“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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28 December 2011

ARCHIVE - AN EARLIER PIECE ON AROMAS

GERARD DEPARDIEU AS CYRANO DE BERGERAC

Just Open Your Face And Sniff
Your Schnozz Is In The Middle 
Getting The Max From Your Sax
by PHILIP WHITE
This was first published in November 1990, so some of this science will be out of date

 

“Mummy it smells!”

Therein lies one of our biggest deceits. 

To the white man, smell is a dirty word.  Not only do we train our children to believe this lie, but we live our lives maintaining it.  We feel awkward discussing smells.  We have very few words we can comfortably use to describe and discuss them.  People who wouldn’t write a letter in a fit suddenly up and off nervous notes of ridicule when I honestly report the bouquets of wines I want to share.

Somewhere between now and that strange dawn by the swamp, when first we stood up on our hind legs, raising our noses from mushroom-snuffling height, through handy genital-sniffing levels to superior, fully erect, Apollonian majesty, we began the tragic denial of our most refined, acute and sensitive sense.  Now we pretend the world of aroma belongs solely to dogs and cats.  Fools.

The human schnozz can detect and identify some aromatic compounds, like methoxypyrazine (1), the prominent smell in under-ripe Sauvignon blanc and Cabernet sauvignon, at levels measured in parts per trillion, and even the smaller US trillion has twelve zeroes.  That’s like detecting and identifying one grape in the entire Australian vintage.  With your nose.

While our tongues taste only four things – sweet, sour, salt and bitter (2) – our olfactories work with millions of smells and combinations of them.  They comfortably, continuously shuffle through a range of units so vast that it makes music and tone, and the variations of them, look tiny.

This is miraculous – a thing to be marveled at and investigated with great determination.

But it’s not.  In fact, through the advent of Christian and Islamic stifling of almost everything fleshy, suddenly resurgent in the wowser epidemic, strangely combined with the neo-fascist preoccupation with perfect muscle tone and the getting of heart rates down to zero through obsessive exercise, and the opportune threat of exotic poxes such as AIDS, we have almost cut our noses out completely.

Think of the squillions spent on the enhancement and entertainment of our other senses.  We have great industries and academies devoted to colour, line and form and the pursuit of things orderly and pleasing to the well-trained eye.  Painting, architecture, packaging, fashion – this is not only a big education number, but a mammoth business, and a naive attempt at the taming and reshaping of the messy vagaries of nature.  


 DR MAX LAKE, FOUNDER OF LAKE'S FOLLY WINERY IN THE HUNTER, WAS THE AUTHOR'S MAJOR MENTOR IN THINGS TO DO WITH AROMA AND PHEREMONES AND THEIR RELATIONSHIP WITH GREAT FOOD AND WINE ... MAX WROTE MANY BOOKS ON THE SUBJECT ... HIS SCENTS AND SENSUALITY IS AN ESSENTIAL TOME

We have great halls of learning devoted to the development and adoration of music, and enormous industries built upon its reproduction and sale. 

Language is an even bigger game, and its presentation and storage aspects are as big as big gets on our little planet.

But smell?  Apart from those relatively minor industries devoted to its modification or denial, such as deodorant manufacture, smell has never openly figured in the west’s broad-form indulgence stakes.  People hate their noses, jammed there like blights, smack in the centre of their otherwise beautiful faces.  Yeccch.  It’s a nasty reminder of primæval nights sniffing for love or danger in the cave, long before we tricked ourselves into believing we’d finally got nature firmly strapped in a harness so it could pull us around, and that smell would no longer count.

Considering our ridiculous rigmarole in hiding from sight the anatomical bits not favoured by clean white people, like the anus, it’s surprising we don’t wear some ornate form of nose brassiere to keep this ugly, most intrusive of organs, out of sight.

I can see a huge future in designing, manufacturing and selling a thousand lines of nose bra.  You know, the saucy chantilly lace job with the cheeky cutaway sides and the unique charcoal lining to preclude all aroma, or the gentleman’s sports version with the chrome cover and inverted ram tubes to concentrate the whiffs of racing fuel, rubber and grease, but filtered to remove totally all fresh vegetable and meat smells.

Human smells, for heaven’s sake.

But despite all this ignorance and denial, there are a few genuine nose freaks out here willing to sell the house in pursuit of things that smell good.  Like fine food, fine perfume and fine wine.  It’s a shock to most folks to discover that the most expensive of all these things, the rarities in the greatest demand, are the ones which smell like the most intimate bits of humans.

Truffles, morels, fresh oysters, malossol caviar, ripe creamy cheese, smoked salmon – these are the wicked foods.  Mature champagne, the best Burgundies and Bordeaux reds are the wickedest wines.  The compounds which give these exotica their unique, most desirable aromatics are often very similar in molecular structure to wonderful things called pheremones, which are airborne compounds similar to hormones.  They trigger involuntary physiological reactions in creatures which may not always be aware of their smell. (3).
 
Not all pheremones work in overtly sexual ways.  Scientists in the UK, for example, are synthesising one which appears to settle agitated people down.  Called Osmone 1, this molecule of steroid musk, shaped very much like the hormone testosterone, is also closely related to five-alpha-androstenone, linked in turn to boarfish, truffles, celery, parsley, cedar and sandalwood.  They impregnate a little cube with it, so patients can sniff it at will.

