26 July 2012
24 July 2012
Chateau Reynella photo Kate Elmes
THIS MORNING'S PRESS RELEASES
10:00am July 24, 2012 (Adelaide, Australia)
FROM ACCOLADE AND TREASURY
ACCOLADE WINES MAKES GROUND-BREAKING CHANGE
Accolade Wines and Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) today announced a major transformation of the wine industry entering into reciprocal bottling and packaging contracts that will see Accolade Wines bottle for TWE in the UK and TWE bottle for Accolade Wines in Australia.
Accolade Wines Chief Executive Troy Christensen (left) said the agreements would strengthen the Australian wine industry by improving the efficiencies of both Accolade Wines and TWE.
"This ground-breaking agreement will enable each of us to secure economies of scale in each region," Mr Christensen said.
"Our decision to enter a reciprocal bottling agreement with TWE underpins Accolade Wines continued success in Australia and globally.
"This agreement is important for the thousands of people in Australia and globally who rely on our business, including employees, customers, grapegrowers and other suppliers. It will allow us to put more effort into growing the sales of Australian wine in Asia and North America.
"We are delighted to partner with TWE in the UK where we will undertake all of TWE's UK bottling. This will move to Accolade Park in Bristol which will increase production there by 30pc."
Mr Christensen said changing market dynamics had created surplus Australian bottling capacity which was holding back the Australian wine industry.
"For a number of years we have researched alternatives to avoid outsourcing our Reynella bottling and distribution facility, including relocating assets within the business. No other option delivered such long term benefits.
"We were faced with the difficult realisation that the best option for our business, and for the Australian industry was to ensure that the most efficient facilities were fully utilised even if they were not our own.
"This is a very significant decision for the Australian wine industry as it creates a new paradigm for the industry. It recognises that we are in the business of producing wine and getting it to consumers. Just as we do not own all our own vineyards, or all our own trucks, we don't have to own every piece of equipment that helps us get wine to the consumers' glass."
Mr Christensen said the decision was not taken lightly because it means that 175 employees at Reynella will be made redundant.
"All employees made redundant will receive their full redundancy entitlements and further support in the form of outplacement services to help find new jobs," Mr Christensen said.
Approximately 20 of the redundancies relate to a separate arrangement where Accolade Wines will outsource its Reynella warehousing and distribution to MacKenzie Hillebrand's facilities at Outer Harbor, South Australia.
"We are working with Treasury and separately with MacKenzie Hillebrand on plans that we anticipate will see us fully transitioned by January 2013," Mr Christensen said.
Accolade Wines and Treasury Wine Estates Agreement
There is compelling business logic behind the agreement between Accolade Wines and Treasury Wine Estates.
The agreement recognises that optimum business efficiency is achieved when capacity at the most efficient operations is fully utilised.
The market conditions described above have had negative impacts on Accolade Wines bottling facilities which have not been operating at full capacity for some time. Accolade Wines has made significant efforts to win contract bottling work to keep its plant operational however due to the prevailing industry conditions cited previously there is significant spare bottling capacity within the Australian industry.
Outsourcing Accolade Wines' bottling operation to Treasury Wine Estates in Australia builds on a partnership developed in the UK where Accolade Wines has been producing all European Cask volume for Treasury Wine Estates. Under the terms of this agreement Accolade Wines will now takeover all the bottling for Treasury Wines Estates in the UK.
The business case for the agreement is compelling. The agreement underpins Accolade Wines continued success in Australia and globally. This arrangement enables Accolade Wines to increase investment towards distributing Australian wine in Asia and North America.
All Accolade Wines' brands will still be made from grapes sourced from the same regions, the same vineyards and processed under the supervision of Accolade Wines' winemakers. The only change in the production of our wine will be that the wines will be sent to a different plant for bottling and packaging.
The business relationship between Accolade Wines and Treasury Wine Estates will remain that of principal and contractor. In Australia Treasury Wine Estates will pack for Accolade Wines and in the UK Accolade will pack for Treasury Wine Estates.
It is expected the transition will be completed by January 2013.
The 2ha John Reynell vineyard Constellation had removed from the Heritage List to make way for the intensive housing which now covers the site.
