PINOT] GRIGIO PENCIL

Pizzini King Valley Pinot Grigio 2014 
$21; 12.1% alcohol; screw cap; 91++ points

If there was a face-creamy zabaglione thing made with Passe-Crassagne pear cider and some juniper, it'd smell like this. But it wouldn't taste much like this. This is no frothy frivolity. This is a tight stonewall of a drink, as austere and set as the great carved faces of Easter Island. Once you get a proper lick of it, you can feel it gazing you down, unblinking. Its acidity is stern and solid; its fruit just enough to make that architecture drinkable. It's a balancing act: tease sensually with the fragrance; change gears with the adults-only mouthful. So what happens? You're left lurching this way and that, starving, spinning out, waiting for a chair and somebody to hand you a menu. Which means to me that it succeeds beautifully. Order garfish whole from the char grill, with black pepper and chilli. And while they prepare that, you'll notice the wine level descends very quickly to about half way down the label. Where'd that go? Into you, my friend. If it's completely empty, I'll simply hope you have company. If you don't, I understand. Stay nice.

If you chill this wine, the contrast between its bouquet and the taste closes right up, and that yin-yang seesaw diminishes as the whole thing homogenises. So I much prefer it at cellar temperature, with maybe just a flash of ice bucket: it's more provocative. 

Pizzini White Flowers King Valley Pinot Grigio 2013
 $27; 12% alcohol; screw cap; 92+ points

Named after the native clover that burst out when the 1870s settlers cleared the King Valley for farming, this is winemaker Joel Pizzini's serious grigio. Still stonkered by the austere vivacity of the standard model, the reviewer holds off to consult the typically literary Pizzini PR sheet, bewildered to read Joel saying "Unlike our easy-drinking [!] Pizzini Pinot Grigio, the White Fields is restrained ... " Sweet Jesus. It certainly smells less frivolous than the cute bouquet of the previous beauty, with more autumnal mellow fruits, like hessian bags of pears softening in the barn, that hempy sack aroma tickling the nostrils while the ageing pears settle things down. More yin and yang. The palate is much richer and more complex, like somebody made a pickle of those pears with some figs and ginger, pepper and mace. But it's smooth, and calming. (Time out to consult my new jar of Marian Harvey's soulful Bremer Valley Fig & Ginger conserve ... right on the money!) The wine has cosy flesh, and its grainy tannins set me wishing I had a chunk of Grana Padano Po Valley cheese to dip in Marian's conserve. Some Margaret River Dairy Club Cheddar is all I have to hand, and that sure works. But back to Joel's notes: "The palate is lingering and cries out for potato gnocchi with creamy gorganzola cheese sauce and a dusting of nutmeg."  Revering chef Katrina Pizzini's wisdom in marriages of the family's wine with her take on traditional alpine Trento Alto Adige cuisine, I'll just pop that notion in your savouring division. It does sound wicked.

Don't chill this wine too hard. True cellar cool (12-15⁰C) is enough.

While the 2014 wine has been made more like, say, the Clare and Eden folks make their Riesling, in steel, with carefully selected yeasts, the White Flowers is a more sophisticated piece of work. Granted, while the '14 was carefully constructed from four vineyards on different sites, all picked at different stages to add complexity and form, the White Flowers is from the oldest Pinot grigio vines in the suite, whole bunch-pressed, then divided for ferment into two parcels. Half goes into old French barrels and left to the wiles of indigenous yeasts, the other goes into steel, and selected cultured yeasts are consecutively added to perform specific tasks after the wild local yeasts have had their munch at it. Both parcels are left on the lees for five months, and stirred fortnightly. A small amount of Whitlands fruit is added to supply some tighter acidity. At 800 metres, that alpine site is 540 metres higher than the Pizzini vineyards, and so is much more austere, steely and crunchy.

Think of grigio's history, and its nature. It's a grey-skinned - grigio, gris - offshoot of Pinot noir. The steel tank model, the '14, is more along the lines of the Pinot noir of Champagne, while the White Fields '13 is closer in form and mood to the Pinot noir of Burgundy, where it's warmer, they use more wild yeast, and a lot more oak. But both these wines are white.

They are exemplary versions of this much abused and misunderstood variety. Put simply, you shouldn't bother growing the grigio or gris anywhere you can't grow the noir parent properly. Which means cool to cold sites, and precludes most of the stuff that comes from the hot irrigated grapeyards of the Murray-Darling. Which is where most of Australia's grey Pinot grows.