It seems likely to be used in the place of calmative, hypnotic and sedative drugs.  The best description of the smell?  In this concentration, clean mother’s breast, or armpit.  Lovely soft, creamy flesh.  The smell of great aged merlot from Chateau Petrus.

There are other wines which smell like high concentrations of androstenone, as it approaches the musky, urinous fragrance of sweat and sex.  Some great champagnes smell like pyrroline, the smell of carob beans, semen, corn on the cob, persimmons and caviar.

A smell like that of isovaleric acid, one of the most womanly aromas, can hike the price of a great Burgundian Pinot noir into the nether regions.  Paraaminobenzoic acid, the most prominent smell of many skin creams and hair conditioners, occurs naturally between your toes in the most secret ceases of your skin, and has very close parallels in some of the finest and most expensive wines. 

MAX SCHUBERT, CREATOR OF GRANGE, USED TO STROKE HIS MIGHTY HOOTER AND MURMER "DON'T WORRY PHILIP, I'M ALL IN PROPORTION."

So.  You see why we play these wine games, eh?  Good.  

All this excitement is enhanced by the knowledge of the machinery of smelling.  Think of your nerves.  Every nerve ending in your body is thoroughly shielded, carefully packed away to prevent the sort of pain you get when this shield is broken by a razor or waddy.  But there behind your honker lie 20 million stark naked nerve endings, swaying like seagrass in a thin layer of mucous, their short roots poking straight through into your brain. 

An aromatic tickle of these can bring back the most vivid memories of childhood, the most sensuously erotic imaginings, terrible hunger, or the name, vintage and maker of a wine you drank with your Mum on the beach at Victor in the spring of 1967.  And we’ve been trained to shun them.

After the weirdo Samurai writer Mishima ritually disembowelled himself twenty years ago in Japan, curiosity led me to study his warrior’s meditative breathing technique.  It changed my life, because in it I discovered that our noses smell too when we breathe out.

In the west, we think to smell is to inhale, short, sharp and simple, and we believe a breath first involves inhaling, then exhaling.  We start it empty and dead; there is a typically brief western climax, then we finish it empty and dead.

Mishima taught it the other way round.  You start on the plateau, packed full of life and air, and gradually force it out, carefully examining your exhalation for the smells of yourself.  These will include the food and wine in your belly; the smell of your blood.  Empty?  Pause and consider.  Here is the typically inscrutable eastern anti-climax.  With careful practise, this becomes the point at which you can fall asleep at will.

But then you inhale, filling yourself with new life and wonder and the smells of all that surrounds you.  Put a glassful of immaculate twenty year old fermented grape juice which reeks of all your favourite things in there with everything else, and you begin to wonder whether something went wrong with poor old Mishima’s nose.  Full of fresh air and bouquet now?  Good.  Pause and consider. Here endeth the lesson.

Unless, like me, you want to do it all again.  Architecture? Deodorant?  Order?  Give me a smelly old romp in the primordial swamp any day of the week.  And let’s discuss the smells, all the smells, as we go.  


 


FOOTNOTES

1 - METHOXYPYRAZINE
This compound is produced by cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc – and some other grapes - to deter predators which might damage the grape before its seed is ready to germinate.  Once the seed is ready to germinate, the grape ceases to produce methoxypyrazine and acid, and instead produces sugar, which is an attractor.  In the case of the cabernet, the berry even changes colour, from the green which usually indicates tart bitterness, to a pretty, bright red-purple.  The predator eats the berry, and by the time its stool emerges, the seed has sprouted.  Methoxypyrazine is the prominent smell in tomato leaf, pea shells and bean skins.  It occurs in many grasses, often alongside oxalic acid.  When these grasses are dried and oxidised, as in hessian or burlap sacks, their aroma is like the methoxypyrazine in a slightly oxidised wine.  I find it highly attractive.  

2 – SWEET, SOUR, SALT AND BITTER
We have known since the 1940s that the standard school map of the human tongue, with distinct areas each designated to detect one of these basic flavours, is balderdash.  We also know that the human mouth can detect many other things.  Chilli, for example.  Water.  And, of course glutamates, or umami.  To investigate this, track
the world’s leading expert on glutamate receptors, Professor Nairupa Chaduri at the University of Florida Miami.

3 – PHEREMONES
While many pheremones have no discernable aroma, they are frequently  accompanied by other animal excretions that do have distinct aromas, which, when inhaled and detected, trigger an involuntary anticipatory excitement in the receiver.  Pheremones have their own detector, in the nose, but separate from the aromatic olfactories.  These are tiny tear-duct-like openings on either side of the septum, just a short distance up the nostrils, called Jacobson’s Organ.  Their signals travel to a completely different part of the brain to that which receives aromatic signals.  


27 December 2011

FRENCH WINERS COPIED OZ LUMBERJACKS

THE 15TH CENTURY PORTUGUESE CARAVEL TOOK ITS NAME FROM ITS SMOOTH CARVEL HULL ... FIFTEEN CENTURIES BEFORE, CELTIC BOATBUILDERS DISCOVERED THAT IF YOU BUILT THIS TYPE OF HULL, WHICH KEEPS WATER OUT, IN A COMPLETE 360 DEGREE FORM, YOU HAD A CONTAINER THAT WOULD KEEP WATER IN ... OR WINE! ... photo MERRIAM-WEBSTER VISUAL DICTIONARY ONLINE

 
They Just Had To Do Something
French Stop Wasting Shavings
Five Years Of Chipped Vin Later
by PHILIP WHITE - THIS WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN APRIL 2006


 So.  Eventually, finally, the French capitulate.  They’ve just permitted their winemakers to begin using sawdust, chips, shavings, and planks in place of expensive, carefully toasted barrels from carefully selected trees taken from brilliantly managed forests.  They’ve been sick with envy of the Australian industrialists who invented this short-cut carpentry to hack away at the bottom of their traditional market.  

