Will The Ockers Listen To Anybody Who Isn’t Bob Parker?
Maybe The Heat Of ’09 Will Flush Out Some Lighter Wine
by PHILIP WHITE
A version of this story was published in The Independent Weekly on 20 MAR 09. I shall post a much extended version soon.
“They say it’s the ’eat” croaked Chips Rafferty, the dehydrating copper, explaining the suicide rate in The Yabba, his blistered patch of outback. “I like the ’eat.”
This was Wake In Fright, the profound 1971 film which launched Australia’s modern movie industry. While buffs raved internationally, Australians hated it – it was far too frank an appraisal of our condition. Our disgust was more overt because the movie had been highly-anticipated, being a British and Canadian endeavour.
All known prints were let rot.
We’re addicted to blithe praise from famous others. It’s sick. Press, pollies and public beg foreigners to like us, tell us they love it here, that we put on a good bicycle race, a great festival, world-class tucker. Mike Rann formalised this grovelling by spraying money at his Thinkers In Residence, shiny foreign carpetbaggers who pick the brains of anyone who can think who actually bothers to live here. They transcribe and paraphrase our ideas, hand it in, pick up their two or three hundred nicker, and mosey back to the Old World. If they are critical, we never hear.
One foreign critic influenced South Australian life more than any of Rannbo’s mercenaries. The American Robert Parker Jr. changed the way our winemakers make red when he fell in love with the highly concentrated tinctures of a few of our best tiny winesmiths.
Parker made these famous; the wines sold abruptly, some people made good money, and within a few years, in the fey hope that they’d also get rich and be beloved by foreigners, everyone’s red was suddenly above 14.5%.
Recently I posted to my blog an archive story about Mick Morris and his very strong Rutherglen durif. “Yes, it’s about 15.1%”, Mick admitted, “... apparently oblivious to the rest of the winemakers in Australia, who try to keep their table wines between eleven and thirteen percent alcohol by volume.” That was 1991. By 2000, 15.1% was standard.
As Parker has withdrawn hurt, and now sends Jay Miller to taste Australia, his influence is receding rapidly, and a new wave of critics is rising. As an highly-unpaid thinker in residence, I’m humbled by these great foreigners finally agreeing with my tiny provincial attitudes.
The USA blogosphere now fizzes with disdain for the sorts of wines they call “Dan Phillips gobstoppers”, referring to the Californian merchant who first took those strong specialist reds to the Parkerilla. And, finally, major newspaper columns are begging for wines of more finesse, better balance, and less dumb thickheadedness.
“Finessed and Light: California Pinot Noirs With a Manifesto” was the headline on Eric Asimov’s piece in last week’s New York Times. “I could see my fingers on the other side of the glass ... It was vibrant and refreshing, nothing like the dark, plush, opulent wines Mr. Guthrie used to make ... ‘It got to the point where I didn’t want the wine to be fatter than the food’, the winemaker said.”
Which won’t work here - our winemakers are permitted 1.5% “error”, so 14.5% can be 16%; 15.5% might be 17%!
“But poor imitations abound”, McIntyre wrote. “ ‘Food friendly’ used to be a politely dismissive term to describe wines that show poorly in competitive tastings against big, floozy blockbusters. It's time to elevate ‘food friendly’ to the top rank of praise and reward wines that complement, rather than obliterate, dinner.”
See? He likes to eat. The lighter move is on, heavily.
Ocker winemakers might just manage to follow this criticism, even if it’s coming from the USA. They have a really good excuse. They can blame it on “the ’eat”. Scared of a repeat of last year’s record heatwave, thinking winemakers picked earlier this year, and from the hottest vintage ever, they’ll release wines two to four per cent lower in strength.
Prepare your sensitivities for these promising delicacies, and for the freshly-restored print of Wake In Fright, screening soon. I’m afraid we’re still very much the Australia portrayed therein. Like too many of our dumb, clumsy, dehydrated wines.