by PHILIP WHITE
One of the brighter highlights of my plonkish year is when Briony Hoare’s generous husband, the viniculturing Tony, rings to ask me to attend lunch at The Victory Hotel with his rather alluring wife, Briony, who pays. You don’t get too much of this sort of thing in my line of work.
He’s out there slaving in the grapeyards while I have lunch with his wife.
Briony used to be a boss plonkster at the glimmering Rosemount refinery which sits like some kind of giant industrial thing amongst the vines behind Jim Ingoldby’s old house at McLaren Flat. The nature of the thing is in immediate contrast to the great rustic reds Jim made there in the ’seventies, when he was the first maker in this district to keep the fruit of his contributing vineyards separate, and acknowledge the grower on each label. The Rosement thing hums all night, and glows in the dark like a sinister chrome Bohemoth. Other than the pox-ugly Tinlin’s refinery a little further down the track, it’s easily the ugliest thing in McLaren Vale except the main street, which is truly disgusting. Parramatta Road without the whorehouses, and no Sydney at the end.
Briony doesn’t do that shit any more. She jumped ship, had a mob of kids, and got into making proper wine. Like stunning wine. For some of her best fruit she went to Langhorne Creek, like numerous clever MacLiavellians, where she found Dennis and Zonda Elliot, growers who shared her curiosity in varieties hardly anybody here had ever heard of before. Give that a double past tense, because while they hadn’t, they now have, and they want more, and more are in the queue.
I should say here that we know The Elliots must be full-bore Langhorne Creekers, because they have double letters in their names. Just as it seems that every variety the Hoare's love ends in an O, Larncrk, as the local patois puts it, is peopled by humans with names like Potts, Follett, Collett, Cleggett, Widdop and whattnott … I’d be surprised if Dennis’s middle name wasn’t Mississippi. That would be no less likely than Langhorne Creek itself, as there is no such creek. There was a bridge over the Bremer River - which is a creek, really - called Langhorne’s Bridge, but that long ago got washed down into Tom and Wendy’s boat thing or somewhere and somehow the name got left behind and stuck to the river. Er, creek.
Which leads me to Greco di Tufo, one of the Italian varieties that the Elliots grow for the Hoares. This name came from the grape which the Campania villagers of Tufo called Greco because the Greeks left it there back before the Minotaur. The funniest thing happened after Briony released her first one. Given the attitudes of Old Yurp – thankyou George Bush Jr. – to words they think they own, and their tendency to impose trade barriers on us if we use words like claret and tawny, somebody whinged about Briony’s use of the correct name for this fascinating variety, and she had to drop the Tufo bit. So it’s called Beach Road Greco now, which is ridiculous, but it’s what they wanted. This means it’s fine for Briony to name the variety after the country, Greece, from whence she didn’t get the vines, but not after the village, Tufo, where she DID get the vines, and where it has grown almost exclusively since Odysseus got home from the war to discover his wife’s 108 boyfriends had emptied his fridge and downed his whole cellar.
Which must have been hard to take, since he was still smarting from the fact that the gorgeous Circe had filled his men with her food and wine and then turned half of them into pigs, which I trust the remaining troops did not waste.
Anyway, there I was in The Victory, with a table covered in bottles and Briony on the other side of them, tasting, no, drinking, Beach Road Greco 2011 ($25; 13% alcohol). Jeez it’s good. Imagine a big ripe year Chablis with all that wet chalk in the part of its bouquet where lesser gourmands would impose spicy timber. Add the smell of honeydew melon, and watermelon, but with that edgy, hessiany smell of cantaloupe peel wrapping their soppy cool flesh. Then the even more prickly green smell of broad bean shells. I think this adds up to the presence of methoxypyrazine, which gives the Sauvignons red and white their leafy bits. Slurp. It’s really steely, with swarfy natural acidity (9 g/l!), and then lemon and water and I know I’ll get killed for this but in the guzzler that chalky character seems more like wet cement, like exceptionally good tequila, which mixed with that austere lemon reminded me of a friggin margarita! But it’s only 13% alcohol, so go figure. Then the afterbreath came out, and that was all the above, but decked with confectioner’s sugar, musk sticks, and those freaky estery banana lollies.