24 July 2012
TREASURY WINE ESTATES DRIVES SUPPLY CHAIN EFFICIENCY IN PACKAGING
Treasury Wine Estates (ASX: TWE) is pleased to announce it has signed contractual terms with Accolade Wines for new packaging arrangements between the two companies. Under the contract announced today, TWE will pack wine for Accolade in Australia with Accolade packing wine for TWE in the United Kingdom.
Stuart McNab, Chief Supply Officer for TWE said the new arrangements will utilise the best and most efficient assets of both companies.
"We have put a big focus on increasing efficiencies in our supply network and this new arrangement with Accolade will leverage these efficiencies by utilising spare capacity in our Australian facilities."
Historically, TWE has used several service providers for wine packaging in England, but under the new arrangements, the company will consolidate all United Kingdom packaging into Accolade Park, in Bristol.
David Dearie, Chief Executive Officer for TWE says these packaging arrangements strengthen our global supply chain and position Treasury Wine Estates for future sales growth.
"Both businesses compete in the global wine market and these new arrangements will enable us to better capitalise on our resources and state of the art facilities in the regions where we can best leverage the benefits."
The new arrangements will commence over the coming weeks with both companies increasing their volumes over a six month period to meet full planned packaging volumes by January 2013.
These new arrangements
are part of a longer-term supply optimisation strategy aimed at better utilisation of
TWE's packaging and distribution assets around the globe.
For background, type REYNELLA into the search box at the top left.
21 July 2012
The Odd Tasting Note emerges:
why does one think like this?
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche 2009
AU$2500(USA)-AU$4000(UK and Fr.); 13.5% alcohol; cork; 96+++ points
I know I'm gonna get a backful of silver forks for this, but I honestly wonder how many Australian winemakers would recognise this as Pinot noir. All the stuff most were taught to find in good Pinot is barely here. Unless indicating abject derision, I rarely use capitals in my tasting notes, but on this wine they're huge: "NO STRAWBERRIES NO RASPBERRIES NO CHERRIES" they shout. The secret is the La Tâche vineyard, which has been there by the Burgundian village of Vosne-Romanée for over 800 years. Think six hectares of 50± year old vines on the world's most expensive irony limestone, pruned so hard it takes three vines to fill a bottle. The vineyard is managed using very old organic and biodynamic methods; like Moon, horses, no tractors, only vine-derived compost. Along with the wine from its neighbouring 1.8 ha Romanée-Conti vineyard, it's as good and expensive as Pinot gets, and is simply revered in the arcane world of the Burgundiac and Pinotphile. This 2009 is being compared to the majestic 1990. But if there's no primary fruit, what makes it great? Structure. Tannin. Acidity? The most ethereal and fleeting wafts of perfume? But really, the damn thing seemed chockers with the nightshade aromas: the dark green aromas of those leaves, as if in thick black tea. Pepper, juniper, leather, valerian, coaldust, iron all sat there. Surly, glowering. Daring me. "Maybe the closest we get to fruit is a faint whiff of coconut butter", I concluded, mystified. But then, wakey-wakey: the initial glimmers of something between tart juniper berry, sweet beetroot and very bitter cherry began to stir, and long after pouring the thing had awoken sufficiently to give just a glimpse of the overt sensuality which will dominate if the juice of those very special grapes eventually matures to swell and fill the wine's dusty, tannic whalebone corset. A good whipping would be in order before we do any mouth work.
Hurley Vineyard Balnarring Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir 2010 $45; 13.5% alcohol; Diam cork; 89+ points
The Pinots Kevin Bell and Trycia Byrnes grow and make at Balnarring are amongst the best in Australia each year; increasingly so as their suite of vineyards matures. This is the most junior of their four delicious wines, and the cheapest. It's a blend of the barrels that just miss the cut, and fail to earn their place in the Lodestone ($65); the Hommage ($65) or the Garamond ($75). Each of these comes from its own specific vineyard on irony volcanic loams. This blend is brimming with maraschino cherries. It has hints of that dust and leaf, but minor. All the overt fruitiness missing from the La Tâche is here in such carnal fleshiness that it's impossible to imagine they're made from the same grape. This is silky, supple, healthy-tasting juice. You could stick a cocktail brolly in it. The Lodestone has more iron and dust, and while it's still cherries, these are the darker marello. Again, it is a plush, silky drink, but has that little extra tannin, and the riper fruit leaves the faintest alcohol heat in the aftertaste (91++ points; 14.2% alcohol). Hommage is a step back toward tightness and structure rather than tender Rubens flesh, but it still abounds with wickedness (93+++; 12.8%). And the Garamond? In style, this is between La Tâche and the entry point Balnarring, but where the French wine has true might and grandeur, this is still immediately simply, overtly sensual. No whipping. Straight to the cot (93+++; 13.7%).
