“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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10 April 2012

HEAVEN VERSUS HELL IN CATHARTICA


Easter Cathartic For Most PKs
Crucifixion Locks Vintage Down Nuclear Chilli Season Fires Up 
by PHILIP WHITE

We shouldn’t be surprised that Easter’s a touch cathartic for the bottle-scarred preacher’s kids among us.  Reach out, there’s a dear.  They’ll be juicing on the notion of the Italians giving the most famous winemaker in history a drink of Balsamic to carry him clean home  to feast with his Dad on high for a few days.  The bitter vermouth he sent back down the cross before he schl├╝cked up the vinegar must have been truly execrable: probably too much wormwood. 

But, you know, just the little matter of this crucifixion, a few days back in Heaven, followed by the world's first resurrection, then a few feasts and long slow farewells, then back up a hill to the top and VOOM! Gone again for all money. Forever. One hopes the dude can spend eternity at home with his Dad, listening to the Lutherans singing their praise. 

But I dunno.  As a piece of marketing, this seems really friggin complex.  I can't believe they've done so well with it unless the unlikelihood of it all adds to its allure, and that's all you need.  People are dumb.  The Vatican is powerful.  And Mecca.

Give me the VooDoo drums any day. 

One of my stunning grandfathers: my mother's father, Ted.  Like my own father, a stone crazy king-hell street preacher.  So don't take any of this very seriously.  We're all snake oil men.  Come and visit, and I'll explain it.  Bring a funnel.





Here in the southern hemisphere, wildly entwined now in the notion of a great vintage, the very best of times are cathartic, without beginning to acknowledge that they always coincide  with the chilli harvest.

This year was a freak, however, in that vintage was pretty well nailed down well before Easter, and now Our Lord’s back on Earth, walking amongst men for a few weeks, yet the chilli season is only just beginning.  So the true aficionado will enjoy remembering 2012 for the length, if not the depth, of its catharsis, unless the proto-nuclear capsaicin levels of the first Lenten chilli pickings holds right through the season, in which case the depth of the purging will also trigger warm recollections.  The paste I made with Satanika last week is guaranteed to loosen the most deeply-seated inertia.

And I’ve been toying with some dried Trinidad Scorpion, the latest record-holder of points on the Scoville Scale, which is the most respected measure of chilli heat.  The Scorpion’s 1.4 million Scovilles.   That’s 140 times hotter than the hottest jalape├▒o.  It seems a well-tempered chilli to me, but then the Trinidad scorpion may enjoy more of a layabout lifestyle than a tough Aussie bush model.  Then again, nah.  Anyone with water, dirt, a glass of something finely-tuned to perfectly accompany the situation, and all the other appropriate comestibles, can sit there on the veranda and watch the chillis grow hotter.  


Bhut jolokia, the Ghost Chilli , until recently regarded the hottest chilli, but now replaced by the Trinidad Scorpion.  This shit goes on all the time: the race for higher points in the hellfire scale is slightly more scientific but less gastronomically vital than even Robert Parker's suck on ever-stronger, but less beautiful, red wines.  No chilli is quicker nor more ravishing than the Bhut, which in this case shows the genes of Aston Martin emergent, with one little barbed baby toofy-peg up the top.  Goo goo. Top photo Philip White. Bottom 1960 Aston Martin DB4 Zagato




On the colder side of the ledger, everything’s made all the more bitter when you realize that as the resurrection doesn’t happen until today, Tuesday: the hard right Roman Catholics of the Shoppies and their infernal nonsense about holidays is full purple Papal hypocrisy:  today should also be a holiday!

I mean nobody queries this shit.  Jesus gets laid in somebody's tomb after his crucifixion.  The women - imagine who they were, what they were like - bring him down in the morning, wash him, swaddle him, and carry him off.  Three days and three nights in the grave?  The resurrection has to be Tuesday. 

You will be pleased to know that the Crucifixion Moon went off with a wave of typical lunacy this vintage: three Boobook owls fought over territory all night, and all day there’d been a very tetchy, constantly changing tempest which freaked even the big Western gray doe roo I found sheltering in the doorway I never use.  There she was, startled and twisty, in broad daylight.  Where cars usually park.  Maybe she’d come to hide from the huge buck that’s been bouncing around the vineyard: he’s as tall as me when he’s on the flat of his feet; you can add another eighteen inches when he gets up on point.  A completely handsome, very bold lad indeed, but deep trouble for the jills.  He’s been irritated during vintage: far too much traffic on his patch, with harvesters and tractors and utes buzzing about all night for weeks.

Kangaroos hate wind.  You'll see them turn on their 40 km/hr sprint trying to escape the screaming banshees of air going too fast in a way they do not like: they lose their direction when the aromas are whipped so.  Their infallible compass is suddenly lost in the wavy chaos. Frightened and vulnerable, sure, but if they can bound across the road without being killed their misadventure and panic always sees the mobs and genes mix.

