“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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26 March 2013

A BRACE OF POST-VINTAGE TIPPLES


Plymouth Gin
$45; 41.2% alcohol; screw cap; 94 points
Hendrick’s seems to be the gin on the aficionado lips lately: it’s a softer, floral, almost fruity thing without overt juniper, best had slightly chilled or on ice with sliced cucumber. It’s delicious, and particularly refreshing in the summer, but it’s usually well above $60, and I find myself emulating it at a discount by simply adding a dash of Bitter Truth Celery Bitters to a shot of Absolut, or any fairly neutral vodka, and serving that with cucumber.  As the word gin comes from genever, or juniper, a gin like Hendrick’s, which barely displays any juniper, perhaps deserves emulating. Now the weather’s changing I yearn for a more complex and true gin, something more cutting and bracing, but not as lean as, say, Bombay Sapphire.  Plymouth sets the sails nicely.  Made pretty much to the original recipe in the Blackfriars Distillery of Plymouth since 1798, it’s driven by the juniper berry which grew all over the heath from Plymouth to London, where the gins are a tad drier, crisper, and more dependent upon that bitter, tannic fruit.  The distillery was abused in recent decades by too many disinterested transnational pillagers, but is back on track and as lovely as ever under the current owners, Pernod Ricard.  There are seven botanicals instilled in its pure grain spirit, but these are masterfully handled so none is particularly dominant.  I see a little citrus peel and coriander beneath the cutting juniper, but overall it’s its own baby: bracing, grainy, and perfect to drink neat on ice.  I like it chilled with a slice of lime and a sprinkle of fresh-ground black pepper.  It the early days of the martini, few other gins were considered for that monumental cocktail: a martini was usually Plymouth and vermouth.  Tellingly, it was also the favourite of Alfred Hitchcock and Winston Churchill, a couple of crunchies I’d give anything to share a bottle with.  Plymouth is the only gin distillery with its own appellation. It also continues to produce a Navy Strength Gin at 57% alcohol (96 points).  This is all the above, turbocharged, intensified, and wound up to eleven, to assist in the case of engagement.  It's perfect with a squeeze of lime and a herring pickled in a mixture of peppers and chillies.  

Woodstock McLaren Vale Very Old Fortified
$48 (500ml) at the cellar; 20% alcohol; screw cap; 93 points
The late Doug Collett was a great hoarder of fortified wines.  That crafty cove was always stashing barrels of excess fruit, fortified, in the corners of many winery sheds and deserted chookhouses.  He left his winemaking son Scott great stacks of old tawny port, providing an invaluable blending base, making possible beautiful rarities like this.  Made from Grenache and Shiraz of a minimum age of twenty years, it shows the rosy, creamy nature of the former dominant over the meaty Shiraz, in a smooth caramel toffee structure.  It’s fluffy of texture, with a line of perfect acidity countering its sweetness and viscosity.  At such alcohol, it’s not the sort of port you buy to take fishing, although I’m sure it would work.  It’s more along the lines of the after-dinner liqueur: a small glass is all you’ll need with your favourite dark chocolate, and if you’re a cigar smoker, it’s just perfect.
 

25 March 2013

GOVERNMENT MAKES HUGE DISCOVERY

Adelaide discovers big logos
Wine HQ goes aggro badging
Funny thing held in Leigh St. 
by PHILIP WHITE


While I believe many millions of expert twats on television and Facebook have derided it, I like Ken Cato’s South Australian logo with the door in Australia where South Australia used to be.  It’s no Da Vinci cartouche, but already I see the odd Tweeter using it to frame their portrait for their avatar, which means it’s winning. 

And anyway: television?  Facebook? I quit Facebook when it started going really rotten back in the Cambrian, and I've never owned a television in my life.


I don’t think it’s quite as subliminally unforgettable as Cato’s Commonwealth Bank Vegemite Sao thing, but I do prefer it to the BankSA logo which always reminds me of an inflamed vagina as viewed by a dazzled or confused person and is not a Cato work.  It’s interesting that the BankSA website  barely uses its own logo, but there you go.

Hard on the tail of the new South Australia logo came last Friday’s strange thing in quaint old Leigh Street, in the city.  Fuller Communications’ invitation called this the “Adelaide Wine Capital launch”.  It seemed to involve the first exposure of the word Adelaide written by a computer with no sense whatever of the wonders of the well-wielded calligraphy nib.
 

PR man Peter Fuller addresses the crowds from the balcony

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“Adelaide really is the wine capital of Australia,” the headline announced.  That caught my eye.  Darwin and Brisbane must have been really pissed off.

“Not only will the Wine Capital name start appearing on international maps,” it frothed, “the launch will spearhead a new tourism campaign – 365 days of Wine and Food – to help visitors explore the state’s wine regions as well as the many wine and food outlets in the city.” 

 

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill addresses the gathering from the balcony.  Note the neat Ken Cato SA map logo, and the twee and clumsy Adelaide Wine Capital of Australia to the left of it. See how all Cato's expensive thought, and perfectly crisp work, is eroded by the selection of the awkward and dull computer calligraphy of the Adelaide word: it reminds me of Johnson's Baby Powder. 


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This appears to me to be a blatant promotion of drink driving.  Unless tourists drive themselves, or have the large sums required to hire one of the various winery tours specialists*, there is no way of visiting any of our wine regions.

I travelled recently from Kangarilla in the McLaren Vale region, to Bob and Wilma McLean’s Farm in the Barossa, and responsibly tried to do so by public transport of which there’s none at my front gate on the main road from the Adelaide Hills to McLaren Vale so that’s a bad start.  What makes it even more twisty as far as necessity goes is that I wisely took my driver’s licence away from myself nearly 25 years ago, and officially removed myself from the driving chair.  If you’re in this racket with any deliberation, you simply must never drive.  Especially if one is a petrol head, as one feels responsible to be in a burgh whose government sponsors the official worship of the petrol-fed V8 engine with an annual 300 km/hr hoonfest through the city streets.

