“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 November 2011

ARCHIVE: MICK ECKERT: WOODWIND SOLO






MICKEY ... EN ROUTE TO BREAKSBAND GIG, STIRLING HOTEL CARPARK,
APRIL 1975 ... MICK TASTES UNIRRIGATED WRONG COLOUR VIRGINIA ON A RAW OLD WORN-OUT MONDAY MORNING OR THEREABOUTS ON THE T-BONE WALKER EMOTION BUT TUESDAY'S JUST AS BAD... LOVE YOU FOREVER YOU PERFECT DUFFER AND RESPECT photo PHILIP WHITE


29 November 2011

DIARY 111129 - MY CLOSEST BIRD FAMILY






DISTURBED SUPERB FAIRY WREN'S NEST FOUND AND PHOTOGRAPHED BY MARIE LINKE AT KARRA YERTA WINES, FLAXMANS, HIGH BAROSSA ...
IT'S NOT A HAT, IT'S A HOUSE ... YET NOT MUCH BROADER THAN A WATCH!

DIARY: AT THIS time of year, when the nights are still quite chill for this mild part of the world, I must be polite to my Watch Coot. There are many baby waterbirds on the dams, and the Urasian Coots have a permanent overnight sentry. There is horror out there for wee berrudies at night: I heard somebody being strangled by a fox or cat last evening. Not nice. My kitchen is 150 metres from the tussocky sedge. Whenever I set foot outside in the dark, there’s a single, shrill “inggk!” from the Watch Coot. The call sits flat on the black water like a rifle retort. If I call back immediately in a similar tone, all is calm and silent. Conversely, should I appear to be lurking in suspicious silence, the warnings increase, everybody wakes, and there’s much fuss. Even the field birds, like the Spur-winged Plovers get up and scrank. We don’t want everybody flapping about in the dark.

But all the other birds do seem to trust their Watch Coot, and heed its warnings. Like the Wood Ducks, one of whom solemnly paraded her nine ducklings all the way up to my door and all the way back again once the humans had gone the other afternoon. She looked like Queen Victoria. The Coots are a sort of night-time equivalent of the Australian Magpies, who don’t only dress like police, but in daylight are so regarded by all other birds who always heed their dead-reliable warnings of threat. The Magpie tongue is so precise, that at Kanmantoo the Magpies had a word specifically for Wedge-tailed Eagle. Their skwark for mere Falcons was a different one. All birds listened and appeared to understand the boss Magpie. Chop-chop. Either you got up there into some altitude to give the Wedgie some serious wokka wokka shit, or you sat very still in the depths of a safe tree with your friggin beak clamped.

No room for middlemen.

The Little Ravens are a constant here, quite big really, always sauntering around the edges of one’s vision. People call them Crows. There were Australian Ravens a few years back, in the drought, but I’ve not seen them again. Similar size but more furtive is the Grey Currawong, who I found slinking from my kitchen to the stern Magpie’s alarm last autumn; broad daylight. The same bird adopts a similar set of moves when stealing nest straw from the barn. It’s like “I’m not here. I wasn’t even here. Voom!” A bit like the Ravens, they have the same risky approach to bellyfuls of grapes. Guilty conscience.

Mr Magpie was not amused. I think he was embarrassed, and was warning me, not the law-breaker.

With another La Niña summer underway, and its unseasonal moisture, all bird behaviour has been quite ratty. After that last sopping summer, the Magpies thought the autumn must be spring and nested in the poplar tree. When the winter hit, and the leaves blew away, the poor buggers were forced to admit that things weren’t quite right, so they abandoned that nest til the leaves came back in September. I didn’t ask about the offspring. Now they're somewhere else.

Last summer’s record rains have left the ground full of water, and since we’ve had no constant fortnight or two of warm, breezy weather, there’s still some viable mildew and probably botrytis around the Hills and Vales, surviving from last vintage. This gives the viticulturers the irrits but there’s bountiful food for all critters: the roos are fat. Maybe seasonal migration is temporarily unnecessary. The cycles have changed. It’s the second year in which I have not heard a Tawny Frogmouth, and while there was a classic territorial scrap between male Boobook Owls one night at the end of summer, and the one preceding, I have not heard them again this spring. The Black-tailed Bush Fowl came in late, and in much reduced numbers. They look like ¾ scale domestic hens at a distance, but are easily freaked, panic en masse, and disappear magically into scrubbage. The vineyard doctors call them Run Shit Runs.

I have looked hard at the bigger dam a short march off and I have not spotted the little Black-fronted Dotterels. This doesn’t mean they’re not back there: they’re notoriously difficult to spot as they dart along the waterfront, camouflaged as pebbles. And I'm colourblind. Some birdos call them Black-fronted Plovers, which might be regarded as a sort of swap, since the Spur-winged Plovers which raise families out of eggs laid smack on the ground in the middle of the pony paddock with the horses and Wood Ducks have recently been told they are now officially Masked Lapwings.

We didn't have it wrong. The Officials up and changed their tribe without consulting them. It's like the Lemon-scented Gum suddenly being kicked out of the eucalypts to become Carymbia citriadora, or the Fisheries bloke who looked like John Mellion in the white coat who goes out into the gulf in a tinnie with a loudhailer, lines up all the Snook, and tells them they're now Southern Pike.

"Okay you er ... Pike. Any questions?"

Most dawns and evenings are graced with the prehistoric calls of the Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and the Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos, who are so polarised in appearance, behaviour, attitude, voice and flight that they can’t possibly be the same genus. Which they are. The white Sulphur-crested ones are relentless larrikins and jerks, abrasive of voice and humorous to watch; the Yellow-tailed Blacks slink about the sky in a sort of dark prehistoric slouch, utterly graceful and mystifying, with a sinuous call that reminds me of the whales of the deep.

