“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 December 2014

THE NATURE OF NATURE IN WINEMAKING

No ... no, no, no ... doesn't remind me of yes it does ... image by Francesco Sambo

Murky wine, wormwood, gall -
what I gotta drink to love nature 
and get on dancing much better
by PHILIP WHITE  

While making prophecies is a loser's act more often than not, most contemporary pundits and pollies know little of the bitterness of the draught of contrition which should follow when they're wrong. 

Beyond that prediction that goes rancid even before it leaves the mouth, the current lot misses the sensory opportunity of tasting the bitter sourness of failure: they're more likely to wipe the lies from their lips with the back of their hand and get on with spitting all over you.

Mouth breathers. Silver sleeves. Losers.

Contrarily, there's a naive Yoko sweetness in declaring something's over if you dislike it and wish it was. Something about the VMat2 gene and the titillation of the risk receptors: that sparky frisson triggered by the likelihood of failure.

At the risk of getting a contrite mouthful of traditional wormwood and gall a bit later on, I'm gonna go for some short-term sweetness by suggesting the current fad of allegedly 'natural' wine is not much more than a predictable hippy reaction to the vino-industrial complex. And it's doomed to fail if its goal is to break the back of that vast and powerful ethanol-peddling machine.
 

How vast? Take Diageo, the world's biggest liquor manufacturer. In May last year this outfit had a market capitalisation of £48.9 billion (AUD $94 billion), making it the 8th-largest company on the London Stock Exchange. Ethanol, see?

You might find two or three people drinking illegal biodynamic goat's milk at times like this when transport and refrigeration is good. But most people drink Coke, with or without Diageo, and will go straight on doing so.

On the fashionable matter of reactionary protest, it wasn't hippies who stopped the Vietnam war. It was sharp thinkers and brittle rationalists and persistent, hardened radicals who risked repeated arrest, criminal conviction and the ASIO car parked out the front of their hovel. While our victory saw the US and Australian troops return from Indo-China, the overall war picture doesn't appear to have changed much other than its location. The military-industrial complex has never looked fatter.

I'd nearly forgotten about all this natural wine nonsense. Put it out of my mind. But the other day, when The Drinks Business made the droll revelation that one quarter of all Californian Chardonnay had, one way or another, undergone the removal of some of its alcohol there was the great Oxford University wine author, Jancis Robinson on Twitter, smarmily declaring "T'ain't natural."

I could feel the buzz of the ethanol mob's complaint channels rushing my triple-X traitor status straight through to wine-ASIO when I responded "That'll knock out goodness-knows-how-much of Australia if you push it, Jancis. Some of your favourites, I'd think."

The great lady responded with the obvious "eg?"

Uh-huh.

The most vulnerable part of the hippy wine movement is its claim to the exclusive right to the word 'natural.' There is a certain tight-lipped sanctimony inherent in this: it's equivalent to the superior feelings their piety alone instils in the likes of the Exclusive Brethren.
 

Sydney Long, Pan, 1898, Art Gallery of New South Wales ... scarce example of Australian art nouveau ... below their hooves and tootsies, it looks like mega-natural wine all the way down ... it seems perfectly clear to me

The whole point of winemaking is the vigneron interrupting the natural workings of nature to avoid naturally rotting grape juice from naturally turning to a natural vinegary bacterial soup by encouraging the creation of clean ethanol so you instead end up with potable wine.

Natural? If, like me, you know that plutonium is natural, you must concede that the hippy wine movement needs to come up with a more fitting word for its retro appellation. Since its commencement in Caucasian Georgia about 8000 years ago, the act of deliberate winemaking has become a long and rather complex procedure which has incorporated quite a lot of activity this murky wine movement would call unnatural.

The first unnatural interruptions in the ancient natural rotting of juice came about when humans moved the wild vines to growing sites which better suited them. Then they learned to unnaturally re-route water to keep the plants alive.

