“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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28 April 2017

ONE OF THE OTHER SUPPERS

Annika Berlingieri, Ann Marie Shin, Mick Wordley, Robyn Wordley and Alison Hodder obviously discussing the new season tomatoes in the Wordley Tortilla Flats organoleptophotosonic ghetto developing there  between the Aldinga Scrub and the Gulf St Vincent ... photo©Philip White ... I'm sure Milton Wordley will soon explain to greater degree on his blog the disgusting gastronomic fantasies we committed to the gizzard when the whole dozen of us got settled at that table within ... jus skitin ... these were the runniest stars ... this photo©Milton Wordley

... to read Milton's interview with the remarkable Alison, a Roseworthy graduate who after an amazing life makes Shiraz in Tuscany, pour a big one and settle here ... in case he doesn't get the time to post it, here's his photograph of Alison's partner Claudio Berlingieri with Robyn and Ann Marie ... Robyn and Mick made that deadly food, Claudio carved


27 April 2017

COATES' KILLER KUITPO WHITES

photo©Philip White
 

Duane Coates is probly gonna kill me for reviewing these beautiful new benchmark wines right now. I just wanted to shout about them from the start. They're reassuring and exciting. I reckon he planned to release them with all due honour and his typical methodical process once he'd tucked vintage 17 to bed, but that's hardly over so if you can't find them just yet and you press him, don't press him too hard. He might put the prices up. Given the quality, these pre-release estimates are graciously modest.

Coates Adelaide Hills Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2015 
($25; 13% alcohol; screw cap) 

If only more Sauvignon blanc was used in intelligently-built lovelies like this blend! 

When given some of the gentle lemon-butter of Semillon, the grassy/gooseberry Sauvignon makes a lot more sense gastronomically: the result is not only much better than the sum of its parts, but in a sense, most unlike either of them. 

Add a wild yeast ferment then nine months of brand new tight-grained French barrels and you're at another table again: the sharpest sappy part of the oak seems to disappear, leaving mainly a hint of wood caramel seasoning. Handle it like a red at table (cool not chill; even a dash of decanter) and you're in another restaurant. 

It's tempting to say wines like this exemplar provide a sort of grown-ups' bridge from Savvy-B to Chardonnay, but in all honesty most folks won't ever need Chardonnay if they find this first. This knocks nearly all the Chardonnay clean outa Australia. 

Food? If one must, think of pale flesh: chicken, champignons, flathead, creamy sauce, pasta, cockles, fresh-ground parmigiana ... it's about comfort, not crunch. Brilliant!  

Coates Adelaide Hills The Reserve Chardonnay 2015 
($35; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

This is the Chardonnay that the above blend won't knock out of Australia. 

Like the Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc, this fruit is from the Willunga escarpment hills near Kuitpo: a region which has become a sort of upland edge of McLaren Vale much as Eden Valley gives a cool top to the Barossa. From where I sit on the other side of the escarpment, them thar Kuitpo hills are no more Adelaide Hills than Angaston. But somebody wanted them in the Adelaide Hills, so that's  where that line was drawn. How Clarendon can be in McLaren Vale and not the Adelaide Hills whilst the Willunga Escarpment country toward Kuitpo is deemed Adelaide Hills really beats me. Well done those men. 

Bloodlines aside, this is full-bore brash young Burgundy in stature: its posh oak is spicy and still a bit prickly. The fruit is shy and merely lurking. Rather than provoke the usual Chardonnay thoughts of peach and melon it hangs my brain over a plate of fresh-sliced woody fruits, exotica like tamarillo, cherimoya and sapodilla. It's very smart. 

Brash suddenly goes all businesslike in the drinking division: add really juicy dribbly honeydew to all the above. Add pears: Rocha, Anjou, Comice ... it becomes a sort of luxurious whipped confection of all that, with wood and staunch highland acid adding pleats that will give you a paper cut if you make one dodgy move ... then that first rush slowly subsides and it didn't hurt at all and you're back in luxury land. 

Pop the fountain pen away, there's a dear.