Strangely, this deadly outdated debacle is sponsored by an electrical goods company.  If the cars were electric, I might show an interest. 

 

Some of the reporters of Adelaide attended.


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McLean’s Farm is on what I call the Barossa Tops, the upland beyond Mengler’s Hill, toward Angaston.  My travail between the two jewel wine regions went car, bus, bus, train, lung infection, bus and  car.  For this hardened public transport expert, it took four-and-a-half hours. Except the lung slime from the people who caught the train at Womma or somewhere and coughed all over everything.  That stayed a fortnight. She was a bewdy.

Which leads me to marketing South Australia, to get it, as they say,  back on the map.  Which is a place moving on into the future, further on up the track. I think we’ve got plenty of road maps.  I believe they were invented by George W. Bush.  What we need is an affordable public transport system so that one may partake of the alcoholic product this government is promoting without breaking its laws.



Some important Adelaide wine identities and politicians attended. Below the "Aspects of Healing" sign you see Gail Gago MLC, Minister for Agriculture, Food, Fisheries, Forests, Regional Development, State and Local Government Relations, and the Status of Women, while above the "Rewarding you with opportunity - your career in massage awaits" sign stands Leon Bignell MP, Minister for Tourism and Sport.


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“Adelaide is the only Australian city that has seven wine regions and 200 cellar doors within an hour's drive (McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek, Barossa Valley, Eden Valley, Adelaide Hills, Clare).”  This came in the list of fatuous nonsense beneath another headline, “Why Adelaide is the Wine Capital of Australia.”

One wonders whether anybody from Fuller Communications has ever travelled anywhere other than by helicopter.  Adelaide to Clare?  One hour?  It’s 150 kilometres, for Bacchus’ sake.

Geography aside, this document is unforgivably shoddy in its sense of history.  It says of the late Dr Ray Beckwith that he “developed world first micro-biology technologies in the 1960s, preventing bacterial spoilage of wines”.  Beckwith, who died last year, did his greatest work in the 1930s and 40s.  This is not a secret.
 


Most people walked straight past.  They probably already knew their town was the wine capital of Australia. Wine marketer Kate Giles, who was pouring tasting samples, reported the public interest picked up after 5:30, but that they tended to dive mainly on the current buzzwines.

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“Max Schubert was the first winemaker in the world to mature Shiraz in American oak,” it continues, under “Why Adelaide is the Wine Capital of Australia.”  What in the world do these wine experts think Australia’s winemakers matured their Shiraz in for the preceding 100+ years?

“Renmark winemaker Tom Angove invented the first bag in the box wine cask,” it trumpets, ignoring the fact that the bladder pack was a vinegar container used in Italy for many years before anyone in Australia pinched the idea.  Better left as a vinegar pack, I always thought. Then again, maybe they have. 


During the Premier's speech, the drought broke for a brief time.  


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“Host of first international wine trade event, Savour in October 2013 (sic)” is another of the reasons Adelaide is the Wine Capital.  Who are these boofheads?  Savour?  The first international wine trade event?  Have they ever heard of Vinexpo?  Could somebody tell them that at the 1889  Exposition Universelle, a World's Fair and huge wine show and trade event, held in Paris to coincide with the opening of the Eiffel Tower, Harry Dove Young’s St George’s Claret, made at Kanmantoo, was awarded the gold medal for best wine in the world?

I could go on for hours about this nonsense.  Those who actually count in the international wine scene pretty much presume that Adelaide is Australia’s wine capital.  The reason we don’t preach about it is our embarrassment at the cruel truth of what a hokey,  honky botch of uncertain, ill-informed peanuts it really is.

As I said at the top, I like Ken Cato’s new logo for South Australia, and thought it shone a stray glimmer of enlightenment on the government of Premier Jay Weatherill, a name nobody in government or media seems able to pronounce, but then they can’t pronounce Fleurieu, either, which might be why this beautiful peninsular wine region en route to Kangaroo Island was not mentioned in “Why Adelaide is the Wine Capital of Australia.” But they probably miss the Fleurieu on the chopper to KI.
 

This bloke strode purposefully down the lane to give me a bit of a word about something he thought somebody'd told him I'd said about his business. The dude's one of the characters involved in closing the Salopian Inn, one of McLaren Vale's great eating houses, restaurants, and fine wine centers since the Gumprs opened it in 1851This Sydney outfit bought it and turned into a down-market beer joint, selling Vale Ale, suds they paid somebody to make interstate and then sold in the Vale to much fanfare and thick layers of extravagant and repetitive signage.  Not to mention much frothy pressMany times over many months the staff assured me they, or "he" made the beer locally, which was the standard line"Where", I asked one pert lass.  "In the shed," she assured me.  After too many locals complained about this big fib, Vale Ale applied and gained approval to build a tiny brewery a few kilometres away at Willunga.  They served the Willunga beer for a short time, then made some sort of a deal with Woolworths to make a lot more of it than their license at Willunga would permit.  So while it looks like they'll be having that new Vale Ale made in Western Australia, suddenly and unceremoniously they sacked their staff and shut the Salopian Inn.  So here's your man.


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Anyway, as there is no pubic transport, I cadged a ride to town from a mate (taxi home: $84) to attend this Fuller Communications thing in Leigh Street.  They had security guards and Nazi ID tags, plastic tasting cups and a line of tables down the middle of the street, upon which many volunteer winemakers had brought a total of 365 wines to taste (limited to two bottles of each product).  There were politicians and journalists and wine industry identities befitting the village this is, all standing with necks craned as Premier Weatherill read the Fullers’ “Why Adelaide is the Wine Capital of Australia” list from away up on a balcony.

He should have worn a laurel wreath, or waited til they finish the Coliseum. If, indeed, it was necessary at all.  The whole damn thing was Caesarian in more ways than one, and most certainly premature.


