“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)





23 July 2017


Bon Apetit To Everybody - Peder Severin Krøyer (Danish 1851 – 1909)

21 July 2017


Making wine without grapes in the Ava laboratory, San Francisco ... should arid Australia give its scarce waters a break, cease mass irrigation of unprofitable plonk grapes and let the hackers take over?

Ava wine hackers raise US$2.5 million

The derision had dribbled to a drip: the naysayers had all wandered off somewhere else when Daily Wine News, a local Adelaide index, reported that San Francisco's Ava Winery, which turns out to be a lab more than a virtual winery, was hacking wine. Like making it from things we call chemicals rather than growing it. 

Faster, cheaper, safer, they claim. 

My allocation of said derision had come in response to my suggestion a couple of weeks back that perhaps one solution to the environmental, social and economic damage wine grape irrigators cause in the Murray-Darling Basin could lie in making an equivalent intoxication from other stuff somewhere else. 

This was not a new thing: for decades I'd been suggesting that given the industrial anti-nature 'nature' of much of the bladder pack wine manufactured in the vast refineries of our hinterland, some of it could well be replicated more efficiently, cheaply and reliably elsewhere by science rather than romance and failed community business plans. 

Like remove the pretense, the illusion of gastronomic and epicurean excellence, even the tease of the stuff always being good for you. 

One valuable goal in mind is the notion of saving our scant supplies of fresh water, which is a fairly important gastronomic item. 

The Ava story is tantalising. These brash belligerents dared to name their virtual wine-hacking factory Ava, taunting the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms authorities, supervisors of the boundaries of American Viticulture Areas. 

Then their audacious attempt at a web-driven start-up was a hot success, raising a brisk US$2.5 million by July 15th. Winemakers worldwide seemed to exhale their usual delusionary miasma of relief when New Scientist nerds - not wine experts - declared that Ava's chemical attempt at Moscato d'Asti smelled like a plastic pool shark. Nyah nyah, toldja so: failure!!! The bad thing had gone away. 

Typically, few of these Australian winers realised that all this happened last year. That was July 15th 2016, folks, and those New Scientist tasters had compared a three-year-old Ruffino to a brand new bench-made Ava hybrid. Leaving me recklessly to presume that the conspirateurs, Mardonn Chua and Alec Lee, are hard at work in their laboratory, nose to the chemical winestone, spending their US$2.5m  with all due diligence. I wish them huge success. 

I love playing around my kitchen, making replica wines from essences, Absolut, juices, teas, powders and my Soda King. Mud pies. I can even get close to Coke with a few common kitchen ingredients. Just need to wobble down to the pharmacy supplies for some phosphoric acid for that final essential C-C tweak. 

I don't usually stock phosphoric acid in my spice rack. 

Which brings me back to the pool shark. Bacchus only knows the number of Murray-Darling bladder packs - even bottles - that have crossed this palate that would make a mere pool shark seem a very tasty morsel indeed. I've never engaged the company of a blow-up lady, but I reckon some of them would taste better than some of the plastic I've encountered in wild colonial goonbags. 

There's never any point in revelling in "I told-you-so" derision, but while last week's piece on poisonous vineyard herbicide, insecticide and fungicide sprays seemed to raise the ire of the same mob of industrial irrigators, Caroline Henry was writing about the soil, geology and groundwater of Champagne, France, being "riddled with chemical residue" for Wine Searcher.  

Forgive me for quoting her quoting him, but Henry quoted Daniel Beddelem, regional director for the Marne area of Eau Seine et Normandy, the local water controller in Champagne. 

"Pollution levels have reached such toxic levels that a study earlier this year estimated that some 2.8 million people in France – mostly in areas where there is intensive agriculture, such as Champagne and the southwest of France – were drinking polluted tap water as a result of pesticides and nitrates leaching into the water table," she reported. 

Naming Monsanto's glyphosate as a prime culprit, these experts listed a string of problems magnifying along Champagne's main river, the Marne, which to me echo many of the troubles of the Murray-Darling. 

Unlikely as it may seem, even the calcerious nature of the geologies of the Marne Basin and much of  the Murray-Darling may be triggering similar hassles:  "The problem," Wine Searcher reports, "is further exacerbated by the fact that it takes several years for the chemical traces to completely disappear from the groundwater, as they tend to cling to the chalk omnipresent in the Marne region. This historical build-up has created a certain urgency to restrict the current use of pesticides and more specifically herbicides to prevent further pollution and possible mass degradation of the region's water sources." 