This will all smooth out and mellow and meld with four or five more years in a good dungeon. It is a very serious wine. It will show you. 

Drink that blend while you wait. 

Coates Adelaide Hills La Petite Rosé 2016 
($18; 13% alcohol; screw cap) 

Or drink this. Kuitpo again; pale pinkish Pinot noir this time. This is probably the whitest-smelling of the trio. Apart from some totally disarming strawberry, it's all prickly summery dust. And it's dry as a crow's caaaaark. And oh yes there's that rosey rise of turkish delight. And the nuts and maraschino of fresh soft nougat. Lime pith. Opium den. Smoked salmon, fennel, sour cream, capers. Swoon city. See, it doesn't really smell white. It smells pink. Plush silky pink. My courtier advises me men are hot into pink right now. I'm a goner.

KILLED BY THE KIWIS

The Blairich Range above the vineyards of the Upper Brancott Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand ... photo (used with permission) by Kevin Judd, from his beautiful book with Bob Campbell, The Landscape of New Zealand Wine

US market: NZ  shows Oz how 
by PHILIP WHITE

We did it folks. After all those years of reports and analyses, papers and plans and macho presumptions about the quality of Australian wine, we let New Zealand topple us in the value of our wine sales to the Unites States of America.

Last year, as the US market continued to move away from our critter labels and cheap irrigated wine, the volume of Australian wine sold to the US fell by 11%, while the volume of imports shipped there from New Zealand rose by 14%.

At the same time, after years of clear warning as it trended the wrong way, the dollars went even more sicko: the 7.3m cases New Zealand shipped to the US brought it $US399.8 million while Australia's 16.7m cases returned only US351.7m, according to Mark Soccio, wine business analyst at Rabobank.

On the release of its latest Wine Quarterly, Rabobank reported "The trends for each country couldn’t be more different, and while the US still imports more than twice the volume of Australian wine, New Zealand wine on average commands over two-and- a-half times the price of Australian wine at the border.

"It is a David and Goliath situation just because of the size of the New Zealand industry." Soccio said. "It's roughly twenty per cent the size in terms of production. New Zealand has been experiencing very rapid growth over the last four or five years into that market, and by contrast the Australian industry has struggled to a large extent to build on the foundation it established some time ago ... 

"Post-GFC there was a big move down-market by consumers just for pure economic reasons, but that stabilised and since then there has been a shift up-market for various reasons in the US," he said. 

"Consumers are consuming more premium wines and that has certainly played into the hands of the New Zealand industry."

Kevin Judd photographed by Bob Campbell for The Landscape of New Zealand Wine ... beyond his brilliant photography, Kevin has certain form in New Zealand's wine success: with West Australian backer David Hohnen, he co-founded Cloudy Bay, which is pretty much where the whole boom started ... apart from his photography, Kevin persistently continues to set a delicious  winemaking standard with his exquisite Greywacke wines.
 
Apart from some fluffing about how China will save us, there has been little word of reassurance from the confounding collection of representative bodies and councils our wine industry has managed to assemble and feed - with taxpayers' help - for decades.

Having come to the wine world from an early life in rocks and mining, this writer has always contentiously compared the mentalities of these two disparate industries. Just as we sell our gas to foreign rivals at a discount we don't afford ourselves, so we insist on using water we don't have to make oceans of unprofitable wine by mining the Mallee for sugar to make legal ethanol which we market as a legitimate gastronomic item.


In essence, we're exporting our water by disguising it as wine, and guess what? Our US friends prefer the more expensive offerings from the Kiwis. 

Not to mention the French or the Italians.

It's a long time since Prime Minister John Howard convinced us that the sale of Telstra would supply billions to fix and rehabilitate the Murray-Darling Basin, our biggest vignoble by far. Fix? Rehabilitate?

Yo-ho-ho ... back in the day when that friend of the miner, Honest John, was convincing Australia that it should swap its telecommunications network for a river that flowed ... five Prime Ministers later, neither body seems to have made any improvement
 
The billions are spent but the Basin is still only barely managed as politicians desperately slush water rights back and forth between their swinging electorates.

