“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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30 September 2008

Shiraz viognier: gluggy dumb muck

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by PHILIP WHITE - This was published in The Independent Weekly on 26 September 2008


Something really scary is happening to shiraz.


Since vintage, I’ve tasted thousands of barrels, tanks and bottles of this great Australian staple in various stages of undress. The wines, I mean. Although I am guilty of conducting the odd early morning tasting without pants – the palate’s fresher sans culottes – the wines I’m discussing here are being prepared for market, and are still awkward, unfinished, and uncovered.


Suddenly, unbelievably, it’s really hard to get a taste of shiraz that has not been adulterated to some extent by viognier.


In the northern, cooler part of France’s Rhone Valley, the shiraz is often pale, lacks tannin, and resembles cranberry juice more than, say, a hearty Barossa or McLaren Vale job. So they add a little viognier, the white grape that was so unpopular its total world plantings were down to six footy grounds before Yalumba bravely chose to make it famous twenty seven years ago. Now viognier’s all over the joint. Not quite the weed that chardonnay became, but threatening.


Genetically, the French viognier is very close to that tannic red mystery from over the Alps, nebbiolo. Very few Australians have the pluck and nous to grow or make good nebbiolo, as its confounding raft of tannin seems somehow disconnected from its elegant cranberry/raspberry/strawberry fruit. Wisely, they avoid it.


So, since white is much more difficult to make than red, why the hell did these boofheads suddenly pretend fluency in viognier, the white nebbi?


When shiraz is on the weaker side of elegant, you can bolster it with the raft of tannin cool climate viognier supplies. You need only one or two per cent of co-fermented viognier to give the red finishing weight and extra aroma, often along the lines of apricot. Apricot and cranberry, see? Makes some sort of sense.


My scant biochemistry makes it risky for me to attempt to explain what the mealy viogner tannin does to the pale colour of such wines, but it’s safe to say it somehow changes the anthocyanins of the blend, enhancing the blues and purples of the wine. A dribble of viognier, or a night or two on viognier skins, makes pale shiraz deeper in hue.


But in Australia, where we can’t seem to pick shiraz below fifteen per cent alcohol, so it’s black, and stacked with natural shiraz tannin, and packed to the gunnels with dense-to-impenetrable blackberry, prune, dried fig, licorice, salt and whatnot, I simply cannot see why anybody would want to add apricot.


It gets worse. The really stupid add over-ripe viognier to over-ripe shiraz. Once it’s above, say 13.5% alcohol, viognier ceases to smell and taste of the almost-elegant apricot, and suddenly becomes the thick dull syrup you get in a tin of peaches. It loses its drying, savoury tannin. It’s gluggy dumb muck. The shiraz needs water and acid, not alcoholic syrup.


Now they’ve planted so much sicko viognier in the wrong places and finally realise they’ve fluffed it, they’re all tipping it in their shiraz, and hoping nobody notices. They think they’re hiding it.


Which leads me to fiano, the white from Italy’s Campagnia, where they make awful oxidised plonk and plug it with a piece of Portuguese bark. But at Coriole, in McLaren Vale, the new plantings produce an ethereal, vaporous wisp of a drink that seems to float off the palate like a cloud, leaving a neat little coating of powdery, mealy tannin on the tongue. This excites the appetite and turns on the epicurean quarter of the sensory tent. Try Coriole’s 2008 vintage, and you’ll immediately get my drift.


Mark Lloyd agrees with much of the above, sufficiently to show the whole damn lot of us that there are gastronomically intelligent alternatives. So when he pointed his Coriole team at its first serious fiano in 2006, they took the wine off its skins much earlier than the Italians do, in order to achieve that lighter, ethereal style. But the skins had enough of the right phenolic tannins and aromatics to set Mark thinking about how that would influence shiraz.


So the Coriole Shiraz Fiano 2006 has about three per cent of the latter in it, co-fermented, to stunning advantage. The fiano somehow brightens the lighter red fruit spectrum of the shiraz, enhancing the raspberry and strawberry aspects which are usually hidden in all that blackberry and prune. So you have this lovely intense shiraz prettied up and lightened with vivacious raspberry, musk and marshmallow sugar. It’s as cute as all get out. And then the mealy, powdery tannins of the fiano somehow render the wine’s finish a lot more entertaining and savoury than normal shiraz.


Not to mention all this highly abnormal, deformed shiraz that reeks of viognier, and which will be sold without any label even vaguely mentioning the v-word or its inclusion. These mugs are buggering the flavour of Australia's most significant red, hoping nobody will notice. Very, very stupid.

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Unlocking The Rocks

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CONTRIBUTION TO THE 2008 GREENOCK CREEK VINEYARDS AND CELLARS NEWSLETTER


by PHILIP WHITE – September 2008


Time for some rough science. While global warming is such a hot topic cough cough it seemed perfectly appropriate to take a little geology lesson: geology shows we’ve had global warming before. So, like, how bad can things get?


Before you check out Snowball Earth on Wikipedia, let me quote a report of Hoffman, Kaufman, Halverson and Schrag, suggesting one of the things that happened at the bottom of the Neoproterozoic groups which underly Greenock.


“… biological productivity in the surface ocean collapsed for millions of years. This collapse can be explained by a global glaciation (that is, a snowball Earth), which ended abruptly when subaerial volcanic outgassing raised atmospheric carbon dioxide to about 350 times the modern level….resulting in a warming of the snowball Earth to extreme greenhouse conditions. The transfer of atmospheric carbon dioxide to the ocean would result in the rapid precipitation of calcium carbonate in warm surface waters, producing the cap carbonate rocks observed globally.”