This is what was down that side lane.  There was no Semtex in the striped bag.  All photos by Philip White

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*FOOTNOTE: Contrary to the frisson of agitated village pump gossip this comment has triggered, it is in no way a slight on the winery tour professionals.  The wine regions depend on such folks.  But the fact is that most everyday wine enthusiasts cannot afford to hire a driver whenever they visit a winery.  If however, they could avoid driving by using cheap, reliable, efficient public transport to arrive in their chosen wine region, they would then be more likely to spend the $100-200 fare they'd just saved on employing a local driver within the region.  The DRINKSTER makes no secret of his admiration, for example, of Chook's Little Winery Tours in McLaren Vale: since Chook's excellent business opened, life in this district has changed dramatically for the better for all those who love their wine but won't blend it with driving.  The amount of visitors' wine expenditure businesses like this create is truly phenomenal.  The thought that some wineries actually expect Chook to pay them to deliver tasters to their door is just another indicator of how dumb and greedy some of the idiots in this business can be.  They won't see me bringing mates to their cellars!  More on this stuff on DRINKSTER in a week or two.  In the meantime, if you're planning a trip to the Vales, call Chook (0414 922 200).  

Y&P GOES BACKWARDS BUT CHARGES MORE


Yelland & Papps Second Take Barossa Valley Roussanne 2012
$40; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 92 points
This crack Barossa outfit blew me away with its Devote Shiraz Roussanne blend a couple of months back. Now they wind the price up a notch and forget a lot more technology to make a back to the future wild and cloudy wine that reminds me very much of a dry perry.  Take that Northman cross of the quince and the pear, the Passe-crassanne.  Ferment its juice dry, to remove the prophylactic effect of its sugar, and highlight instead  its bright oxalic-rhubarb acidity.  Then poach some fresh slices of the fruit in that liquor and have them cold in the morning with fresh ashed goat cheese from the Kangarilla Creamery and a glass of this and you’re on the session. “New world wine in an old world way” is the Y&P technical explanation and not once is the term “natural wine” used anywhere. Let’s call it wild yeast barrel ferment lees stirred bottled unfiltered Barossa Valley Roussanne and get on with it, shall we?  Stunning. What’ll become of it? I dunno. Not much point in waiting to watch it fall apart while it tastes this good now.  

Yelland & Papps Second Take Barossa Valley Grenache 2012
$40; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 93+ points
Prickly, bright and wild, here goes Grenache in a feral left-turn that throws the hairy gauntlet at the McLaren Vale proficianados and it serves vividly to show how much edgy natural flavour and perfume is removed from our grasp by the mindless industrial repetition of Adelaide University winemaking dogma.  The acid here’s not quite so oxalic as the Roussanne, but it’s out in that direction.  It reminds me much of some of the early Pinots of Bass Phillip with that acid structure and faint cloud of tannin floating above, like in the very best alpine Nebbiolo. Below that nebbia is the welling essence of Marello cherry, with its tantalizing bittersweet seesaw of flavour, so while it’s one step closer to the Equator than sharp-end Pinot, this wine pushes my belief that the best Grenache from the South Mount Lofty Ranges, which include McLaren Vale and the Barossa, will always be made with Burgundy locked in mind.  Not Adelaide University.  Burgundy. 

Yelland & Papps Second Take Barossa Valley Shiraz 2012

$40; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93 points
Ink for pens.  That’s what Doddridge would mutter over his tanks of Mountadam Shiraz in the ’eighties.  This ink for pens is the sort of wine winewriters commonly see in the best wineries, before said tinctures have been strangulated, bleached and sanitized for release.  The thespian arrogance of the critic is so thick in this instance that the presumption maintains that nobody else is sufficiently advanced in the organoleptic division to appreciate or understand wines like this, undressed for bed.  If indeed it had ever been applied, the make-up is all wiped away here; the stilettos and fishnets are kicked well off, and the ink reserved for the sort of purple prose a lass, through the ups and downs of her official working week, a lass of this provenance triggers amongst many breathless wannabees and wouldbecouldbee scribblers.  Nope, the winehack’s lumpen readership can appreciate only the artificed version, the imagined, the purged, the defiled by sophists.  So something as honest and true as this, is made safe and misty as if by Hugh Hefner or somebody who owns a big lady’s underpants and teddys chain for women who want to look like whores.  They write with runny, watery ink, them Hefners. This real ink, on the other hand, is prickly with sun on the stubble and deep with blackcurrant and beetroot and bullwhip dressing.  I like the idea of spending a lot less money and effort by avoiding the usual “finishing” industrial manufacture, then charging an extra fiver for making available the privilege of drinking her raw and unwritten.  Get some mates and lovers round for dinner.  Dob in and buy one each of these. Then bring three conventional favourites, pour ’em blind, and argue all night.

PETER LEHMANN: SWISS MISS POINT


Lehmann: three cheap red songs
Modest value; little provenance
Hess family follows itself down
by PHILIP WHITE

I’ve been thinking about Lehmann.   

A six-pack Peter Lehmann Eight Songs Shiraz box appeared this week, containing three of the new wave of Art’n’Soul wines.  These cost between $12 and $14 a bottle. They seem to have no particular source.  Eight Songs, properly gorgeous Barossa Shiraz, launched to celebrate the Mad King George III at the Barossa Music Festival in 1993, used to be about $50. There were no Eight Songs wines in the box.

“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity,” saith the preacher.

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The image of King George III, and this opening Randolph Stowe verse come from Rod Schubert's hand-made program for his exhibition Eight Songs For A Mad King, held at Peter Lehmann Winery at the Barossa Music Festival in 1993.  The opening coincided with a barrel-hall performance of Eight Songs For A Mad King, a musical recital written by Stowe and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.  The performance was a sell-out; Peter Lehmann bought all the paintings to hang in his cellar tasting and sales area.





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Peter Lehmann has lent his name to some astonishing bargains in his long and wonderful life.  I’ve been privileged to share some bits of it. My time in his company has always been the foundation of mighty steaming piles of myth, legend and bullshit, even if I do say so myself.  