The new method means French coopers, too, can make good money from the sawdust they'd normally sweep into a bin.

Since the Roman invaders first reported the beautifully hand-hewn barrels Celtic boat-builders had introduced to France, barrels have been the go in the Old World.  Now, with the equivalent of food grade particle board submerged in their tanks, they reckon they’ll regain lost ground.

This surreal news broke on Radio Nash as I was purging some old desk files.  One jumped at me: Time magazine, February 18, 1980, with French gastronomes Henri Gault and Christian Millau on the front cover.  Suddenly famous for their routing of France’s ancien regime of food traditionalists, these bright, radical publishers were the herald angels of the nouvelle cuisine movement.

In the most influential editorial mention to date of an Australian wine in Time, Gault and Millau included Tyrrell’s Hunter Valley Pinot Noir in their Drinkers’ Dozen.  It sat there beside the megabuck Chateux: Petrus, Lafite-Rothschild, Mouton-Rothschild, Haut-Brion, and d’Yquem, with a few top Burgundies, one Spanish red and a Californian Cabernet.
 
The only other reference to liquor was a two-page ad for Seaview.  “All wine should be this good”, it trumpeted, boasting of 215 medals in the previous seven years.  We were then entering the era of big-time sappy American oak, without which it was nearly impossible to win show gongs.  Most drinkers quite reasonably felt the best wines were those plastered with medals. 

We’d just had a series of feasts in Adelaide, importing freshly converted practitioners of this new cuisine lite to cook it for us: Gay and Tony Bilson of the mighty Berowra Waters Inn, Stephanie Alexander (Stephanie’s), and Damien and Josephine Pignolet (Claude’s).  Tetsuya was yet to cook his first hamburger in Tony Bilson’s subsequent Kinselas; the great Cheong slaved away, largely overlooked, in Neddy’s.  His own world-changing east-west fusion was on the way, but remained overshadowed by the French revolution.

So while we drank many Australian wines smothered in American Quercus alba oak at those dinners, the French glories Gault and Millau listed showed barely a splinter.  And neither did the Tyrrell’s Pinot noir, which was always soft, from big old barrels, while dense and richly fruity, like a traditional Burgundy.

Among the list of “commandments” Gault and Millau imposed as indicators of cuisine nouvelle were recommendations of reduced cooking times for many types of meat, fish and vegetables, and “the elimination of heavy sauces that assassinated the taste of good food and masked that of bad”.

Australia’s wine manufacturers were never much for gastronomy.  Unwitting or misunderstanding of these new enlightenments, they went on to establish their cheap, reliable product internationally by masking much of its fruit with oak chips, shavings, or essences. 

This was a giant remove from the traditional wine barrel, that simple stable container which permitted gradual oxidation and gentle seasoning rather than adding the brash sap, toast, caramel or coconut flavours that came from roasted chips. 

Since that, Australia’s gone for ever-increasing levels of alcohol, as if to preserve forever that stroppy sawdust.  And now, a quarter of a century after we discovered their clean new cuisine, the French, from whom we also copied our original pre-refinery wine styles, are copying our vinous breach of the old Gault Millau laws about simple honest elegance.


THE TRADITIONAL COQ AU VIN, COOKED IN SHIRAZ OR PINOT BARREL LEES, IS HARDLY NOUVELLE CUISINE ... BUT IT CAN HANDLE QUITE WOODY SHIRAZ IF THE WINE HAS BEEN PROPERLY AGED photo PHILIP WHITE


If you’re hissing “Hypocrite!”, knowing I sometimes recommend fairly alcoholic wines, and, to a lesser extent, wines with a lot of oak, I confess to be right now working my way through a sinister broth of Spanish onion, woodsmoked bacon, porcini, ginger, lentils, garlic and pinot noir.  It’s taken four days to decay sufficiently on my stove.  1980s  Gault and Millau would call this more of a dark provincial sewer than a dish.  It is NOT cuisine nouvelle.  And I drink with it, the austerely oaky Rockbare McLaren Vale Shiraz 2004, and in contrast, the juicily fruity Five Geese McLaren Vale Shiraz 2003.  Swoon.

It’s about balance, see.  I suppose the French should permit themselves the chance to balance their bottom rung grapes with some sawdust, just as our industrialists have done for decades, and the Greeks do with retsina loaded with pine essence.  

But is this sawdust trail the simple, smart equivalent of Gault and Millau’s recommended “reduced cooking time”, or the vinous version of those heavy sauces that assassinated the other flavours?  Will we see Le Blue Gum Pulp Smoked Big Mac served all dahn the Champs, for chomping with a Chateau Masonite Midi Mourvedre?  Ah, oui.  You enjoy some Aussie balance in there, eh Monsieur

Not convinced, mon cobber.