If you've got any, water is one thing: growing profitable wine grapes is another.

The beginning of arid inland irrigation: Chaffey preaching the big vineyard gospel
 

The jaundiced observer should be forgiven for suggesting that if the US market is any guide,  the more water we give our ever-thirsty inland irrigators, the more their monetary returns diminish. 

Is that a business plan?

Rabobank reports that in 2016, the US continued to import about one third of the wines it drank, but while it imported an extra 1% in volume that increment represented a 3% hike in value.

As it learns more about wine, America is ready to pay more for it if it's better quality.

"Wine imports [into the US] reflect the ongoing premiumisation trend, as the lion's share of the growth is being driven by more expensive wines, while imports of lower-priced wines continue to fall," Rabobank reports.

Reiterating that the US is one of the "most attractive wine markets in the world", the report hammers the fact  that "The most profitable wines, priced above US$8 per bottle have been steadily rising [while] wines priced above US $11/bottle are growing by double-digits. The US market offers scale, growth and attractive margins for those that can effectively penetrate it.

Effective market penetration? Bacchus only knows how much worse our US export numbers would look if you removed the Penfolds' contribution. 

Take out those expensive premiums Peter Gago tirelessly promotes and things will look a damn lot worse. One bloke. One team. One brand. 

Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago presents Grange, and other delights, at The Wine Spectator's New World Wine Experience tasting at the J. W. Marriot, Los Angeles, 2012 ... from A year in the life of Grange by Milton Wordley and Philip White
 
Gago sees the increasing thirst the US shows the Old World, with Italian sales up 4% in volume 2016 (driven by a 29% hike in sparkling sales and, wait for it, a 17% surge in vermouth!)

France, too surged in the US, with volume up 9% overall, led by still bottled wine (10%) and sparkling wine (6%).

And on and on it goes: "This is not a new phenomenon," the report states, "but the rebound in the value of the US dollar, as well as increasing challenges in other markets (e.g. the weakness of the British pound and uncertainty around future trade agreements with the UK in the wake of Brexit), make the US wine market increasingly more attractive by comparison."

So the US has the money, the thirst and the curiosity. Can Australia produce the quality? 

Can we start afresh?

Should we replace all those wine industry councils with Rabobank?


Now we're officially besties, again, it will be interesting to see whether the two great buddies, their President and our Prime Minister, can ensure this newfound brotherhood extends beyond treacherous nuke games with that nutter in Korea.

You don't have to go far into the really smart premium-and-profitable end of Australian wine export before you meet and befriend brilliant hard-working operators who slog tirelessly building networks of trust in the markets of South Korea, China and Japan, and some honkeys start rattlin nukes there? Like the White House actually losing track of warships? These are our friends. Neighbours. Sheesh.


When the moment comes next week for Oz PM Turnbull to chink those toasts on the big aircraft carrier, surely even the Donald would prefer a mature Grange to a glass of Trump?

I know he prefers to toast with Coke, but surely in the privacy of a friggin nuclear warship they can escape the fake news? 

Is there any trade in this deal?

Knowing Peter Gago, the bottle is probably already on the way. It will not be wasted, wherever it goes. Another well-placed Mills bomb. But is anybody else keen to join in some sensible profitable export? 

More importantly, are they capable? Will we still be here? 
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No aircraft carriers: Lake Wanaka, Central Otago, New Zealand ... photo Kevin Judd

26 April 2017

McLAREN VALE GEOLOGY GOES TO CHINA

A few weeks back I spent a day with the Minister for Tourism and Agriculture Leon Bignell, explaining McLaren Vale geology for a China TV show. That's us on the beach below the cliffs at The Star of Greece. You can see a tidy sandwich of some of the recent layers there.

Later, in the Paxton Vineyard at their cellars in the Blanche Point limestone, I was able to relate the importance of that geology to the terroir, just as I'd seen in certain great old tea farms in China. 

It's always a challenge trying to simplify the geology, which is infernally complex, so I trust the good translators of China with our efforts. Biggles is a damn good interviewer.


