“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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15 July 2016

BIKINI SHADES DREAMING LOGOCO

One night in the gale I was kept awake by a recurring worry about the placement of a few triangles. They woke me all night with their shuffling about, going from this starter to this

and bigger to eventually grow some totemic polemic to this

which eventually of course fell backwards to become a logo for Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms which we don't even have in Australia but I'd heard about on the BBC as I was falling asleep ... any really big agencies need a loco logo? See my people ... all images, nightmares etc. by Philip White ... we could probly do straighter outfits than ATF


14 July 2016

I'LL HAVE THE SAVVY-B PLEASE

Hardys Rare Liqueur Sauvignon Blanc 
($100; 500ml; 18% alcohol; cork) 

Down in the deep black alluvium of McLaren Flat there's a gnarly old block of Sauvignon blanc. It was old even before anyone round these parts really knew what it was for; long before anybody thought of making a dry white wine from it. It was old before all the blokes came home from World War II. At that time a great proportion of the Australian male population suffered post traumatic stress while the women and children they'd returned to suffered the weirdness of life with victims of that horrid illness: Dads, husbands, brothers and uncles who came home all different.

Aunties who'd been nurses at the front. Sorry. Fronts. Australia fought everywhere.

The major national medicine for this was fortified wine: port and sherry.

They made these strong sweet wines out of everything they could get their hands on. They even made what was basically a tawny-style port from this freak block. Let that age for many years in oak -  probably because the flavour was a tad too freaky for most and it didn't take off - and the lime-and-lemony citrus edge of the Sauvignon takes over, turning something fairly nondescript into what was called port until somebody thought it had become a wine of such venerable age and distinction it deserved a name of its own.

In recent decades we saw various owners and managers of Thomas Hardy perform a textbook traincrash: a horrid, slow, exhausting trashing of what was a great family company. Now, under the hands-on global management of Keith Todd, we see the great old leviathan undergoing a gradual, determined chassis-up rebuild and trim, best manifest in the upgrading and renovation of the remarkable old ironstone buildings of Hardys Tintara in the main street of McLaren Vale.

They've also got real out the back: opening that amazing modern fermentation room up with a visitors' viewing gallery. They've also got to work further back in the fortified cellars and have relaunched a string of beautiful old fortified wines, including this true rarity.

Aged a mimimum seventeen years in old oak, this is a gorgeous luxury, and a very good use indeed for McLaren Vale Sauvignon blanc.

Initially, I smell those rindy citrus bits. They remind me of a dark old marmalade of lemon, lime and ginger. Then a layer of dried figs lines up, as if somebody'd simply soaked them in a liqueur of their own. The grape spirit used to fortify the juice must have been a beautiful thing in itself: the overall effect is one that sets up that endlessly entertaining counterpoint of luscious harmony set with little protruding jewels, like that rind and ginger.

Then comes the texture. This is a delight in itself: it's liqueur, sure, with all the associated stickiness, but it has a fluffiness about it: a sort of goose down/fairy floss softness that adds cushion to the wine's considerable acidity and alcohol.

As that bright and beautiful aftertaste kicks its carpet slippers off and settles in for the evening it reminds me of a negroni made with vodka in place of gin, with the addition of just a tweak of Kahlua.

But it's much more than that. Here, the pleasure is even more intense, and made more entertaining by the fact that it's all grapes in this glass, and it has nothing at all to do with New Zealand.

Next time you head south, take a stroll around the restored and rejuvenated garden and winery buildings there in the main street of the Vale, have a taste of the current Reynella and Tintara premiums, and see if you can escape without buying yourself a bottle of this remarkable rare wonder.

photos by Philip White

THAT LOVELY SILKY FINISH

photo by Philip White ... I remembered why I used this image about half-way down the story ... misleading marketing see? ... The copy writers have copied me into a corner ... and silky was a good word in its pristine state ... might have to get back on the ibogaine


Polished patois peddling droll taste: hair gunk, mop and franger floggers follow plonkers
by PHILIP WHITE


If you're in the drinks business, or even faintly interested in it - which I presume you are, having got this far - it might pay to keep an eye on the drinks fridge at your regular petrol station as much as the contents of the local wine shop.

It'll help you work out whether they're getting you or not. Or more accurately, how successfully they've got you. How badly entrapped you've become.

Back when they still had corner delis, the average non-alcoholic drinks fridge always contained a wider range of flavours than an entire wine store. It wasn't a big fridge, usually: not much bigger than the one at home in the kitchen. You knew things were rolling when the store owner accepted a new free fridge from Pepsi to go beside the Coke one, but this expansion never really seemed to come with a doubling of the range of flavours stashed within.

We'll stick to white wine for this exercise in cartel conduct: As the delis got fewer and bigger, down the street the wine powers then operative got hard to work replacing the interesting white wine flavours - Riesling, Frontignac, Semillon and the like - with two flavours of Chardonnay: bad-to-awful Chardonnay with oak chips in it, or bad-to-awful Chardonnay without any oak chips in it. 