18 July 2012
16 July 2012
A sense of place. The author shrinking as he's gripped by demons on the new round thing outside the Holy Rollers joint at Chateau Dorrien. Known for its self-deprecatory square and box-headed jokes, the Barossa found the insertion of this prominent round thing quite a challenge. 100 year old Ray Beckwith joked about the locals wondering how the train would get around it. As far as appellations go, this place was called Siegersdorf until "the enemy" German names were replaced by British names in World War I. A great allied warrior, Sir Horace Lockwood Smith-Dorien was the British Governor of Gibraltar. photo Leo Davis
Woolworths extends winery size
"You should listen only to music recorded within 100 km of your home", some wag recently tweeted in ridicule of the burgeoning army of local slow tucker emos. Marry this to Woolworths' extravagant propaganda panic to convince us to suddenly believe what we all quite sensibly doubt about how far and long its fruitaveg has been dragged around Australia in trucks with photoshopped dreamfarms on the side, then think of how much their ad campaign is costing, and you get a fair measure of just how big local food has become.
The punter is not a mug.
Which leads me to local wine. Or, put better, wine of locality.
Last week I reviewed a stunning wine from Le Minervois, a spectacular part of France's Languedoc-Roussillon on the north-west Mediterranean. Spread about the Roman city of Minerve, this appellation shares much with McLaren Vale.Like the Vales, Minervois is a hilly ampitheatre facing the sea, with an unlikely mix of recent (less than 55 million years) marine and riverine geologies directly atop much older stuff (around 500 million years).
Le Minervois has appellation laws. Reds wearing the Minervois AOC are blends of some or all of the following varieties: Carignan (no more than 40% of the mixture) and Cinsault (the original varieties of the vignoble); the more recent arrival, Grenache (in both its standard form and the downy-leaved type called Lledoner Pelut); and those modern fads, Mourvèdre (Mataro), and Syrah (Shiraz).
The whites, tellingly, are Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Maccabeu, Bourboulenc, Rolle, Clairette and Muscat.
The Abbotts & Delauney Alto Stratus wine I loved is an outspoken tribute to the old Carignan, and because it's 100% pure, it cannot be called Minervois, regardless of the fact that it comes from there and it's a much better wine than many of those which carry the patch. At $40, it's more expensive than the same maker's Minervois AOC, a Syrah-Grenache-Carignan blend.
Distances and outdatedness aside, these are the types of details wine enthusiasts increasingly desire and deserve to know. The Minervois locals first worried out their wine laws for official recognition in 1909, a long time since the joint sat like a hinge between the Romans and the Celts. But in the century since the law was made, much more has changed than in the two previous millennia, and those regulations must eventually be altered to suit modern viticultural and winemaking realities and the evermore forensically-curious gastronome.
But changes are on the way: even the French are gradually modifying their appellations.
You wouldn't know it, but Australia has two basic wine appellations.The cycnic could suggest that (1) these are barely responsible to any legislation, other than what has been imposed by Europe in exchange for our right to sell our wine there, and (2) the novice has no way of telling them apart.
One is wine which is honestly a product of place. The other is not. 37.6% of our production is in bladder packs; increasingly this wine is sold also in bottles. Fair enough. But while the vast majority of wine made in Australia is not a product of place, most of it masquerades as such: Jacob's Creek comes to mind. Sacred Hill. All those whole mountain ranges of ridges. Why do they do this? Because they think place is as important to the drinker as is the freshness and provenance of their fruitaveg.
