“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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19 May 2010

KOLTZ SHIRAZ AMARONE: SINISTER PAGANS

KOLTZ WINEMAKER MARK DAY SMELLS SOME DEEP DARK GUNMETAL IN HIS AMARONE SHIRAZ ... PHOTOS BY KATE ELMES, INDEPENDENT WEEKLY

Pagans From The Vale Italianate Aussie Shiraz
... As Made By Jesus!
by PHILIP WHITE - A VERSION OF THIS APPEARED IN THE INDEPENDENT WEEKLY


“In ’03 we hardly did anything. In 04 we dropped two bins off the front of the forklift and the Ducati was sitting there in four inches of amarone.”

That was Mark Day reflecting on life as a winemaker. The “we” includes his partner, the revered wine scientist Anna “Koltz” Koltunow. The “amarone” is a winemaking technique named with the Italian word for bitter or sharp. More precisely, the technique is called appassimento, and the wines are called passito, from appisire, “to dry”.

There’s a certain irony in the proximity of these words to others like amare and appassionare, because appassimento requires at least as much love as determination.

Bit like a Ducati, really.

I fully understand why Mark calls his amarones The Pagan, but it’s probably the winemaking technique Jesus learned from the Italian occupying forces as he grew up, appassimento. In that fleabitten wilderness, there was no refrigeration. Villages like Qana had somehow to keep sugar and fruit, so raisins, sultanas, currants, figs, prunes, and dates were dried and stored with the best water and honey in the cool of the local grange.

Shagged after their clambake down the beach with all that Damascus rosé, the lads crawled for hours up the dusty track to the wedding. Jesus’ mum met them in the road, complaining that there was no booze left. There was no drive-in, and a wedding lasted about a week, but she knew her boy could do something about it.

“Mother, what am I to do with thee”, he hissed, and then got straight down to it: haul the waterpots out into the sun; stack in some dried fruit; let the local yeasts get active, and they’re straight back into it.

For years Sam Wynn, founder of the Wynn’s wine empire, travelled annually from his home in the Polish ghetto to the Black and Caspian Seas to buy dried grapes which he’d take all the way home and then make kosher amarone for the Jews.

Nowdays, in northern Italy, Amarone is actually an appellation of the Valpolicella district, restricted to wines made by appassimento. Mark goes here annually to make wine. And as the wet Ducati could testify, he also makes it here, in the scrub and sand and ironstone of Blewett Springs in the McLaren Vale district.

Last week he presented all his Koltz The Pagan passito vintages, from 03 to a barrel sample of 09. And a dandy pagan ritual it was.

“A lot of this is about texture”, he murmured into his glass. “We pick the Shiraz early so it starts with a lot of acid, and that gets concentrated more as the grapes shrivel. So they’re quite acidic. But the texture just gets me.”

The bunches are picked carefully onto drying trays which are stacked in a humidity-controlled Ducati shed. A close eye must be kept for the six or seven week process: you don’t want too much overt shrivel, and bunches which develop moulds or rots are removed.

“It’s all local Shiraz off the sand”, he says, “but I always add a little bit of Adelaide Hills Cabernet.”

The grapes are finally crushed and put into open fermenters with some freshly-picked must, which is of course sweeter, with less acid. Off it goes. Long, slow ferments – 25 days – gentle basket pressing, and presto: amarone!

The Pagan 03 said it all, really. It smelled like a spinache and ricotta salad with figs. There was a glowering composty base tone, too, but those greens are still fresh and zippy, and the viscosity’s just perfect. 89++ points. 04 was more organized and fresh, with chocolate crème caramel flesh over a mess of moss and silage, all the nightshade leaves, juniper, Marveer, and dried sweet figs and dates. Jeez it was good. 93+

And on we gurgled, through the astonishing 05 (93+++) with its blackpowder and smoked figs, and impenetrable intensity and poise, to the triumph of the night (sorry Ducati, but the Poms make motorcycles, too) in the 08 (94+++). This majestic compote of ground-up gun barrels (Weatherby) roast capsicum, and Ditters’ best dried fruit mix (prunes, apples, pears) is a confounding glory of a drink that will cellar brilliantly. Or chug-a-lug with a slab of good aged parmigiano reggiano.

One thing is certain: as we moved into the younger vintages, these gunmetal characters increased, and the wines were tighter. They’re obviously better with a few years dungeon.

Mark also opened one of his favourite Italians, Tommaso Bussola’s BG Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 07 ($150; 90++). Made mainly from the thick-skinned Corvina variety, the smaller-berried Rondinella, and perhaps some Molinara grapes, this wine seemed simpler and much less tannic than The Pagans ($55). The Koltz wines are a sort all their own.

We also tasted passito style wines from other Australian producers, but these lacked the determined intensity of the Shiraz grown on those Semaphore sands of Blewett Springs, and the Maslin Sands ironstone that lies beneath.

Speaking iron, the iron horse has changed. The Duke’s been replaced by a snazzy Moto Guzzi, which Mark reckons is a sign that he’s getting older. He hasn’t washed it in amarone. Yet. But it’s surrounded by racks of Shiraz, doing its neat appisire. Maybe the Moto Guzzi wines will be softer.

That’d be a pity.

KOLTZ WINEMAKER MARK DAY, LEFT, WITH ESTEEMED UTAH YEAST SCIENTISTS Dr. JANET SHAW AND Dr. GARY DREWS, AND AUSTRALIAN CSIRO WINE SCIENTIST Dr. ANNA KOLTUNOV, RIGHT.

2 comments:

ozwog said...

I'll stick with the Ducati wines until I'm really old. The I'll go Guzzi!

Philip White said...

To the person who wrote about these wines and their ageing. Thankyou for your comment, but I won't publish anything like that from an anonymous. Verify your existence and I'll publish, okay?