Closer to home, the Grey Shrike-thrush seems to be tired of its own pure and fluid tone, and is withdrawing, but the Blackbird Boys, perfectly monikered Turdus merula, are still in full Pavarotti, especially before sunset, when the Kookaburras laugh. Otherwise it’s all Superb Fairey-wrens, New Holland Honeyeaters, and the odd common Spoggie around the edges of the farmyard, leaving the open space to the pigeons, native and domestic, and the Goshawk, who regards the yard and its occupants as a Macca’s when he gets too tired to chase the proper wild food.


So I hear that constant extreme high-pitched chipping of the tiny birdies, as if somebody was rubbing poly foam on glass. The trippy, electrically violet Superb Fairey Wren cock is sufficiently jizzed to bounce into my kitchen for crumbs – I think he first came in after insects – and if the weather’s calm and warm and I leave my office casement doors open, and I’m extremely still, the hens will come and peck around my toes beneath my desk. My toes are bigger than their bodies.

Then there are the bloody Welcome Swallows. They love the big eaves here, and there are two pairs nesting with babies in my ceiling, and another family which built their homely mud nest on top of my rear porch light. It must be warm. The silly little buggers panic when I come through the back door, and will fly into the flat, where they become confused. If I sit here quietly working with the doors and windows open, they’ll whoosh straight on through, flat strap, but if the place is closed they get into fluttery circuits and bang against windows and mirrors. When I collect them they become very calm and featherweight in my hand, and I become heavy with concern and awe at their delicacy and finesse. They are such truly beautiful, ultra-lightweight birds that it is difficult to remember that they are brutal and efficient killers; they feed fast but constantly on the wing, assisted by their incredible aerobatic accuracy and fluidity, and the little ring of sail-like bristles they have around their bills, which spread in the wind to make a bigger funnel for insects to avoid.

I try to remember these aspects when I find their scats in my keyboard, on my bookshelves or the shower curtain, or speckled on my crisp pillow. If I didn’t have them scats, I’d be swatting the mosquitos and gnats that are inside the scats, and I’d be spraying that ol’ bug poison around.

Spray poison, you get sick insects. Get sick insects, you get sick birds. Sick birds means your country’s cactus.

pw 111129



FLYING LESSONS ... ADULTS AND JUVENILE, WEDGE-TAILED EAGLES ON THE WILLUNGA FAULT ... THESE ADULTS AROUND TWO METRE WINGSPAN photo LEON BIGNELL MP


WEATHERILL'S RIVER WAR COMMANDOS

FREE AD FOR GOVT FOLLOWS:
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CLICK IMAGE FOR CONNECTION TO NEW SOUTH AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT WEBSITE - WEATHERILL'S NEW GLASNOST?



PRESS RELEASE - SA LAUNCHES STRONG AND UNITED RESPONSE TO DRAFT BASIN PLAN

Premier Jay Weatherill has announced the establishment of a taskforce to co-ordinate South Australia’s response to the draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

“The taskforce will include Ministers Paul Caica, John Rau, Jack Snelling, Gail Gago and Patrick Conlon as well as senior officials across government agencies, including Department for Water chief executive Scott Ashby, Chief Scientist Don Bursill and Under-Treasurer Brett Rowse,” Mr Weatherill said.

“It will consider the plan’s implications for the South Australian environment, producers and regional communities, which are concerns of all South Australians.

“The taskforce will co-ordinate the scientific and ecological analysis of the plan and consider South Australia’s legal rights in relation to this matter.”

State Cabinet today discussed the release overnight of the draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

“We are having our experts conduct an initial analysis of the plan and I expect to be in a position to make further remarks about it later in the week,” Mr Weatherill said.

On December 5, the State Government will convene a meeting of experts and representatives of a number of groups interested in the health of the river to discuss the plan.

“City and country, irrigators and environmentalists, upper and lower reaches of the river all share a number of similar concerns - so there is a strong basis for a united SA position on the plan,” Mr Weatherill said.

“South Australia took early action to protect the river putting in place a self-imposed cap in 1969, while upstream States continued to over allocate water.

“South Australia takes just 7 per cent of the river’s water, while upstream States take 93 per cent.”

Minister for Water and the River Murray Paul Caica said the State Government has made it clear that South Australia’s past responsible behaviour and the efficient practices adopted by South Australian irrigators have to be reflected within the Basin Plan.

“We will only accept a Basin Plan that returns this most important river system to an appropriate level of health, including environmental sites such as the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth and the Chowilla flood plain in the Riverland,” Mr Caica said.

“We have concerns that 2750GL will not be enough to restore the system to health,” Mr Caica said.

“We are also concerned that it does not adequately recognise our irrigators’ efficient use of water and responsible management of the river compared to the upstream states.

“It is essential that we hold the MDBA to account and make sure they meet their obligations under the Water Act 2007 through the proposals put forward in this draft Plan.”

Mr Weatherill said the State Government will use the next 20 weeks to analyse the plan, harness collective views, and utilise the best scientific expertise that this State has to offer in preparing a submission.

“As the State at the end of the system, all South Australians are aware of the devastating impacts of over allocation and we have been a case study of what other Basin states could face in the future if this is not adequately addressed through the final Basin Plan,’’ Mr Weatherill said.

Mr Caica said he would hold meetings with representatives of environmental, irrigation, industry, cultural and community interests along the length of South Australia’s River Murray. These meetings will begin ahead of Christmas with further meetings next year.

(This is the complete unaltered text of the new South Australian Premier's press statement.)