Just before this becomes an essay on animals at vintage, let me quickly refer to the topic I’d chosen: What to drink with hot chilli?  The answer, of course, is anything you like.  Good fresh beer is perfect, but if it’s alleviation of capsaicin heat you seek, you’ll need a fatty drink like the Indian lassie, as capsaicin, an oil, is fat soluble and seems to be eased by the fatty acids of milk and yoghurt.  Water does nothing.  Add harsh malic acid, like you get in a grassy Sauvignon blanc, and you’ll etch more protective saliva from your mouth and gullet, giving the heat of the chilli access to even softer, more delicate layers of you.

As for flavour?  It varies from one to another, but I find that if I’m eating chillies that I really like, their heat does little to damage the flavour of the wine I’m drinking, red or white.  Sure, I’ll admit the sensory values change, but if anything, the endorphin rush which extreme levels of capsaicin triggers in me enhances my revelry in the flavour of some wine, even when I’m sweating so much my colleagues think I’m dying.  I should admit, however, that the fattier lactic acids of wines which have undergone the secondary malo-lactic fermentation, like many wood-aged Chardonnays and most reds, are of assistance in the dispersal of capsaicin.

Which is not to say that next time you get sprayed you should ask the officer for a bottle of Montrachet to wash your face.   


You don't get cherry red lips like those from suckin oranges ... Jimmy rubbed Trinidad Scorpions on his hands before he went on stage ... rubbed that all over his face once the cameras were on ... after some blubbering Jesus forgave him ... then - GET THIS - gave him the keys to the kingdom and a mouf like an Aston!  ... I saw this man preach ... I know his power! ... Hallelujah Jeeeeesus!

Anyway, the roos, which are all in fine fettle, plump and already thick of coat – there’s hardly been a summer -  are sick of vintage.  And the huge flock of Corellas got sick of it too, being stumped by the netting, harassed by the raptors, and chased off their big sticky playground by angry men on machines. 

Bird damage was intense across many regions this year.  Because growers were broke, so much of last year’s rotten fruit was left hanging through the winter: thousands of tonnes of sugary birdfood.  The populations of the mob birds bloomed.  Then the replacement vintage was down by half, so the competition for what did grow was fierce.

This brings to mind the suggestion I heard coming from my mouth sometime during the winter: our many east African and middle-eastern refugees must include people who know how to run a herd of goats.  A region like, say, McLaren Vale could assist set such a dude up with a flock, pay them like you’d pay any professional consultant, and give them the job of pruning and harvesting unpicked vineyards to remove birdfood and limit the incubation of viable moulds, like the mildew and botrytis which hung about in failed and broke blocks through all of last year.

If you run your vineyard like a McDonalds for birds, it’ll soon be replaced by a McDonalds for humans.  And you still won’t have any money.

Goats would be rough, sure, and if times improved enough for them to become viable again, the vineyards would need some humans to go through and tidy them up.  But a good goatherd could operate without fences, turning all that leaf and fruit and potential disease into neat little pellets of fertilizer, while growing some tasty goatflesh and no doubt making enough top-quality milk to keep a small cheesemaker in business.

I know I tend to anthropomorphise everything, but I should mention that the abrupt and intense nature of vintage 2012 was also damaging to many of the humans involved.  Like you shoulda seen the cellar rats and hose draggers eyeing off the crayon box of backpackers and itinerants from the picking gangs this year, at the end of vintage barbecue.  At the new Piazza delle Vale in the main street the other night, with the winemakers milling beneath the roofed section as they burnt the snags, perving on the eager smorgasbord on the grassy slope opposite.  The line soon got real blurry.  

And the quality?  Sublime.  I have seen some of the best wines of my life in tanks here and there.  There’s not much of it, but a lot of it is truly exquisite.  


As for the line about the balsamic, it's not merely a gratuitous wisecrack.  I have often wasted time wondering whether the vinegar was a mercy or an insult.  Knowing the value today's Italians place on their proper balsamic, it seems highly unlikely there would have been enough of it about the foot of that stony hill to fill a sponge.  The Pharisees and the Sadducees and the scribes woulda snapped it away if it displayed, say, the volatile acidity of anything past Grange.  

So I tend to think insult. Like dollar a litre Coles washing vinegar.

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5 comments:

Gavin said...

I'd always read that the vinegar in question was Posca, a sour vinegary wine drunk by the Roman soldiers. If so, it wasn't an insult -- it was the same "wine" the soldiers themselves drank...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Posca

motional said...

love yr red aston wiv the busted toof

Philip White said...

Thankyou Gavin. I am preposterous suggesting the possibility of true balsamic there at the frontier, but I know the army marched on fresh onions and whatever wine they could get, much of which was vinegar. But they wouldn't fight forever on piss. The boundaries of the Roman Empire always followed the limits of viable viniculture.

longrun said...

loving the odes to chilli! Wine & chilli IS wine and food!!

Anonymous said...

Phil
EV reds and Northern Barossa Mataros are just ripe now, so the chilli barometer still works