You can see where this is going: we wire the vines up with steel from the dreaded mining industry, dig with steel shovels, prune with snips, carry with tractors and buckets to a tankfarm made of steel and oak cut with steel on a slab of concrete which once again comes from the mining business. The walls, the insulation, the roof. Everywhere we use plastic from the petrochemical industry. Even if you use a horse it will have shoes of rubber or iron; if you use clay amphoræ you will need to dig that out, too, using shovels and machinery and a carefully-constructed kiln fired by fuel you have found somewhere else and unnaturally transported. 

The author as thoroughbred hillbilly preacher's kid radical anti-war hardrock miner, visiting his brilliant computer-programmer girlfriend Maire at the Mines Department, ca. 73-74 ... Chris Langman used  Stewart Young's Nikkormat, Snowden finished her off

Without entering the obvious discussions about petrochemical vineyard management, yeast cell manipulation, enzyme addition, filtering, or all the other modern sophistry of the biochemistry of wine, it's obvious that some folks will always grow and make wine in a more pure and simple manner than, say, your transnational ethanol peddler with his vast monoculture grapeyards and shiny refineries. That's always been the way.

The more time we waste arguing about whether or not such caring practitioners can properly use the word 'natural,' the less likelihood there is of actually getting things moving in the general direction of improvement, with better quality, safer, more gastronomically enjoyable product, and a better public health and environment outcome. 

Speaking at his 100th birthday lunch at Kalimna homestead, Ray Beckwith and Thellie Schubert, Max's widow ... photo Richard Humphries
 
Having known such great wine scientists as Ray Beckwith, who in the 1930s discovered that the manipulation of pH in wine would make a safe, more stable and less wasteful product, I reckon he'd be giggling in his grave if he could see this current 'hipster' fad. (When I was an angry long-haired anti-war hillbilly at the birth of the 'seventies, a hipster was a sort of a cross between a hippy and a beat, so perhaps a little politicised, but nowhere near as radically cool as, say, the Panthers or the Weathermen. Or a proper thoroughbred hillbilly driving round in a Falcon full of Bibles and shotguns.)

While this discussion is still, shall we say, primitive, it'd be really silly to bring on an edict of law to regulate the word 'natural.'

If I were King I'd ban the use of it now, mind you. Until the likes of Brian Croser and Bananaby Joyce, bosses of the biggest wine police, the Australian Wine and Grape Authority, actually interfere in all this, l make one suggestion.

If there's something you don't want in or near your wine, like high science or a simple sieve to strain the greeblies from it, and you think your achievement is significant, why don't you simply say so on your label? This may be a challenge to those who increasingly sell 'natural' wine without that horrid capitalist intrusion, the label, but they must know somebody who can write.

As we learn to accommodate the new heat blistering our vineyards and sending sugars through the roof, we can also learn to accommodate the fact that to make a better drink, some winemakers dare to use reverse osmosis or brilliantly-conceived centrifuge technology to remove bits of the wine that we don't want, like too much alcohol.

It's like taking the pips and stalks out. Even Bacchus and Pan know the value in this.

I'm sure the hundreds of responsible Australian winemakers who lower their alcohols with an unnatural dribble of water at ferment would love to see the law changed so they can continue this ancient practice with impunity. They're all obliged to list their final alcohol on the bottle, within a point or two. Surely that's the vital bit.

In the meantime, it was a delight to see Inkwell Wines proprietor Dudley Brown respond to Jancis's "Tain't natural" claim by suggesting "there's plenty of natural taint."

There will always be unstable murky wines and great wines and a lot of stuff in between. But if this retro/natural/hippy wine movement is to get close to winning any wars, I reckon it should abandon the sanctimony and adopt the appellation name Jancis invented.

If your wine's murky and you're proud of the fact, simply state "Taint Natural" on your label.

Sounds as good as Methode Champenoise.

Now, for being wrong, I'll get back to the penitence of drinking my bitter wormwood in this here 68% alcohol Pernod Absinthe. With water, so it goes murky, and I don't explode and mess up the snow.

Cheers, and good luck with the thing!

