“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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20 June 2015

WHERE'S MY NAUGHTY BLACK TAXI?

TENDER TO LET: black helicopter wanted w full staff; five passengers; 24 hr call; no charge ... as you see, this gold chip client gives good tweed and top promo ... photo DRAGAN

HIGH SPIRITS IN THE SALOPIAN INN

Terrible conditions in the Vales tonight ... the bleak moor invaded the very linen of the bed ... so with the help of the nursing sisters at The Salopian Inn, some of us surrendered to these wandering spirits  ... vikin Weise finally retired with a family of discrete Koskenkorva Finnish vodkas with a dash of Iceland Flóki on one small piece of ice each tip ... sharpen up the axes ... or lie around and conjure a saga by the fire ... learn to knit ... write something ... build a beautiful fiddle ... drink ... photo Philip Weise ... drink image for better res

18 June 2015

MORE THAN YOUR USUAL SENSUALITY


Oakridge Willowlake Vineyard Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2013 
$36; 13.1% alcohol; screw cap; 92 points 

Given its 'traditional' winemaking recipe, with whole berries fermented in open vessels and left on skins for three weeks, it's remarkable that this lovely drink tastes so overwhelmingly of fresh grapes. Fresh, ideally ripe Pinot grapes, however, like these from a good vineyard are another thing again: another step into the mystic. 

These sensual beauties are sodden with the fleshy blueberry and cherry opulence we once thought were the sole property of the Burgundians. While the wine is pale enough to see your fingers through the glass, it certainly has no shortage of that swoony, cuddly, motherly flesh.

It's almost devoid of tannin; its comforting acid almost milky. It's as close as I've got to breast feeding for some time. It even smells like that.

The wine loves air: decant it and drink it from big Rubens balloon glasses. Roast duck or glazed pork belly with shiitake mushrooms will magnify all the above wonder. 

Torzi Matthews Frost Dodger Single Vineyard Eden Valley Shiraz 2013 
$40; screw cap; 14.5% alcohol; 93++ points 

On first opening, this was remarkable for being the first Torzi Matthews I can recall that showed the cedary, gingery tones of fresh oak. It was intense with coffee and mocha, aromas not often associated with Dominic Torzi's earthy regime of older, seasoned, less intrusive barrels.

Let's call it a more modernist offering than the usual.

In the five days I've kept the bottle close, making a regular nudge de rigeur, the pure essence of that upland Shiraz has climbed all over those spicy hints of oak, making a heady, sensual slide of a drink.

A bit like the Pinot above, it has little overt tannin, letting that intense - much darker - flesh do all the work.

While it's a bigger wine, it has similar creamy form, being silky and smooth and comforting, with just the right insinuation of milky acid.

I can think of nothing more pleasurable than taking the main squeeze and a bottle of each of these to Park Lok, T-Chow or Wah Hing, to accompany their various dribbly pork and duck dishes.

Use the decanter in both cases; drink the Pinot first; don't blame me.

Here's a good Park Lok table: lunch well had by experts between Howard Twelftree's funeral and his wake later at the Duke Of Brunswick ... the Howard Twelftree Award 2015  selection has commenced ... and there's Big Bob McLean ... photo Milton Wordley

HOW TO TALK ABOUT WINE

Caduceus Arizona winemaker Maynard James Keenan meets Dr Ray Beckwith's famous pH meter at Penfolds Magill Estate ... for a man renown for screaming for his supper, Maynard does a damn fine wine presentation: click here for the perfect example ... photo Philip White

17 June 2015

OZWINE NEEDS A PHILLIP TOYNE

Recalling Toyne of the Outback
a bloke who changed his country
and another who's doing his best
by PHILIP WHITE

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So Phillip Toyne has died of cancer. He was only 67.

Thinking about his considerable life, one can't help marvelling at the actual changes this astonishing man made to Australia.

The swathes of wild Tasmania Toyne the quiet campaigner helped the early Greens secure with world heritage listing; the preservation of the Daintree and Kakadu; the conversion of Peter Garrett from rock star to green activist to cabinet minister; the handover of Uluru to its original owners; his transforming days at the head of the Australian Conservation Foundation; his gradual development of what became known as Landcare; his negotiation of the Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Act; his hand at the wheel of Bush Heritage Australia ...