I’m sure they make a big difference, but there were no Hummers in those days.


It was also high time the Barossa seriously compared local wines according to their geological sites. But fearing that they may end up with a geology somehow less desirable than others, some vignerons have opposed such an approach for decades. Their excuse? They say they don’t want an appellation imposed like those of France. My response? It’s not a man-made imposition. It’s in the ground beneath you. It was there first.


So a highlight of my thirty years of wine writing finally exploded like a firework, when, in June, I was invited to assist the Barossa winemakers assemble a blind tasting of 52 unfinished 2008 shiraz wines from across the breadth and length of the Valley, from Lyndoch to Kalimna. These were tasted in brackets roughly according to their geological sources, as set out in The Geology of the Barossa Valley, a brochure and map by revered government geologist, W. A. Fairburn. This work, which has the authority of having been gnawed over by the author's scientific peers, is available from Primary Industry and Resources SA. We also had input from the contrary geologist-turned tea-trader turned wine-merchant turned wine-blogger David Farmer, who is writing a book on Barossa geology, and who disagrees with some of Fairburn's mapping.


The tasting was astonishing, while predictable enough. Neighbouring vineyards in each precinct offered flavours and aromas in common, and these characteristics changed from precinct to precinct. This pioneering tasting, conducted with thirty wine writers from around the world, will no doubt be the first of many such exercises, and marks the beginning of a whole new database of gastro-geology.


The base rocks around Seppeltsfield, the Greenock Creek homestead, and Roennfeldt Road are all from that Neoproterozoic, the geological era in which multi-cellular life first appeared. This era stretches from about 550 million years ago to 1.2 billion years. Just for reference, the Universe seems about 13 - 15 billion years old; Earth about 4.5 billion. While these old rocks are generally below the topsoil, they do extrude, and have of course influenced and added to the formation of much of that soil, which very directly influences the flavours of the grape.


But it’s those base rocks that really interest me, particularly when I read back labels and brochures claiming “our vines are grown in some of the oldest soils on Earth”. Most of the Barossa geology formed in the Tertiary and Quaternary, the last 50 million years; its soils are only tens of thousands of years old: most of them are such recent alluviums they’re barely soils at all. “To the geologist, soil is the dandruff of the Earth”, my friend Wolfgang Preiss, Chief Geologist of the Geological Survey in PIRSA, sagely uttered on a recent field trip.


The Greenock Creek vineyards are on four quite distinct formations. The creeklines, both at the homestead and Roennfeldt’s, are very recent alluviums, just tens of thousands of years old. The cabernet, the Creek Block shiraz, and most of the Apricot Block are in such alluviums. These deposits fill the creeklines between the sharply-dipping older strata which protrude in the ridges.


These include the blue-grey dolomitic siltstones - Willunga slate, for example - of the Tapley Hill Formation, deposited as sediments in still deep lakes that once covered the area about 750 million years ago. The Seven Acre and part of the home blocks are in this formation.


Below that lies the Yudnamutana Subgroup. This dark mix of siltstone-derived soil with blotches of bright quartzite and pebbly dolomite is up to 800 million years of age. These layers reappear in Clare and the Adnyamathanha country of the North Flinders. They are pocked with dropstones, which were deposited by floating glacial ice floes. These rocks were one of the fascinations of the great geologist and explorer, Sir Douglas Mawson. Alice’s and part of the Apricot Block are in Yudnamutana.


The Hopeless Hill, on Roennfeldt’s, is on the border of the Yudnamutana and the underlying Burra Group, where we get to really ancient glittery micaceous schists, metasiltstones, calcsilicates and quartzites. These are as old as it gets in the Barossa. The Roennfeldt shiraz, cabernet and the Cornerstone Grenache are in Upper Burra.


In geology, there are many arguments. But having finally got this sorted better than ever before, I’ll never approach Greenock Creek wines in the same way. The distinguishing characters of each vineyard already make much more sense, and the differences between the Greenock Creek/Marananga/Seppeltsfield/Roennfeldt vineyards and the much younger formations in the rest of the Valley become even more meaningful.


So that’s the ancient history. Contemporary history includes the salination, through introduced irrigation water, of the young creekline sediments and clays. And, of course, it includes current weather and climate. People are finally beginning to understand my salination theories. Now, the pace at which the climate is changing must force closer investigation, much quicker than anybody has imagined necessary. If, in a couple of decades, man can change the soil sufficiently to kill a vineyard, like the poor old Creek Block, never irrigated, but dying through salination from upstream irrigators, we can surely bugger up our air.


Or maybe old Mother Earth will just carry on doing what she did before. Now and again, as geology shows, something makes her lose her cool.


PS.


Just to put all this perspective, Don Francis, professor of geology at McGill University in Montreal, has since reported in Science journal that his team has found a sample of Nuvvuagittuq greenstone on Hudson Bay that they believe is 250 million years older than any other rocks known.


"The rocks contain a very special chemical signature - one that can only be found in rocks which are very, very old," he said. "Originally, we thought they were maybe 3.8 billion years old. Now we have pushed the Earth's crust back by hundreds of millions of years. That's why everyone is so excited."


Before this study, the oldest whole rocks were from a 4.03 billion-year-old body known as the Acasta Gneiss, in Canada's Northwest Territories, and the oldest Australia had to offer were 4.36 billion years old mineral grains called zircons from Western Australia.


The greenstone contains fine ribbon-like bands of alternating magnetite and quartz, typical of rock precipitated in deep sea hydrothermal vents - which have been touted as potential habitats for early life on Earth.


