Released the day before Dry July: Penfolds Ampoule: bespoke packaging and 750ml. of 2004 Kalimna Vineyard Block 42 Cabernet Sauvignon for $168,000, with extras. That's 21,000 bottles of de Bortoli Sacred Hill Syrah Dolcetto. Or a helluva lot of pizzas, which we'll get to near the bottom. This is a real long midnight ramble. Get a drink. Read on ... Dry July? Uh-huh. Suck On This:
text by PHILIP WHITE bespoke pizzas by SETTLEMENT WINES
Dry July, eh?
The wowsers are on the march, big time. The insult! This Dry July thing is about prohibiting oneself from drinking alcohol for a month to raise money for cancer patients. Fund-raising by guilt, for Bacchus' sake. If you've got money, why don't you simply donate some of it to cancer research and let those who prefer to, or need to, get on with the self-medication.
The subtlety of this is masterly. People who drink a bottle or two from their closest little winery are suddenly expected to stop. If all their clients observed Dry July, the winery's annual income would drop by nearly ten per cent. Same with all the little bottleshops, the strugglers. It's marketing by shame: not merely adding another Lent to the winelover's year – the last one seemed to finish just a month or so ago – but it's another symbol of the continuous proho interferist niggling that's really beginning to shit me.
Beneath the sanctimony of saving us from perdition, shiny-arsed Canberra lobbyists are determined to invade wine packaging art with repulsive stuff designed to terrify pregnant women. Not to mention the kiddies who watch their expectant Mum take a quiet redemptive schlück in the midst of her bleak gastronomic desert.
"Teacher, teacher, my Mummy's gonna kill the new baby!"
I've said it before; I'll say it again: this intellectually decrepit
exercise is akin to the Grim Reaper ads that taxpayers unwittingly bought
themselves in 1987. Supposed to promote
safe homosexual sex to stem the advance of aids, that extravagant perversion
did little more than teach kiddies that gay men cut heads off with scythes, and
that ten pin bowling led to a terrible death.
It also frightened many off elevators for life.
As Peter Gago's in Moscow or Beijing or somewhere, preaching the Grange Gospel, I've not had the chance to ask which part of the $168,000 Penfolds Ampoule will carry the picture of the deforming foetus. Will it be on the outside of the cardboard transport box designed to protect the timber packaging crate within? Will it be on the poly padding and bubble wrap inside that, protecting the cardboard sleeve that covers the jarrah case that contains the outer bottle, or somewhere on that ravishing "plumb bob" itself? Or will it be deep inside the sanctum, on the hallowed Ampoule? That would add to the drama, serving $168,000 worth of Cabernet to discover at the last minute that it was poisonous.
Just imagine. You get your mates around for dinner, and Penfolds flies in a Grange winemaker with a special tool to snap open your 750ml. Ampoule of 2004 Block 42 Kalimna Cabernet sauvignon, decant it, and present it to table. That's part of the price.
Somewhere out in the packaging room beyond the pantry a slave will peel off most of the outside layers; all the wadding and whatnot. The winemaker will remove the last protective layers, revealing the handsome jarrah case. This will, no doubt be presented at table, then opened for the lavish ooh and aah department. After the arcane ritual of actually exposing the ampoule in its thick grey glass spearhead, the laboratory-blown tit will be snapped off with the custom-designed, tungsten-tipped, sterling silver scribe-snap and the wine let ooze into a special decanter. There it will sit for the prescribed degree of breathing, to eventually be poured into some other incredibly expensive crystal business hopefully called a glass.
Jeez it'd be good.
But. Had it been on the outside layers, the grotesque cartouche of the deforming foetus would fade unseen into the wheelie bin, leaving the winemaker, the host, and any pregnant guests open to charges of, what? Murder?
Meaning the warning should be on every drinking vessel sold. In the world. Cups, coupes, tulips, snifters, balloons, tumblers, cans, Vegemite jars and mugs: everything. Meaning the warning should preferably be already imprinted in the minds of the drinker. Which means education and good sense and not proho bullying bullshit. See?
Dry July aside, the timing of this release is fascinating. Maybe the excellent Penfolds intelligence unit rushed the Ampoule onto the market before the deformed baby warning becomes compulsory. There is a precedent: in the last weeks before the French language police outlawed Australia's use of the English word, claret, Penfolds released, in magnums only, a classic Australian dry red collectible brazenly labeled CLARET. In his interminable international travails, Gago handed these to hardcore Penfolds nuts like solid gold business cards you can drink.
As far as we know, few infants have perished.
Which brings me to my Wine of the Week. Selected for its socio-economic target as much as its style and composition, let alone its execution, I refer to de Bortoli's Sacred Hill Syrah Dolcetto 2010.