 

21 April 2017

SO IT'S PRUNING HOOKS AND SCHNIPSCHES




Can't believe how quick this cycle goes! It'll be lambing sheep back in the vineyards now and then pruners. This beauty is from Les Grandes Heures d'Anne de Bretagne, a book of hours commissioned by Anne of Britanny, Queen of France, and illuminated by Jean Bourdichon between 1503 and 1508. Anne (25 January 1477 – 9 January 1514) married two kings consecutively, Maximilien I of Austria and Charles III of France. She was the richest woman in Europe. This remarkable book is held in the Bibliothèque nationale de France as Ms lat. 9474. If you manage to lift it, sneak it through the back door and I'll meet you just across Rue des Petits Champs, in Willi's Wine Bar. As long as you let me fondle your prize for an hour or two, the Cognac's on me. Whatever. In the meantime, have a month or two by the fire, then happy pruning! And please put it back.

ELECTRICITY IS SHOCKING

This old illo from an ancient diary records a different type of shock, but it reminds me perfectly of how I felt yesterday, giving myself a well-deserved and stupid 240 volt electric shock with wet feet and hands in a steamy bathroom and an ancient wireless that shouldna been anywhere near electricity. Praise the lord for fuses that blow!

What I find fascinating, as an ever-curious synaesthete, is the way this electrocution has enhanced my reception of high frequency sounds [in music and farm machinery] to an annoying degree and totally screwed with my organoleptics. I can suddenly smell licorice and star anise in my favourite limy Clare Riesling, for example.

[24 hours later, including 12 hours fitful sleep, this hasn't changed much.]

While I wait for these irregularities to subside, I'm drinking chamomile tea. Back with reviews soon!

The old wireless, by the way, has form. Some of this is more arcane than usual, and even personal for some reason at the end, but it does reveal some of that magnificent receiver's provenance. 

Death chamber: As I have never used that bathtub it always served only as a bench for Pat Dadonna's old wireless, but no more. I took that electric guitar outa there too.

20 April 2017

GULLIES NOW NIGHTLY FILL WITH MIST

As autumn rolls on, the air from the basins of the Piccadilly Valley through Echunga and the Meadows flats comes rolling down round Mount Bold and the Dashwood Gully through Kangarilla in the gloaming. When it it hits the warmer more maritime lowland air this condensation occurs and mist hangs in the gullies all night ... this is autumn! photo from my veranda©Philip White

19 April 2017

PONDERING THE CRAFT GIN UPRISING

photo©Philip White 

Mother's ruin or botanical paradise?
by PHILIP WHITE


You take an alcohol, right, ethanol, that you've made by fermentation. You could have made it from nearly anything sugary. Beet, wheat, potatoes, barley, lilac, plums ... you name it: somebody's made booze from it.

Bacchus only knows how many mistakes you made managing that fermentation: there's a whole writing and publishing industry grown up around a perceived need for experts to tell those who ferment grapes, just for example, whether they've done it well or not. This is after the fermenters have actually completed a university degree to guarantee their expertise in managing this process, which is as old as evolution or the Devil; whoever came first.

You then take a still, right, to concentrate that alcohol you made, however imperfectly. In fact, there are many makers who'll take much less care over their initial ethanol manufacture because they see the still as a purging or disguising tool that will sort any troubles out. 

This is where seriously good still wranglers begin to lose interest in the conversation: they know that the still, as a concentrator, will concentrate faults as much as make the good bits stronger. They also  know the finesse required to make an accurate cut of heads - the bad-tasting, poisonous distillate first to emerge from the condensing coil once you get your pot boiling - and the clean ethanol centre cut, which you can drink. The decision must be made again towards the end of the procedure, as the pure ethanol begins to run out and you get the poisonous, bad-tasting tails emergent. 

Borderline poisons can be made to taste good: Anyone who can remember the hangover left by the Quelltaler Clare Valley Wyatt Earp Vintage Port 1947 will attest to the poisoning power of taily spirit. 

That delicious bastard left a welt that stung for days. 