"These ribbons could imply that 4.3 billion years ago, Earth had an ocean, with hydrothermal circulation," said Francis. "Now, some people believe that to make precipitation work, you also need bacteria. If that were true, then this would be the oldest evidence of life. But if I were to say that, people would yell and scream and say that there is no hard evidence."


(This additional information was taken from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7639024.stm )

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Men of Category

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SPEECH to the SOUTH AUSTRALIAN WINE PRESS CLUB at the EXETER HOTEL


by PHILIP WHITE – Wednesday 27 March 2002


I want to read to you the opening passage from One Man’s Ambition,the introduction to Wynn Winegrowers Diary, 1970, written by the late Walter James, who was a great and humble winewriter in Melbourne.


"When you choose to direct your life to the task of making money you may be sure that your success will arouse the admiration, and the envy, of a vast army of men who have had similar aims,” he wrote. “Should you set out not to make money but to make something really worthwhile in itself, your success will with equal certainty be rewarded with the admiration, and the goodwill, of men who really matter - men of category, as the Spaniards call them.”


He continues: "In some fields of productive endeavour, of course, you cannot achieve much without substantial means; it is only a little sad that so many men of ability as they reach for success and meet it are beguiled into allowing the means to submerge the aim and in the end are content to do, adequately enough, no more than a hundred others around them are doing equally well. Their obituaries describe these people as successful businessmen and they pass promptly into oblivion."


Among the businessmen who will pass promptly into oblivion in the near future are many of those we see running the great Australian wine industry.


And not to be unduly cynical, it IS a great wine industry. Again.


Just last night I was ploughing through some old Winestate and Wine and Spirit magazines, from back in the days when a Petaluma chardonnay was $7 and we’d give you a free bottle of Grange if you bought a $12 annual subscription. Australia hadn’t discovered shiraz then.


I read an interview I did twenty years ago with Frank Stone, a wine merchant from Atlanta. He was a man of category. He cursed Australian winemakers because he had never had one Australian wine shipper bother to visit Skinflints, his six wine supermarkets in Georgia, that were turning over $25 million a year of premium wine. He was also the President of an international wine education association with 1600 members, and he’d never once been contacted by an Australian winemaker or promoter.


Frank told me of the phenomenal success of the Italians in the United States, quoting figures like Villa Banfi, who’d gone from shipping nothing in 1975 to 17 million cases in 1982, and how the Italian government had got behind its winemakers and got some order into their promotion and made sure they went and visited blokes like Frank.


The people who’ve put Australia there beside the Italians might have taken twenty years, rather than seven, but they’ve done it - they’ve achieved some very grand things indeed, but even many of those will pass into oblivion.


Writers pass into oblivion, too. I remember Richard Farmer, the political journalist and major Canberra liquor merchant standing up in Len Evans Bulletin Place restaurant in 1984 to address the New South Wales Wine Press Club. “Fellow drug dealers”, he began, addressing an issue that has never really been faced since that day. Then he wheeled into a loud warning about Australia’s wine explosion being the result of the product being tax free, and said loud and clear that unless the industry got its shit together and grew up and lobbied, it would of course be taxed.


Now, thanks to the lobbying efforts of Brian Croser and Ian Sutton, we have an absolute dusie of a tax, but we don’t hear much from Richard since he penned Bob Hawke’s immortal line that by 1990 no child in Australia would be living in poverty. As a fellow writer, I think I know the sort of personal oblivion that might eat Richard right up....


In the same year - the apocryphal 1984 that my generation of bookworms thought we’d never ever reach - Nathan Chroman, wine writer from the Los Angeles Times was here, saying he didn’t think anybody in the world needed to make better wines than our best shiraz.


Gerard Jaboulet was here in the same week, handing out glasses of his La Chappelle Hermitage (1976 - $16!), from the French vineyard which is the very source of that shiraz, totally disbelieving that we were spending taxpayers’ money to uproot our best and oldest shiraz vines, not to mention nearly all of our ancient grenache. There was hardly a vine of cinsault or carignan left after that exercise. These just happened to be the varieties Gerard coveted from Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the district which McLaren Vale now seems determined to emulate.


Funny thing about these “new” rousillon varieties, viognier, marsanne and roussane, that they’re madly planting to get more South-of-Francey: they were all down there growing brilliantly in the Vales when Ebenezer Ward was writing The Advertiser wine column in 1862.


Gerard Jaboulet has tragically and prematurely returned to the great silence, but I don’t think we can say he’s gone to oblivion. I don’t know about Nathan. He’s a writer. And so was old Ebenezer, who shared one or two of my human tendencies. He got his tab in the Yorketown pub up to 50 quid in 1880, perhaps because of his derision of the quality of the local fizz, and his irritating habit of calling repeatedly for Krug.


Coming a bit closer to today’s men of category, one chubby fellow who was on the National Wine Centre board buttonholed me and boasted of how he would win his Order of Australia Medal for getting the Centre up against all the odds and dangerous detractors like me. I thought immediately that he was a man who had become “beguiled into allowing the means to submerge his aim”. He will pass promptly into oblivion.


Mark Cashmore, the great Hunter winemaker and marketer, is a name we don’t hear too much of any more. Before he sooled his lawyers on me for calling him Mark Morecash in 1983 I asked him the following question: “Why have you changed the name of your blend of chardonnay and semillon from pinot riesling to semillon chardonnay?”


To which he honestly replied: “Pinot riesling doesn’t mean very much at all. Chardonnay’s not pinot chardonnay and I don’t think riesling in the context of pinot riesling means very much. I mean riesling is semillon and pinot is chardonnay, and we have more semillon in the wine than chardonnay, so it should be semillon chardonnay.”


