“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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31 August 2014

CONFRONTING SYRIA SHOW AT ROSEMOUNT



Hossein Valamanesh yesterday opened Syria Lost, an exhibition of huge black and white photographs by Bryan Dawe, Sandra Elms and Tony Kearney. They're hanging at the Rosemount Cellars on Chaffey's Road, McLaren Vale. The big square works are haunting images made during the trio's tour of Syria immediately before the current revolutionary war tore the place to shreds. The photographs will hang until Saturday October 4. They're on the best paper with vast blank margins and are a snap at $450 unframed. 

If you're curious to taste the small batch wines the canny Rosemount mob makes to win all the trophies at the annual McLaren Vale Wine Show, they're all available here at what was Ben Chaffey's old Seaview Winery. This was long ago absorbed into the Treasury arsenal, and rebadged as Rosemount. The lovely old joint could do with a bit of TLC as far as restorative budgets go ... considering Treasury's dependance on McLaren Vale for vast volumes of premium red, you'd think the powers that be could give a little practical support to the stalwart enthusiasts there running Cellar Door ... That's our gang at the end of a memorable after-show repast at Salopian Inn, below: left to right: Annabelle Collett, Tony Kearney, Krista McLelland, Sandra Elms and Bryan Dawe ... photos Philip White


If you missed the earlier link to the Syria Lost exhibition, to view and purchase images, click here. For more lovely stuff by Murray Estuary resident and artist Annabelle Collett check here and here

27 August 2014

O'LEARY WALKER'S CRACKING NEW WHITES

O'Leary Walker Watervale Riesling 2014 
$20 , 12% alcohol; screw cap; 94++ points 

Consistently at the forefront of the fine, forceful Rieslings of Watervale, the annual offering from O'Leary Walker is also steadfastly in the front as far as sheer value goes. I don't know any other producer who annually entraps the wonder of the Watervale slope with more honesty and precision. There is no sophistry in this bottle.

Which can't be said of this back label, which mentions limestone. While the winemakers of Clare would love to have Coonawarra-style limestone beneath their terra rossa, fact is they don't. The chalky-looking stuff at Watervale is in fact calcrete, not limestone. Limestone is old seabed, full of calcium, usually from the skeletal remains of marine micro-organisms. Fossils.

In arid lands, calcium dissolved in the groundwater in some soils forms a calcrete crust at the surface when rainwater packed with carbon dioxide acts as an acid and pulls the calcium out of solution, forming a crust that chemically is very similar to limestone, and indeed looks a bit like it to the naïve eye, but otherwise is a very different gadget altogether.

Typical of the best Watervales, this wine smells like wet chalk. Like the White Cliffs of Dover after a squall, or the eternally-damp Kimmeridgian chalks below Champagne. Being ancient seabeds, these are not calcrete, but they're full of calcium, like calcrete. Thus this lovely smell. It makes me feel like I'm outside in one of those exotic places - Dover, Champagne, Watervale - in blustery weather; a really good feeling.

That smell goes swimmingly with the citrus-like aromas of some fine Riesling. The leaf, blossom and juice of lemons and limes. That's all in here, too.

The wine has tight viscosity: it is not oily. It's lean and lithe, with that rapier or whiprod of steely natural acid straight through its austere, athletic heart. As it finishes, it layers the mouth with a savoury dry phenolic also reminiscent of chalk. In this its stoic, ungiving youth, it has not yet developed the warmer, very slightly honeyed soul such wines grow with the years.

So tease yourself with it now, or stack it away for a decade for romance. 

In spite of it growing in calcrete, not old seabed, it goes best with fresh seafood: flambé prawns or cockles with lemon and chilli, or oysters so fresh they wince when you hit 'em with the lemon.

O'Leary Walker Polish Hill River Riesling 2014 
$22; 12% alcohol; screw cap; 95+ points 

While it's only a ten minute drive distant, the geology in the Polish Valley is roughly 500 million years older than the Watervale calcrete. On top of the difference in aspect and micro-climate, this aspect of the Polish Valley terroir always produces Rieslings of a very different style.