It took about six years of utter skullsplitters, but we drank it all. 

The gin-crazed girl commits suicide ... George Cruikshank 1792 -1878

Ethanol is a strong drug, right? Too much can kill you. Imperfect can kill you. It has long been the dealers' role to train you to drink as much as you can without getting too sick or dying. This sort of job has been known to draw the unscrupulous operative; the type who'll take as many short cuts as possible with their initial brew or ferment, and then do it again with their distilling: ensuring not a drop of bordlerline heads nor tails is wasted. All in the shareholders' interest. 

To get a proper strength of distillate, this whole process is repeated through the second distillation, where we start to see ethanols above the sixties emerge: often too strong to comfortably consume: the idea is smooth it out and aim at some consistency with the addition of some clean water before bottling. Odds are even this dilution won't cover the rough edges incurred in this rather drawn-out procedure, so the temptation is to cover such taints with additives and adjust the law of the land to permit this. 

Brandy-makers, for example, like whisky-makers, are permitted the addition of some caramel, which makes the clear bright spirit taste smoother and just happens to colour it so it appears to have spent longer in oak.

It's when we hit these trees that things get really tricky. Oak ageing of course changes the spirit's flavour in a big way as well as its colour, and in turn covers the addition of many more bits and pieces of flavourant, permitted or not. If it's clear fresh ethanol spirit you're selling, like vodka, with its implications of clarity bringing purity, the number of masking agents is limited: it's harder to find cordials and herbs that won't cloud the tincture or colour it.  

Clever people learned to include their additives, their masking-agents, inside the actual still chamber or its condensation column. This soon became recognised as the trickiest, most complex system, but generally rendered the most precise, elegant flavours. A perforated tray of finely-chopped Curaçao orange peel left in the full-strength vapor of the condensing column generally offers a much more valid, wholesome and flavoursome version of that material than a commercial cordial of it, or a fake made by somebody else in a refinery and added later. 

This technology opened the door for proper herbalists to have some input: adding herbs, rinds and spices that were actually efficacious for humans: stuff that's good for you rather than stuff that merely masks the flavours of the stuff that's very bad for you. Clever Dutchmen used juniper berries: jennifer; geneveive:genever: gin. Clever Frenchmen used wormwood: Artemisia absinthium: absinthe. The Germans put some spirit in barrels of wine and added their herbs at that point for steeping: Artemisia absinthium: wormwood: vermud: vermouth. 

After being walloped by drunk Dutchmen fighting on gin for William of Orange the British copied the Dutch. Dry tannic juniper grew wild on the heath from London down to Plymouth. London hit the piss for decades.

By 1751, when William Hogarth released his famous Gin Lane print, it had become hard to buy bread in London: all the grain, and indeed all the bread, seemed to go into bathtub gin. England drank 10 litres of taxed gin per head per annum in 1743. The consumption rate was higher in London. Above those official figures the extra volume of illicit gin not measured or taxed is an evil number to imagine

Just as the mindless industrialisation of wine, and its homogenisation led to the advent of the orange/natural/reactionary hippy wine movement of recent years, and a similar reaction to oceans of terrible beer led to the boom in craft brews, we now see a huge surge in the number of folks making what they call gin. 

This is a welcome thing, to be encouraged. 

If it's good.

When we examine the number of wineries who fail each year to win trophies, gold or silver awards with their efforts at fermenting simple grape juice, it should lead us to realise that adding a still to the manufacturing process makes all this much more complex and risky. 

Then adding the full encyclopaedia of possible herbs, spices, peels and tinctures really lifts the lid off, welcoming a whole cornucopia of possibilities, imbalances and faults. Like a person goes to university for a few years to learn how to ferment grapes safely and never really gets very good at it, like most of us never get a credit, much less distinction. 

Add to those biochemical possibilities the intricacies of distillation: single, double, sometimes triple. Then become an expert in, not just grapes or grain or potatoes or plums or whatever you used to make your spirit, add to that a new expertise in the dozen or so widely-accepted ingredients for gin: juniper, coriander, citrus, iris roots, rose petals, peppercorns, lavendar, fennel, cinnamon and whatnot. 