Not to put too much of a mozz on the Hunter, but the notorious Murray Tyrrell beat that hands down when I rang him for a comment on one of his habitual imbroglios: “Philip”, he roared like an old Chev blitz starting up, “what these fellers in the press are saying about me is completely unfalse!”


But that’s enough of that. I know what dear Walter James and David Wynn were thinking of when they conspired to write that paragraph I read to begin. They were talking of the true cycles of wine, and how so few of us ever really get to see it properly, gloriously, wholesomely occur; if not our very short lives, at least our concentration is too short to plan a flavour, and spend a year or three selecting the ground which will deliver it, then another one preparing it for the action. We might endure the few years it then takes for a crop to appear, or even stick around for another four or five so the fruit begins to show some complexity of flavour, but will we still be paying attention when those wines reach their maturity another ten years on?


How many decades of close attention does it take for a true believer to feel knowledgeable and comfortable about his terroir?


I interviewed M. Derallier-Dubrez once, and thanked him for the beautiful colour advertisements he’d been placing for his Quelltaler Estate, which was part of his Remy Martin empire. But I also voiced concern that the stylish ads were too subtle for Australians, and asked him how long he thought they’d take to reflect real change in his sales. This was in 1983, and he was nearly eighty.


“Aaaah M’sieu”, he said from his wheelchair, “I am planning for the year 2020.”


Remy foundered with its debt after buying Cointreau, and Derallier-Dubrez, who is still a man of category, sold Quelltaler to Wolf Blass, who sold it to Foster’s, who shut it down, ripped its tanks out, then put them back and opened it again. Perhaps their new 75,000 tonne wine percolator at Bilyara’s not big enough. Whatever will the shareholders think?


Since our staunchly anti-gambling Prime Minister has insisted on Australians becoming the world’s biggest investors in the stock market, the popularity of wine as a sheer investment property has boomed. I don’t mean the idiots who buy the stuff like gold bars at auction, and lay it down and wait til it’s too old to drink, at which point they sell it on at a grand profit to some other dunderhead who’ll repeat the dumb cycle - I’m talking about the nature of a wine industry which has become dependent upon short-term investors for its survival.


What happened to Seppeltsfield without its family? Why are our heritage wineries, like Saltram and Quelltaler, under constant threat of closure in the name of shareholder interest? How could empires like that one which the Wynns built, over three generations and a whole century, continue to survive this deadly slow cycle, if their sole duty was to return value for money to their impatient but faceless shareholders, who are scattered about the globe avoiding tax?


The two systems, on the face of it, seem totally mismatched. To me, a wine which is good value for the shareholder is a terrible wine to drink, and, conversely, as Richard Farmer said on that tumultuous day in Sydney: “Small vineyards are a rich man’s hobby.”


How can shareholders imagine or learn or care that their fast buck comes at the expense of salinated soil and buggered river systems, somewhere else, and how can their managers afford to let on? How can they possibly conceive of the patience required, the foresight and drive to establish a vineyard like Coonawarra?

Of course the sad truth is that Coonawarra had already passed into oblivion when David Wynn bought the old Riddoch cellars and vineyard land there for £22,000 in 1952. One year the farm’s being sold on its value as sheep grazing land, the next Wynn and his winemaker, Ian Hickinbotham walked in and by 1954 they were directing the first deliberately induced and managed malo-lactic fermentations on earth. I’ve tasted that wine many times. It’s still delicious, and the Frogs still can’t believe it.


Like Wynn, I don’t think Hickie will be in oblivion when he goes. They’re what those Spaniards call men of category.


And so, I believe, might the Oatley family be. The plans Philip Shaw unveiled for the replanting and refurbishment of Coonawarra in my piece in today’s Advertiser are unlike the sort of thing you hear from a publicly-listed company. The previous regime was certainly less likely to chop yields and short term profits so dramatically. What will make the Oatleys serious men of category, who will not pass quickly into oblivion, would be to see them carry on with the plan I like to imagine them following. Like frighten the investors off, get the price down nice and low, then buy the whole thing out and delist it. I’ve done my bit.

South Australia was enjoying a spectacular wine export boom exactly a century ago. Ernest Whitington, writing in The Register of 1903, reported:


“At present time the vintage is in full swing .... new, clean and up-to-date appliances have taken the place of old-fashioned and dirty methods, and the results in every case have been most gratifying”. He went on to explain that the state’s wine production had gone up fourfold in the previous decade, and the export trade had “gone ahead by leaps and bounds. Wine has grown to become one of the staple products of South Australia”, he wrote, “and there is no knowing what dimensions the industry will develop. The possibilities are almost illimitable.”


But within thirty years, the war, the wowsers, changing public tastes, stupid government intervention, and a wave of investors who knew nothing about wine, at both the British and Australian ends, saw that boom go a complete gutser.


Our sale of strong alcoholic wines to fatten up the ration-starved Poms after the next war worked for a while, and we enjoyed another boom. “McLaren Vale furruginous wines” were pumped for all they were worth: smooth and alcoholic, and yes, in some instances, even grown on ferruginous soils. But suddenly the English felt they’d put on sufficient condition: they’d had enough, and flocked, en masse, back to the lighter, more accessible, less heady stuff from just across the Channel, and Australia’s great wine business belly flopped again.


Men of category are what we need more than anything, right now. The wine industry is suddenly in the hands of a generation which has experienced no surplus, no collapse, and indeed has faced very little inclemency at all in this golden age. All its investors are fairly new; many of them are in it only to avoid paying tax.


What we need is people who are determined and wise enough to make something really worthwhile in itself, people who will not let the money submerge the ambition. Because there are plenty of people who really do matter in Australia, people of true category, who will reward such enlightened endeavour with extremely valuable admiration, delight, and goodwill. And you never know: their children, and their grandchildren, might even drink.