OAK PRODUCTS FOR FLAVOURING WINE FROM THE REVERED BAROSSA COOPER, A. P. JOHN ... IN THE EIGHTIES, I COULD PICK BAROSSA SHIRAZ BY ITS 'BAROSSA CHOCOLATE'  WHICH EVENTUALLY TURNED OUT TO BE THE FLAVOUR OF TOASTED OAK FROM A. P. JOHN ... MOST WOLF BLASS RED, AND PENFOLD'S GRANGE AND BIN 707, TOOK THEIR BARRELS FROM THIS MASTER COOPER photo A. P. JOHN WEBSITE

25 December 2011

IN MEMORY OF ONE VERY COOL BROTHER















Andy's Gone With Cattle

Our Andy's gone with cattle now -
Our hearts are out of order
With drought he's gone to battle now
Across the Queensland border

He's left us in dejection now
Our thoughts with him are roving
It's dull on this selection now
Since Andy went a-droving

Who now shall wear the cheerful face
In times when things are blackest
And who shall whistle round the place
When Fortune frowns her blackest

Oh, who shall cheek the squatter now
When he comes round us snarling
His tongue is growing hotter now
Since Andy crossed the Darling

The gates are out of order now
In storms the 'riders' rattle
For far across the border now
Our Andy's gone with cattle

Poor Aunty's looking thin and white
And Uncle's cross with worry
And poor old Blucher howls all night
Since Andy left Macquarie

Oh may the showers in torrents fall
And all the tanks run over
And may the grass grow green and tall
In pathways of the drover

And may good angels send the rain
On desert stretches sandy
And when the summer comes again
God grant 'twill bring us Andy.


Henry Lawson















ANDREW JOHN WHITE PSYCHING UP TO RIDE A BRUMBY IN THE TARCOOLA CUP, 1977 ...THAT NIGHT WE DANCED CLEAN THROUGH THE FLOOR OF THE TARCOOLA SOLDIERS' MEMORIAL HALL photo JOHN PEACHEY

MERRY EXMESS, YOU PRETTY BLUE PLANET!


22 December 2011

WHAT TO DO THIS WEEKEND - ARCHIVE















WHAT TO DO?  TRACK DOWN A COUPLE OF LASSES YOU CAN TRUST AND HAVE A DRINK IN ALL YOUR FAVOURITE BARS ... WE DID 21 THIS DAY, ABOUT 1978, TO CELEBRATE SUZIE SIOUX'S TWENTY FIRST... BEGAN AND FINISHED, LITERALLY, IN THE BRITISH ... BY BACCHUS, THAT WAS A PUB! BEAN AND THE WILLIAMSES AND TWO MORE WHITE BROTHERS ROLLED IN THAT NIGHT IN THE 62 BEL AIR AND SAVED US FROM THE ADELAIDE UNIVERSITY ROWING CLUB, WHICH HAD WON SOME BLING, AND WAS DEEPLY INTERESTED IN THE FEMALE SECTOR ... VERY QUIET HILLBILLY VEE  FORMATION MOVED THROUGH THE DOOR LIKE THE RESTRICTION OF THE HOURGLASS THEN EXPANDED ... NOTHING TOO ABRUPT ... COOL RETRIEVAL FROM BAR SUDDENLY SILENT ... MIRACLE FROM ABOVE ... OR MAYBE BELOW ... THERE WERE NO MOBILE PHONES ... CHEVVY WAS RUMBLING OUT THE FRONT ...WE DROVE OFF REAL SLOW, WITH GREAT CONFIDENCE ... LASSES INTACT, ALL THE HATS ON STRAIGHT ... BETTER EXTRACTION THAN I EVER SAW THE COMPANY MANAGE...  DON'T DRIVE!!!