We used to rip off European names. They took us to the international courts and stopped us. Now we rip off Australian names. photo Philip White
Woolworths should be planning a similar campaign to save its grog division.It owns BWS, Dan Murphy's, Wine Market, Cellarmasters, and the wine auction house, Langton's, whose results it must watch closely when setting its retail prices and choosing what to buy.
It also owns Dorrien Estate, one of the Barossa's bigger wine refineries, and is expanding into Beckwith Park, which was the old Southcorp winery at Nuriootpa. At Dorrien, Woolworths already crushes about as much as Penfolds do at Nuri; the humungous volume of bulk wine that also passes through these Woolworths joints for finishing after being crushed somewhere else is nobody's business but their own. Consider it big.
These are the factories that feed the shelves of Dan's and BWS with those myriad bottles with brands that are the vinous equivalent of the dreamfarms on the fruitaveg trucks.
These artificed brands often refer to a famous wine family or place. Often, these sources sell the fruit, or bulk wine, to Woolworths because they're finding it hard to compete against the rock bottom prices in Dan's and BWS. Who knows? The Woolworths buyer might have suggested their original branded wine was too expensive for his needs "but if you like we can take the fruit off your hands to help you out ... and our art department will be in touch about adjusting your old label to suit the new, ah, position, no?"
So we see an army of brands emerging that looks like a whole lot of joint ventures between somebody respected somewhere and some other vague entity, with no mention of Woolworths. And if the company accountants weren't looking very closely at claiming the WET rebate at every opportunity with all these products they should be out on their arses. The rebate is there to be claimed and shareholders rule.
And then come the oceans of miserable plonk that make no pretence of place at all. Most of the wine in that first appellation should really be in with this.
It's high time the makers of true wines of place are guaranteed the recognition they deserve for their honesty.One handy step toward this would be to legislate that the name and address of the manufacturing winery, like the place or places where the wine was actually made, should be clearly presented on every package, along with the name of the owner.
As in MADE AT DORRIEN ESTATE BY WOOLWORTHS.
A sense of place: former chief winemaker at Pernod-Ricard's Orlando, Phil Laffer, on the edge of Jacob's Creek, Rowland Flat, Barossa.
Being French, and presumably pernickity about appellations, even the Jacob's Creek people might now join me in suggesting that it should be illegal for any wine to be branded in such a way that it appears to come from a place which is not in fact its source. Pernod Ricard's ongoing use of its famous Australian brand could be guaranteed in exchange for them accurately listing the regional sources, wineries and percentages of the fruit within.
Once they got wind of the plan, it'd be sickening watching the PO Box winemakers, flash harries all, run to register every town, ridge and wetland, real or not, before the cut-off date came round, but I'd rather walk into a wine store where place actually meant something.
As it does with the Minervois wines.Their laws might not be perfect, but at least they're out in the open for all to see. And they can be refined.
As for restricting your music to local recordings only? Australians are pretty good at supporting their musicians, and there are many similarities between the music and wine businesses. If you want to save your local littley from Woolworths' big slurpmachine, buy your wine accordingly. I'll bet you'll enjoy it more.
The Yearlings play at Yangarra Estate ... Like many vignobles, McLaren Vale loves its local artists, and tries to keep them busy and eating. photo Milton Wordley
Abbotts & Delaunay Alto Stratus Carignan 2010
$40; 14% alcohol; cork; 94+++ points
And this is what Carignan's supposed to taste like. Sanjay Chhabra's very smart Fourth Wave Wine Partners has begun to ship this treasure through Sydney; Chace Agencies will do it in Adelaide. I am hugely relieved. It is a rare 100% Carignan. It comes from the north-west Mediterranean, at the freshly-nascent region called Minerva, as do an increasing number of stunning red wines. But a 100% pure Carignan like this is not permitted to claim it comes from Minerva, which is a classic piece of Gallic dumb – the outdated appellation insists anything called Minerva must be a blend of at least two prescribed varieties. But no other flavour is necessary here: the wine is entire; whole; intact: without being fat, it is quite simply a gorgeous soft plumpness of luxurious proportion and entirely satisfying form. I have studied the one bottle for over a week now, and it'll run out before it falls apart. It still has beautiful fruit after all that air, with fig, date and prune taking over from the primary blackberries and satsuma, and it has some lovely deep leafy hints, like grilled beetroot greens. The wine is still in elegant balance, its persistent acidity teasing more length and satisfaction from that plush fruit and its enduring, velvet tannins. In other words, it'll last for many years if you need it to, and make you very happy in the meantime if you want it to.