Pizzini King Valley Rosetta 2014
$19; 12% alcohol; screw cap; 92+ points

They don't tell us what's in this, but it smells like wet potter's clay, raspberries and cranberries. And there's a green bit with a thin dark edge, a little like baby basil leaves, but with a sinister glint of that watercress pepper you get in real old basil plants. And it's creamy, without being dairy-dominant. Like vegetable glycerine. The palate is a dainty thing that looks like it's gonna skip clear away off your palate as quick as look at you but instead it kinda snuggles in with a book and stays just long enough to make you feel like a very lucky person to have such a polite, delicate and unintrusive guest. But when I served it with my  panzanella made with real light oil and the best white wine vinegar with a shot of manzanilla and shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano, the two of them just ran off together, giggling across the meadow, leaving me all a-flutter. So what did the cuckold do tonight? Made another panzanella; poured another glass. The thrill's bigger second time.    



21 January 2015

FLEURIEU GREAT PENINSULA TO TRAVERSE

Looking north towards the Fleurieu, across Backstairs Passage from the Bay of Shoals on Kangaroo Island ... photo Philip White

Coolest bit of South Australia:
the Fleurieu Peninsula rocks
take a drink around her soon
by PHILIP WHITE

Realising that this week you'll all be busy watching Cadel win the Tour Down Under, let me suggest an alternative for those who prefer four wheeled travel. Yesterday, I dawdled across the Fleurieu Peninsula from the Murray Estuary home to Kangarilla, and I have to say the Peninsula's looking spiffing.

Adelaide people often miss the reality of this bonnie Peninsula. They'll drive from the city to Goolwa, the city to Port Eliot, or the city to Victor or to catch the Kangaroo Island ferry, but then they drive back again. That's all boring north-south stuff, and is pretty much just a trip to the beach. Any beach. They rarely get to cross it east-west or west-east, from the Gulf St Vincent to the estuary. This way, the traveller gets a proper sense of the highly-contrasting nature of the water bodies on each side, and the feeling of having crossed a watershed; a great divide.

Crowded beach at Port Noarlunga ... photo Philip White

It's fascinating to me to watch the flora change with the altitude and the geologies evident in fields and road cuttings. If you have time to stop at all the cellars, you'll notice the flavours changing accordingly. And it's astonishing to discover how much the weather on one side is determined by conditions on the other. I'll never forget listening to salty old coves in the Victory pub on Sellick's Hill, overlooking the sparkling Gulf on the Fleurieu's west, talking about how they could tell by the winds there how much water there was in the Lake Alexandrina, forty minutes drive across the South Mount Lofty Range to the east.

Sunrise at Second Valley ... photo Philip White

The Lake's a lot more moody and soulful than the fizzy Gulf. Even the freshwater raptors - like the Whistling Kites - fly in a lazier, more laid-back way than the panicky Peregrines chasing pigeons and seagulls along the marine cliffs on the Gulf.

This cooler weather has been a mercy for the vignerons. Here and there some growers have some fried fruit from the earlier heat spikes, with raisined berries amongst the bunch; there's also been a touch of mildew and botrytis here and there in earlier-ripening vineyards. There are some vineyards notable for being in a post-bulldozed state, with stacks of sad vine roots waiting a flame in winter - bad luck, those troops - but overall, the vignoble's feeling calm, enjoying the odd drying breeze, and easing towards harvest 2015.

The Duke of Edinburgh hauls the Cockle Train into the Murray River Port of Goolwa. This track, which runs back and forth along the coast to Victor Harbor, is Australia's first steel railway line. The great British engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, was consultant in its design; it was built to haul inland produce from the riverboats in the freshwater Murray Estuary to the sea harbours of Port Eliot and Victor Harbor in 1887. Although inferior timber, the fast-growing Norfolk Island pines were planted to supply emergency masts in the days of the clipper ships  ... photo Philip White 

I'd been in Goolwa to enjoy the pleasure of opening a most exciting and wondrous exhibition, Embody, in the Alexandrina Council's airy, perfectly-naturally-lit Signal Point gallery, where you can taste and buy wines from the Currency Creek vignerons or work on a good coffee while you watch the pelicans do their lazy B52 circuits.  Clayton Bay artist Annabelle Collett curated this great show, seducing phenomenal artists like Ann Newmarch, Ian de Gruchy, Karen Genoff, Jeff Trahair and Dora Dallwitz to show their work - there are 22 exhibitors in all, including Annabelle herself. It'll stay on til 8th March. Don't miss it!