WHAT NOT TO DO THIS EXMESS - ARCHIVE



It is a bike that genuinely loves a drink. Even here at the lights. Flick the throttle and those four shiny funnels slurp up a fossil cocktail that explodes between the thighs and within a millisecond it's out the exhaust of that neat three-foot gut and a hundred crazy horses are shrieking and bucking against the scrotum and the tickle and the shake enters through the knees which grip this mill and through the wedding tackle and the quoit and it moves electrically through the gizzard and skeleton and widens the eyes and cranks open the view to widescreen and the breath is shorter and harder so the fist whacks in another dollop of napalm and the demons shriek again. Hot and sticky and slow at the red school lights and a few gobbets of rain bugger up the spaceman reflection in the waxed black tank. It splatters, then contracts into little bubbles. Soon there are dozens of me, faceless, masked and helmeted there 'neath the glowering sky, the arms outstretched, as if in greeting or surrender, like some UN space emblem. There have been six weeks of blistering enamel-blue heat, dry heat and sun, but now the humidity's through the roof and the roads are sweating out grease as if New Year's is the official day for it; as if the C.I.A. or somebody has decided to kick the new one off with a purge of the street's pores. The world smells here of steel and grease and invisible fire. Hot city-in-the-desert dust with lazy big splotches of rain, and fire buried deep down in the engines. The cloud is flat and grey and high, without form or distinction, and steam genies wisp where the greyness kisses the heatwaved pavement and falls upon the dusty raindropped roofs of Shitsville. Terra cotta and grey; chrome and grey, blackshirt me and bike and grey. Across the fence, the schoolyard is hot and empty. Out here the cars, random and shut and reflecting, look hot and empty. My body is hot and empty and burning in the gullet where last night's bile rose like Christ this morning. 'Scuse me, I'll taste that again. Blecch. I retched like a cat, the rejection starting in the hips and rippling north to the throat like one huge peristaltic pulse, somewhere between a bored yawn and a death rattle; a fearsome whoop of war and a pathetic snivelling mewl. I did it mobile, inside the helmet once: couldn't slow down in time and up she came all over the visor and in the eyes and I felt like I was sinking in a world of spew and the bike got all sideways and arse over but the grass was deep and green and she sponged me up like a mother; neither bruise nor dent she dealt me. And now the healing tickle of this damned beautiful motorbike follows the same route this morning's hot bile took, entering through the middle, the core, and moving north, bandaging, balming, patting it all down and flicking the switches on so the sirens wail the warnings and the ON AIR light shouts red lookout and here we go: green. Squeeze the clutch. Never pull it: squeeeeze it like a trigger. Do the business professionally. Smoothly. Take him out. Blip the throttle, whip the crazy ponies. Pour the napalm in on them there in their hot steel prison; set them alight. Click into first, and ease that clutch back off as the fuel pours in so the power comes on smooth but taut and already we're leaning softly, smoothly into that big curving uphill left-hander past the school and the feet are cleanly, smoothly going home to their footpegs and the air begins to move again. This is my body. It works better with fresh particles of the universe hurtling through it. When they stop, when those neutrinos cease to ping on through, that's when we've gotta get mobile on the cycle. Repeat the whooshing ceremony for second, and we're putting the power back on, soaring through one smooth uphill swoop like a galaxy soars in spin, our atoms whorling through the heavens when the big bike disappears. Gone. The two little spots where the tyres suck the road have sucked grease instead and gone somewhere else very quickly and here I am somewhere in the air above the road outside the school with no motorcycle but heaps of motion. As it left the bike flicked me backwards and up: with a whipsnapping spine I have gone from the forward crouch to the backwards airborne, the arse quickly soaring forward beneath me, and now the arms sail outstretched above and behind the head like a shot man. Bum up now, still flying, feetfirst, high, shoulders down - I will land on the back of the shoulders and because of the hangover and this heat I have no leathers no boots no gloves and this will hurt and whack yes that's the shoulders down and no it didn't hurt at all and that basketball sound is the helmet bouncing with the brains in it and there too goes the neck and the hips and we wind in the arms and legs and spin on the back like a bug and whizz uphill spinning with the mad shot force of a cherry pip squeezed out from some father of a thumb and forefinger and the road is hot and slippery and the tee shirt has pulled off my back and the skin wears away as we cross lanes into the oncoming traffic and this whirling flickers the vision like slow motion like freeze frame and now there's the bike spinning too before me with beautiful roostertails of sparks and bless it it's still idling happily away there on its side, still drinking, and it hits the first car dead centre and the second lane is full of Ford Fairlane all covered with spotlights and roo bars and I will go beneath that Fairlane just as the bike has chosen its own car to fuck and my Fairlane bears down on me now and its driver the fool points his mirror shades at me and his angry mouth agape hurls silent curses behind his glass window and I think he's screaming lookout as I spin here like a roach on its back toward his precious Ford bloody Fairlane and this is the first face I see in this traffic full of mirror glass, this is my first face for the year and still he comes tooting his horn as if I should get up on my feet like a responsible Shitsville citizen and stroll off out of his office thank you so much gentlemen, pleasure to do business, and now we have travelled thirty yards side by side, my thirsty spinning motorcycle and me and with a boomshower of glass and plastic it has plunged into the grille of the first car and now it bounces back in a slowmotion cascade of sparkling spacejunk and it's rearing up and coming back at me now and I'm fucked if I know whether it'll kill me or this jerk in the Fairlane will kill me with his man-eating cowcatcher and the road smells of warmth and brimstone and oil and nice hot rubber and Mr. Ford Bloody Fairlane's found his brakes now and he's hit them too hard so he's already sliding sideways, off to whence I came, so he'll miss me but he's still tooting his fucking horn the jerk and the street's so slick his tyres do not even squeal as they pass me they hiss as they skid and here comes the bike so I unwind the legs to push it off and away but this is a galaxy whirling: this is my body, take, eat, and here's the bike and we are enmeshed anew here on the street and it climbs hot across the leg to the inside of the thigh as if it were trying to force me back into the saddle like some loony bronc wanting more but it's twisting and grinding the knee hard into the bitumen, tearing off the sneaker and sock and the ankle flesh, turning me over like a wrestler now to slide for the first time this year on the guts, chin to the street like a stung meat Hoover vacuuming the streets of Shitsville and we surge off together my organ doner and I toward a long curved line of parked cars beneath a row of Morton Bay figs, winding off around the hillside near the school with the ribs now coming through the cotton and the elbow skin coming away and the bike now driving me from behind and I see my second face for the New Year. It is a smooth, open, Indian face with wide black eyes and a black forehead spot like a bullet hole between the black arcs of the brows and the neon red sari hood. This face has the cheekbones of a Buddha and a mouth drawn on by a lover of mouths and this blood red mouth too hangs open so the white teeth shine and the sharp breath exhales into the dull wet heat of Shitsville on this New Year's Day and the face prays softly as it looks out through the window of its canary yellow Peugeot 403 with fat wheels and those lovely hubcaps with the art deco P parked there and we will go in between them yes it will be the driver's door of this tricksy-poo hotrod Peugeot my motorcycle and I will hit lovely paint job and the face belongs to the Indian woman sitting there inside it, quietly awaiting our arrival with her bejewelled hands up holding the wheel as if she were driving somewhere but she's not driving anywhere else today and anyway she's not looking where she's going she's looking through the open side window waiting for us to plough through her Peugeot right there under her arse in its arterial sari and her arterial lips hanging with her breath coming out and the blackness of her three eyes projecting rays of blackness at skidding me. It is not black hole blackness. It does not suck. It is totally without gravity blackness. It is a projection. It is matte black fireproof potbelly stove paint blackness with no light no gravity no reflection no heat and she brushes it thickly across me as we come in on our guts and our disintegrating chin and now we have arrived but she does not scream.



by Philip White, 1989.  
This is the first chapter of a yarn about aroma, Vietnam and feminism.  I've written the end, too, but can't yet draw the extremes together. Ha! 