28 November 2011

ARCHIVE: STEPHANIE MAKES TWO POINTS

GREAT AUSTRALIAN RESTAURATEURS, STEPHANIE ALEXANDER AND BARRY ROSS, EARLY EIGHTIES ... I THINK THIS WAS AT ONE OF THE FIRST OF THE ADELAIDE GASTRONOMY SYMPOSIA photo PHILIP WHITE



27 November 2011

THE DANGERS OF BAD TRANSLATION Pt 408b

Made A Beautiful White Wine
Australia's Largest Three Ratings

Use Professionals You Boofheads



VINO is 60% white, and red wine in Australia on behalf of the relaxation is common, may also be areas of the country in wine increased greatly with exciting yellow reasons. After the country's highest sugar drink bright wine, Chardonnay will instantly appear in the chat. Riesling, Semillon, the country's other two big bright fruit, will immediately adhere. About three, especially in the country's highest wine making, often to please the tastes of a lot of discrimination.

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Market is the creation of Semillon in Bordeaux, France. Southern market, the European market, and the seeker of personal steam dry area encouraging thinking bright citrus wine beverage. Semillon aged in these areas are usually about the best years or even more flavor and aroma, including baking nuts and honey. Like Riesling, it also served as a wonderful development of Botrytis cinerea sugar VINO.

Los Angeles accounting firm in Melbourne, highly, such as Sauvignon Blanc muscadelle, and sugary white Muscat Blanc Å small grain. However, few have done in the earlier one of the best list. If you need a bright sugary VINO likely to please your body, on its main VINO flavor companies, select one of the Chardonnay, Riesling, Semillon.

photo PHILIP WHITE



24 November 2011

HAPPY HUNDREDTH LOVELY HARRY'S

BRETT GENOME UNRAVELLED BY OZ DOCS

THE AUSTRALIAN WINE RESEARCH INSTITUTE TEAM WHICH CRACKED THE BRETT GENOME, L-R: DR PAUL CHAMBERS, DR ANTHONY BORNEMAN, PROF SAKKIE PRETORIUS, AND DR CHRIS CURTIN:

Australia Wine Research Institute
Unravels Brett DNA Architecture
Adelaide Thinks Of Chateau Neuf
by PHILIP WHITE


The Fox, it was called in Adelaide Hills breweries in the ’30s. It eventually killed them. The Wolf. The Old Wet Dog. The Boiler Stoker’s Apron.

Dekkera (Brettanomyces) bruxellensis
is a common rogue yeast.

Brett lives in timber and cellar walls and ceilings. It loves the sugars of the more spongiform oaks. It is a beloved essential for the makers of sourdough bread, and some brewers, but the enemy of others, and the dreaded enemy of those winemakers who think their wines should smell like fresh grapes.

To please these, and save them lots of money, Professor Isak “Sakkie” Pretorius and his wizard boffins at the Australian Wine Research Institute, at the Waite Campus in Adelaide, South Australia, have unwound the architecture of the DNA of Brett.

This is one of the most significant wine science discoveries of our age.

While winemakers had been able in the past to keep Brett under control by using sulphur dioxide, there was increasing belief that the yeast was adapting to this natural preservative, and is developing a tolerance to it.

Amusingly, Brett is a principal flavour of many of the wines of the north-west Mediterranean and the Iberian Peninsula: France, Portugal and Spain. A flavour much beloved of the English. Oh, and maybe Yorkshire. It’s in their beer. Oh, yes, maybe the Scots. It’s in their beer and their malt whisky – most people confuse it with peat. Ireland? Well of course. And the Belgians couldn’t live without it. The very same yeast the Australian winemakers need urgently to restrain is what gives the best beers in Belgium their distinction, thus the Brussells nomenclature, bruxellensis.

While the AWRI is obliged to make such science available to the biggest Australian wineries, most of these are not owned by Australians, so this new intelligence will quickly spread: even the Belge brewers will find this brilliant information to their advantage.

Most reasonable Australian winemakers seem capable of regarding a smidge of Brett as acceptable, if not quite unfortunate. Most seem incomprehensive of its nature; some like a little; some like a lot. Some even encourage measured amounts of Brett in their wines, especially those headed for Britain. Totally Brett-free wines, like the lo-oak hi-alc cordial fruitbombs that got Australia into the UK and the USA are increasingly derided by the same markets, which are returning to Bretty Old World favourites.

On behalf of his team, Pretorious (left) is highly excited about their genetic unwinding.

“As you know,” he said, “from the late 1990s through the early 2000s, the Australian wine industry has been very successful to combat this troublesome yeast. This was largely due to an AWRI campaign supported by winemakers to focus on pH and sulfite management as well as hygiene both in barrels and the winery environment. Their hard work led to a 90% drop in Brett spoilage … the Australian wine industry saved approximately $400 million over the past 10 to 15 years.”

With their usual lack of precision, winemakers regard Brett as something that smells of a range of things that stretch from barnyard, horse sweat, mouse piss, wet animal, rancid cheese and wet leather through Band-aid and burnt plastic to medicinal and metallic. That is a wide range of smells, in anybody’s language, and hardly scientific. But, for Bacchus’ sake, they’re not far off the smells of ancient cellars!

I find moderately-affected Bretty wines generally evoke powerful dreams and memories: briquettes and coal dust; the acrid, slightly woody smell of railway stations in the days of steam, combined with the hearty barnyard homeliness of the delivery Clydesdale there in its oiled harness.

Low Brett is more comforting saddle soap to me; too much is the acrid tickle of brown coal dust; briquettes is even worse. Briquettes do not smell like food.

While there is no doubt that a little Brett can add sensual earthy allure and complexity to some red wines, in high concentration it will literally gut a wine of its fruity character and flesh, leaving an unsatisfactory tannic husk. At different times, this level of infection has caused many great Australian winemakers, from Henschke to Cape Mentelle, considerable grief. Once Brett takes control, it costs lots of money to purge a heritage cellar of it, if indeed such a thing is possible.

Having spent one or two houses worth of money on replacing barrels and purging and sanitising cellars, many winemakers regret showing so much parsimony when they refused to shout themselves a proper barrel washer five years previous.