 




















Early hipster jeans pocket: BASKET WITH GRAPES Fourth century, Pushkin Museum, Moscow; inventory No 5818 [Coptic Textiles : Kybalova] purchased in Egypt by V. S. Golenishchev ... do note that the bunch of red grapes has been twisted off the vine, naturally, by hand, rather than by pruning hook or snips ... from the author's natural digital collection privately stored on the internet

20 December 2014

COOL PRAYER FOR A DEAD YEAR




  

Matthew 6:7 ... when you pray, use not vain repetitions as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking




photo Mick Wordley

BUSHFIRE TIME: BE VERY AWARE!!!

Some strange digifractals going down in this image ... it came from the Yangarra Estate/Country Fire Service bushfire drill practice and emergency protocols workshop at the winery before last summer hit. Be very careful visiting wineries this summer: there's a lot of bone dry vegetable  fuel about, and yes, vineyards DO burn! ... snaps below from the Currency Creek fire last summer ... the undervine mulch burned, and once the power was down and the water ceased flowing, the dripper lines acted like cordite fuses in some places ... this vineyard died, and was later uprooted ... all photos by Philip White

 

  

19 December 2014

SUSTAINABLE KIDS' BIG DAY OUT

Regular readers will know of DRINKSTER's ongoing fascination with the Museum of Economic Botany in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens. Curator Tony Kanellos won a new crew of admirers when he gave a full tour to the winners of McLaren Vale's admirable Sustainable Kids competition ... all photos Philip White


Sustainable Kids is an ongoing initiative of Dr Irina Santiago-Brown, designer of the McLaren Vale Sustainable Viticulture program. Local schoolkids were encouraged to keep diaries, recording an observation of some aspect of the natural world outside for 100 consecutive days. The winning books are all remarkable examples of how acutely observative young brains can be if unplugged from the digi ether and pointed in a richer more earthy direction. But once inside these remarkable buildings, which are full of outside, really, the Mums and Dads were just as overwhelmed as the kids ... big kids; little kids ... 


Tony Kanellos, centre, is the author of the award-winning book, Imitation of Life. His beautiful new work, Out of Past, presents an incredible collection of post cards featuring images of the Gardens in the 1800s and early 1900s. The messages on the backs of these inform us that post cards were the SMS messages and e-mails of the day: there's nothing new about fast abbreviated texting - they just did it with nib pens, ink, and stamps!

18 December 2014

FOX GORDON FOR WHITE EXMESS ZAP

Fox Gordon Charlotte's Web Adelaide Hills Pinot Grigio 2014 
$23;  13.2% alcohol; screw cap; 94 points

I've probably given too much shit to varieties that end in O over the last few years, but you know, like every other flash in the pan, there are examples that are take your pants off brilliant and the rest are like pizza dribbling down the front of the telly.

Remember Keith Richards' 1988 comment on music: "The ratio of good stuff to bad stuff doesn't change.  Ninety-seven bad; three good."

Tash Mooney

This wine is another of Natasha Mooney's cooly-considered and perfectly-placed wines from Caj Amadio's vineyard by the lake and the pines between Williamstown and Kersbrook. This is where a fad can last for centuries. Tash is a person of unusual gastronomic nous. Wines like this can become permanent building blocks of a gastronomic culture if they can funnel their fractals into Keef's Three Good category. 

Which this wine fits.

Then I could grozzle on about it being pointless planting Pinot grigio anywhere you can't grow really good Pinot noir on account of them being fruit of the same cot, but it'll take too long.

This is a whip-slick racy wine but solid.

Feints of plantains and lotus petals spook around the hall like angels before you hit the juicy-fruit tropicals. A faint whiff of cool wet mud between the toes. Long slick Dobro steely acid that sits there as a solid hoverin note. Just that exactly perfect amount of carnal flesh. It's wine that makes you feel like somebody. How cool is that? 

Fox Gordon Adelaide Hills Princess Fiano 2014
 $23; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 93++ points

Same vineyard. 