Family Album stuff: That's my beloved brother Stephen at the top. It was his bike; it went through various morphs. He put knobblies on it and rode it to Commonwealth Hill Station, where he was The Dogger. None of the bushies had seen anything like it.  They called it "that bike with a car injun in it." When he was really little, like most midget humans, he couldn't pronounce Philip.  So I started out at Furps and eventually became Furbur.  He was always Stemmo; sometimes Stavros. From our infant rabbit-hunting days, he was the master tunneller.  Stemmo The Digger. He's worked underground most of his life.  He knows how to do it.  A self-taught Bloomsbury expert and Katherine Mansfield enthusiast by 24 and now a long-time master miner.  Should meet him. Good man. That's him and daughter Hayley above left, practising for their annual march up the Kokoda Track. That's him planking, somewhere in the Western Australian wilderness below. 



KANGAROO ISLAND BREAD IN THE SHED






















CAJ AMADIO AND ANNIKA BERLINGIERI MAKE BREAD IN THE PIZZA OVEN AT CAJ AND GENNY'S, EMU BAY, KANGAROO ISLAND ... I'VE HAD SOME EXQUISITE MEALS IN THAT SHED photos PHILIP WHITE

BOTTLING SHIRAZ LEES FOR MARINADE

NEVER WASTE THOSE BARREL LEES!  THIS WONDROUS GLURP IS INVALUABLE FOR  MARINADES, COQ AU VIN ET CETERA ... FAR TOO MUCH OF IT GOES DOWN THE DRAIN ... LITTLE TRICK I LEARNED FROM GERARD JABOULET AND CHRIS, THE CHEF AT LA CHATEAU IN TOURNON-SUR-RHONE ... BOTTLE A BUCKET FOR YOUR LOCAL CHEF!

20 December 2011

VINTAGE NEWS FROM OUR 1939 NEWSDESK

We Can't Make Good Wine ...
Press Stems Press Dirt & Rot ...
The Smell Of Decay & Chemicals

THE SPRING IS BEAUTIFUL in California. Valleys in which the fruit blossoms are fragrant pink and white waters in a shallow sea. Then the first tendrils of the grapes swelling from the old gnarled vines, cascade down to cover the trunks. The full green hills are round and soft as breasts. And on the level vegetable lands are the mile-long rows of pale green lettuce and the spindly little cauliflowers, the gray-green unearthly artichoke plants.

And then the leaves break out on the trees, and the petals drop from the fruit trees and carpet the earth with pink and white. The centers of the blossoms swell and grow and color: cherries and apples, peaches and pears, figs which close the flower in the fruit. All California quickens with produce, and the fruit grows heavy, and the limbs bend gradually under the fruit so that little crutches must be placed under them to support the weight.

Behind the fruitfulness are men of understanding and knowledge, and skill, men who experiment with seed, endlessly developing the techniques for greater crops of plants whose roots will resist the million enemies of the earth: the molds, the insects, the rusts, the blights. These men work carefully and endlessly to perfect the seed, the roots. And there are the men of chemistry who spray the trees against pests, who sulphur the grapes, who cut out disease and rots, mildews and sicknesses. Doctors of preventive medicine, men at the borders who look for fruit flies, for Japanese beetle, men who quarantine the sick trees and root them out and burn them, men of knowledge. The men who graft the young trees, the little vines, are the cleverest of all, for theirs is a surgeon's job, as tender and delicate; and these men must have surgeons' hands and surgeons' hearts to slit the bark, to place the grafts, to bind the wounds and cover them from the air. These are great men.

Along the rows, the cultivators move, tearing the spring grass and turning it under to make a fertile earth, breaking the ground to hold the water up near the surface, ridging the ground in little pools for the irrigation, destroying the weed roots that may drink the water away from the trees.

And all the time the fruit swells and the flowers break out in long clusters on the vines. And in the growing year the warmth grows and the leaves turn dark green. The prunes lengthen like little green bird's eggs, and the limbs sag down against the crutches under the weight. And the hard little pears take shape, and the beginning of the fuzz comes out on the peaches. Grape blossoms shed their tiny petals and the hard little beads become green buttons, and the buttons grow heavy. The men who work in the fields, the owners of the little orchards, watch and calculate. The year is heavy with produce. And the men are proud, for of their knowledge they can make the year heavy. They have transformed the world with their knowledge. The short, lean wheat has been made big and productive.

Little sour apples have grown large and sweet, and that old grape that grew among the trees and fed the birds its tiny fruit has mothered a thousand varieties, red and black, green and pale pink, purple and yellow; and each variety with its own flavor. The men who work in the experimental farms have made new fruits: nectarines and forty kinds of plums, walnuts with paper shells. And always they work, selecting, grafting, changing, driving themselves, driving the earth to produce.

And first the cherries ripen. Cent and a half a pound. Hell, we can't pick 'em for that. Black cherries and red cherries, full and sweet, and the birds eat half of each cherry and the yellowjackets buzz into the holes the birds made. And on the ground the seeds drop and dry with black shreds hanging from them.