Thankyou very much.

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23 September 2008

The succulent succulents of Mornington


by PHILIP WHITE






Yesterday, after a feast of fresh crab at Greg Fahey’s stylishly modernised pub, The Maid and Magpie, on Payneham Road, Adelaide, Kevin Greg, publican of the legendary Exeter, handed me a glass of wine to appraise.


“It’s Mornington Peninsula pinot noir”, I said. “Made by Sandro Mosele”.


Indeed it was. The Scorpo 2006.


So how did I know?


I’m a fan of Paul Scorpo’s wines, and regard Sandro as a winemaker who truly has the touch: he shows a rare gastronomic intelligence and the sensitivity pinot demands.


Some Mornington Peninsula wines – pinot and chardonnay in particular – tend to display an aroma and flavour spectrum which for some reason reminds me of coastal dune vegetation, like the smell of pigface, Carpobrotus rossii, from the Aizoaceae family (pictured). I reckon I see the same characteristics in some wines from the seaside vineyards on South Australia’s Limestone Coast.


Whether or not this is an admirable characteristic, I wonder precisely what it is. Any ideas?


Red, white and green

by PHILIP WHITE - this was published in The Independent Weekly on 19 September 2008


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Forget epicurean pretense: the literature of music leaves gastronomic writing for dead. What’s on my desk? Inside Music, the crisp essays of Karl Haas. Avant guarde composer John Adams’ wry reflection of his life in The New Yorker of August 25. The hellfire and brimstone of Killer!, Charles White’s biography of Jerry Lee Lewis. Anthony Burgess’ Mozart And The Wolf Gang. Writing that renders all those reams of glossy gastroporn in the women’s interest section more repulsive than fat cooks talking with their mouths full on television.


Compare the elegant intelligence of, say Andrew Ford’s essential The Music Show (729-ABC-AM, Saturdays, 10am) to the thuggish braggadocio of Gordon Ramsey. Enough said? Nope. There’s a time when you have to kill everybody. An analysis of the depth of wine writing can only be shallow: there is no deep end in our gene pool. Even the new wave of sweaty dipsticks with laptops and spiky hair exudes the same glib drivel.


Other than that, there are myriad parallels between music and wine. Both go very well with poetry, as was evident at Albert and Nyra Bensimon’s recent soiree, where each diner was obliged to read or recite a poem. A bonnie rage indeed! Poets need more work.


Music and wine are prone to whimsical fads and fashion. Their packaging grows increasingly similar. Mysteriously, winemakers started acting like rock stars at about the time Elvis dropped dead after hearing John Cale’s version of Heartbreak Hotel. Then the poor dears’ marriages collapsed when they began touring. They would have learned more about their business and its part in The Gilded Palace Of Sin in the rock press than in the pious sanctimony my lot churns out between nights on the slash.


Q, for example, the biggest Pommie rockzine, has started examining the carbon emissions of the music biz. Music’s hardly compared to coal mines for its carbon footprint. But while many winemakers - McLaren Vale especially - are beginning to think about carbon offsets, a study of Q’s July piece, How Green Is Your Band? shows how far ahead the musos are.


Take KT Tunstall’s April UK tour. The lighting, heating and sound requirements of twelve gigs in large indoor venues emitted 38.4 tonnes of CO2. One bus and one lorry travelled 5632 kilometres to emit nine more tonnes. Fourteen people spent eight nights in hotels, adding another 1.1 tonnes. So that’s 48.5 tonnes of CO2 in total, getting her five green trees in Q’s new rating system.


The Pigeon Detectives, on the other hand, didn’t fare so well on their October-June world tour. 200 gigs produced 420 tonnes of venue emission CO2. Their road travel produced 51.2 tonnes; aeroplanes another 60.8 tonnes, and rail 0.87 tonnes. Three tonnes were emitted during hotel stayovers. Total: 535.9 tonnes. Three green trees.


The music world is seriously into this. Tunstall planted 6,000 trees to offset the emissions she incurred producing Eye To The Telescope, her first album. She uses the rigorous Gold Standard - the only one approved by Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth - to evaluate her offsets. Jack Johnson gets a gong for his solar-powered studio. Unless venues conform to his rigorous green standards, his contracts permit him to pull the gig.


It goes further. Up to eighty per cent of the emissions of a concert are spent by the audience coming and going, so musos play more smaller gigs in many locations at venues handy for public transport, preferably railway. Round trip tours are more carbon-efficient than zig-zags. They ban idling tour vehicles, and use recycled cardboard and paper for banners and tickets. Tee-shirts are made from recycled cotton. They rent stuff on location rather than haul it around, and use trains whenever they can.


At any given point, half the wine business is trapped in that endless string of Heartbreak Hotels, flogging grog. But have you heard of anyone planning a green route? Avoiding the dreaded jet plane? Catching the train? More likely flying, with 100,000 others, to plonkfests like Vinexpo, where thirty kilometers of tasting booths ooze booze for a week in an air-conditioned hall in Bordeaux. Its carbon footprint would make the Pigeon Detectives look like archangels.


As for working out how much CO2 your customers release travelling to buy your wine? Or planning for the day when export ends? Duh!


The music world is showing us that the whole thing goes beyond simply wondering about the carbon footprint of remelting wine bottles rather than washing and refilling them. It goes beyond greening the creeklines and building your solar-powered winery from hay bales. Like biodynamics, its mindset goes halfway to the realms of mysticism. Even the economic rationalists - thankyou young Pilmer - will face these ethereal realities on the Judgement Day, when my browser finally clogs with e-mails bragging about how many green trees everybody won in James’ new book. That’ll be the Halliday.