I can think of no single person who has had such a powerful and transforming infuence on how this country looks. Not only can Toyne take some direct credit for the planting of millions of trees in the rural landscape since the days of the Hawke government, but his long association with the late Rick Farley, head of the National Farmers' Federation, quite simply changed the way Australian farmers faced their ground.

In a grab, Toyne put the black and green back into country. To make gold.

So what's this got to do with wine?

Nothing. And that's my point. If indeed the Australian wine industry is an industry, like a single working entity in pursuit of a common goal, this industry sure could use a visionary of Toyne's calibre.

Never has it needed such a character so badly.

There is no doubt that the industry's environmental understanding has come a long way in the last twenty years, influenced indirectly by the greening influence Toyne quietly wielded over all the other sorts of farming.

But let's stand back and have a think. All those years of fixing the river, for example. It's a long time since Prime Minister John Howard convinced us to let him sell Telstra so he could splash a couple of billion at the dying river system - it never had much of a splash of its own.

And the one obvious business which has never put its hand up and admitted that its abuse of precious freshwater to produce ridiculously cheap alcohol could use a touch of close examination? Not the wine industry, surely.

Just sayin'.

Which leads me to a key aspect of Toyne, and precisely why the wine business probably doesn't deserve such a visionary influence.

The wine industry always acts as if the conservatives hold government.

Now of course there are times when the conservatives do hold power: the current Federal situation is example enough. The few notable cap-in-handers currently influencing the wine industry seem to find Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce pliable, if only with the help of Senator Sean Edwards, vigneron of Clare.

But there are long swathes of time when the opposite is the fact. Bob Hawke and Paul Keating come to mind. South Australia comes to mind. Regardless of its bull-headed rightness, the South Australian wine industry exists under a deep-seated Labor regime. Quite often, by the behaviour of significant wine industry players, you wouldn't think so.

Surely it's time you got it, guys?

Toyne's strength was his capacity to realise who the key players were, and how he could use them, regardless of their politics. He had no qualms about dealing in the halls of power. He could talk to, beguile and befriend his enemy.

Bob Brown still marvels at how Toyne convinced him that he'd have to deal with Senator Graham Richardson to influence Prime Minister Bob Hawke to get those protective listings placed over Tasmania. Richo was hardly a friend of the Greens.

Pat Dodson still marvels at how Toyne, the lawyer-cum-schoolteacher-of remote blackfella camps, would convince him to climb into his tiny, frail aircraft, and wobble off across the vast desert to make deals with the enemy.

Noel Pearson will long marvel at the negotiating skills he learnt from Toyne.

And as for that totally unlikely marriage of the Australian Conservation Foundation and the National Farmers' Federation? There are many still gasping in disbelief, after all those years, at just how that happened. It was Toyne's capacity to recognise and isolate the key players - whatever their hue - then go and sit with them and work shit out.

Having seen only the first episode of The Killing Season, with its dark pall of treachery and mistrust, I felt there was only one person in the whole damn thing who came through it with class and some unblemished dignity: former Treasury boss Ken Henry (below).


Henry's visionary suggestions for revamping the way wine is taxed are now nearly seven years old. In their way, these recommendations could have the single biggest positive influence over the future life of Australia's biggest river system, talking green.

In a country with no water, you can't maintain a basin of this importance by using 1200 litres of its water to make a litre of drink that's three times the strength of your average beer but is sold for the price of bottled water.

This huge socio-environmental scam exists only because the bladder pack plonk made there is taxed at a rate lower than better quality, more profitable and more environmentally-responsible wine.

Now we see huge premium wine companies like Treasury and Pernod-Ricard's Jacob's Creek calling for a rethink on the calm sense in Henry's recommendations. They agree that the unfair and corrupted WET Rebate system should be replaced with an across-the-board excise like all other alcohol incurs.