Embodied exhibition curator and co-exhibitor Annabelle Collett, second from left, at the opening ... 21 other top artists are in this big show ... the event was a pack-out, with lots of sales ... photo Leo Davis

My gubernator - tillerman - was the noted Marie Linke, formerly of Karra Yerta Wines at the top of Flaxman's in the high Barossa. As we threaded gradually out of the Clayton reeds with their waterbirds, past the Currency Creek vineyards and across the southern edge of the current Langhorne Creek spread, we chatted about Marie's misadventure with her noble little wine outfit, how it went awry, despite the wine's estimable quality, great reviews and modest pricing, and how she admirably went working in the mines for a couple of years to pay off her debts and close the business.
 
High Barossa Riesling meisters at Bob and Wilma McLean's McLean's Farm: Colin Forbes, of the rare but wondrous Forbes and Forbes, with Marie Linke, of the defunct Karra Yerta ... photo Milton Wordley

As we rambled through Belvidere, I thought of the government's 1857 vine census, which listed vineyards at Alexandrine, Belvidere, Bremer, Echunga, Encounter Bay, Goolwa, Macclesfield, Port Elliot, and Strathalbyn - many pioneering vignobles which came and went on that estuarine side of the Fleurieu, only to be re-established on a grander scale with the wine 'boom'. Few, other than Marie and myself, understand how the mining and wine industries both do booms and busts with such spectacular and tragic vigor.

Longview Vineyard, thriving at Macclesfield, is smack dab in the middle of the Fleurieu, just east of the divide ... photo Philip White

We stopped for supplies, Bacchus forgive us, in the Strathalbyn Woolworths. There at the front was precisely the kind of thing that people like Marie could not compete with: an array of Christian Moueix Bordeaux Merlot 2010, selling at $17.

The negociant and châteaux-owning Moueix tribe happens to own, amongst others, the ravishing Pomerol estate called Pétrus, whose mind-numbing Merlot wines sell for around $4,000 per bottle on release. I notice the 1961 vintage hitting $20,000 now, frigging cork notwithstanding. Woolies lists the current release, the 2008 at 100 points and $3,800 per bottle if you buy a six-pack.

Strange artworks appear on the estuary side of the Fleurieu Peninsula: weird big critter in the freshwater of Lake Alexandrina at Milang ... photo Philip White
 
I couldn't wait to see what the vendor's website said about the Moueix 10, in comparison. I quote verbatim:

"Known as 'Baby Pétrus'," Woolies explains, "Christian Moueix Merlot is a brilliant wine from a stellar vintage and one of the regions [sic] most eminent producers. Classic Bordeaux characters of cedar and ripe tannins accompany soft supple red fruit flavours. Gorgeous fleshiness and balance on the finish, this is a very serious wine for the money. 93"

Being a tree I've never seen in Bordeaux, I don't quite understand why cedar has become a 'classic Bordeaux character,' or indeed 'ripe' tannins, but I do marvel at the Woolies tasting team awarding this 93, when the grown-up Pétrus will cost you an extra $3,783 a pop, just to get you another seven whole points closer to glory.

"It's got a cork in and everything," the enthusiastic fellow at Strath assured us, ernestly expecting a sale of his exotica. I may ring him today to let him know other stores in the Woolies chains are selling the same product at $14.25. Maybe the good Merlot growers of the eastern Fleurieu are more likely to buy the import against their own if it appears to be worth more.

Even $17 made Mars and me shiver.

"You can't compete with that," she said. "And none of these poor devils have an exit plan. They can't get out of the business. They just have to keep slaving away to pour more and more money in and end up slaves to Woolies."

She then self-effacingly said something about how fine it feels to pay off all the debts she incurred in her decade-long wine adventure, bought a can of bourbon and cola and walked out.

Close to the end of everything ... photo Satanika

I resisted buying a bottle of that bottom-feeder Bordeaux. Forgive me. My heart, and meagre wallet, is pointed much closer to home. Perhaps I could be convinced if they'd had $14.25 on the bottle in Strath; I dunno. There comes a time, particularly when within a stubby-and-a-smoke of those stacks of uprooted vineyards, that the stomach simply won't permit the hand to stray to the money pocket.