So I approached this trio with respect, and spent many hours with them.  They hold an important story of the modern Australian wine industry. They are made by the Hess family company, a big outfit from Switzerland.  When Peter once met Mr Hess on a plane, they swapped cards.

First, a comment on points scored.  Some folks say I point high.  But I often fill a wheelie bin with industrial empties before I discover a wine over ninety points.  I struggle to find you those over-nineties.  And you should regard my 70/100 as 7/10, which is not too bad. My average point over a week is probably around 60. 

Second: the Lehmann bottle.  When Peter’s people invented this bottle, I could never quite work out why it unsettled me.  Now I know.  Back then, in the dikso epoch, the Grace Jones bottle was all the go.  It was six foot sixteen tall. 
Away up there above the wide padded shoulders o’ Gracie, she wore the same Flat-Top ’do from the crook called Flat Top in the Dick Tracey comics, and then she went teetering and tapering all the way down to the bottom of those ten-inch platforms, and it cost, like $18.50, which was a lot when you could get Lehmann’s wine for well under half of that, maybe even $6. 

Peter’s people discovered the average bottle-o bottle-stacker could not abide the impossible-to-stack nature of the tapered expensive Grace Jones shape bottle.  Huge piles of stock might collapse on some lady’s shoes.  So they put a little ridge, or footing, at the bottom of their Lehmann taper to make it the same width as the shoulders so it would stack neat.  This compromised the design, but it stuck on the grounds of that neat stackability. 

But then, those big shoulders give the drinker a false sense of security.  You open this bottle, right?  When you get to pour the bit from the broadest part of the bottle, get a big percentage of wine in your first glass.  But then, especially when you’re drinking alone, you notice the rate of disappearance of the wine accelerates as you drink through the tapering shrinkage of the bottom part of the bottle.  It’s a real old-fashioned feeling, like teetering home all the way down that lane on them ten-inchers as the Quaaludes kick em out from under you.  There is nobody else to grunt at.  Damn bottle gets emptier faster.  And then, right at the very end of the last glass, you get a little extra.  That’s really weird. Like as far as a feeling goes.  Like drinking the goldfish out of your heel, where it had been swimming around all night with that flouro thing, looking, looking. 

So guess which wine I tasted last?  The Cabernet Merlot, of course.  Which is why we’re starting on the second-last one I opened.  2011 was the wettest vintage in Australian winemaking history, but in the Lehmann press release, the ex-Yalumba boss vitiguru Nigel Blieschke who now manages grower liason at PL maintains he picked the fruit for this red trio from 140 vineyards of less than two hectares each on average [before the mess of mildews and botrytis settled in and buggered nearly everything else – my brackets].

This would be typical Lehmann.


 
If you’re in the club at Lehmann’s, you can get Peter Lehmann Art’n’Soul Shiraz Grenache 2011 for $12.  So I’m discussing it at that level. It’s like a real good blend from Languedoc, in the sunny, ever-warming south of France.  If the Gallo family and Constellation had imported a Languedoc blend of this quality and composition into the USA and innocently sold it as Red Bicyclette Pinot Noir instead of that bullshit Merlot they got in trouble with when the Frogs bullshitted them, nobody woulda got charged.  Here, it’s honestly labeled as Shiraz and Grenache, and the latter grape has been treated pretty much like raspberry to cheer up some glum Shiraz.  The wine has that typical south-of-France sunshine and natural botrytis glycerol, and it sort of resembles the least expensive south of France reds you’d find in many profitable Paris bistros this summer.  Wouldn’t that be cool! 

The label says “Hess Family – Terroir Wines Crafted On Four Continents”, which is probly why it doesn’t say Barossa, not even in the winery address.

If there’s a fighter one can count on in a scrap in this trio, the Shiraz-Cab should be it. And it is.  It has some sooty Barossa fireplace oak from A. P. John Cooperage, with woodfire stove blackberry jam business underway, and it has that sweet jamminess of the Shiraz gradually getting lost in the black tea of the Cabernet.  It has none of true Shiraz soulfulness Lehmann made his reputation on, but it has none of that company, either.  They’re all gone.  Apart from that stalwart winemaker-general, Andrew Wigan, no Lehmann works at Lehmann’s anymore.

Join the club, buy this Cabernet Merlot for about $1:30 per standard schlück, and where exactly is one?  Well, one’s there, to start with.  This is probably a better place to be than many. But if one were to expect a glimmer of the Cabernet and Merlot blend of Bordeaux in this bottle, one would be wondering.  This is not Bordeaux.  And it’s not Barossa.  It has dear Peter’s profile dripping off it : that patronage is obvious.  So what is it?  A cleanly, reliable dry red wine of about the highest standard one has come to expect to be served at art exhibitions that are not at Lehmann’s.  Maybe it’s just romance, but in my fondest memories, Lehmanns always served much better wines than this at their exhibitions. 

I have watched Kevin Foley enjoy wine like this at exhibitions.

It is a sad thing that the quality of our “quaffers” has lost so much sense of source.  If you want the real Lehmanns, keep your nose on the heart’n’soul of anything from that crafty shedman David Franz, and follow his brother Philip, who makes exemplary wines at Teusner.

17 March 2013

TOP NEW LOW HEIGHT TRINIDAD SCORPION

Baby Trinidad Scorpion.  I'm gonna call her Pope Frank.  This chilli is life-threatening. While they struggle to invent stronger ones for the poisonous martial sprays, this one is still the piggest poker by far, at around 1.2-1.4 million Scovilles, with no GM, no nothin. Top of the charts.  But see where it's poking its little stinger.  That is a killer strike at a new level.  A delicious nuclear madness, with the best vanillinoids out there!