Not only is this more profitable for them, but this is classic left-meets-right creative thinking. We finally see the big guys - traditionally regarded as the enemy of the small high quality wine producer - jumping the fence. They no longer seek to be regarded primarily as producers of cheap bladder pack plonk, with all its dubious implications.

They've left the confounding web of wine industry councils and committees out on their own, looking very silly indeed.

Who do these bodies look after? They look after the subsidised bladder pack business that stretches the viability of our river. 

Toyne would love these politics.

So the mischief in me uses the death of this great man to suggest that right now, Ken Henry is the Phillip Toyne the wine business needs.

But you know what? Unlike the Farmers Federation, who saw the green light, the wine industry can't grasp just how its perceived enemy could be its long-term saviour.

Which convinces me it's not really a single industry at all. There are two businesses and they have very little in common. The water-abusing bladder packers have hidden behind the veil of the premium quality, more profitable, environmentally-responsible gastronomic artists for far too long.

In the bright spirit of Phillip Toyne, Ken Henry knew this eight years ago.

HOWARD TWELFTREE AWARD 2015

Duncan Welgemoed (centre, with Milton Wordley and Cheong Liew) gave a brilliant dinner last night at his Africola restaurant in The Botanic Hotel. The selection committee for the annual Howard Twelftree Award met to begin the deliberations for this year's award. Duncan was the inaugural winner in 2014. 

With the support of The Adelaide Review, this award recognises people who make an outstanding contribution to South Australian food. It honours the great restaurant critic and food writer, Howard Twelftree, who died in 2013 ... photos Philip White

photo by Milton Wordley

11 June 2015

ROCK ME IN THE CRADLE OF HILLS


Cradle Of Hills Wild Child Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2014 
$25; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93++ points 

While the line between the Adelaide Hills and the eastern ridges of McLaren Vale makes little crisp logical sense the further east one goes, this fruit's from Hahndorf, which is quite obviously in the Adelaide sector. Dangle your nose into this glass, however, and you'd think you're in the French bit, which is quite a bit further off. The wine has that comforting grilled cashew, prosciutto and canteloupe bouquet that you'll find in many junior whites from the Côtes of Burgundy. It's a lovely smell, and one which I have never seen in such extent in any Chardonnay from the Vales proper. It's simply not cool enough there. But this is cool in many ways: its wild yeast and lees stirring has rendered a texture slender yet creamy; the finish has little phenolic tannin; the wine has a lovely sensual demeanour and weight. It's not a big Chardonnay, but an elegant, cheeky, lightly-oaked lovely made with a deal more sensitivity to the purpose than is shown in too many posh, presumptuous, and/or overpriced Hills models. Or Burgundies, for that matter. If Burgundy stretches your credulity, let's just say that this seems more like the Chardonnay from the eastern or western shores of Port Phillip Bay; maybe the slopes of Mt Macedon, but it's even cheaper than most of those. Have it with flathead pan-grilled in butter with a sprig of fennel and spread on a lightly-toasted slice of sourdough with a squirt of lemon and a good sprinkle of salt and pepper. Happy days! 

Cradle of Hills Gi Gi McLaren Vale Grenache Rosé 2014 
$20; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93 points 

You won't find Grenache like this in Burgundy, the Adelaide Hills, or anywhere near Port Phillip Bay: this is the best of McLaren Vale, which increasingly looks like it's capable of making the best Grenache in the world. While this variety can make the simplest sweet bubblegum pinks if cropped too high and made too dumb, this Gi Gi's nothing like those, either. It has the slightest reek of raspberry fruit gels or jujubes, and some crunchy maraschino cocktail cherries, but that teasing naughtiness slides in below the acrid reek of summer dust at the top end, and at the other end, the basement, the creamy complexity of a languid ferment in appropriate French oak with some lees and a dab of that comforting yet elegant texture the Chardonnay shows.  It's more a white wine than a red one. It has a delightfully sensual creaminess, very little tannin, and a firm but unobtrusive acid spine. This is the best rosé I've seen from the Vales in years, and one of the better Grenache wines of any type. Which makes that price look very small indeed. Use the rest of that sourdough, but smothered in smoked salmon with capers and a light horseradish cream; the lemon sliced, not squeezed. Stunning.