Wet, windy and cold for pruners
The first suite of winter frosts
Jack Frost pinched my ear so sharply at five I got up and turned the heater on. The light woke me next or the feeling that I was not alone: the lawn was crunchy white all the way down to the dam. It was twitching with Elegant parrots, studiously grazing on something. We get all manner of parrots and the like here, but these are not common. Equally distributed, perhaps a hundred of them chatted and squeaked quietly, each bird lifting its own little genie of steam from the icy grass.Like the insects, the bird population changed a lot when the Yangarra vineyard went organic and the frogs came back. If you're gonna have healthy frogs, you've gotta have healthy insects. If you've got healthy insects and frogs you'll have healthy birds. You can't have a healthy textured and balanced bird population without the whole joint being healthy. Turn the petrochem off, and you get the old natural texture of life returning.
These changes, and others, seem to come into sharper focus on such a morning. After a good sousing month of rain, the first real frost of the year performs miracles to the smell of country. It thins the aromas, giving each one greater distinction. The bouquet of the place becomes crisper, cleaner, better defined.
It's been too frigid and wet for a writerly sop like me to be out there looking pruners in the eye, but it looks like they're past the half-way mark in these big vineyards. Once they're done, it's much easier to see the sheep spread through the vines. This is a huge change. Where just a few years ago, vineyards were blitzed habitually with common poisons like Roundup, leaving a landscape devoid of cover or life and a bad taste in my mouth, a great deal of the McLaren Vale vignoble is now fenced, and the moment the grape crop's off the sheep go in. They mow weeds and grasses indiscriminately, turning them into tiny pellets of fertilizer which stay put, trapped in the remaining sward.
When the vines start to shoot in the spring the sheep must go, but there's a handy queue for their flesh, which has fattened on that thick organic pasture. No petrochem; no poison. And like the influence of the frost on the air, the wines too are cleaner, more vibrant and healthy.
It's hard to give this change of mentality the emphasis it deserves. I can soon see the day when back labels can state "free of glyphosate".Lambing time again: vineyard manager of Yangarra and Clarendon Estates, Michael Lane pumps some patented prep into Timmy the orphan bleater ... Timmy was a pioneer vineyard Roundup replacer
Speaking of labels, there are other huge changes afoot there. The random spread about my desk at this moment includes seven Shiraz, three Cabernets, one blend of the two, and a couple of Merlots. Then there's Syrah/Dolcetto, Sangiovese, Saperavi, Sagratino and a ravishing Touriga nacional/Tinta amarella/Tinta cao blend. Dining table? Shiraz (11 bottles), Cabernet (5), Chardonnay (3), Merlot (2) Pinot noir (1) and Riesling (1). Then there's a radical change of gears. This is the general tasting stock that ambles through my week: they are random. But after those common varieties, the rest go like this: Carignan (1), Mataro (aka Mourvèdre and Monastrell) (6), Cinsault (1), Vermentino (1), Sangiovese (1), Tempranillo (1), Tinta negro mole (1), Durif (1) and Touriga nacional (1).
This change of the colours of Australia's wine rainbow is as radical as the vineyard changes outside my window. Neither my view nor the load on my table is reflective of what's on the shelves of your BWS, by any means, but I can recall no time in the last thirty-plus years where this critical funnel was confronted by such an incredible array of flavours.
How this happened is not yet clear. It is partly a response to a shrinking wine world, where people and wines travel more and faster than ever before; and it's partly a response to global warming, which threatens the old status quo varieties, but I think it's mainly a contrary response to what was taught by rote in our wine schools over the last thirty years. There's a generation of winemakers who tested the water with a little Tempranillo or Sangiovese; since then there's another which seems desperate to try not just anything, but everything.