16 March 2013

DOBLE TROUBLE AT CIEN Y PICO


VINTAGE CHILL McLAREN VALE 2013

the people of 27 nations rocked up at the McLaren Vale pickers and vendargers barbecue in the piazza in the main street tonight ... lovely badness ... photo Philip White

14 March 2013

MY NO GOOD KIDS





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My no good kids


My brain is embarrassed by my spirit.
They are at war.
I sit back and watch,
and struggle to pay the bills.
It is like raising children.



Philip White


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12 March 2013

DEAD BONES BUT SOME WITH SOME MEAT

 
Down To Earth Wrattonbully Sauvignon Blanc 2012
$26; 13.9% alcohol; screw cap; 93 points
 

See that?  Little Whitey just gave a Sauvignon blanc 93 points.  Is he nuts?  Make up your own mind, as you usually do. We could talk for a very very long time about how a Champenoise Frenchman, Xavier Bizot, got to be making Sauvignon blanc in the young seabed geology of the south east reach of South Australia, but we won’t.  Instead, we shall discuss his delicious wine.  It reeks of the sort of heady vanillinoids I find in Bhut Jolokia and Trinidad Scorpion chillies. These are currently the hottest chillies known on Earth -- they are in the extreme nether regions of heat usually reserved for the sprays used by coppers and crooks -- and what they do is blister your neurons with capsaicin which does really strange things to them until they build up a protective layer of myelin which somehow cuts the heat thing off but exaggerates the way the human detects and appreciates the types of sweet vanillinoids you might think you smell and taste in pineapple, jackfruit and durian, the most aromatic of all tropical fruits.  I love ’em, and I love the way these incredibly hot chillies also trigger mighty gushes of endorphin in my brain, adding a sort of natural-born stone to the whole effect. Smart dudes in white coats are currently testing all this in the direction of a new generation of twin-turbo painkiller medicines, which will be very cool for those of us who are over the opiates.  There’s no chilli heat in this lovely wine, of course, but it’s one of the rare birds which exudes aromas like those tropical fruits, setting off a strange range of anticipations in my sensories.  When I think I smell those vanillinoids, I buzz with expectation.  Just as when I smell truffles, I expect an highly exciting unscented pheromone to waltz through next, to turn me, like, on.  This is how the perfume business works.  Along with those basic vanilla-like creams, the wine has the aroma of the fossil bones in the seabed limestone of the vineyard, and the bones of dead yeast which Xavier stirred into the wine for months.  Calcium.  Chalk.  Ground bone china.  Diatomaceousness.  This also proves a tidy dryness to the wine’s tail, but in between these extremes there’s a delicious creamy thing that comforts and relaxes the palate with umami, most unlike anything that happens when you hit the standard Kiwi Savvy-B.  You know the type: you reel backwards from that grassy gooseberry soursob battery acid that might cut the fat that launched a thousand chips off your salt’n’pepper squid but you know.  You should never eat that shit anyway. Take a bottle of this to the mighty Wah Hing, order instead the salt and pepper eggplant, small bowl of chilli oil on the side, and sit right back and cruise.  It’s really cool, comforting Sauvignon blanc that’s completely respectful of the gastronome.  Get some.


Chilli oil at Wah Hing; Chancey's birthday : photo : Philip White

 

By Jingo Adelaide Hills/McLaren Vale Nero Rosso 2010
$30; 14.2% alcohol; screw cap; 94+ points

 

The reclusive Field Marshall John Gilbert, Ninja, First Duke of the Blazing Siding, KG, GCB, GCH, PC, FRS, known affectionately as either Gilly or Jingo by the officers of his inner cadre -- depending on the time of night as much as one’s rank -- made this luxurious wallow.  He has teased Grenache grown on the special terroir of the clifftops above the nudists’ reserve at Maslin’s Beach, McLaren Vale, and Montepulciano and Zinfandel from his unearthly vine orgy, the site of many a weird voodoo chicken ritual near Mount Barker in the South Mount Lofty Ranges, which somebody once tried to rename the Adelaide Hills.  As Yamomoto wisely wrote all those centuries back, “an officer who is not prepared to die at any moment will inevitably die an unbecoming death.”  But if one nobly lives life in constant preparation for death and wants one’s red dripping black and silky and slippery as a twice-plunged samurai sabre here it is.  If you prefer it black as the kid leather and red as the grosgrain lining in a pair of Churches slippers cut to die in, here it is.  If one wants it as easily licked as high-class nipple polish on one’s last night out, that’s here, too, by jingo.  The damn thing’s multi-purpose.  And all I’ve yet mentioned is the macho-martial approach.  A more feminine ascent to its heady glory would unleash a perfect mess of opposites, and maybe even the odd risky tendril twining like a teasing finger ’neath the officers’ mess door. It’s friggin delicious.  It smells like piquant summer dust as much as compote of red grapes, blueberries, black currants, goji, maraschino cherry and a crême de framboise, with a mega-cool miso umami. And it tastes just sicko in its comfort and unction, its chubby generosity, its fine tight acid-tannin taper, and its wicked over-the-shoulder wink as it saunters darkly off down your little red lane, daring you send down another.  If there’s still a restaurant in Chinatown which serves chopped duck on the bone, take this here damn wondrous thing  there with the most beautiful person you know. They’ll go all runny in the middle the moment they see the label.  Let them drink it, and they’ll be gone forever. 

AROMA IS MUSIC THEORY ROCKS

Nose A Vibrational Spectroscope
Making Your Wine On The Vibe
Atom Balls, Springs and Strings
by PHILIP WHITE
 

Terroir, eh?  You don’t believe rock flavours wine?  As far as I have heard, 2013 will be a year in which the wines were once and for all blitzed by indiscriminate rock.  Generic cacophonic commercial beat has moved determinedly into the fermenting cellars, laboratories and barrel halls, and I wonder what it will do to the flavours.