Unaware that the AWRI was about to announce such a significant achievement as it now has, I wrote about all this a month back on DRINKSTER (click) where I pointed out the high variance in people’s ability to detect Brett. This seems directly relative to the natural parallel incidence of the fatty isovaleric acid in the wine. IVA is a powerful pheromone which appears to influence the way different humans detect Brett: the threshold variance is enormous and seems to depend on one’s genetics.

Since then, I have enjoyed the rapid recourse Prof Sakkie has afforded.

In respopnse to the IVA line he typed “… from memory, about 20 years ago, Dr Thomas Henick-Kling (now at the University of Washington), expressed the view that iso-valeric acid is the compound responsible for Brettiness. Since then, the overwhelming body of research results pointed out that 4-ethylphenol is actually the culprit that makes wines smell Bretty. Our own data confirmed that. Although IVA (and a few other fatty acids) is also produced by Brettanomyces, we are confident that 4-ethylphenol (and to some extent, 4-ethylguiacol) is the ‘barnyard compound’.”

While this avoids acknowledgement that IVA seems to be the key to the way humans smell Brett, regardless of how Brett occurs or what it smells of, there is no doubt that the AWRI success will be of great use to anybody who deals with Brett, love it or hate it.

“It wasn’t an all-out ‘win’,” Pretorius explained. “Brett is still out there and current control strategies could accelerate the evolution of a ‘super’ strain that is resistant to sulfite treatment in the same way that super bugs have developed resistance to antibiotics. To future-proof our campaign against Brett, we need to develop tools to Brettanomyces strains that are increasingly becoming SO2 tolerant.

“The bottom line is that, as an industry we don’t want to use higher sulfite dosages to combat these sulfite tolerant strains,” he continued.

“We also know, if we spike (from zero to a lot) normal commercial wines with Brett’s signature compound, 4-EP, consumers start to dislike wines as soon as they can pick 4-EP up. So, from a consumer’s point of view it is a question of ‘Brett is bad’ and ‘we don’t want to have increased levels of chemical preservatives (SO2).’

“Our mission is therefore: ‘Boot bad Brett’s butt!’ ”

The process these clever scientists used is confounding. By mid 2009, they’d isolated 1.5 million ‘sequence reads” of raw data and had attempted to reassemble these, like a giant jigsaw, into the Brett genome. It became evident they needed more grunt in the computer department. Only after serious upgrades of their bioinformatics server did they manage to squeeze their 1.5 million ‘reads’ into 27,000 ‘contigs’, or contiguous DNA sequences.

This led to two full years of screengazing to seek matching pieces of DNA and re-assemble them.

“Late in 2010 there was a ‘lightbulb moment’,” Pretorius explained.

“There was a reason why the puzzle was so hard to put together: there were more pieces than there should be. The genome of the Dekkera strain under investigation did not have two copies of each DNA region - as is the case for many genomes, including humans. There appeared to be three. This triploid structure may be important in enabling Brett to survive in wine.”

Once this tricky puzzle was understood and the re-assembly completed, the researchers used bioinformatics tools to search the DNA sequence for genes likely to make Brett resistant to sulfite, by comparing them with databases containing all the genes known to science.

“We can now learn what makes this yeast resilient and identify chinks in its armour,” Pretorius explained. “A key gene involved in sulfite tolerance has been found, so that variability in tolerance between different strains of Brett can be better understood.

“Clearer diagnostic tests are now more likely, identifying whether outbreaks of Brett are more or less tolerant to sulfite treatment. When available, these tests will give winemakers the upper hand in knowing what ‘weaponry’ to use.”

Genetic scientists at the AWRI face a tricky impasse over their discoveries. The wine marketing authorities and councils strive to keep the clean, green image of natural wine, regardless of the industrial refinery nature of the business. The recent AWRI invention by GM of a mildew-resistant vine has been clobbered by the regulations: it’s not permitted outside the greenhouse, because the Australian wine business is GM-free.

I put this problem to Pretorius, asking whether the new Brett discovery will become a GM issue.

“Good question,” he said, pausing. “No, I don’t think so. Uncovering Brett’s genetic code is like taking a biopsy to learn what treatment would be available to us when Brett becomes more SO2 resistant. A new anti-Brett combat plan will not include developing GM Brettanomyces strains. Now that we know what genes are involved in the production of 4-EP, we will have to find ways to starve Brett from the precursors for 4-EP. For example, if one can take its ‘favourite food’ away, it won’t be able to convert these forerunner molecules into bretty 4-EP. Does this make sense?”

Uncommonly good sense, thankyou Professor. Congratulations, and well done. Respect.

DR TONI CORDENTE (L) WITH DR ANTHONY BOURNEMAN AT THE AWRI

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22 November 2011

ARCHIVE: POSSUMS CLOSES ... ADELAIDE 1985























By 1985, Adelaide had got too small for Phillip Searle (left) and Barry Ross (right), whose radical restaurant, Possums, broke most of the Adelaide laws that were easiest to break, and quite a few others.

During the Adelaide Hills winter, for example, the staff would scour the damp bush for mushrooms few crazy whites had tried before. Morels, and other European sophistries, were beginning to appear in the best shops at very expensive prices, whilst the Hills were loaded with free native fungi that nobody understood. They'd divide up and eat their daily harvest, and if they tasted good and nobody got sick, they'd be on the menu next day.


Some of us were rather good at the range of mushies we called the brain crayons, but few knew much about those which were simply delicious to eat.

Once they'd decided to move east, Phillip And Barry sold the lease and staged a farewell dinner for Adelaide. First course was meat pies with sauce; dessert was a six foot ice cream cigarette, complete with dry ice within, so it actually smoked as it was devoured.


Arthur's often gets the credit, but, for a brief explosive burst, in its heart, Possums was the true CBGB's of Australian cuisine.

For a more complete essay on this bright slice of Australian culinary history, read
Mietta & Friends.
