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The Olympics were corked

by PHILIP WHITE - This was published as "Put A Cork In It" in The Independent Weekly on 29 August 2008



Amorim, the transnational rubber trader which ships more cork bark than anyone else, is smarting. Having lost Australia’s wine market to the superior screw cap - meaning the dominoes of Britain and the USA will also inevitably fall - the fat Portuguese outfit used the Olympics in a desperate attempt to secure the Chinese wine market.


Obsessed with European tradition it can copy, if not simply purchase, the fledgling Chinese wine industry still loves the romance of cork. Exporters of Australian wines must step backwards to enter China: wines sold safely under screwcaps in the rest of the world are not acceptable to the Chinese unless they’re corked. Which is temporary, given China’s incredible advancements in the packaging of other foods and beverages.


China grows more grapes than Australia. If it finds the water to replace our evaporating Chateau Murray-Darling, China will soon be selling cheap wine to Australia. It will then learn the advantages of screw caps, because we won’t want cork unless it’s in platform shoes.


Our heroic Coles is teaching this lesson to the Old World, by purchasing larger volumes of wine provided it’s under screw. The best value sangiovese available here is Vintage Cellars’ “Chalk Board” $15 chianti - the first wine from that huge region to be screwcapped. To reward the producer’s investment in the bottling technology, the opening order was 2000 dozen. Similarly, the first Rioja screwcaps are on the water. This is just the beginning.


Amorim did a sweaty deal with China, through its biggest winery, Great Wall, to ensure all wine served at the Olympics was sealed with “natural cork”. Swarming, no doubt, with all manner of completely natural greeblies, cork being the spongiform bark of the oak, Quercus suber, which structurally resembles a multi-story five-star hotel for microscopic vermin. Unless, of course, the cork is chlorine-bleached, which converts some of those tiny varmints to the dreaded cat-piss/rat’s nest cork taint appropriately called trichloranisole. Amorim consistently claims to have put an end to this infection, but none of the corked wines and whiskies I taste swab clean.


Amorim claims cork is an environmental triumph, preaching on TV ads and the internet that screwcaps threaten the arcadian bliss of the cork groves of the western Mediterranean, and the serene, pristine peasants who tend them. Not to mention the sacred habitat of the blessed lesser-spotted cork dotterel and the freckled pigmy plug sloth.


“One of the world’s greatest examples of sustainable development” Amorim calls the cork racket.... “wine producers looking to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions can address these aspects as a matter of priority”. So screw caps trigger farting? Pull the other one. Given Portugal’s history of specialization in such delicacies as conquering and colonisation, one may wonder whether Amorim envies China’s attitude to human rights and censorship.


The beer industry used the Olympics to stage a collision of the great tectonic plates of suds. Anheuser-Busch is America’s biggest brewer. It makes 48.5 percent of US beer, and owns Budweiser, the world’s biggest-selling beer. Not to mention 50 percent of Grupo Modelo, Mexico's biggest brewer (with Corona, number five globally), and 27 percent of Tsingtao, China’s biggest. Budweiser was a major Olympics sponsor. Like Chinese beer, Bud’s made from rice as much as barley, so it’s lighter and simpler and suited to markets that accept only corked wines or beer you can’t drink without jamming a chunk of lemon down its neck.


On a greenbucks clutch equal to Amorim’s, Budweiser boasts of being the world's largest recycler of aluminum cans. It’s like Banrock Station saving the Murray. I’m green, therefore I deserve.


InBev, the Belgian brewer which set up shop in 1366, is the biggest global brewer, with over 200 brands, like Stella Artois, Beck’s, Leffe, Hoegaarden, Skol, Quilmes, Brahma, Staropramen, Sibirskaya Korona, Chernigivske, Sedrin, Cass, Jupiler and whatnot. It’s now adding Anheuser-Busch to its list. Anheuser-Busch Inbev will own the thirst of China, USA, Russia, Brazil and Germany.


While Beck’s is brewed here by Lion Nathan (whose foray into the wine business is not completely cool), Stella is brewed by Fosters. Like the local Heineken, they’re not European at all. So scour the atlas of the new leviathan’s holdings. Jeez, look Ma, there’s a great big hole here called Australia! Since it was still Interbrew, years ago, InBev has ogled the Fosters apple. So why would you let Fosters make your prime product taste like Melbourne beer when you could simply buy it - Fosters - whip up its dull suds, and ensure your Aussie Stella tastes more like a racy Belgian premium?


If/when Anheuser-Busch Inbev buys Fosters, which it may well do on its way home from China, it will reverse our dumb brewers’ disastrous forays into wine. There’ll be feathers all over the chookhouse when Fosters’ wineries hit the block.


COMMENTS

These comments were left on The Independent Weekly site. You can add comments direct to this blog by hitting the comment button below.


How much this "writer" has received from the screw cap producers? For me this is not an exempt article. Related to the sustainability matters i prefer to "save Miguel". You can "save Miguel" to in http://www.savemiguel.com/ Miguel is cork oak tree, go and see.

Posted by José Lopes on 4/09/2008 12:36:45 AM

(Jose Lopes works for Amorim.)


Brilliant article! Though not the perfect solution, screw caps are the best closure currently available. Patrick Stowe Rimu Grove Winery

Posted by pinotman10 on 4/09/2008 10:03:25 AM


There sure will becasue Constellation's wineries will hit the block first. Maybe the resulting rerating of the production facilities values might make wine profitable again....

Posted by MiketheWineGuy on 4/09/2008 11:29:10 AM


Thanks Jose for that carefully worded and intelligent comment and accusation. Another smart move by Amorim!