The first year I became aware of this increasing intrusion of rock into the winery was at Ken Kies’s Karrawirra Winery at Hoffnungsthal in about 1980.  Apart from the odd line of dramatic operatic melody rolling like gold from the throat of the rare Italian hose-dragger, as you’d hear at Chateau Reynella, the wineries of those days tended to be dusty, dark, quiet affairs.  But at Karrawirra, the speakers were of PA proportion, Lindsay Stanley was the winemaker, and his chosen stone was Rolling, as in Mick’n’Keef.  Tumbling Dice.  I Can’t Get No. Little Red Rooster. 

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Cyclone Clayton massaging the reds with cool midnight blues at the Wirra Wirra all-night bin ends sale, 1992.  We were Vello Nõu, keyboards, Duncan Archibald, drums, Craig "Crabs" Tidswell, saxaphones, Russell Toolin bass,  Jimmy Barker and Philip White guitars.  Some of us could sing after a fashion. Toolin's Fly Me To The Moon always seemed impressive, but then he was really good at Peggy Lee covers.
Oxford psychology Professor Charles Spence was in Adelaide last year explaining his work with UK celeb chef Heston Blumethal.  Together they’ve conducted many experiments on the way human gastronomic behaviours are modified by music.  They are convinced that different sounds can alter the way different foods and wines are interpreted by the sensories. 

This might seem obvious to many.  Mark Shield, the dreadfully missed Melbourne wine writer, made no bones about how the music of Thelonius Monk  influenced his palate as he reviewed wine.  He said he couldn’t taste properly without it, and often referred to different compositions of his favourite jazz composer and player relative to specific wines.

In the seventies and eighties, when I sometimes waited at table at private dinner parties at my place, I became convinced that Brian Eno’s atmospheric Music For Airports greatly enhanced people’s capacity to enjoy dessert.  It was specific to sweetness.  During the cheftaincy of the brilliant Libby Tinsley, the Bridgewater Mill food seemed unsatisfactory without Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue; I loved Schubert’s Trout Quintet until it became so inextricably entwined with the food of Maggie Beer when she played it eternally at The Pheasant Farm that I’ve never been capable of hearing it again without recalling the eight Richter hangovers usually caught at the Winemakers’ Table on Thursdays, and her husband Colin nervously delivering soup, one plate at a time, both hands, while he hissed bitter curses about chardonnay socialists.


Tony V 
by Charles de Brosses
















Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was another favourite classical thing that was tortured to death by ill-witted restaurateurs and waiters in the seventies.  Not only did the repetition bugger my appreciation of the cuisine, but the cuisine became inextricably linked to certain passages of music, tainting them forever.

Listening to Prof Spence last week talking of his latest discoveries with Mark MacKenzie on Radio National’s First Bite, I shivered with horror at the thought of the new wave of prickly and twisty young sommeliers becoming the pests who will, with their choice of ambient noise, be adjusting the way we are expected to love their wine in restaurants.

I cannot think of what it’ll be like when they choose to hit the diner with the musical equivalent of their beloved natural wine. Back to the cassette-recorded soundtrack? 78 rpm acetates? Scritch scritch music; scritch scritch wines.

All this new music/smell stuff is old hat to those of us who suffer -- enjoy is probably a better word for it – any level of synæsthesia, the lovely psycho ailment which confuses the sensories in the mess of wires in the brain.  It seemed brutally obvious to me that the experiments First Bite described would prove, for example, that people in a wine store were much more likely to buy French wine if French accordion music was being played to the unwitting shoppers.

Phil Harris of the University of Melbourne runs one of the world’s first faculties of neuromarketing.  He explained how tests he conducted ten years ago in a liquor store could drive people to buy French or German wines on alternate days, driven by accordion or oom-pa-pah.  Check-out interviews showed that only one in 44 people nominated the music as an influence in their choice of wine: 85% denied the music played any part at all.

Which of course it did.

Harris explained the way music subliminally influences the behaviour of supermarket shoppers as much as product location, lighting and colours, which presents the even more scary notion of members of the Shoppie’s Union controlling our spending behavior with their choice of sonic interruption. Senator Don Farrell can stay right away from the gap between my brain and the brand of arsewipes I choose on one of my rare entries into the local Coles or Woolies.

Music aside, cross-sensory associations make possible half of the stuff I write about wine.  This to me makes up for the scary lack of English language specific to taste and flavour: over many years struggling to relate the feeling, the sensory experience certain wines impart, I have come to depend much on my strange brain’s capacity to fuse flavour and aroma with history as much as memory, often tending to anthropomorphise a headful of flavour and fragrance in an attempt to impart a feeling of human character at least as much as a precise description of the wine’s components or the details of its manufacture. 
So.  Now we have a dancer.  Who will immediately confuse all the above with constant sound and occasional music.  

We can rest assured, or squirm in horror at the notion of the music blaring in wineries at vintage directly influencing the way the winemakers ascertain certain qualities of flavour and bouquet.  It quite obviously influences the very rhythms and pace of their physical work, and the notion of someone in the cellar nursing a visceral dislike for its ambient sonic terroir must raise the possibility of fading concentration when critical manufactory decisions are due.

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.Faerie's Aire and Death Waltz may be a perfume recipe, non?
















To take this one step further, it now appears that there’s an even more direct link between sonics and fragrance.

Excellent science by the boffins at University College London could be confirming the exciting news that vibrations unique to different molecules give substances their peculiar bouquet.

Using the musk molecule, scientists have adjusted the nano-scale vibration emitted by its arrangement of bonds and atoms.

In the scientific journal PLOS ONE, in their paper "Molecular Vibration-Sensing Component in Human Olfaction", scientists “took the musk molecule, which is commonly used in perfumery, and replaced the hydrogen atoms in the molecule with the heavier isotope deuterium. This exchange doubles the hydrogen atoms’ mass, alters the molecule’s molecular vibrations, but leaves the shape of the molecule unchanged.”

This sonic, rather than shape adjustment, makes the molecule smell different.