The author deals with his first six foot ice cream cigarette, the Hon. Alexander Rix smiling behind
.
























The mighty Ned Armstrong, left, and Phillip Searle, right. We'd love to know who the little kid is. He looks like Dylan Thomas, and perhaps that's a lawyerly Dad standing behind? DRINKSTER has no idea who took these rare photographs which we found recently in a box of treasures we'd been a bit scared to open. We'd appreciate any information you can offer.


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VEGAN CAT DISLODGES OLD HISTORY

Voodoo Vegans & Bio - D Vino
Bearded Greens At War With
Whitecoats Boffins And Nurds*
by PHILIP WHITE

Cat Clyne yesterday reviewed Bottlerocket, a NYC liquor and wine store. The publisher was superVegan, “a shockingly ambitious website made by vegans for vegans.”

Cat wrote about Andrea Calek, “something of a punk-rocker of wine-makers. A former Czech soldier, he lives in a trailer amidst his rented grape vines in the Ardeche region of the Rhone,” she writes.

“He produces wines that are ‘blatantly organic, unfiltered and unrefined’. A punk rock vegan wine—what's not to love? Dark and spicy, I highly recommend Calek's Babiole ($24). It fabulously complimented the vegan Tuscan white bean and sausage stew I made and enhanced enjoyment of a dark-chocolate dessert.”

While I chew over the notion of a vegan Tuscan white bean and sausage stew, like yeah all the Medicis were vegan, and blatantly unrefined, I think you’ve been sniggering at the notion of the Czech vegan punk veteran who probably wore a vegan CZ 805 BREN assault rifle when he did the business for Vaclav.

Now he’s camped in a caravan in somebody else’s vineyard in the Ardeche he’s devoted his veganising to securing drinkers like Cat in New York City.

I bet he’s got tattoos.

There is nothing new in this. I recall Tim Knappstein marketing himself as the wildcard biplane pilot with the bomber jacket and the thousand yard stare who happened to make wine in the ’eighties. He was the first winemaker that had been elevated to rock star status by his big winery employer to suddenly quit and go do it all his way: actually have the presumption to up and off, borrow some money from Mum, make a winery, and, wait for it, name it after himself!

All big wine companies – many of them seemed to be owned by tobacco or detergent manufacturers – flinched to think of what their long-haired hose dragger with the degree in wine science would eventually do to them when he copied Knappstein. Jeff Merrill hung out with the Pom cricketers, and grew long hair and a moustache you could see from the opposite side of the MCG to sell his wine. Then he bought Mt Hurtle and quit Reynella.

It wasn’t all overtly rambunctious. Greg Trott affected his more retiring, uniquely avuncular style with the lasses and managed to tip quite a lot of Wirra2 into their number during his life of hiding.

MARY PENFOLD

Otherwise, it was indeed very macho. For a while there it seemed that many editors felt it was miraculous that a human with a vagina could actually make wine, but I know Pam Dunsford got sick and tired of the novelty idea that someone with a vagina would make wine that tasted different from wine made by somebody without one and went on anyway to pioneer the entire notion, opening the grape prairie for a whole horde of female winesmiths, all of whom have forgotten Mary Penfold’s early work at The Grange at MacGill. (She was the first winemaker at Penfolds.)

After Walter James, Ian Hickinbotham and Len Evans reintroduced the notion of newspapers having celebrated wine columnists in the droll period following the Second World War, they soon discovered that many of the nation’s winemakers were rather colourful blokes who’d been to that terrible biffo in Europe, discovered wine, and when they got home, used the assisted education government gave (in return for their service) to study winemaking at Roseworthy.

BEARDS WERE IN ... THE BRILLIANT DAVID WYNN AND THE AUTHOR WITH MASTER FOOD CRITIC JOHN McGRATH AND ARTIST TOMONO WYNN ON RIGHT ... MOUNTADAM, ABOUT 1994 photographer UNKNOWN

To mention some locals, Doug Collett, Jim Ingoldby, Ken Maxwell, David Wynn, were all air force fliers. Stuck in a transport division, Max Schubert spent time dodging Rommell’s Stukas in north Africa. Having been through that, such fellows were capable of considerably racy behaviour when the moment was right. This often seemed to coincide with the selling of certain amounts of wine, or at least the consumption of too much of it.

While editors got younger, this warrior generation suddenly looked a bit too crusty, so there was a lot of pressure on the new wave of wine critics to promote new young winemakers who had plenty of character, often regardless of the quality of their wine. Photogenic attributes came in handy, especially to those burgeoning number of winemakers who did indeed have vaginas.

Thus came the rock star winemakers of the ’eighties. You could affect the cavalier larrikin bullshit perfected by Merrill, or take the Croser path and grow a little mo that made you look like an air force officer or a headmaster. You could adopt the posher intellectual presumption of say, an Adam Wynn, or the belligerent hillbilly genius of Stephen Hickinbotham … just as long as you had your well-trained wine critic nearby to photograph and report your antics, the wine would sell, and all would be fine.

It did help, just coincidentally, if you’d actually bothered to go to Europe to learn a thing or two about wine. The younger Hickinbotham and Wynn, for example, garnered much respect for having studied in France, a handy winemaking asset not then obvious in, say, the works of Merrill or Croser. But then, hardly anybody in the Australian winemaking business bothered to even visit France until the 1990s, when a few brave souls ventured forth for a baguette and a Burgundy. Apart from the wartime venerables, and the young Hick and Wynn, very few spoke any French.

It was a much easier thing to avoid Vinexpo, the world’s biggest wine show held on alternate years in Bordeaux, and spend your wine export grant on a ticket to the smaller London Wine Trade Fair which conveniently co-incided with the cricket, where everybody spoke English.



The winemaking atmosphere in Australia was very much about the presumption of superior oenological knowledge: there was no need to go to investigate the sources of the grape varieties Australia’s first white settlers chose for their colonies because Australia simply made much better wine than any of those countries. This is the hubris which built the business which we’re now watching topple.