The purple prunes soften and sweeten. My God, we can't pick them and dry and sulphur them. We can't pay wages, no matter what wages. And the purple prunes carpet the ground. And first the skins wrinkle a little and swarms of flies come to feast, and the valley is filled with the odor of sweet decay. The meat turns dark and the crop shrivels on the ground.

And the pears grow yellow and soft. Five dollars a ton. Five dollars for forty fifty-pound boxes; trees pruned and sprayed, orchards cultivated—pick the fruit, put it in boxes, load the trucks, deliver the fruit to the cannery—forty boxes for five dollars. We can't do it. And the yellow fruit falls heavily to the ground and splashes on the ground. The yellowjackets dig into the soft meat, and there is a smell of ferment and rot.

Then the grapes—we can't make good wine. People can't buy good wine. Rip the grapes from the vines, good grapes, rotten grapes, wasp-stung grapes. Press stems, press dirt and rot.

But there's mildew and formic acid in the vats.

Add sulphur and tannic acid.

The smell from the ferment is not the rich odor of wine, but the smell of decay and chemicals.

Oh, well. It has alcohol in it, anyway. They can get drunk.

The little farmers watched debt creep up on them like the tide. They sprayed the trees and sold no crop, they pruned and grafted and could not pick the crop. And the men of knowledge have worked, have considered, and the fruit is rotting on the ground, and the decaying mash in the wine vat is poisoning the air. And taste the wine—no grape flavor at all, just sulphur and tannic acid and alcohol.

This little orchard will be a part of a great holding next year, for the debt will have choked the owner.

This vineyard will belong to the bank. Only the great owners can survive, for they own the canneries, too. And four pears peeled and cut in half, cooked and canned, still cost fifteen cents. And the canned pears do not spoil. They will last for years.

The decay spreads over the State, and the sweet smell is a great sorrow on the land. Men who can graft the trees and make the seed fertile and big can find no way to let the hungry people eat their produce. Men who have created new fruits in the world cannot create a system whereby their fruits may be eaten. And the failure hangs over the State like a great sorrow.

The works of the roots of the vines, of the trees, must be destroyed to keep up the price, and this is the saddest, bitterest thing of all. Carloads of oranges dumped on the ground. The people came for miles to take the fruit, but this could not be. How would they buy oranges at twenty cents a dozen if they could drive out and pick them up? And men with hoses squirt kerosene on the oranges, and they are angry at the crime, angry at the people who have come to take the fruit. A million people hungry, needing the fruit—and kerosene sprayed over the golden mountains.

And the smell of rot fills the country.

Burn coffee for fuel in the ships. Burn corn to keep warm, it makes a hot fire. Dump potatoes in the rivers and place guards along the banks to keep the hungry people from fishing them out. Slaughter the pigs and bury them, and let the putrescence drip down into the earth.

There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is a failure here that topples all our success. The fertile earth, the straight tree rows, the sturdy trunks, and the ripe fruit. And children dying of pellagra must die because a profit cannot be taken from an orange. And coroners must fill in the certificate—died of malnutrition—because the food must rot, must be forced to rot.

The people come with nets to fish for potatoes in the river, and the guards hold them back; they come in rattling cars to get the dumped oranges, but the kerosene is sprayed.

And they stand still and watch the potatoes float by, listen to the screaming pigs being killed in a ditch and covered with quick-lime, watch the mountains of oranges slop down to a putrefying ooze; and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.



by John Steinbeck (top), The Grapes of Wrath, chapter 25.  This book won the author a Pulitzer Prize, and played a major role in his win of the Nobel Prize for literature. 



19 December 2011

BEST DRINK FOR EXMESS - KRUG 1998

TASTING GRANDE CUVEE BASE WINES AT KRUG IN 1992 - MONICA JANSONS WITH THE MASTER, HENRI KRUG photo PHILIP WHITE
Krug Top Pop In Turbulent Year
... Sell Your Car, Kids, House ...
And Ponder A While About Oak 
by PHILIP WHITE

The drink of the year?  Easy. Krug Champagne 1998.    

I can’t afford it.  Nobody I know can afford it, really.  It’s about $550.  

But it’s one of those things that once tipped in recalibrates your expectations at such a brittle pinnacle that you know you’ll never get there again, so resort to the routine of a sort of undead teetotal ghoul.

Until you get more. 

I walked into a parable at Krug.  First visit, dangerously belated, 1992.  I learned a thing or two about oak barrels.  Krug was then one of the few, if not the only great Champagne house to employ a cooper and age most of its blending wines in oak.

Krug uses really old barrels. Eventually they wear out.

Their replacements must endure many years of wear and tear to ensure their fresh oak flavours, sugars and tannins no longer influence the wine to any normally discernable degree.  So these training barrels are filled with changing generations of good Champagne and carefully watched for decades - thirty years or more.  

Once they have become reliably neutral, they get the tick, and are then promoted to the loftiest realm of barrels anywhere: their new job is to contain the precious components of Krug. 

I had left an Australian wine business festering with blasé nonsense about how much new oak they used.  I walked into the tiny cooperage at Krug and the gentleman cooper rolled his eyes to the heavens when he saw my camera.  He had been sprung at the most embarrassing moment that was possible: inserting new oak in a grand old Krug barrel.  He had just finished replacing a bung stave, which is the weakest one in the container: after many years, splits open beside the bung hole, and the barrel leaks when it is turned.  So there it was: a bright flash of brash new white oak in the mysterious blackness of that ancient container.