Remembering that this is a romance business, this alcohol, it's typical of the world of wine reportage to be a little sloppy with dates and details when nasty threats appear in what wine industrialists have always expected to be a complacent, wine-friendly press. Forgiving that, it seems that inexorably, like at last, there's a move toward facing some very pressing questions. Like would we need glyphosate at all if we replicated our cheap, nasty plonk in a modern food technology factory rather than your actual winery? 

Apart from facing the fact that so many Murray-Darling irrigating grape-growers cannot make a profit, this writer, and others, I'm sure, would like to see some thorough scientific study going into the sort of research the brave Ava people have pursued. 

Let's find out how much poison we can avoid. Like glyphosate. 

Let's more accurately find out how much water we can save. 

How we could alleviate some public health costs with a safer, cleaner, more healthy and sanitary intoxicant made without the gastronomic pretense of droll industrial water-and-environment-abusive grapes? 

How many new economies can we build to replace the heartbreak we continue to inflict on Murray-Darling grape-growing communities? 

I might leave it there. I actually prefer not to rant. Let's see if I can find some peace and quiet up the exquisite end of this here tasting bench ...


At modest yields in good years, which are common there, Langhorne Creek has the potential to produce truly fine wine. So why is it rarely seen to be among Australia's top vignobles? Is Langhorne Creek an antipodean Bordeaux on a similarly great estuary, or just the tail end of the Murray-Darling? Here are some opinions on three typical branded products from the region:

Bremerton Langhorne Creek Fiano 2016 
($24; 13% alcohol; screw cap) 

Fiano seems to be finding its feet in the rich estuarine sediments of Langhorne Creek - topographically as close as Australia gets to Bordeaux, where the Garonne River hits the Atlantic. This  ancient Italian white has small berries and yields low with the ancient farming practices of Campania and Sicily. While many Brit critics praise its honey tones and tendency to develop spice I also see Fianos that are a touch less complex than the fields of florals usually found in honey. Instead, some are more golden syrup simple and with age develop the comfy dumb allure of dumplings more than anything I'd call spice. Yields in the modern industrial viticulture of Langhorne Creek look quite a bit higher than you'd find in Italy. This one, made by the generally conservative crew at Bremerton, is a little more along the lines of a mild ginger and lime marmalade to sniff. It even seems to come on its own buttered toast: a pleasant, if unusual allure. It also reminds me of some of the Marsanne made in the Goulburn Valley: the variety's tendency to oxidation can see it develop well beyond the savoury greens of ginger and exude the pale autumnal decay of bitter melon and petiols, the stalks of the vine leaf. Mechanical harvesters will put a stack of petiols in the fermenter, too, just by the way. So overall the effect is more vegetal than actually fruity: its form has me thinking of a big bowl of steaming Alsace choucroute: hot fermented cabbage served with smoked wursts and stacks of mustard and black pepper. As for a future rock star variety? In this form, I'd regard it more as a rival to Marsanne. 

Bremerton Langhorne Creek Racy Rosé 2016 
($17; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

The change of colour here doesn't seem to bring much of a change in bouquet: the aromatics seem more vegetal than fruity, with those same rustic hints of autumn. It's the texture where everything changes: this is unctuous and syrupy at winter window-sill temperature, so is built to handle being served much colder than that. This'll outstare the Killer Fridge that lurks out the back of most restaurants. The flavours offer more of your actual fruit: strawberry pith primarily. While most rosé at prices like this - you'll find it cheaper than $17 - are quite sickly sweet, this one's fairly dry, and finishes a bit sawn-off, like many of the country rosés of Provence. But Provence is a long way off: it's almost as distant as Bordeaux. It's wines like this that remind me that Langhorne Creek is part of the Murray Valley. I have always thought it could be much more along the lines of Bordeaux, being estuarine and all, on a big cool ocean. But you know ... 

Bremerton Langhorne Creek Malbec 2015 
($24; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

Malbec is from Bordeaux. This one has been matured in bargain Hungarian oak. It's a bistro buster: one for that beer garden table. Black tea, dark chocolate, prune, Ribena, beet root: all the raw darkness of Malbec is laid bare here. The texture is on the unctuous side of slender; the flavours intense but simple. This is not to be mistaken for the gunmetal-sinister Malbec of Great Southern in Western Australia, nor the similarly tight majesty of Wendouree, but is best expected to do little more than keep the conversation raging through another mixed grill. Which it will quite reliably do. Shop around for discounts: if it's really this variety you want, you can duck in to Vintage Cellars and pick up a finer Argentinian one for a fiver short of this price. Take one of each to T-Chow and buy them a duck.