But Old Yurp seems stupidly capable of the same damn idiocy: I knew it was over during a trip through the south of France in 1992, when, for the first time French cellarmasters were claiming to have perfected the Roseworthy winemaking style, and boasted of the Australian cellar rats who had taught them this technology. Mystified and envious of the routing Australian wine industrialists had made of their international markets, the French have blundered on, changing their laws to permit the easier emulation of the refinery wines of Yellow Tail and Wolf Blass, and copying dumb Australian label art that is as fickle as leaves on the breeze.

The only thing to change significantly is the little matter of veganism, and its associates in the saddle: organics, biodynamics, green wines, sustainable wines, bearded wines, heathcliff wines, voodoo wines. Many excellent whitecoats, boffins and nerds may wring their hands, roll their eyes and sigh about how all this desertion of hard viticultural and oenological science must end in tears … but a burgeoning slice of the market thinks the gift of their postwar vino-industrial complex is worse.






















Which is why so much of it’s collapsing. Jesus, Hell. Dr Richard Smart and all that perma-pine and petrol and wire and Monsanto and whatnot? Arguing against bio-d in London? Somebody tell him it’s over, for Bacchus’ sake.

Bring on the blatantly unrefined Czech punk rock vegan in the Bottlerocket, I say.

To be very technical, things got too far out of balance.



*FOOTNOTE: Nurd: a little lower than a nerd.

21 November 2011

ARCHIVE STUFF: MAX & THELLIE & CO

A LOVELY LUNCHEON AT ANGLESEY ESTATE BEFORE THEY PULLED ALL THE VINES OUT AND BUILT TERRIBLE HOUSES - LEFT TO RIGHT - LEA AND JACK MINNETT, THELLIE AND MAX SCHUBERT, UNKNOWN, AND LINDSAY STANLEY - MAX SPOKE MUCH THIS DAY ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF ADELAIDE PLAINS FRUIT, ESPECIALLY GRENACHE, IN THE SPECTRUM OF PENFOLDS WINES - WE HAD A REAL GOOD OL FASHIONED LUNCH! photo PHILIP WHITE ca 1982

US CRITIC ADVISES: SUCK MORE GUTTER

EXCEPTIONALLY GOOD WINE - CABERNET AT LATOUR photo Ch LATOUR

The Full Case For Cheap Wine
Big Pow-wow On Wine Pricing
Who Does This Dill Think He Is?
by PHILIP WHITE


Twas a perfect week for the angsty wino. The money canyons of the west were full of people rebelling against the way their wealth is stolen, and there sat fat Whitey, trying to justify the $1000 Penfolds is charging for a bottle of the new Bin 620.

If the facts be known I didn’t really attempt to justify it at all.

But I thought a lot about it.

The digital soup slopped out an interesting discussion about wine prices at the same time.

On Slate, the US writer Brian Palmer slated wine critics for encouraging price rises by presuming that $15 was an appropriate ask for what they call “everyday wine”.

By this I presume they mean something along the lines of what I used to call a “drinking wine”. Like a flagon of d’Arenberg was a “drinking wine” until the makers discovered it included stuff so good that it could be sold for $70 if you kept it out of the blend and sold it in a bottle. As drinkers quickly made clear, what then remained in the flagon ceased to be a “drinking wine”.

Palmer seems unaware of this phenomenon.

GOOD WINE photo PHILIP WHITE

He reminded us that “Europeans seem perfectly comfortable cracking open a 1-euro tetra-pak of wine for guests. Germans, for example, pay just $1.79 on average for a bottle of wine … There are plenty of reasons to go back to our 1990s habits, and to start using 15 bucks to buy four or five bottles instead of just one.”

He goes on to praise Ernest and Julio Gallo, America’s biggest plonkmongers, and mentions various examples of the frailty of the human palate, which he thinks can’t tell expensive wine from cheap.

I can, but only if the wine is properly priced. I mean if you poured me a glass of the stuff that wasn’t worth $70 in the d’Arry flagon alongside a glass of the stuff that was, I suggest there’d be a fair chance you’d see me pick which was which.

But “So what?” is Palmer’s retort. “The only thing these ‘successes’ prove is that a small group of people have gotten very good at sniffing out the traits that the wine industry thinks entitle them to more money ... If hints of cassis, subtle earthiness, and jammy notes don’t interest you, you are not a lesser person. Wine is not art. There’s no reason to believe that aligning your tastes with those of a self-appointed elite will enrich your life, or make you more insightful or sensitive. If wine critics want to spend lavishly on the wine they like, that’s great. Leave them to their fun. Be grateful that you can gain just as much pleasure, if not more, without bankrupting yourself.”

This led to John Bonné, wine critic at Inside Scoop SF returning fire.

“Oh, please”, he writes. “Usually I ignore these screeds. But the reductivist logic in this piece, the notion that professionals are pulling a fast one on an unsuspecting public, is so extreme that I couldn’t resist — mostly because this is the sort of logic that discourages people from wanting to learn more about wine. I wasn’t alone. Mike Steinberger, who until recently was Slate’s wine critic, took the rare step of smacking down his former employer for ‘a really silly article—so silly, in fact, that I have trouble believing it was meant to be taken seriously’.”

He says the reason Americans buy less $3 wine these days is “we want to drink better wine and we are willing to pay for it.”

SOUND WINE photo PHILIP WHITE

“But in the Slate view,” Bonné continues, “price is all that matters. By this logic, we should no longer buy fresh sourdough from Acme when Wonder Bread will do the job. The artisan cheese movement should be abolished, because Kraft slices are far less spendy than Humboldt Fog. Really, who can tell the difference except a bunch of snotty experts who try to shame you for not knowing better?”