This bile-soused parsimony is even more likely to take over when I consider the estuarine nature of that side of the Fleurieu, and how similar it feels to parts of the Bordeaux estuary, with those marine and freshwater whiffs, the layers of alluvial gravels, and the varieties the regions share.

Local artist and photographer Sandy Mulchay on the red chairs on the Lake near Clayton ... click snaps to enlarge ... photo Philip White
 
Just a pity there's nobody there yet with the balls and the gall, the nous and the numbers, to sell a bottle of Merlot for $3,800. It'll happen, as Manuel would re-assure folks in Fawlty Towers, "eeeveeent tuaaarrrrlee."

The single region of Bordeaux, just by the way, has 120,000 hectares of vines, and plenty of rain amongst its increasing heatwaves. Australia in total, boasts 160,000 hectares. And hardly any rain.

But still we struggle to compete.

You can read the whole story of Marie's brave exercise on her typically frank Karra Yerta Wines blog. Do so, especially if you're considering a little vineyard adventure of your own.

Looking straight through the downstairs section of the Signal Point gallery and Currency Creek tasting rooms at Goolwa. That's Narinyeri - Hindmarsh Island - in the background ... Annabelle Collett making a speech inside ... photo Philip White




15 January 2015

BANKSY - 'THINK TANK' 2003


BELLEVUE RELEASES DRY GATOR


Bellevue Estate McLaren Vale Shiraz 2013
$19; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 94++ points

Corey Vandeleur makes this velvet fist from his family's vineyard in the main street of McLaren Vale. It's in the limestone right opposite Nigel Rich's incredible Elbow Room restaurant in the end of town that was originally called Bellevue. It's now become an annual ritual, Corey calling me to ask whether it'd be okay for him to drop a bottle off. Okay's hardly the word. He brings it to my place and we drink it. Simple. Along with the Torzi-Matthews/Longhop/Old Plains offerings from the Barossa Ranges makers, Dominic Torzi and Tim Freeland, the Bellevue brand consistently represents the best bang per buck this taster sees each year. I review it adoringly; people are disbelieving; then it'll go on to win gongs and bling and accolades all over the place. Popular scoffing follows the "it can't be that good if it's this cheap" philosophy. I took some flack for my grovelling rave about the 2012 model, just for example, but it then went on to win the Edinburgh Hotel's yearly Shiraz Challenge, where your actual punters vote for their favourite. Which was in order, really, considering the previous few vintages had been runners-up. Corey says part of his success is the fault of his consultant, Dusty the Birdsville baker, who uses Bellevue Shiraz in his world famous Camel and Shiraz Pies. As there's not too much along the lines of new French oak going down in Birdsville, Corey reckons Dusty's the best bloke to tell him when each vintage is ready to come out of wood. Dusty also drives the Birdsville ambulance, simply because he's usually the bloke with the least number of beers in him. He drinks a bit slower than the rest, apparently. Which might begin to explain the success of those patented pies. Anyway, this is less silky than other recent vintages. It's more soulful and muddy, a bit like the best Shiraz of Langhorne Creek. It reminds me of Ry Cooder's sinister, snaky slide soundtracks in Southern Comfort and Paris, Texas. But this one's not the usual shiny blackness of swamp vipers - it's more matte in its finish, like a dry alligator. As I set out to say, it's more velvet than silk. And mark my word, this wine will become a legendary schlück as the years wind by. It's Corey's best shot yet.   

Corey Vandeleur's hand ... the velvet touch, see?

14 January 2015

CHEONG LIEW AT WAH HING

Here's a snap I took last night of my great and longstanding friend, the chef Cheong Liew, while we dined at Adelaide's rockin Chinatown restaurant, Wah Hing. In the seventies, I watched this man invent what became known as Fusion Food in his Neddy's restaurant in Hutt Street, just around the corner from my old joint. How lucky am I! And that's my photographer comprade Milton Wordley on the right. You shoulda seen us go.

AMPHORA SPOTTED AT PETALUMA

Yesterday the DRINKSTER visited the astonishing new 2500 tonne capacity Petaluma winery on a ridge out east of Woodside in the South Mount Lofty Ranges. With photographer Milton Wordley we raided Hahndorf butcher Max Noske and took the world's best kassler to Petal for lunch. The removalists were just happening to move in the boardroom table, which we duly commissioned. That's the author, below, with the unassuming but brilliant winemaking Petaluma boss, Andrew 'Ox' Hardy ... photo Milton Wordley ...  Watch this space for a comprehensive appraisal of the current Petaluma range.