“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)


.

.

.

.

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
.

COPTIC TEXTILE FOR EASTER HARVEST

Perfect web weave/slanting weft; wool and linen; 19.1 X 16.8 cm. Fourth century; Pushkin Museum Moscow; Golenivshchev Egypt purchase; IN 5818

"I am the true vine, and my father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away, and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring more fruit. Gospel according to John 15:1-2 

"The vine motif appeared in ancient times in Egypt (in the Osiris cult), in Greece and Rome (Dionysus, grape harvest theme, the cycles of the Seasons, , genre scenes depicting the gods of love gathering fruit etc.) and in the Old Testament (Numbers 13:23). The quotation from St John's Gospel represents an early introduction of the theme into Christian art. It must have been fairly simple to adapt this ancient theme to its novel content. The motif of the basket with fruit originates in the Dionysian Mysteries. Christianity had already adapted it in the catacombs, where it was used to depict the Feast of the Messiah (Tomb of Lucina)."

from Coptic Textiles, L. Kybalova (Paul Hamlyn, London; Prague 1967)

To see this beautiful textile in a more southern timeline listen to this episode of ABC Radio National The Science Show  

14 April 2017

THE NOTION OF A NICE NEW START

 

 

 

Breakfast

 


before came her Sun Earth drew us from bed 
pen and her poet in time for John Cargher’s final show
with soy milk and muesli
and Zbigniew Herbert on Marcus Aurelius

“good night Marcus put out the light”
he wrote in the scorched gullies of his blitzburgh
as dead John croaked on about the deficiencies of coloratura

genetically modified
breakfast replaced the morning dung

outside in the frozen vineyard of drought
foxes sprint for last low swallows

she’s wondering whether to flick us off
teased by the notion of a nice new start

“We know there’s plenty of time”
she whispers to her brother Mars

who’s rueing his last sweet drink
while this tiny machine scratches holes in the top of his head

the sort of gadget Gordon Barton and Paul Hamlyn
dream of securing at auction
for strategic fucking purposes

hi boys

kookaburras laugh us back to our shrouds






Philip White
17 February 2009





Curiosity self portrait drilling for fresh rock powder at Mojave 2, Mars, for NASA 31 January 2015

13 April 2017

A TASTE OF THE OLD JC


Time for a look at what our French friends have been doing in their big Orlando/Rowland Flat Barossa winery: Pernod-Ricard is unusual in that it hangs on vast arms still extending into every shelf of the international liqueur, wines and spirits markets when other big operators are divesting themselves of such diverse approaches to the business, preferring to specialise. 

In which case this outfit's an interesting one for the business writers to watch. 

Different tribe of stockholders, the Pernod and Ricard families. Pastis people. Not really wine people.

Which is not what we're doing here, like watching business: it's product we're discussing now.

First, to fill the gap in the box with the five Barossa signature wines they included the Jacob's Creek Reserve Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($18; 12.6% alcohol; screw cap) which one must presume is a sort of average of what the Adelaide Hills does with this strange, highly-popular grape. It's perfumed and grassy in a dry everlasting flower sort of way, then one gets a whiff of fresh oxalis, like soursob or rhubarb. It's very simple to drink. In fact, it's simply very simple all round. This is the sort of wine I can imagine a backsliding Mormon missionary starting on. I reckon I've seen Kevin Foley drinking it at an art gallery somewhere; can't accurately recall. The maker recommends you drink it with garlic prawns or char-grilled squid. It would also perfectly accompany ham and pineapple pizza.

Closer to the spirit of the Barossa is: Jacob's Creek Barossa Signature Riesling 2016 ($20; 11.5% alcohol; screw cap) which reminds me of the esteemed Yalumba Signature Series line of fine reds which has been going for many decades. The price indicates that to the French a signature is of higher quality than a reserve. Jeez language difficulties are a genuine fucker to all of us, eh?!? 

Given the promo Orlando/JC/P-R/PR has sucked from Riesling over fifty or so years, one would expect this wine to rock. The P-R PR folk call it "a bright, approachable modern Riesling" with a "flowery" nose. 

It does have a bit more prickle than the Savvy-B, but the flavours are so smooth and simple I'm left wondering what has happened to the genetics of Barossa Riesling to make it "modern". Sugar's hardly modern. After all that, which isn't too that in any way, what this wine does display to great effect is acid. 

Jacob's Creek Barossa Signature Chardonnay 2016 ($20; 12.3% alcohol; screw cap) is also recommended for being approachable and modern. It smells of oak. There's a timid dollop of unction and then a finish. On the modern approachability scale it seems to fit quite well with the other two whites. 

Jacob's Creek Barossa Signature Shiraz 2015 ($20; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) smells along the lines of a moody, smokehouse sort of Barossa red with a twist of blacksmith beside the blackberries and beneath the spreading mulberry. Which is not to say it's over-loaded with tradition or it's too heritagey. To drink, it's cheeky, juicy, youthfully simple and sweet. But no mention of "modern" or "approachable" in the blurb. Instead, it's "essence" and "classic." I reckon they coulda at least stretched it to "heritagey." 

Jacob's Creek Barossa Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($20; 14.6% alcohol; screw cap) smells a bit like the Signature Shiraz but with less obvious fruit. Remove the mulberries for starters; add blackberry leaf. The flavours could well accompany anything without intruding. 

Jacob's Creek Reserve Limestone Coast Shiraz 2015 ($18; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) Like the other reds, this wine is not recommended by its maker for being approachable or modern. Neither is it Barossa fruit, which means there are only four Barossa Signatures. But the maker recommends it with wagyu beef. Wagyu beef. Talk about flexible. So you go and get your $6 million shred of wagyu beef and have it with an $18 red. Before discount. That seems pretty modern to me.

Without deterring the French, who obviously know all about wine-making, I remind readers of true bargain wines made by local families, like those I constantly recommend from the likes of Torzi-Matthews/Longhop/Old Plains and last week's Paracombe.