Bonné says that at $12 you can find an honest product that reflects its roots with a true
sense of origin and craft, but it won’t be great wine. “Far more often at $12, or even $18, there’s no story to tell, no craft to extol. One of the industry’s truly cynical shortfalls has been to promote industrially made wine at $15 or $20 as being the product of artisan work. If I was forking over good money for wines like these — to go back to the bread analogy, these are the equivalent of supermarket par-baked loaves — I’d be pissed to find that I was funding the vino-industrial complex.”

He then goes on to mention the types of farming necessary to make $3 wines, or even the dreaded Two Buck Chuck.

“Typically, any wine like this is sourced from industrially farmed, inland vineyards that grow grapes worth just a few hundred dollars per ton, a price that’s barely breakeven for most farmers ... Whether that sort of farming is sustainable is a matter of debate, although the occasional hint appears about the unintended costs of growing cheap wine grapes, not the least of which is a potentially diminishing San Joaquin water supply. Seeing a similar trend, the Australian government encouraged growers to pull out their crops rather than continue draining water supplies to make cheap wines that, it’s now widely accepted, cost Australia much of its reputation as a producer of fine wine.

“If the farming can be done sustainably,” he concludes, “there is nothing wrong with cheap wine. But ultimately the wine industry has hurt itself by portraying cheap wine as fancier than it is. It has created the illusion that $5 wine is fancy enough that you don’t need to spend a cent more.”

This flushed out Evan Dawson, managing editor of the New York Cork Report, who wrote that the most important advantage that the artisans have over the bulk producers is their the source material. “When a high-end restaurant makes a great burger, they tend to use excellent quality meat. McDonald's, on the other hand, uses CAFO-sourced meat, or aging dairy cows. So what does the fast food chain do? They load up the meat with salt, which is a flavor most people like and allows them to cover up the fact that their source material isn't very good … And what does a bulk wine producer do with overcropped, mediocre-at-best fruit? He buries it in oak. Oak is the salt of the wine world.”

Dawson goes on to explain that in using expensive new barrels to flavour their wine, premium winemakers not only hide some of their most valuable asset, their fruit, but in fact they make their wines look more like cheaper wines, which can be oaked by sawdust, shavings, sticks, chips or tank planks.

Which is NOT the case with Bin 620: one reason for the adoration it draws is its seamless consolidation of new oak, French and American, with its priceless and indeed freakish Coonawarra fruit. It is nothing like the obsessively-wooded Bin 707 Cabernets of the past, which were whacked rotten with new raw sappy American oak from the start, and kept it forever.

MOST WINE photo PHILIP WHITE

Which is one of the miracles of modern Penfolds: a business with such weight of history, which depended for decades upon its brash application of American Quercus alba oak coopered in Tanunda by A. P. John, has managed to modernize its style, give much more stage to the fruit by exiling the coarsest lumberjacks, and yet it still tastes and smells like Penfolds.

I’m sure God could see all this coming when he wrote his book. Before promoting him to the world’s most famous winemaker, he had his only son study carpentry for thirty years, then make nouveau wine without barrels.

At least he used clay, not plastic. And then I suppose that as the scribe failed to mention the raisins and currants that Our Lord threw in the big waterpots as they were brought out into the sun, he may also have chosen to overlook the added sawdust. He'd obviously learned the amarone technique from the occupying forces, but the oak business? Only God would have thought of that.

Or the Greeks.

As if to put a bloody big plug in a week of such interminable navel-gazing, The Austin Chronicle finished it with Sipping From The Spigot, Wes Marshall’s report of a blind tasting of bladder pack wines versus bottled stuff.

“We were hoping to find a wine that played way above its class, one that could compete with much more expensive bottled wines,” Marshall wrote. “Admittedly, it's a bit like panning for gold, but one can always hope ... The worst wines we tasted were also the oldest wines. Some Australian wines had been packed as far back as 2008, and they were uniformly undrinkable.”

So, in seeking a good wine at a true price, generally avoid plastic, and avoid forestry unless you know and trust the lumberjack. Avoid what was left in the d’Arry flagon after they removed all the good stuff. Avoid sophistry, and avoid vacuous critics. And avoid me, for Bacchus’ sake, or I’ll have you drinking the $1000 dollar 620, although you knew all along that I didn’t pay for my glass, and the wine didn’t cost anything like $1000 per bottle to make.

Oh hang on, you’re safe. They’re telling me it’s almost sold out.

CHEAP WINE photo PHILIP WHITE

19 November 2011

ARCHIVE STUFF: LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS

CATH KERRY WITH THE AUTHOR, BETWEEN WARS photo JOHN PEACHEY



.

17 November 2011

PENFOLDS 620 RAISES COONAWARRA BAR


Penfolds Bin 620 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2008
$1000 750ml.; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap or cork; 96+++ points

Grangemaster Peter Gago launched the first Bin 620 since the 1966 at the Waldorf Astoria in Shanghai this week; the lucky Chinese were suitably impressed. But DRINKSTER was fortunate to get a pre-release schlück backstage at the Kings Of Leon concert last Friday: those thirsty sons of the deep south, preacher’s kids like me, and their bonny crew, seemed to love it too. The tiniest sniff momentarily slowed those who surrendered their sensories, which is something you don’t see too much of in those intense, bristling moments preceding an arena performance.

Before the fifteen day heatwave put a sudden end to the top fruit in 2008, consultant John Bird, who worked with Max Schubert on the 66, recognized a wave of very special flavours in certain rows of Penfolds’ Coonawarra blocks 5, 10 and 20. “It transported me back to 1966 and the experimental Bin 620,” he said in a Penfolds statement. “The fruit profile is classic Penfolds. Having tasted many parcels of Coonawarra fruit it became apparent that we simply had to make this wine.”