Calm. Rich. Smouldering. As full of quiet exotic spices as Guerlain's Jicky, which is still made to the 1889 recipe. So they reckon, anyway. Send me a bottle for Exmess.  But that swoony bit's almost devoured by really heady jungle fruits tropical like you find where the tigers till growl in tiny bits of Malaysia. Carmen Miranda after her third set. Somebody dropped some plates.

The spice is there settling into your gums when you consider this long after it's swallowed. Take some more and you begin to love its oil. The wine has delicious unction.

It's one of those rarities in the Keef's Three Good appellation, and like the Pinot grigio, it sits well up the pointy end of examples of the current Oz obsession with varieties with O at the end.

This can stay. Dance yourself a smart Charleston. Go jiggle that bob.

Like the Pinot grigio, it's as good a job as this country has yet done of this variety. It's a helluva lot cheaper than a bottle of Jicky, which the local dullard specialists refuse to stock. You'll just have to trust me.

And you know what? I don't give shit about food when I drink a wine like this. 

17 December 2014

WHITE MUSIC FOR A WHITE EXMESS

The New York white inck doppelganger has made this crunchy solo ice music, perfect for Yuletide gifts in places where there is no snow... BUY, and listen with Riesling! ... if this is too cold for you, try Philip's brilliant ensemble work with the Colonic Youth quartet.

16 December 2014

DANGEROUS JAMIE OLIVER TENDENCIES

The modern bachelor has little time for extravagant cooking ... photo The Advertiser

Recipe for the modern bachelor:
quick food for quick people
who feel sorry for poor old Coles
by PHILIP WHITE

Spare a thought for poor old Coles. Having to cough up a $10 million fine and everything. Just for burning suppliers. Embarrassing.

There must be some sort of beta-blocker or something they can get to ease their ailment. I feel real sorry for them.

When I look at the dreadful thing they built in the main street of McLaren Vale, I weep for the Coles people. It wasn't the cutest ivy-hung nuts-and-berries street in the wine world to begin with, but poor old Coles must have been so strapped for cash that all they could afford was a sort of a Guantanamo thing in a hole they dug at the foot of Chalk Hill. No trees. No shade. No comfort.

But there's an acre or so of red hot blacktop and a confoundingly illogical mess of traffic islands and white stripes. In summer, it's like parking in a wok. Poor old Coles has to pay for all that electricity to cool that huge hall of fat, starch and sugar just so you can feel safe leaving your car. At night, the joint is floodlit after the Guantanamo fashion, as if there may be staff trying to escape in the dark.

Catherine Kerry had a huge influence on my gastronomic development way back in the grim war years... photo John Peachey

I've never been in a shop where so many people who know each other apologise for being there at the same time. "But you know," they say, gazing dolefully into their brimming trolleys, "I just didn't have the time to drive all the way to Aldinga," which is embarrassed patois for the superior South Australian-owned Foodland there, ten minutes closer to the coast.

A perfect example of the opposite to the dread such locals feel can be found in the splendid Barossa Foodland co-op in Nuriootpa, where citizens own the property and have shares in the business, and simply glow as they shop. They have coffee together, and talk to each other. At this time of the year, when they all get their dividend cheque, they can't wait to rush back to the co-op to spend it all. It is a magnificent supermarket. 

I suspect this is a race thing: the Barossadeutschers are much more adept at supermarketing than the English who settled McLaren Vale. These Vales frails'll lay on their backs for Coles and dream of selling wine to Tesco. On the other hand, the Barossa co-op drove Woolworths out of their Valley in the supermarket races, while they seem to love that same huge brute buying their vineyards, their grapes and their brands for Woolworths' own Hungry Dan's discount bins.

One learns to cook a bit harder when doing breakfast for the likes of Tony Bilson, another big influence and a friend for nearly forty years

I don't drive on the public roadways. As a petrolhead bachelor who cannot frame his will to the law, I deliberately let my licence expire twenty-five years back, and depend on others to get me to the shops once a week, according to where their empty cars are pointed. So I don't have much choice about where I shop, and end up in the local Coles once every week or two. I manage to eke sustenance from those crowded, repetitive shelves, feeling sorry for poor old Coles every time I reach for an essential. They must be soooo stressed.