Compared to Watervale, Polish Hill River Riesling is less austere and bracing. Typically, this one is perfumed and fruity. Sure, it has a nose-itching powdering of summer dust, but beneath that I smell the clean soft flesh of ly-chee and rambutan, cucumber and star fruit. While Watervale's macho, blustery and seasidey, like a fisherman, this is a long-legged lass in a polished straw hat and linen suit, soused in Issey Miyake. Freckles.

At first, the palate shares the Watervale's staunch acid and austere lack of pudge, but give it a chance and you'll see some of the creamier aspects of those tropicals beginning to flesh up the bones and sinews. This effect will be very satisfactory in a decade. Brrrr.

This morning, it makes me dream of soft white bread cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off. As the Casa Blanco bench won't do that today, I'm having it with an extravagant slice of Tasmania winter truffle. Boo hoo.

Many say that Riesling is far too adult and unflinching for the average Ocker palate. In form, these wines are certainly the opposite of the new wash of burnished, oily, Mediterranean varieties, or, indeed Chardonnay.

Everything has its purpose. Young pristine Riesling is not meant to be cuddly. Right now, these two superlative wines seem to exist only to provoke bright questioning thought and a superior feeling, making me very very happy.

And then there's them itty-bitty prices. Pretty hard to complain about any of that. 

O'Leary Walker Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2013 
$18; 11% alcohol; screw cap; 92 points 

Since the Droggies redirected the history of Mount Lofty Ranges white wines with the release of their first stunning Paracombe Savvy-Bs decades back, this is the first version of that variety to seriously change the gears.

Like Marlborough, New Zealand, the South Mount Lofty Ranges and the Adelaide Hills (wherever they are) produce far too much forgettable Sauvignon blanc. Cat piss and battery acid on the lawn clippings sort of thing.

This wine is complex. It's musky, and vibrantly fruity in a tropical market sort of way. It has some of those complex vanillinoids you'll see in fresh jackfruit. It even smells comfortingly of Lucas' Paw Paw ointment. And there's just that little hint of burlap, as if a tuk tuk's just dropped in a fresh damp sack of star fruit, straight outa the jungle.

Methinks the wine's had a barrel of oak included in its big tank, and maybe a tiny bit of it's had the wild yeast, lees-stirring business. The dudes have got it right.

The palate's still skinny and a tad crunchy, which is what the salt'n'pepper squid cadre seem to expect of their Savvy-B. But's it's not short. It sits there in the palate, daring you to throw more squid batter at it.

I'd prefer some grilled seafood which provides its own comforting fat, like scallops and prawns. Bean sprouts, cucumber. Green chicken curry. Steamed rice.

Once again, a stunning price.

Bring on the spring!
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21 August 2014

NEW ARRIVALS AT MAYNARD'S CADUCEUS


EXCLUSIVE VINTAGE REPORT: 

DATELINE CADUCEUS CELLARS, AZ.:

"We're 50 tons in already," reports winemaker Maynard James Keenan. "Did about 100 last year but that was all the way into October. No late Spring frost combined with a warm late winter moved vintage up a bit. Combine that with my recent acquisition and extensive restructuring of the Buhl Memorial Vineyard I retained in my Arizona Stronghold divorce, you have some solid early fruit. Example: Grenache, Merlot, Tempranillo, and Syrah all arriving in phenolic harmony at roughly 24.5 Brix, 3.45 pH, 0.70 TA. Gorgeous fruit. It's gonna be a fantastic vintage." 