JOHN BIRD'S RETIREMENT WATCH RESTING BESIDE ONE OF THE MOUTH-BLOWN SPITTOONS DOC SACHS MADE FOR THE PRIVATE TASTING ROOM AT PENFOLDS MAGILL ... IMAGINE WHAT HAS GONE DOWN THAT LITTLE RED LANE!

So they followed the old recipe, picking the early-ripening Shiraz (49%) and more austere Cabernet (51%) in ideal condition before the heat hit. The wines spent a year in new oak hogsheads - 57% French; 43% American - before blending and bottling in July 2009. There are 1,000 cases available, and a few magnums and imperials for the very seriously rich. Or terribly thirsty.

The wine is the sort of rare thing that made Coonawarra famous, and while it seems obviously Australian to me, it’s probably as close as Penfolds – or Coonawarra - has got to top Bordeaux in style, the Shiraz neatly filling the role Merlot plays for the French, adding some sensual flesh to the bones and sinews of the Cabernet. (In the 1800s, before the Merlot boom, the French used Shiraz from the Rhone in their Bordeaux blends, anyway.) Then, it’s one of those impossible fleeting intensities that seems so smooth, with its components so harmonious and perfectly assimilated, that it leaves the palate puzzled as much as transfixed and transported: what was that, that just went through? An impossibly beautiful ghost? A zephyr? Something too profound for human understanding? Has it moved into me? Will I be able to drink anything else? Should I stop forever? Musk and blackcurrant, blueberries and marello cherries, perfectly fitting cedar-and-spice oak (think mace), strapping acidity … all the best things about the best red wines are here in seamless abundance. The wine is utterly beautiful to drink now, but will live for decades, just as the 66 has done.

Buy the screwcaps.

In one deft blow, this wine will do more - than any other product could possibly do - to resurrect the respect Coonawarra had before it turned itself into a sort of Riverland South with its own little Saint. The rest of the district, and the rest of the Treasury vineyards there, will have to perform miracles to justify the resurgence of oenological interest which will follow, especially in China. The scrutiny will be inscrutable.

Oh yes. The Kings? They rocked. Nothing slow about that show. Those good ol boys should ALWAYS drink 620 before they hit the stage. Two bottles. Praise the Lord!


O'LEARY-WALKER BILSON DINNER ROCKED

While I’ve struggled with my review of Tony Bilson’s amazing memoir, Insatiable – My Life In The Kitchen -- my review’s as long as the book, and I’m barely halfway through -- the Godfather of Australian Cuisine put his Sydney restaurants into voluntary receivership, they were consequently shut, and the most committed gastronomers in Australia sat back and wished it wasn’t happening.

As do, of course, all those who are owed money. Friends. Enemy. Staff. Mates. True believers.

When you’re at the pointiest, most glorious, spendiest end of the nation’s cuisine, your restaurant’s generally full of stockbrokers, bankers and suits, their wives and husbands and rivals and lovers, and you see the world’s financial systems go into major organ collapse, you suddenly learn about vertigo. Or you learn it again. Business folks who one day sit in your three-star buying Burgundy and Bordeaux like there was no tomorrow will be arguing about the price of cleanskins in your wine bar next day. If you're lucky.

While he struggles to retrieve the most humble and funky of his enterprises, Bilson’s Number One Wine Bar on Circular Key, the man has lived a shattered but determined life as the forensic counters dissect every speck and your regular industry bitches and critics gnaw and hiss. In his role at Cordon Bleu Australia, he rounded up some expert assistance from its staff and students at the Adelaide campus, and kept his appointment to present a degustation dinner at O’Leary Walker’s stunning new sales and tasting rooms at Watervale, in the North Mount Lofty Ranges at Clare last weekend.

The canapés were scallop tartelet, grissini with prosciutto, salmon crouton and potato and leek soup. These were served on the hill overlooking the O’Leary Walker vineyard, facing straight across the vale to the famous calcrete slope of Watervale. It is like a priceless slice of Burgundy. As Nick Walker followed his father Norm into fizzmastery, who’d followed his Dad, Hurtle, who’d learnt from the great Burgundian, Edmund Mazure, who made a Kanmantoo red judged the best wine in the world at the great 1889 Paris Expo wine show, held to celebrate the opening of the Eiffel Tower, it was essential that we opened with the Hurtle Sparkling Pinot Chardonnay 2004.

Guests sat to an amuse bouche of jellied lobster consommé with cucumber. An entrée of carpaccio of swordfish with caviar followed, as the angels poured two exquisite Rieslings, the O’Leary-Walker Polish Hill River 2010 and 2004. The Polish Hill River vineyard usually grows wines with more wholesome umami flavours, more Germanic maybe; more ly-chee, so this intercourse, which is what it was, was a spark of genius. The swordfish looked like a Picasso.

Second entrée was a Bilson standard, and a masterpiece: quenelles of King George Whiting with a warm salad of Spanner Crab, with two Rieslings from the chalky slope opposite: the O’Leary Walker Watervale Rieslings 2010 and 2006. This more austere drinking was as sexy a match as the Polish Hill affair. Most people were dribbling by this stage.

Three reds came before the main. O’Leary-Walker Clare Valley-McLaren Vale Shiraz 2008 and 2002 (swoon: hyper-intelligent blending, the softer, soulful Vales with the austere Clare), and the brash and curt O’Leary-Walker Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 as a sort of nerdy counterpoint. These musketeers made a terrible mess of the aiguillette of duck with creamed spinach and baby turnips. The tip-toe dance of acids and fats was spellbinding. We knew we were in very deep.

The Grangey O'Leary-Walker Claire Reserve Shiraz 2006 was hum-dinging with Brie de Nangis and Comte and bread of red wine, walnut and fig; the tarte frangipene pathologically swervy with the O'Leary-Walker Wyatt Earp Vintage Port 2010.

I think I retired at three. I felt like I was three.

ALL PHOTOGRAPHY BY MATT WALKER