Few wines are so entertaining as they refresh. It’s acid’s big enough to demand the greasier weed-munching bottom-feeders of the wet world: redfin, carp and scallops with beurre blanc. Brrrr.
2011 was blue murder at Larncrk – hardly anybody picked anything, and most of what they did was puce with various moulds and rots. Somehow this lot saved half the Greco di Tufo from the plagues, in spite of its thin skins and hyper-tight bunches – a terrible combo when the moulds are on the march. No sign of any of that in here. Briony gave it the ancient treatments: basket press, wild yeast, plenty of lees. Nuts at $25!
The same brave vineyard produced the Beach Road Fiano 2011. This variety, too, comes from Campania, which amuses me enormously when I consider the French never complain about a whole slab of Italy having the same name as Champagne.
“This was our fourth harvest,” Briony explained across her glass. “It had hardly any disease at all. We’d let it have a big shady canopy, which could have been trouble, keeping the breeze from drying the bunches, but they’re naturally big and open and took that shocking weather really well.”
The wine smells like iceberg roses, and ripe juicy pears; the Bosc or Conference varieties. It smells like it’s gonna be viscous: all heady and syrupy ... I suspected it must be naturally high in glycerols. And it is syrupy, in the coolest, most comforting manner. Briony trapped it in a sealed container on fine lees and it has that full creamy fluffiness about it. As it has not much in the way of sharp acidity, I’d drink it with contrasting, high acid food, like tomato sauces with plenty of garlic (with spirali pasta) or green olives (with tomato and veal, or osso bucco). This is the wine you have when you need a pat.
The third white was Beach Road Vermentino 2011 (10.5% alcohol; $25). This baby’s from north-west Italy, but Tony grafted it onto other roots at Aldinga, which it obviously lurves.
“This was our first crop,” my buddy gurgled, “and maybe that had something to do with the bunches being so huge. It’s like one bunch, one bottle, but very few bunches per vine. This vineyard, down there near the beach, had no disease at all. I basket-pressed it – all straight in; no de-stemming - let it take its own yeast from the air, and left it on lees for a bit. It’s a tough grape, and it really seems to like that maritime location.”
I had to be convinced that the wine was fairly low in acid. It smelled of crunchy pears and pear blossom, maybe even the grainy Passe-Crassane, which is the old Normandy cross of a pear and a quince, and it had a certain acridity which prickled my nostrils, and made me expect acid. It’s not quite the smell of the cordite component of explosives, but at least close to guano, from whence comes the basis of ammonium nitrate, the fertilizer much beloved by the builders of roadside bombs and the likes of the late Timothy McVeigh. But the wine was not very acidic; rather, it was all phenolics from the thick skins that gave it its tight edge. It has no slippery nonsense, but grabs the tongue and whacks it with that chalky, grainy lignin stuff. It reminds me of the firmly acidic German Rieslings Dr Ernie Loosen grows in Pfalz, but Briony assures me it’s not acid at all. It’s all phenolics.
This scrumptious appetiser is made by Briony and Bacchus to schlück with fresh Coffin Bay oysters. Man, I’d be schlückin’ as I shucked.
Oh, you want scores? I can’t score wines in situations so savoury, but I’d give ’em all more than 92; especially the Greco DI TUFO. Let me put it like this: in 2011, no other winery hit me with three new white releases so convincing, so refreshing, and so original. This is really exciting.
The Hoares are responsible for an even bigger range of exotica of the rouge hue, but I’ll leave you to track those down when you visit their vintage shed on Seaview Road, McLaren Vale.
So, speaking of nomenclature, they’re not on Beach Road? Nup. But there is one of those nearby. I don’t think Foster’s, Briony’s old employers at Rosemount, would take too kindly to her using the Seaview name. That’s one of the hundreds of noble brands they destroyed, but still own, and simply won’t let go. The old Seaview winery’s got Rosemount painted down its side now, and they seem determined to keep it that way, the vandalizing bastards. And now they’re called Treasury.
Look at the treasures they stupidly let go as you point your appreciation machinery, and your wallet, straight at Beach Road. Duh!