DRINKSTER wishes the three Keenans (including a very fresh but modestly shy Lei Li Agostina Maria) the best vintage and a grand, happy, healthy life together! ... photos Maynard James Keenan


YELLAND AND PAPPS PLAY ROUSSANNE


Yelland & Papps Devote Barossa Valley Roussanne 2013
 $35; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 90 points 

Among the many fascinating white varieties of Mediterranean France, Australia has for years pursued a fickle flirtation with only three of them: Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. We have made few notable Viogniers, which is a tricky, mostly misunderstood quirk of a grape, and even  fewer good Marsannes, which as a variety seems notable only for its forgettable nature. Roussanne, however, is coming off a little better, in spite of it enjoying about the same general level of winemaker's understanding as Viognier. For its lowish alcohol, this is a biggish style of wine: quite viscous, almost oily, like the syrup from a jar of preserved quinces, with maybe a clove in there somewhere. Grown by the Materne family in the rolling country north-east of Greenock, the wine has been basket-pressed, barrel-fermented (mainly old oak) left on lees in barrel and stirred twelve times over six months. Apart from that mish-mash of fruit syrups in its bouquet and flavour the wine has an alluring tweak of gingerbread in its aroma, and a long taper of lemony acid in its tail. That texture seems custom-cut for ginger chicken or a casserole of chicken with pickled lemon. Don't overchill it. 

Yelland & Papps Devote Barossa Valley Shiraz Roussanne 2012 
 $35; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 80 points

Putting aside the question of why you'd put Roussanne in Barossa Shiraz, let's see what the wine's like. That mish-mash of fruit syrups is even louder: it's like a big macerating compote of kirsch with all manner of red, blue and black berries, from maraschino cherries to bitter juniper. It's very slick and silky, and, like the Roussanne, sports a heavy viscosity you'd expect in wine of much greater alcohol. Like the nether regions above sixteen. I agree completely with the winemakers' suggestion that it's like rum'n'raisin chocolate, which reinforces my theory about expecting a higher alcohol. Kirsch and rum are highly aromatic flavours I don't expect in Shiraz or Roussanne, especially at a modest 13.5% alcohol. Dark chocolate often has a naturally bitter tinge; that's here too, in the long, lingering finish. Also from the Materne vineyard near Greenock, the wine is truly quirky, built for Old Jamaica chocolate addicts, or those who love the nature of big alcohol jammy Barossa reds, but would prefer lower alcohol. So what would I eat with it? Old Jamaica Rum'n'raisin chocolate would do just trimmingly if you're near a bed; if you want meats, go Park Lok or T-Chow twin pepper pork hotpot.

19 August 2014

KAESLER GOES FOR REFINEMENT

Wintry day in the old vines at Kaesler: Reid Bosward (CEO/chief winemaker), Stephen Dew (winemaker) and Sarah McMahon (sales and export manager) ... photo Philip White

Revisiting the Kaesler crew:
new directions at Barossa HQ
stalwart old viners move on
by PHILIP WHITE

It had to happen. The Kaesler crew were all too smart to leave it the way it was. So they've changed it.

Five or six years back the wine press gang gathered there among the old vines on the outskirts of Nuriootpa to taste the current Kaesler crop of products. Beautifully-made wines they were, but generally of the style beginning to look a touch de trop.

We'd just had fifteen years in which some bits of the world couldn't get enough terribly ripe, highly alcoholic and gloopy Shiraz.

Given the amount of sun and lack of fresh water falling on such parts in this New Heat, it's terribly easy to make gloop. Making a good consommé is a lot bloody harder.

And for awhile, if you're lucky enough to please a Dan Phillips (US merchant) or Robert Parker Jr. (US critic), gloop may be very easy to flog in that narrow window between hoovering unseemly profits and retirement or bankruptcy.

The fad reminded me of the export boom which followed World War II, when companies like McLaren Vale's Emu made a motza flogging what they called "ferruginous reds" to the impoverished English, who were on ration cards and needed fortification. After a few years Europe had stabilised and the likes of the Bordelaise were back in business and suddenly you had the whole of England remembering that it actually preferred the more elegant wines from just across the channel.

Boom? Boom over, babay.

The original tutored masterclass at Kaesler ... photo Leo Davis 
 
Anyway, after Reid Bosward and Stephen Dew and the Kaesler crew had tutored us in a perfectly-managed tasting of their 15 and 16-plus alcohol monsters those few short years ago, we walked a hundred yards from the tasting room to the winery where the Kaesler owners just happened to have opened two or three hundred thousand dollars worth of French exquisities which we were encouraged to swaller, rather than spit and scribble.