And I've only mentioned six varieties which end in O. Others popping up include Trebbiano, Souzão, Prosecco, Primitivo, Nebbiolo, Montepulciano, Greco, Graciano, Fiano, Aleatico, Aglianico, Albariño, and so on. I'm sure I've missed some – I only found these by reading the ampelography upside-down. Just how the people who planted them chose to go for the O's beats me, but I'm sure it has nothing to do with typography, terroir or market research. It's a reactionary whim. A fad.
Gimme that chaos. Bring on the fractals.Brrrr sunset last night photo Philip White
Once this new wave of old varieties really begins to break across the shelves, they're gonna present the retailer with a great deal of trouble. Like, what do you stack? When confronted by a new grape variety, Australians typically try the first one they encounter, then another brand's attempt at the same thing, and so on, until they've tried them all: like, "I done all the Viogniers." Then they change varieties, leaving the retailer reeling.
Since Woolworths bought one of the biggest wineries in Australia, Cellarmasters in the Barossa, it makes a continually-increasing percentage of the wine it sells in its own shops, like BWS and Dan Murphy's. This is killing many small producers: they cannot possibly manage the pricing, or match the economies of scale. And so they whine as they dwindle and fade.
One thing worth remembering: Woolworths will not plant vineyards. It will not take risks. So these winemakers who are bravely or stupidly attempting to give us something new to drink have a range of products that Woollies cannot quickly match. It'll be those who plant too much of something new that get in the shit, and they'll soon imagine that the only way they'll get out is to sell the balance in bulk to Woolworths. Woolworths will use their industrial rote recipe to make wine from it, undercut everybody else who's trying to do the new variety justice, and probably tarnish its name forever.
Until you get that happening broadscale, and the entire viticulture industry reacts badly by retreating to what it thinks is the safety of the old standards, there's a very good chance for the dwindling number of independent wine stores to specialize in getting these new flavours to an increasingly curious marketplace.
As a buyer and consumer, it's really up to you now. Find your specialist, and encourage them to make you happy. Because it looks to me that the winemakers, for the first time in my life, are seriously trying to replace the old industrial mindlessness with something that will be better for everybody, including our tired old planet.
10 July 2012
W-Wheel (detail) plastic plates, lids, washing basket parts, utensils 90x90x10cms 2012
Miss Ya Ya Makes Big Plastic
by PHILIP WHITE
It'll be very, very trippy.
01 July 2012
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.
Some Other Things To Drink Don't Fall Down The Stairs
But Try A Vodka In Your Think
words and photographs by PHILIP WHITE
The Finlandia's been getting a bit of nudge lately. Since the performance of my death-defying backwards headfirst plunge down some stairs five weeks back (one show only - last photo above), powerful anti-inflammatories have rendered the sensories a touch unreliable on the worst days.
On others, the sheer embarrassed grumps will do it alone. For those moments when a little self-medication is required, without any boring sensory analysis, there's little challenge in the vodka bottle.
The prime advantage offered by neat clean ethanol like Finlandia is the way it begs being flavoured at the drinker's whim, and you can actually put good healthy stuff in it without compromising any flavour or goodness.
A bottle of little challenge? Add some challenge.
Fresh ginger root's expensive since the Queensland floods. I munch it like most eat apples, and I love a few slices of it in a short chilled vodka. A squeeze of lemon juice might suit now and then, but those slabs of fresh, juicy ginger root make a lovely meal of your drink. You won't need ice if your vodka's straight out of the freezer. The snap chill it delivers the ginger seems to release extra bracing magic that refreshes.
Another favourite is to have the vodka on big ice, short, and grind fresh black pepper over it. Some lemon may add or detract, depending on the mood.
I use vodka in impromptu cocktails with slightly sweet rosés. I have it with cold green tea, with a teaspoon of Bickford's lime, with a dash of Angostura first twirled properly around the glass. I never waste cold coffee from the plunger: a dribble in the glass before adding the freezing vodka, and a splash of soda, and you have a delightful dry tincture that you can play with: a lemon slice can swim happily on that meniscus, or orange. Or a dash of Campari, as well. The bitter Curaçao orange peel flavour of Campari mixes well with a little vodka and coffee; you can also play with Kahlua liqueur here, if you find the plunger coffee a bit lean on.