Anyway, as I know I'm obviously not alone in simply having to shop in their Guantanamo, I felt that in the spirit of the season I should offer others a recipe I have developed which builds a quick and simple, healthy meal from their droll stocks. This is good for those drinking folk who live quick, attempt to avoid hangovers, and don't quite get the time to make beefstock or paté or gold-chip gourmand delights that would normally require wealth and kitchen staff or Maggie Beer or somebody. This dish will fill you, fullfil you, and help ease any guilt you may, as I do, suffer on account of poor old Coles' obvious impoverishment.

You need a frying pan and a small saucepan. You can get these in Coles.

Squash and peel the cloves of half a bunch of their Mexican garlic. Chop them roughly; not precisely. Do the same with a lump of fresh ginger root about the size of an egg. Put a healthy splash of their Cobram Estate 'Robust Flavour' Extra Virgin Olive Oil in your hot pan with a teaspoon or two of Yeo's Sesame Oil. Sizzle it all a bit, leaving the vegies some healthy crunch.

While that's proceeding, boil a cup of their own brand Small Shells 100% Durum Wheat pasta in your saucepan, stirring occasionally and cutting the boil at about seven minutes to retain some al dente pleasure. Strain it, rinse it  under cool water and let it sit.

To your sizzling frying pan, add a hearty spoon or two of their Hoyt's Mixed Herbs and another of the Hoyt's Hot Dried Chillies Crushed. Keep stirring it, but don't get obsessive. Grind in some pepper and add a teaspoon of rock salt. Add a cupful of those little mixed cocktail tomatoes, whole.

Cheong Liew unlocked the restorative mysteries of Chinese cuisine for me ... here we are with Sheriff James Bourne in the Blinman pub the year we judged the $5000 Cook Out Back camp oven competition organised there by George Grainger Aldridge ... fifty teams came from all over the bush for a two-day cook-off ... those girls were dancing on the bar that evening, when the bar towel slipped from beneath them and down they came, bringing a 10 dozen  bottle wine rack with them ... it seemed very loud ... photo Milton Wordley

By now you have squandered about ten minutes of your precious life, but there about three minutes more to go. Add two small tins of Sirena Springwater Tuna to the saucepan and break the fish into chunks. Then bung in a cup of Birdseye Field Fresh Australian Baby Peas and if you're posh, a teaspoon of capers. Stir in the pasta and keep her going until the pasta begins to soften more and the tomatoes begin to blister.

Now put it in a bowl and devour it.

To put some wine into this unusual food piece - I'm starting to feel like Jamie Oliver - I suggest a cold Clare Riesling. Again. The oils you've used will soften the crunchy acid in even the youngest Rizza.

But as my deceased former de facto father-in-law would say when going for his second scotch, 'A bird never flew on the one wing,' and it's here you may begin to feel a pang of guilt about giving all that money to Coles and none to Woolworths.

So take my word for it: if a bottle of Riesling's beyond your capacity, the Marke Original Oettinger Pils beer Woolies' sometimes sells through Hungry Dan's for as little as $1 per 500ml. tin will do just as well, especially if you've been ultra-generous with the chilli.

Oh, one thing for the true gourmand. To make this dish a fair dinkum shiny magazine foodporn thingo, get your good self some dried natural snow fungus (Tremella fuciformis) in one of the Asian shops in the market, boil that with your pasta, cut it into bite sized bits and add it similarly to your frying pan. Somehow the notion of snow makes the whole extravagance more Exmessy, even more delicious, and guess what? Nutritious.

Oh yes. Another thing for the really sanctimonious wanker gourmand. The whole deal is even more exotic if you use a kippered herring in place of the tuna. The frozen ASP Scottish Kippers do it well. I think I get them in poor old Coles. Just stay sober enough to remove the bones before you stir that lovely fish in.

"Too much vin; not enough coq!" Bilson laughed when he saw my recipe for coq au vin marinated and cooked in Yangarra Ironheart Shiraz barrel lees ... photo by Satanika