Other than their breath-taking prices, the only big thing about these wines was the size of their bottles: many were in jereboams, even imperials. Tellingly, their contents barely got past 13.5% alcohol.

Guess which tasting won the most praise?

The Sauternes/Barsac table ... photo Leo Davis

It was perversely relieving to scoot up to Kaesler for another drinking a fortnight back, without the er, incentive of the second part of the exercise. Reid, Stephen and Sarah McMahon sat in the cellar with me, chatting around a table with about three metres of ordinary-size bottles: new, old and future releases of the wines they make there from their suite of excellent vineyards in Clare, Barossa and McLaren Vale.

Without deserting those stalwart addicts of such alcoholic extravagances as The Bogan (15%; $50) or The Old Bastard (14.5%; $220), Kaesler has a cellarful of wines that have taken a decided turn to elegance and poise.

Like the new Clare Wine Co. Watervale Riesling 2014 ($20; 11% alcohol; screw cap; 93+++ points) which is as purdy as a Riesling can be, with all those citrus florals and leaf and handbag and bathroom fragrances opening your head for that tight stony austerity that only best of Clare and Eden have to offer. Fresh Coffin Bay oysters and limes, please. And a pepper mill. In the spring.

If that's too adult for you, bung on a Kaesler Barossa Valley Rizza 2014 ($20; 9% alcohol; screw cap; 90+ points) a smoky, bacony mush of delight made after the traditional Barossa spätlese style, which for some fool reason everybody's forgotten. It's what you have with your apricot or apple streuselkuchen at morning tea. While it smells fleshy and comforting, it also has plenty of dusty prickle. The modestly sweet flavours have no apricot botrytis but rather a calming viscosity which winds off into a long tingly sherbet acid finish. This'd be the wine for your local Thai: green chicken curry would sing with it, but tom yum or just about any of the chilli/lemongrass/ginger things would make you just as happy. 

The morning after the recent tasting ... photo Philip White

Another step off the old track is the brilliant Kaesler Barossa Valley Viognier 2013 ($25; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 91+ points). I love the fact that this doesn't smell like apricot. Which is what everyone thinks Viognier should smell like. I mean it's cool if it does, but I suspect that once you've begun to get those apricot/dried apricot aromas you're getting the damn thing too ripe; if it tastes apricotty you're probably teetering around fifteen alcohols. Far too much. That's hot not cool. This is not like that. Think fresh soft ginger root. But it's more savory, and I mean the herb savory, Satureja hortensis: a fresh meadow smell as green and creamy/buttery as tarragon. The flavours are right up that provincial French track, so start with a tarragon chicken and white wine casserole with shallots and you'll be singin'. This is a beautifully gentle wine whose texture is perfect for such fowl. Get some bad people around for your casserole and try this one agin Tim Smith's equally delish 2014.

Hard-core Grenache perves will enjoy the slide through Kaesler's take on the GSM clique/claque thing. They call it Kaesler Barossa Valley Avignon. The 2010 model ($15.5%; screw cap) is a Grenache, Mataro, Shiraz blend which exemplifies how the smallest amount of the dark charcuterie meats of Mataro can overwhelm the Pinot-like tenderness of properly-made Grenache. The new Kaesler Avignon Barossa Valley Grenache Shiraz 2012 ($30; 15% alcohol; screw cap; 94 points) is a much finer, more focussed and precise thing without that extra 0.5% gloop and the Mataro. It's all cherries and redcurrants and wild hedgerow raspberry, with a real dusty tickle, and it'd go zappy with anything from a quiche through a hearty omelette through that casserole above to a more gamey  rabbit casserole. (Uncontrollable twitching in the trigger finger at this point.)