And in walks an Ocker wine hack with a Nikon.  

Merde!

When I asked Henri Krug what happened to the wines used in training these barrels for Krug, he suggested his friendly Champenoise neighbours and rivals paid good money for blending wines from the Krug training barrels.

Australia has a lot to learn about oak.  The industrialists must soon have to admit their oaking rarely involves barrels alone, if any barrels at all.  As a container, the barrel is really difficult and hopelessly inefficient.  Chips, sawdust, shavings, teabags, planks – most oak is purely a flavourant. You dial up the amount of caramelized sugars you want - "toast" - in your oak, it’s accordingly roasted, and you shovel it into your tank.


Krug sees the barrel as the ideal traditional container: neutral, but sufficiently porous to permit the gradual, steady oxidation of the contents.  

Krug is about maximum oxidation before assemblage.  Once the incredibly complex formula is determined on the tasting bench, they hoik the chosen barrels up from the chalk drives deep below, open them, and tip the wine on the chais floor to blend it.  It runs down a wide pipe to the blending tank buried beneath.

"Yes," said Henri. "The winery smells good at assemblage."

While many Australian winemakers admirably spend more time examining the location and nature of their vineyard sites, it is tragic to see their wine eventually enter the market with its most prominent aromatic and flavour ingredients coming from the forests of Europe or the USA.  


As far as Australian fruit goes, oak is generally a masking agent.

But Bacchus knows – Wolf Blass knows – that many people really like the smell of smoky oak.  The most influential proponents of this, in the Barossa, at least, were Max Schubert, Peter Lehmann, Wolf Blass and John Glaetzer. Schubert grew up with the smell of his father’s smithy.  Three of them chain-smoked; I think Glaetzer’s still at it.  They grew up in old smoky German kitchens; most of the meat they ate was smoked to some degree.

These are the types who can spend several bottles of red - or port - discussing which local butcher had the best smoked belly bacon, or blood pudding, or whatever.  They know immediately if anyone's recipe changes, or the smoke is different, and surmise about where the wood came from.


The Australian wine show system made obvious oak a yardstick of quality, and here we are.

However.  These evocative aromas might fit well into a mighty Grange, but Champagne? Uh-huh.

Somewhere between that new toasted American oak and the old black buggers of Krug, there is a lot of ground for people to recalibrate their lumberjackedness.

Especially since the smokers and woodfire stoves have diminished to such a degree.

Anyway, have a really special rest, and stay off the roads when you imbibe. 

And do imbibe, there’s a dear.

When your windfall hits, here’s my advice from earlier in the year:

Krug Champagne 1998
$550; cork; 12% alcohol; 97+++ points

  
There's an apocryphal yarn about the murderer who, upon being strapped into the electric chair, looked at his executioner and said "This'll teach me". This wine always reminds me of that. I don't really know why: the damned thing is so profoundly confronting in its beauty and intensity that the mind does go silly, in a willy nilly, electrocuted sort of way. Thoughts fall to the floor and shatter harmlessly about the drinker: they no longer count. Perhaps it's also the serene expectation that one will soon be found dead in one's chair with a really silly smile and a glass, empty, clutched in a grip that makes Charlton Heston's rifleman speech look like something uttered by a total softcock. 

The smell of an organic wheatfield, almost ripe, after the lightest rain. The smell of the most delicate brioche. Hazelnut. Wet chalk. Sliced, poached almond being fastidiously placed on a perfect marzipan icing in the kitchen of La Crayere. Oyster mushroom, and enoki. I can smell it for an hour, happy to postpone the execution. But finally, involuntarily, the glass finds its way to the lips, and like all Krug, just seems to evaporate into my organs. My body. The corpuscles, the genes, the chromasomes vibrate in immaculate harmony, and purr. This must send a transmission so powerful it can be received by other life forms, billions of light years away. 

I remember Remi Krug remarking twenty years ago that he admired the way I guzzled the Grand Cuvee, rather than inhaling common air through it to make that obscene gurgling noise and spitting it like an Englishman. "But I am a Vikin, and Krug comes properly perforated with bubbles installed by the Krug family," I responded. "It needs no other air buggering it up." And so it goes. No need to change the technique. Gulp it down! Have it from a bigger glass! Pour yourself a tumbler! Do it again! Sell your house!

PS

If you can’t manage the spendy bit, try Old Mill Estate’s Langhorne Creek Touriga Nacional Sparkling Brut Rosé.  It’s about $20, and its bubbles look very much like the ones in pink Krug.  Like: small, round, persistent, and full of CO2.


PPS

Click here for another aspect of all this ecstacy.

18 December 2011

CHIPS RAFFERTY YARNS OF OLD AUSSIE













ZAR BROOKS FOUND THE PHOTO BELOW WHILST TRYING TO LOCATE THE WINE BAR CHIPS RAFFERTY (ABOVE) HAD IN BOND STREET, SYDNEY ...  HE'D HEARD CHIPS' LAST BIG INTERVIEW, REPLAYED ON THE ABC ... IF YOU CLICK HERE, YOU CAN HEAR CHIPS QUICKEST BY SLIDING STRAIGHT IN TO THE EIGHT MINUTE MARK ... I FIND THE MODERN INTRO CONDESCENDING ... ENDURE IT IF YOU MUST ... ANYBODY KNOW WHERE THE WINE BAR WAS?