Posted by AndrewG on 4/09/2008 12:15:41 PM


I love it when someone like Philip White lays it into these bark floggers - the idea that cork is tradition and that tradition is good; ergo bark is good needs to be laid to rest. Cork bark belongs with other grand traditions like drowning witches, stonings and absolute monarchs. Using cork bark to stopper a bottle is like burning coal to make power, whereas a screwcap is akin to a nice clean and modern solar panel.

Posted by Awinelover on 4/09/2008 12:44:30 PM


Without any reference to AWRI taste trials or other objective measures, this rant completely ignores the Australian invention - Pro Cork. This closure uses the benefits of cork in aging wines and the prophylactic properties of a cellulose barrier to prevent TCA. A great closure and market appreciated all in one. Get up to scratch Mr White!

Posted by Bachanaussie on 4/09/2008 1:13:17 PM


yesterday we opened a bottle of expensive Chardonnay under a Diam cork, a glued together product, it was as badly cork tainted as I have seen - the sooner we get over corks the better. Perhaps we could save Miguel's ancestors by going all the way back to sticking a wax soaked stick in the bottle!

Posted by Gazza in vic on 4/09/2008 5:49:29 PM


Independent weekly? Pfft.. don't kid me!! "Superior screwcaps" yes, that's a very independent statement. "The cork racket"?!?! What is cork some kind of mob deal? Obviously Philip White is well paid by Stelvin and The Independent Weekly is not quite as independent as it thought.

Posted by Luke on 4/09/2008 7:41:18 PM


Regarding the postings on your website commenting an article referring Amorim, we want to immediately clarify that it is not Amorim & Irmaos position that the opinions – albeit misinformed – expressed by the article’s author are anything more than just that. The author is, of course, entitled to his views and to express them freely, and the same applies to any of the postings’ authors. If indeed any of our thousands of employees made a comment on this site, that will be a representation of his or hers private views. It cannot and should not be interpreted as anything resembling the company’s official views. Carlos de Jesus Director, Marketing & Communications Amorim & Irmaos SA

Posted by Carlos de Jesus on 4/09/2008 9:31:33 PM


Jose, what the writer has received from screw cap producers is untainted wine, which is far more environmentally friendly than having to send twice the amount of sample stock.

Posted by Christophe P on 5/09/2008 11:45:11 AM


Its amazing how emotional this debate is! What happened to objective and sound information based on technical facts?! It would be good to see White focus on what really counts - how to ensure the end consumer receives the wine in perfect condition! A good closure solution should provide a consistent and taint free seal and be suitable for the wine style. This includes ensuring oxygen ingress over the closure match the intended sensory profile of the wine. Alternative closures are becoming increasingly popular in todays wine world as they have a lot to offer, but its interesting to note that on a global scale more wines are sealed with synthetic closures than with screw caps.

Posted by Mai Nygaard on 5/09/2008 12:40:14 PM

(Mai Nygaard is Business Development Manager at Nomacorc LLC)


Phil, Get an education before you try to pontificate, maybe even do some research. Your ignorant perception of how TCA is formed is matched by your ignorance of the Chinese wine market. For examples, Great Wall is not the 'biggest Chinese winery'...Changyu is much bigger. Secondly, China only grows more wine grapes than Australia if you include all the table varieties as used for wine, which Chinese winemakers do, so you are only technically correct. And most grapes are grown in places even less suitable than the Hunter Valley, where it regularly pisses down just before vintage, so mouldy grapes are the norm. The only thing they do right is insist on cork, which is environmentally a more responsible closure than screw caps, no matter which way you try to spin it. Screw caps cannot match natural cork for regulated oxygenation during maturation in the bottle, essential to develop complexity in a quality red wine, and unattainable with a metal widget.

Posted by Dingo on 5/09/2008 1:35:02 PM


Phil, TCA is present in water. Drink some Adelaide water and let me know what you think about it. Put the fault in cork is very easy. To be clear, I don't care about the closure. I drink wine because like the experience, the brand the stlye, etc, not because of the closure. Corks have problems, as screwcap have. What is your reaction when you open a bottle of white wine and you feel a strong suphides odour coming out ? Do you complaint about the screwcap ?

Posted by Abagail korouplis on 8/09/2008 1:03:37 PM


The comments from Abagail Korouplis and Gazza from Vic relate to each other in that TCA in wine can have other sources than just the cork. The chlorine component of TCA can come from water or any number of chemical compounds present in the environment which might have somehow got in contact with the wine at any point during the production process from the vineyard on. On at least some occasions cork might be unfairly getting the blame for tainted wine. On wine maturation, wines can mature and develop perfectly well under screwcap, but when a cork does what is is supposed to it can be considered part of the aging process in itself, like a barrel, making a unique contribution to the aged wine.

Posted by TM on 10/09/2008 10:25:03 AM


Dear Phillip White, First, I would like to know how much is the screwcaps lobby paying you. It is not that what you have written is mostly bullshit and non-scientifically based, but the tone in which you write must mean that even being paid, you are powerless against nature. Yes, because there is a war being faught between alternative closures (not substitues) and natural ones. ALWAYS PREFER WHAT IS NATURAL! So, if you defend your positions that fiercly (even though they are false), I wonder how much is your reputation worth in dollars... Unfortunately, you also do not know anything at all about China: the milenar culture which privileges natural material for the food product whose consumption is developing most in the last years is indeed a deep, intelligent one. Even at humannity's highest level like Olympics, this has been recognised. How can you argue with that? Poor you, frustrated writer without any level at all... Thanks God Australia is a proven failure as a wine producer in the World, keep producing your soda kind of drink, and let the world enjoy the real pleasures in life. Ah, and again: get a job and a life, Mr. White!