Unwooded, those latter labels boasted, as if Chardonnay came already infested with the lumberjack dust ... as if, at great expense, driven by some extreme pinnacle of gastronomic sensitivity, the genius vinetard had thoughtfully removed this contaminant, just for your health, well-being, and epicurean delight ... and didn't even put the price up!

Since then, the Chardonnay tsunami came, levelled everything off, including thousands of growers,  and eventually subsided.  Kiwi Sauvignon blanc replaced it and the deli disappeared. You could almost hear the oak forests of Old Yurp and Missouri breathing relief as the sawyers went back to their Monty Python re-runs 'round the old pot belly.

Now we buy our non-alc bevvies from the petrol station. Fill 'er up. The lolly-water fridge is thirty metres long, ceiling to floor, and I doubt that it contains quite the expanse of flavours that old deli Frigidaire afforded the thirsty punter.

Basically it'll offer white drinks, black drinks, yellow drinks, red drinks, uncoloured [filtered or bleached] drinks and blue ones, many of whose obscene sugar is bolstered with enough caffeine to wire the Russian Army.

Such shelves may appear impressive and shiny, from, say, outside on the apron, but the closer you get you realise how terrifyingly repetitive they are. They offer a metre or two of every flavour in a bewildering array of labels.

Except soda water. 

Go looking for the clean water with the simple little beads of CO2 in it and if you're lucky it'll be up the right hand end and down the bottom. At the back.

What they call still mineral water, or even water, is everywhere, mind you. That's obviously got a better margin without the huge expense of aeration and everything. I'm waiting for the slug Our water has 23% fewer cavities! 

They'd say less cavities, probly.

In the wine shop, things are pretty much the same. What we lack in ranges of flavour and recommended application we see rectified by bedazzlement. If you have, say, only about three flavours in your acre of floorspace of bottled white wine, what you do is hand the bottles to the arthouse skunkworks out the back of somewhere and they'll make up some nice new labels. Like hundreds of them. Punk labels, dimestore labels, money labels, Coke labels, Pepsi labels, nice heritagey ones, labels jumping with nowness, labels feigning provenance; others decrying it ... labels with stage names like the Flying Cronkwaller or Henry The Horse. Labels with friggin' cats and dogs on 'em! 
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Every one of them skunkworks has a writing wing: a secret cadre of semi-literate sophists and hipstercrites armed with words like premium, unique, rare, oldest and geology. Since the supermakets really took control of your precious drink dollar they have picked up a wee lesson in polishing the rocket from the propagandists in this ethanol-cum-liquor-cum-wine-cum-beer racket: everything now has to have a back label like the bullshit that people seem to expect on wine bottles.

I reckon this fusion of methods first made the genetic jump from wine to what they call hair care. Suddenly you couldn't buy schlurp or shooshterizer for your quiff unless it has a stage name and a back label guaranteeing to correct your dehydration; your lack.

Lemme grab one at random: What's this cute little teardrop bottle? Stage name: Weightless Hydration. Variety: Coconut Water. Indicator of when best consumed: Conditioner. This means the product is a dessert item: you have it towards the end of the repast, hoping it polishes them locks so good it gets you laid straight away.

So how do they put that in the fine print? The back label: 

Drench your dehydrated strands in this ultra-lightweight, hydrating blend with coconut water, electrolytes and coconut oil. This supercharged blend helps to transform dry, parched hair into silky, shiny perfection. 

See?

Tantalised by the notion of coconut water being the puddle you find at the foot of each palm, I find further interest due the fact that while they don't claim it to be your actual coconut milk, this overwhelming coconut bouquet even smells a bit like American oak chips: Quercus alba: the cheapest in the woodlot.

This literary indulgence soon moved from the hair care section through the pasta and sauces, straight through the verjuice aisles and the oils to the lubricants and frangers. It even infested the cleaning section: I bought a new mop head a few years back and was utterly transfixed to read that it was a blend of  specially-selected premium fibres that should not be used in water with electricity going through it.

It's a bit like that unoaked Chardonnay: this Director's Reserve Bin mop deserves such high-quality water that even premium South Australian solar-or-wind-generated electricity would be a contaminant.


So what's my point? Beware good reader, more than ever before. Avoid those bleak acres in the middle. Go right down the end; look high and low. Find a winemaker or a merchant who can look you back in the eye while they pour you a taste, talking about the bloody wine like it was a drink, and not bloody hair gunk or a premium mop or something from the skunkworks.

While you're busy doing that, I'll be deep in a fantasy about sending all those sophisticating scribes off to dust the Mallee or weed the Northern Territory or something useful while we assemble all the medical and lollywater scientists, the lumberjacks, horticulturers and expert ethanol distillers to start working together on a sensible middle ground.

Rather than squander lives, communities and water on bottom-shelf plonk that needs those dimestore images and nonsensical backlabels to attract the innocents, we should be working on a better level of drink with a wider range of flavours.