"A generous wine that shows sweet and vibrant fruit on the
fleshy palate with soft mouth coating tannins," De Bortoli's website
"The lead up to the 2009 harvest in the Riverina was one of the best on record, with refreshing rains during spring and mild December temperatures. This lead [sic] to fruit with flavour intensity and acid structure not seen for a few years. This all changed at the end of January with an unprecedented heat wave of plus 40 degrees for 14 days which saw ripening stall for 3 weeks. Overall the vintage was good to excellent [sic]."
I don't know how much of this "good to excellent" wine De Bortoli made, but at about $8 a bottle you could swap 21,000 of them for a Penfolds Ampoule. I reckon there'd be ample Sacred Hill in the warehouse to buy the whole twelve Ampoules, even if you doubled your bid.
Overlooking the Hill of Grace connotation - not known for its hills, the Riverina - this wine demanded attention from the very first sniff. The use of the French Syrah (for Shiraz) attracted me; the inclusion of the much misunderstood Dolcetto even more. This grape is from Italy's Piedmont. It grows thick-skinned low acid fruit ideal for simple sweet plonk, sometimes served still fizzing, or can make dead serious nuts-and-cherries bone dry red as in Dolcetto d'Alba.
But Dolcetto with Shiraz? I've got form with this blend. Whoever planted the priceless old bush vines
behind the Saltram winery at Angaston knew what they were doing when they
included Dolcetto vines amongst the Shiraz: Peter Lehmann made stunning
trophy-winning blends from this prehistoric block during his 1959-1979 winemaking stint
there; I last drank some with Lehmann, Brian Dolan and Len Evans, when the
latter's Rothbury acquired Saltram in the early 'nineties. I'll never forget the way Evans, there in the presence of greater men, sploshed it out as if it were his from the start. Mainly labeled
they were wines of rare beauty, even at that age. But Mildara-Blass was soon to absorb
Rothbury. And Fosters absorbed Mildara-Blass and ripped the vines out. Not enough yield for Fosters. I think they planted Merlot there.
Don't get me started.
Anyway, regardless of the dubious notion of planting Dolcetto in the desert, it was good to imagine somebody in the Riverina had the respect of history to have another go.
Partly because Dolcetto loses its acid quickly, its bright cherry-and-raspberry fruit offers an illusion of sweetness even if the wine is fermented dry. So when I read the back label suggesting "this Syrah Dolcetto is a sweeter style wine" I never imagined that compote of fruits the wine offered my nose would be followed by a drink as sweet as what – Coke? In which case home economics came to mind. If you put enough Finlandia vodka in a glass of Coke to hike it to the same 10% alcohol as the wine, you're getting your ethanol a few cents cheaper. There's enough sugar and cherry flavour in the Coke to match the wine's flavour; a teaspoon of raspberry cordial would get it even closer. And it'll be frizzante, closer to the equivalent cheapo plonks of Piedmont.
Which seems perfectly fitting, given the De Bortoli
winemakers' suggestion that their drink
would best accompany "your favourite pizza".
That'd be the ham and pineapple.
The advantage for the discerning drinker is that Diet Coke could be
substituted for the sugary kind, elevating that aficionado to a more
That'd be the barbecue chicken one.
In my opinion, the sweet tooth who prefers the Finlandia with standard Coke and a ham and pineapple pizza is more likely to be of compromised health, so the deformed foetus emblem should go inside the lid of the ham and pineapple pizza box. As in the case of the Penfolds Ampoule, such condescension on behalf of the authorities would be unnecessary for the more responsible barbecue chicken pizza and Diet Coke enthusiast. All the way up through all the terrible mindless industrial shit and drinks and chefwit gastroporn, right up through exquisite pizzas made like these from the garden beside the wood oven, to the world's most expensive wine – the foetus thing is simply not required.
Call me a classist snob if you wish, but this scenario is no less sophisticated than some gang of Canberra suits who don't drink presuming to warn me against doing it when pregnant, "or when thinking of becoming pregnant". (These wowser lobby words are a good indicator of their appreciation of healthy sexual impulse as much as their knowledge of gustatory pleasure.)
Until I get my free sample of the Ampoule – I've tasted the
wine from a normal $600 bottle: it's heavenly – I'll be continuing my
celebration of Dry July with Finlandia, no pizza, hold the Coke. Unless it's at Settlement, where I'll beg a mighty Vegemizza, which is the one up there with the vineyard in the background.
Just so long as the Vegemite jar carries the health warning, I'll be perfectly happy knowing my Ampoule is not corked. Fuck cork.