To provide a revelation which brings intense relief and fascination to a bloke like me, who regularly relates aroma to music, when not confusing the two outright,  Dr Luca Turin - click for older background - reported “This work shows that altering molecular vibrations of molecules changes their smell. Receptors in our noses are acting like tiny spectrometers to identify molecules by their vibrations.”

It’s not too big a stretch of theorising to therefore suggest that not only is there a proven link between music and human behaviour, meaning sonics can influence the way people actually work in a winery, but also the dramatic suggestion that sonic vibration determines the aroma of things, long before they get up our noses.

So get over your outdated disbelief of my theory that the rocks of the Earth play a vital role in terroir and therefore flavour, and get ready for the much more challenging notion that aroma itself depends on the vibe.

Just personally, I’d rather take my wine from a cellar soothed by the rhythms and tunes of Kind of Blue, Bach or Brian Eno than a rock joint shattered 24/7 by Metallica. 

10 March 2013

FULSOME PRISM BOOZE

Rosemount Estate Fruity and Fulsome Australia Grenache Shiraz 2012
$???; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 59.740,001/100 points on Kangarilla Gravity Lens  
A quicklinger schlock of this can teach you everything. A big daddygirl so keen to be quing she plumped on 28 kays to fill the corset and spewed at least fourteen of em on my new shoes.  It was a root day.  Just imagine it.  That was a thing I dreamed last night.  When I got the guts to get up and look my shoes were clean right there near the explosives where they always used to be, safe and sound.  Then I find this glass in my paw. Funny thing is it reminds me of that brett stuff in Shiraz barrels, which Rosemount never has, then it reminds me of the Sugarplum Fairy.  I’d be wrong, of course.  Change that.  


 
That was just a quick dream I had after I swallowing some of this  wine.  You know, it has PIQUANCY it has TERROIR scuse the shout but it can’t be brett then it smells like the bluefruit essence they tipped on Iced Kutchung in Penang in 1970.  That shit actually smelt like science.  I mean mate that's this new terroir thing thanks to science at its best its actyuarilly like a laboratory mate.  Clean, mate, clean is always reassuring in some parts.  And you know mate, like sweet.  I'll never recall Brian McGuigan telling me in the Hunter in 1982, "You know Philip the ladies love my wines with that extra sweetness in the finish."  Actually mate, it's a fucking miracle mate and a work of true genius that this vast army of clutterpoint White Hats at Treasury can combine all these wonders in the one bottle.  You can make anything that you like.  I have seen the future of Ozwine rock’n’roll and her name is Fulsome Fruity.  Thankyou science.  She’s the blarge wig dancing with no middle in her mind. Drip drip.  What I’d love to see is the base wines that went into her blender.  She would not look like Bruce Springsteen. If she still came around, Fanta could learn a lot from these people.  She was the one with the wings on her feet.





05 March 2013

WOOLWORTHS AND ITS WORTH TO WINOS

The murky world of Woolworths' stranglehold on Australian wine may be part of the reason the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is showing renewed interest in the Woolworths-Coles supermarket duopoly ... photo Philip White

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Woolworths Coles And Oz Wine
How Much Can They Acquire?
Will It Follow All The Spilt Milk?
by PHILIP WHITE

Woolworths.  The biggest Australian supermarket chain is obviously a gold chip investment stock for the working families, and a good employer for the members of the humungous Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association -- the “Shoppies” union -- from which such Labor luminaries as Senator Don “The Godfather” Farrell, Premier Mike Rann executioner Peter Malinouskas, and the much-discussed Bernard Finnegan MLC rose to power.

Woolies hit the heads last week with a first-half net profit after tax of $1,155 million, a leap of 19.4 per cent over the same period last year.

"Our role as retailer is positioned midway between the customer and the producer and it's a balance we play everyday,” said CEO Grant O’Brien.  “We have got to make sure we are delivering better value to the customers so they are getting value and increasingly globally comparable value.

"At the same time we have got to make sure we have got a sustainable supply chain and manufacturing base and that's the wire that we tread but the customer is the reason why this business exists and that's who we favour in those negotiations."

Woolies has a great deal to do with the Australian wine business.  It owns liquor chains like BWS and Dan Murphy’s, lucrative enterprises  which supply cheap alcohol to those same working families.


More houses for more of the working families so beloved by Labor need more supermarkets which employ more Shoppies to supply more members for Australia's biggest trades union which gives Labor lots of money and more recruits to be shot into parliamentary power by the faceless bosses -- like those who swung their axe on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and South Australian Premier Mike Rann -- and supply those working families with more cheap booze at the expense of hardworking highly professional small scale family grapegrowers and winemakers ... photo Kate Elmes
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Many who shop in these stores have no idea they’re part of Woolies.

Even fewer realize that the wine they buy there is made, not by some ivy-shrouded bluestoned  artisan, but by Woolworths’ own wineries.  “Wine made by Woolworths” is hardly something you see on back labels.  They should be forced by law to fess up.

Let’s start at the bottom end of that “sustainable supply chain”.

Woolworths owns Cellarmasters, one of the biggest wine refineries in the Barossa. It recently expanded into another vast wine factory in the old Penfolds site at Nuriootpa, extending its capacity on a grand scale.

While it does not stretch its risk to the tenuous business of vineyard ownership, Cellarmasters certainly knows how to turn the poor fortune of grape farmers caught in an over-supplied market into good returns for its working family stockholders.

It got almost close to grapegrowing when it recently bid for Barossa Valley Estates, the local growers' co-operative formerly known as Kaiser Stuhl.  This outfit owned a glamorous 4000 tonne winery and a 41 ha vineyard at Seppeltsfield. In January it went down to the tune of around $17 million, leaving its grower/members hanging out for full payment for their 2012 fruit.  Woolies’ bid was refused by the receiver.

Woolworths buys grapes at minimal prices to fill the hundreds of brands that masquerade as artisan works to fill that hectare of Dan’s floor between the loss-leaders at the front and the highly-profitable favoured private brands at the back, like Grosset, Rockford and Penfolds.