Professor David Mabberly's Plant-book is the essential guide to those exploring botanicals for gin or any other purpose ... readers in my neck of the woods can usually purchase a copy in the book shop behind the Museum of Economic Botany in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens
 
Then, if you're serious, like the team at Bruichladdich malt whisky distillery on Islay, you'll go foraging across the wee isle all year round, collecting another 22 herbs, flowers and grasses that grow on that place, and you'll put an admixture of all that raw vegetable flavouring or concentrates and steepings you've made of them in a very slow, cool, Lomond still and make The Botanist, which is about as good as gin gets, anywhere. 

In fact, this elegant, fragrant baby needs no further flavoring: no sweet tonic or murky mixer to knock it about; not even soda. Try your first glass with one neat block of ice. If you're like me, you'll stick with that. Which is not to say it's a sooky gin. This is no Issey  Miyake cucumber dream. This is stocky with a dimple. It holds its ground. Garnish? Jim McEwin and his expert team have picked all that. It's in the gin. Distilled. They made that thing of joy and beauty quite deliberately, you know. Just sit there breathing it, dreaming of Islay and the Hebrides ... if you get properly lost in such reverie spare a thought for the amateur gin maker in some shed in the suburbs or somewhere with a peerie pot still and mum's herb rack: what could go wrong? 

The vino-industrial complex has much to answer for.

Bruichladdich Malt Whisky Distillery on Lochindaal, Islay ... peace and quiet inside ... it's not always like that out on these waters, however ... even the seals need a cove to shelter and dream of gin ... photos from the distillery 

17 April 2017

WATCHING THE AUTUMN SEEPING IN

Found myself gazing a few hours back from the veranda at red grapes still under net across there by the kangaroo coppice and then spotted those Smart family orchard remnants being inched down the creekline by the natural plasticine clay flow and then I realised how I should acknowledge the dancing eucalypts right up the front, with their limbs falling off from awkward poses from the beginning of last winter to vintage a few weeks back in real scant dirt on slab ironstone. Sorry Darl, just dropped off for vintage. That was very confronting and scary weather. So these tatty babes need all the stouts of winter. Everything's trying to stay alive wherever it can. Some choose a hard spot.

To me they look like a shattered Picasso by Dali, one cruel man chewing out another's cruel art. They have none of the decrepit wartime depression humane honesty than you find, say, in the Moulin Rouge posters of those days. Yurp. Then I look at the Bernard Smart bicycle in the shed and sleep smug in the know that Picasso woulda never painted another bull if he'd spent a few moments bowing at the tyres of this enraged toro. That prick Picasso deserved to be painted by Dali.

Evenings like these I spin round the other way and imagine what it'd be like to skim the trees from here to Mount Bold at about 500' and Mach 0.6 ... need a little Macchi fighter-trainer ... that's Peregrine country over there ... we'd have to go through real slow a day or so earlier and give 'em all a brochure about coming through faster than they can. Talk to the kiddies coming home from Killing Starlings III. Maybe they'll be reluctant to give us the nod. More I think of it, nah. Give them cameras. If we're real polite they might agree to return images we want in exchange for serious Raptor Restaurant access to what those feathered killers on The Up call 'Down Meat.' We are Down Meat. Probly be cool as long we don't put it too close to their school.

all photos©Philip White

15 April 2017

SEDGE AT MULL BRAE BIG VEECAT BIKE


How coolly drurblid to postpone starting a new note book for fear of making a mistake right up the front of a new one and eventually taking a big breath, filling the pen and opening a new volume of fine thick paper beautifully-bound to discover you've already been in there and committed this: Sedge at Mull Brae; pencils and things on paper; 150 x 100 mm ... really tiny ... pocket art ... looks like Bremer Valley ... gotta be a secret code in this somewhere which you obviously forgot to forward you amateur twerp Furber roger Wingco over and out ... oh that's right you were designing a motorcycle for oh well it duddent madder ... image and photo©Philip White
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