As you drink your composition, toast the impending laws which will restrict the sale of kiddylikkers which combine ethanol with caffeine!
While I prefer the finesse of grain-based vodka, like the Finlandia, it can be made from almost anything which contains starch or sugar. Beets, potatoes, corn and grapes commonly find their way into distillations which eventually appear under the vague vodka appellation.Sally Wickes - All In One - Palmer Sculpture country
I learned a lot about distillation from Phil Tummel, who was the boss stillman at the old Tolley distillery beside Penfolds at Nuriootpa. On Ash Wednesday in 1983, he was helping me taste about forty different rums with David Cleland. Once the Hills were ablaze and the damned rums were negotiated in that ridiculous heat, there wasn't much left to do but retreat to the cool of a pub, where highly volatile rum-riddled yarns emerged; a sort of desperately futile denial of the horrors we knew were exploding outside, and which would be there to face us in the morning. There was nothing anybody could do.
Tollana rep Mal Batkin took a call through the pub phone - no mobiles then - and came back to his mixed grill blanched. "I gotta go," he said, flatly. "That was the wife. Bushfire's comin' through the back yard." The roads were full. You couldn't drive. The phone lines were down or full of emergency. You couldn't call. You couldn't do much but sit and watch the hills burn down, knowing many who lived in them.
In the morning, only 28 were dead in these parts. 47 perished in Victoria. We were told to stay away. First thing, Kit Stevens MW creaked up the stairs to my office and entered, all 6'6" of him, dusting ash from his Savile Row suit and mighty Churches brogues and in his most pompous Charterhouse accent declared "Whitey, we saved Knappstein's vineyard."
Tummel, an ace spirits taster now long departed, joked nervously that day about his wide range of grape-based white spirits. Using the neutral grape distillate and various other ingredients, he made gins, vodkas and ouzos. If you couldn't afford the luxury of a still solely devoted to ouzo, gin came in handy to purge the common still of the residue of the anise and licorice used in ouzo. You couldn't go straight from making an ouzo to making a vodka in the same still, because the first few vattings of vodka would taste like ouzo.
A batch of gin, with its herbal additives, always helped clear and disguise the ouzo flavours. As with winemaking, a good foundation of science is much assisted by the application of nous, a good nose, and rat cunning. Having once missed a delivery of the "botanicals" he needed for a batch of gin, Tummel was known to take a drive around the Barossa, and pick the requirements from roadsides and gardens.
"It was good gin," he said. "Although I can't remember what I used in place of the coriander seed. Not much coriander up those ways."
Like chilli. I reckon I smuggled the first chilli into the Barossa in about 1987. Before that, garlic was the strongest flavour permitted. I never took it, like, into the Heartland, mind you. Nowhere like Tanunda. That would have been disrespectful of the heritage food, which was all white except for blood pudding and metwürst. Instead, I slunk around the borders with my deadly poison, letting little dollops escape in the Badlands past Truro, around Greenock and St Kitts, and along the Barossa Ranges. People whispered behind my back in the supermarket. My ranking tumbled quickly from Newcomer, through Tourist, to Infidel.
Chilli goes like stink in the right vodka cocktail. You can use Tabasco, or any of the thinner vinegar-based or barrel-fermented sauces at Chili Mojo at 381 Magill Road. Excuse the spelling discrepancy, please, but I'm determined - with about half a teaspoon of Angostura, and however much of your chilli you're confident about, wind both around the inside of a big fat-bottomed whisky tumbler. Bung in a whop of freezing vodka. Add your favourite tomato juice and spritz with soda. You can edge closer to a classic Bloody Mary by adding Worcestershire sauce, pepper, celery salt and stick of the same stalk.
Since things are so desperate at casa Blanco, I go to protonuclear lengths. A good gollop of Jock Harvey's Paddock Monkey Hot Damn Sauce is the foundation stone. It makes Tabasco look like baby cream. You might be able to get some through Chalk Hill Wines. Or an imported equivalent at Mojo. You need a vinegar-based sauce, without oil. You'll need the soda, but no tomato. A celery stick will come in handy. And, instead of ice, which dilutes all your good work if you consume at a responsible pace, add a serving spoon of frozen peas. You will need something to eat while the paint slides off the walls.