Where does the rain fall? The tropics. What does it grow? Lovely fruit and sugar cane. Use that for your ethanol, and replace that acre stacked with droll white irrigated desert plonk with healthy, delicious blends of fruits, minerals and vitamins, using natural plant terpenes to tweak the mood, purpose and demeanour of the drinker, whether they want soothing, stimulation or their peculiar dehydrated strand moisturised and supercharged into silky perfection.



08 July 2016

WATER AT EMU BAY KANGAROO ISLAND

photo by Philip White

OLD SONNET FOR BROTHERS FLOWN


XENOPHON SCARY STICK BY GEORGE

SLOW DANCIN WITH TIM SMITH MATARO

Apart from his drum kit and Triumph motorcycles, Tim Smith is principally obsessed with Mataro. 

More precisely, he's obsessed with the Mataro reds of Bandol on the Côte d'Azur, where they make very smart rosé from it and weepingly glorious full-bodied reds. Which they call Mourvèdre.

By full-bodied, I mean full of colour, flavour and texture, not necessarily big of alcohol, although as that beautiful province on the French Riviera warms up those numbers are rising with the mercury.

It'd be numbskulled to suggest Tim thinks he can make the same thing in the Barossa, but by Bacchus, he's getting close. Maybe he's already passed them in sheer quality and nobody's worked it out yet. We've always misunderstood the variety and seem a bit numbskulled anyway, madly planting every other fad grape that ends in O, while we've had Mataro since the 'fair' first advanced into these Austral parts. Let's face it, we brag about our Mediterranean climate being the best on Earth. We know the stuff blooms here. 

Tim has spent a lifetime searching out the best old Mataro plots in the Barossa. He makes and matures his wine in the big Penfold's winery at Nuriootpa, called Beckwith Park since one of Penfold's mystifying string of owners moved nearly everything from there to the vast Blass refinery at Bilyara. In Barossawein patois hose-draggers call this glittering Blass constellation the Death Star. Huh.

But back to work. Take a wallow in Tim's new duo from 2015. His Tim Smith Wines Barossa Valley Mataro 2015 ($38; 14% alcohol; screw cap) oozes juicy ripe blackberry and mulberry with a dusting of musky confectioner's sugar. It has a perfectly appropriate zephyr of oak to balance those sweet, rich dessert aromas. The flavours slip straight in without wavering: that transition from bouquet to texture, weight and flavour is as smooth, as they say, as. It's never cloying or gloopy,but rather seems to exit the palate pretty much like that aforementioned zephyr: it's delightfully, deliciously  polite. Once it's gone, it leaves another dusting: this time the typically velvety tannins of the variety. 

And then the whispers of those lovely fruits come back to spook about the sensories and you realise properly just what a beauty it is. It makes me want to grab my copy of Richard Olney's Provence The Beautiful Cookbook and make his warm pork and bean stew, which is a sort of baby cassoulet for sunnier seaside days. Slurp. Please bring that book back Reggie. It's been four years.

Then, to prove his point - which there's no need to do, but I'm delighted he did - there's the TSW Mataro 2015 ($85; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap), Tim's first reserve edition of the grape. This wondrous majesty is all the above wound up to eleven with a slow backbeat with brushes and the sort of lush strings Nelson Riddle used to cushion the voices of Nancy Wilson, Linda Ronstadt and, well, Frank Sinatra. The ripe black-and-blue fruits, the confectionary dusting - they're all here a little louder with oak that's a bit more cedary, which is appropriate. It makes me want to talk about the smell of the nape of beautiful film stars' necks: that bit where the hair gives way to the finest downy fluff. Meaning it's gorgeously fleshy and human as well. Well, some humans, anyway. Maybe they're all phantoms. We live in hope.

Now and again I see a whiff of Mataro leather dressing in it, too: she's waxed her black patent ballroom pumps and she's wearing a tux and tucking her cigarillos in her brassiere for ron. Glory be.

That fleeting ethereality of the smaller wine is repeated here, if one can fleet more noticeably. It's not delicate, but lordy it's perfectly formed and it's a rare thing to be invaded so politely and confidently. This time, the palate's longer and the silk's thicker before the velvet takes over.

All I want with this is a slice of truffle and a few slivers of Banon, the Provence goats' milk cheese they wrap in chestnut leaves and preserve in alcohol for the winter. And maybe three tiny black olives. And then another real slow waltz before we go out for one of them cigarillos.

This is the best Australian Mataro I've yet had the pleasure to slide around with: perfect now; better later ...

Which is not to overlook Tim's Bugalugs Barossa Valley Shiraz 2015 ($25; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap), another smoky beauty of finesse and intensity, or his TSW Shiraz 2014 ($85; 14% alcohol; screw cap). This wine is in the forefront of the vast army of Barossa Shiraz wines: it's one for the dungeon. 

Meanwhile, I'm back to ballroom to chase that lass with the cigars.
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 photos by Philip White