Last week, to improve its profit even further, it “let go” Bacchus only knows how many  "fine wine specialists" it had employed to explain and sell these back wall beauties.  This leaves the floors staffed by junior members of the Shoppies whose job it it is to concentrate on selling its under $15 “own brands” to those working families, and nobody to properly explain, say, Pinot noir to them, should they dare ask.

Only the stores in high-income postcodes have retained their fine wine specialists.


This must serve mainly to guarantee a shittier life for our professional premium grapegrowrs, and lowering of the average appreciation of the finer things in life amongst the Shoppies, ensuring our next layer of Labor cabinet ministers, Premiers, and maybe even Prime Ministers, will be of a more bogan cut.  Forget cultured libertarian wonders like Don Dunstan: this is obviously what Labor thinks Australia needs: more politicians who drink bladder pack plonk from bottles, wear polyester and too much product in their hair until they shave it all off, and speak fluently the tortured Ocker whine of a Prime Minister with no obvious refinement, culture, or love of humanity, language or music in her  embattled, determined,  voice.  One wonders whether she'll let Don Farrell shave her head before the election.

When I last wrote about the Woolworths’ stranglehold on the swelling  army of struggling growers, I took flak and sanctimony from various artisan winemakers in the Barossa, who insisted that Cellarmasters made possible and guaranteed their own small nuts-and-berries brands by renting them space in the big winery.  These little guys typically cannot afford to build wineries of their own, so happily use the Woolies facility, thus providing their generous  landlord the perfect opportunity to keep an eye on their new ideas, the sources of their grapes, their varieties, methods, branding and trends.

Woolworths’ grasp of wine business intelligence extends even further.  Not only is it a major sponsor of regional wine shows, which provide it with intelligence of peer group appreciation of the wines of whichever region it chooses to sponsor, but it is the biggest contract wine bottler in Australia.  It fills bottles for the vast number of winemakers who cannot afford their own bottling lines.  Part of the deal is the bottler’s obligation to take samples of each wine before and after bottling in the case of mistakes happening and the chance of consequent litigation.

Woolworths sees many winemakers’ wines in bottle before the actual winemaker does.

This machinery gives Woolworths the vital statistics of thousands of wines they otherwise have nothing to do with, other than perhaps discounting them through BWS or Dan Murphy’s.  They also attach labels during bottling, so they can see through this “sustainable supply chain and manufacturing base” just how each wine, and its label, performs on the retail floor.

That’s the sort of intelligence that’d make the Mossad proud.

The big W is popular amongst many struggling littlies for its generosity with credit: it seems almost to operate as a bank, and, like a bank, is very true to its working family shareholders in responsibly executing foreclosure or joint venture/vendor finance deals on those winemakers who fall too deeply in. This provides even more bargain fruit for its own brands, many of which become JV labels to reinforce the image of a Dan’s full of family-grown, family-made wines.
 

Woolworths has its big fork in the guts of most of the Australian wine industry, helping it pay big dividends to those working familes with the money to invest and the loyalty to shop in its supermarkets which supply them with an ever-burgeoning supply of cheap wine of a provenance which never bothers them. Much ... photo Philip White
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So Woolworths is a very clever wine manufacturer, tying highly-profitable knots in the wholesale and retail levels of the business.

But it doesn’t stop there.  Since its purchase of Langtons, Australia’s pre-eminent fine wine auctioneer, Woolworths also has a stranglehold on the tertiary wine market, using the prices of wines auctioned to rank them in its very own quality appellation.

Any middle-ranking manager with a sensible business respect of the shareholders would be negligent if they didn’t consider the possibility of ensuring their shelves were well-stocked with current and past  vintages of the brands that made the highest prices at auction.  This is where the best retail profits grow almost automatically: in the favoured independent brands on that more expensive back wall.

Anyone, even Dan Murphy’s, can pay whatever they like to secure fine wines at auction.  Winemakers, for example, can push their own prices higher by outbidding others, thus ensuring their brand goes further up the valued Langton’s appellation.

 

Since it bought Langtons, the biggest Australian wine auctioneer, Woolworths now owns the Langtons Classification, the most powerful price-driven quality wine appellation mechanism in the country ... photo Philip White

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"Our role as retailer is positioned midway between the customer and the producer,” CEO Grant O’Brien said, announcing this last well-earned profit.  “It's a balance we play everyday: we have got to make sure we are delivering better value to the customers so they are getting value and increasingly globally comparable value.”

What fascinates this writer is the notion that on many levels, Woolworths is not just the producer, but also its own customer.

Somewhere in here we see the inquisitive nose of Rod Sims, the chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. 

Sims recently appeared before a Senate estimates committee where he reported that he was investigating the possibility that Woolworths, and its smaller rival Coles, were engaging in improper practices to force down prices from suppliers.

 


While this has not been specifically aligned to the duopoly’s liquor businesses, the ACCC threatens to use its compulsory information powers to collect evidence of claims of “improper dealing” after some fifty suppliers complained, in camera, of such practices.

Accusations abound, many suggesting that suppliers who don’t toe the ever-hardening line suddenly lose their shelf space, or see their in-store promotions vanish at the worst possible time.

So until somebody’s found guilty, if indeed they ever are, go buy your lucrative shares, you working families: then go buy your liquor from those you’ve invested in. 

You might pray, at the same time, that what the duopoly has done to the dairy industry is not repeated in the wine biz.  Fresh milk from cows looked after by vast communities of hard-working, highly professional dairy-farming families seems not to have been such a sustainable supply chain.  I can only measure this by the great stretches of Queensland and New South Wales where fresh milk is very hard to procure: it’s been replaced by the dreaded UHT since the duopoly started its milk discount war and drove hundreds of dairy farmers to the wall.

Gird your loins, you pimpled Shoppies, and innocently flog your employers’ own under $15 brands until you get shoved into a Labor Cabinet somewhere, or until wine grapes follow the milking cows. 

Winemakers, watch this shelf space. And do watch your arse.