As if to reassure my suspicions of a change of point at Kaesler, Stephen pointed my nose at a barrel of his forthcoming 2014 'Natural Grenache' which is like a Grenache made by, say, Romanée-Conti. South of 13.5% and vibrant with maraschino cherry and raspberry, I can feel this one coming over the horizon like a bliss bomb. Can't wait! 

Kaesler Old Vine Barossa Valley Shiraz 2012 ($80; 14.5% alcohol; cork; 93+++ points) takes us a little closer to the old style jampots, but not very. In fact hardly at all. It's typical of the best twelves in its tight, ungiving "so whatter you lookin' at?" glower. And would be even more so if picked any earlier. A sprinkle of coal dust; a hedgerow of briars and brambles and blackberries; a dry, dusty palate with just the right hint of black snake (serpent, not water hose); all in a long, lithe, delightfully elegant frame that makes me want to live at least until 2035, even with my mistrust of that cursed Portuguese bark plug jammed down its neck.

Which introduces the Kaesler Alte Reben Barossa Valley Shiraz 2012 ($150; 14% alcohol; cork; 95+++ points), a devilish beauty which will be dancing on like Carmen Miranda when the Old Vine's slumped exhausted, sweating at the bar. It's tight, lithe, intense, prickly, dusty, profane, confident, determined and Bacchus only knows how long it will take to touch perfection. From the company's 1899 vineyard at Marananga, this damn thing is a direct threat.

Welcome to the world below sixteen, eh. 

Stephen Dew at Kaesler ... really good winter rains have stacked the ground with water, reducing the need for summer irrigation ... photo Philip White

17 August 2014

MISS ELIZABETH HOWELL HITS 70

Libby Howell and a hundred or two good mates pumped the floor of the historic Adelaide Bowling Club last night. In a quiet acknowledgment of her completion of seventy laps of the Sun, Snooks La Vie and Proton Pill did the sonics [super; recommended!], an A-list of Adelaide bohemia did the moves, and most of 'em helped me with the absorption of refreshments. Shit it was good ... photos by Philip White


14 August 2014

A NIGHT ON THE WHISKY WITH GEORGE

Fellow DRINKSTER George Grainger Aldridge is working on a new exhibition of paintings from his place in the Flinders Ranges and sculptures and assemblages of bits he's collected from those wild parts. We enjoyed a bottle or two of malt last night, and bullshitted on about all sorts of stuff no end. The nude on the fridge is by Winston Head; the big portrait of George is by his nephew, the wall artist Lee Harnden. All the other works are by George. His beloved box of pastels is over a century old. All photos by Philip White ... thank the little Sony RX100II for helping with the focus ... if Sony built cars I would consider getting my driver's license back, after 25 years of abstinence.


DOUGLAS NEAL CAME BY WITH SOME WINE



I have a vested interest to declare here. Douglas Neal (above) is a Geelong-based winemaking friend who personally presented these wines at my table, helped me through a night of grief over the sudden death in Brisbane of my dear friend, the wine critic Jeremy Pringle, then presented me with my honorary valence, or wine thief, a pipette for taking samples from barrel. Doug sells beautiful Serugue French oak barrels. I don't need barrels, but a valence is a different matter. I've never had my own personal valence before. So consider me on the take. And watch your barrels! 

Beechworth Star Lane Vineyard Quattro Vitigni 2012 
$28; 14.2% alcohol; screw cap; 92+ points 

Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Merlot and Shiraz makes the Quattro. It's a moody, midnight sort of a drink in search of the Kinda Blue Miles Davis. It has a very pretty blueberry and blackcurrant waft, like the perfume of a black satin evening dress I once helped a clever person from. It's sufficiently overt for me to recall that crunchy, abrasive sound of grosgrain. So that's a very encouraging start. It's lithe and slick and satiny of texture, too: more satin than silk. And it's black of flavour, not red or purple. It's on that crossover point where sinister mystery becomes satisfying reassurance. The tannins are velvety, not to stretch the fabric metaphor too hard. So it's blended after the "super" Tuscan style, at a fraction of their price. And it'll give many of those arrogant, loftily spendish aristocrats a proper run for their money. It's slender enough to handle veal without overwhelming it, but if, like the writer, you're more along the lines of your aged ox, an osso bucco wouldn't kill it either. In fact, it's athletic enough to kill the ox if proper restraint isn't shown. 