Posted by The the on 17/09/2008 12:37:40 AM


Anonymous
said... If you want to see how desperate the corkistas are becoming with all this environment nonsense, have a look at this "unbiased" BBC report: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7623912.stm ...It seems to me the environment would be very well without men going about tearing the bark from trees.


21 September 2008

A few Burgundies at Romney Park

by PHILIP WHITE - This was published in The Independent Weekly on 12 September 2008.

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Having pillaged the top shelf at Smelly Cheese, in the Central Market, I took the bus to Hahndorf to absorb some burgundy alongside some Australian chardonnay and pinot noir at Romney Park. Perfectly named, Smelly Cheese. The minute I’d stashed my suitcase (containing said cheese), the pimpled hoodie opposite croaked “Jeez, sumpin stinks!” Even the elderly Hahndorfer in the seat behind pointed her gimlets at the case like it had somebody’s head in it. I was about to explain the bus smelled like Burgundy, but it wouldna helped.


We scoped out six chardonnays, blind. The acrid and gunpowdery Laroche Petit Chablis 2006 ($35; 88 points) was a shock after the juicy fruit rosé Rod Short had made from some shiraz run-off and served us as an appetiser. The chablis prickled the hooter. Eventually its honeydew/honeycomb fruit arose, and the pillowsoft palate lushed me right up. Ready to go.


Open-hearted peachy fruit announced the arrival of the Jean-Claude Boisset Puligny-Montrachet 2006 ($180; 92+) which seemed so soft and creamy it could have been a bold Australian. Cherimoya, really: the Peruvian custard apple which Mark Twain called the “most delicious fruit known to men”. Slightly smoky, too, but $180? Uh-huh.


Rod and Rachel’s Romney Park Chardonnay 2006 ($34; 90 points) looked a little churlish after those big Frenchmen. It had a delicious lees and malo turn that reminded me a little of my suitcase on the bus: I thought it must have been a lightly-oaked chablis.


The next glass had to contain a king-hell Burgundian bruiser: gunpowder, saltpedre, black powder whoofing up; then an elegant but complex palate with the chalky tannins that come from the kimmeridgian limestone of Chablis - same as the white cliffs of Dover - made up of skrillions of tiny 140 million-year-old oyster shells. “Very elegant extended bone-dry Exclusive Brethren finish” my notes record, “but overall, a really big challenging wine”. Okay then, what is it? Penfolds Bin 06A Adelaide Hills ($90; 94), that’s what. Adelaide Hills. Funny thing. Upon first tasting the Penfolds new releases in April, my notes proclaimed “...the Reserve Bin 06A 2006 chardonnay: a long, savage, crunchy beast from the Adelaide Hills – 94 points, easily. In deliberately untidy counterpoint to the staunch, reserved Yattarna 2005, which looks like an Exclusive Brethren in comparison. Same points, but more later.”


Just what is it with Gago and the Brethren?


Another burgundy. “Acrid phosphate/gunpowder edge. Elegant, restrained fruit. Really shockingly alluring and savoury. The most commercial of the French? Or is it 06A?” Ashton Hills 2006 ($34; 89), actually.

Time for a bad bottle – oxidised, flat, thank Portugal for the cork – of William Fevre’s Premier Crus Vaillons Chablis 2006 ($80; 55).


Some reds. The first, a lovely bright young thing, like a freckled blossom on Bondi, all marello cherries, prunes, English fudge and raspberry, came from Jane Bromley and Hylton McLean at their Honeymoon Vineyard at Echunga. 2007 vintage pinot noir ($33; 92). This is a winery to watch. Order at 0419 862 103.

Australia was also obvious in glass # 2. Leaner, tea tin aromas, insinuating very tight, oxygen-free winemaking. Tight, deep plums. It’ll need air. Open-hearted, but with a dark little soul awaiting redemption. Maybe it’s just in a black funk. ($38; 90+) Romney Park Pinot Noir 2007. (Rod later said they get the sulks for a while after about three months in the bottle).


More tea tin, but with plush dried fig, fresh raspberry and marello cherries, with a finish as soft the crushed velvet bell-bottoms I lived in for three years in the early seventies: Wild Earth Central Otago NZ 2006 ($55; 93+++).


Then, a fair dinkum French affair, leanly acidic, like rhubarb and oxalis, packed with wild cherry and beetroot and sporting that long, lithe, athletic sinew that looks like pink riesling. Daniel Rion Vosge-Romanee Village 2005 ($90; 92+).


Balance and intensity are the hallmarks of any great wine. From the first sniff, the next red was royalty. Perfect form, and a fine, tight, velvet finish that left too quickly, and, strangely, perhaps a little salt. Maybe it was glutamate, which occurs naturally in ferments. Maybe it was those oyster shells. Daniel Rion Echezeaux 2005 ($150; 93+)


The last glass was a puzzle. It was chocolaty. And fresh fruit gels. A rather plush, timber-lined lolly shop with the lady with blue hair and flyaway glasses glaring menacingly across the counter. By the end, alongside some beautifully savoury chicory tannins, sat a Christmas pudding. What started out delicate and fresh had finished complex and cooked. Very curious indeed. Bay of Fires Tasmania 2007 ($35; 93+).


So. The point? Well, a small, unscientific exercise, but with very warm implications. It wasn’t too many years ago we had the likes of big-time English wine scribes Oz Clarke and Robert Joseph telling us that we’d misread chardonnay and we’d never master pinot noir. Call the first accusation the truth, but since corrected with confidence; the second just plain wrong.


Oh yeah. We can also make cheese.

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