Hildegard Beechworth Shiraz 2012 
$45; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 94+ points

My goodness. This is the sort of Shiraz that Beechworth can do like no other region. It's plush and heady and swoony to sniff. It smells like a wine with many more alcohols. But it doesn't burn. So you get a hint at the luxurious wallow to come. The best Beechworth Shiraz (think Castagna) seems to have a sweet wave of meadow pasture, with that lush floral rush decorating the sweet buffalo grass aroma below (think the juicy herbal breeze of Żubrówka vodka, without the grain spirit). In a difficult-to-comprehend manner, these sweet country smells are more buttery than green, but this is a colourblind synaesthete talking. Put it inside you, and it's silky and luxurious, without losing a tad of its elegance. It is indeed a sensuous wine which will first tickle, then caress many senses, way out in the nether regions beyond base carnality. While it is of modest strength, it has an overpowering purpose: it satisfies yet sizzles so much at once that the poor drinker just has to have more. And more. I can imagine it with a cool rillette of hare, with crusty bread and butter, and a sprig or six of peppery watercress. 

Paradise IV Chaumont Batesford Geelong 2012 
 $45; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 94+ points 

Cabernet sauvignon, Shiraz, Cabernet franc and Merlot swim together in this rich pool. Once again, the wine's bouquet is so thick and meaty you'd expect another two or three alcohols. And it's dusty, smelling more ferruginous than its freaky granite-and-limestone ground. The deep ripe fruits below that acrid summery topnote are ripe like a warm year Pomerol Bordeaux. I love the ozone/gunbarrel glint the best Cabernet franc imparts: it's here in perfect proportion. After that full-bore aroma, the wine is supple and modest of frame, with tannins that seem to come from somewhere between pickled walnuts and grilled turnip greens. Which quite wickedly makes me imagine a peppery Fechner's Apex Tanunda Bakery pasty with tomato sauce and both those other ploughman's lunch sort of things. It could even handle a cold hard-boiled egg. At the other end of the scale, a pink steak in pepper sauce would be simply gooey. There is no wine like this made in South Australia. Bliss.


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I was invited to dinner by wine merchant David Ridge and Tim Gregg, hotelier at Adelaide's famous and fabulous Lion Hotel, where we dined memorably. It's a very risky thing to order a proper pink steak; mine was perfect. The entry fee was a bottle of something good and unusual. Like many who simply don't have a cellarful of such wonderment, I made a blend of equal proportions of the best wines open on my work table. So, my magnum included Star Lane Beechworth Nebbiolo Sangiovese Merlot Shiraz 2012, Hildegard Beechworth Shiraz 2012, Paradise IV Chaumont Geelong Cabernet Shiraz Cabernet franc Merlot, Yangarra High Sands McLaren Vale Grenache 2013, Yangarra Old Vine McLaren Vale Grenache 2012, and Paradise IV Dardel Geelong Shiraz 2013. It was a delicious, beautifully perfumed complex-yet-elegant drink with the sort of gradual tannin finish that lasted about five minutes per swaller. Ridgey thought it had a lot of Shiraz in it but mentioned something about Super Tuscans, the rest of us thought it was a friggin good drink and the decanter emptied in minutes. Never be scared to blend stuff at home; you'll learn much from it. Not being parfumiers, but instead being crippled by the old 'cellar palate', most winemakers have little idea about the art of blending. That's a pity. What I did, of course, was not art, but a simple exercise in wine dada. It sure worked.

Left-to-right: Anthony Madigan, publishing editor Wine Business Monthly, wine and food critic David Sly, wine merchant David Ridge, professional sceptic Brian Miller, hotelier Tim Gregg and journalist Nigel Hopkins having a top sesh at Tim's Lion Hotel in Melbourne Street, North Adelaide ... all photos by Philip White