There is no actual creek called Langhorne - it's actually the Bremer River that flows under Langhorne's Bridge -  but the joint looks like one very big river on the odd year when the Bremer comes down and they block the water for flood irrigation ... the Bremer, by the way, is more an intermittent creek than river, since upstream farmers have dammed so many of its tributaries ... it drains the east side of the South Mount Lofty Ranges, starting in the hills near the new Petaluma Winery, and tries to run into the Murray-Darling estuary on the freshwater side of the restraining barrages near The Coorong ... photo Langhorne Creek Winemakers 2016

19 July 2017


DRINKSTER's bespoke laughing gear consultant, Colin Christian, has released this new line of teethbrushes for guilty winers. Get 'em as dirty as you want, and just leave 'em near the faucet to make you feel even more guilty whenever you go to clean up. Should you ever bother. Whether or not you keep a brushy toothbrush as well to do the rightful is up to you. Here's Colin with a more desirable set of his fangs for the aspirant norfun souf:

15 July 2017


from the snaps box: Warren Randall doing his cardboard cutout of Warren Randall impersonisation at the Colin Preece house, Seppelts'  Great Western, 1986 ... it was remarkably easy to get him to strike such a pose ... I have never once got in a car with him again ... my visit was still the only one I have made to an Australian winery by train

14 July 2017


Arras Tasmania Methode Traditionelle Rosé 2006  
($80; 12.5% alcohol; cork) 

This won't be a long review. I'm in the pink. Or it's probly a bit more pheasant eye, toward the brown onion skin, which is risky territory for a colourblind lad. 

Remi Krug had a theory about the wave-like popularity of pink champagne relying on the odd significant royal taking a fondness, but that was back when Princess Diana was on it. This wine reminds me of his. It's not as fine - missing out by by a few microns - and a tiny bit sweeter methinks, not having the Big K at hand for a compo. But I remember. One doesn't forget. Maybe the Austral CO2, and I mean the gas itself, is sweeter than the stuff they get in the bubbles in Old Yurp, as George W Bush called France, Italy, Germany and probably Britain. 

This Arras has that wheatfield-after-drizzle pastorale feeling about it, well-whipped in with the white pulp of forest strawberries. It's ravishing. Best Australian rosé fizz I know. By miles. It's swoony more than prickly; moody more than bright, although if you mean IQ by bright, it's very very that. But it's not like aggro or smartypants in your face. You can simply put this in your mouth and swallow it. And it will make you happy. All its hyper-intelligent focus is on you, and how it can pleasure you. How it can warm your soul and help you think everything's much better than it is. Fuck sense of place. What we have here is sense of purpose. 

Don't go out there. Pawn the big screen. Get one of these and stay inside with it. Play some Nancy Wilson. Get some inside of you. Spend a few hours together. In moderation.

13 July 2017


My old mate Chris Cust visited today. He has just clicked seventy laps of the Sun. He painted that portrait of my dead brother Andrew looking out from the back of his hat. I think he's still the only westerner to be invited to paint backdrops for the Noh Theatre, which has run since the 14th century in Japan. 

Chris is a TPI Vietnam veteran whose current artwork is the settlers' cottage and garden he constantly retunes. 

Like Andrew and me, Chris is colourblind. He has to get help from a whatever you call em person with a Pantone chart to mix his colours. Andrew collected sheep ear tags from many stations he worked on and got a person who could do it to rank them in the colours of the rainbow, in order, to help with a reference should he have to talk colour in the bush. 

He was a bushman wise well beyond his years at nineteen. Here he is at the tailings dumps at Radium Hill, beside Devonborough Downs, the station he managed. He was always out there somewhere a day's drive north in the bush, ready to save me when society collapsed.

Andrew could survive in the desert. He had learned to find water.

He never came to town without a bag full of special snakes for the zoo and a whole mob of undescribed mosses for the Botanic Gardens and the Museum. He spent a lot of time lying on his stomach looking into cracks in the rocks with his pocket microscope.

He could always find a place in some little ordinary-looking gully where a cannabis plant would grow. He had a pet wedgie called Wolfgang. Wolfgang could come and go at will through the bedroom window.

This is the time of year when I remember Andrew's death with my beloved cousin Jennifer in a car crash on their way to our grandmother's funeral. Holy gothic fucking shit that was.

Two of my brothers, Stephen and Paul, somehow survived that prang. 

They got t-boned at Edenhope. Terry Plane helped me.

And here is the Chris, contemplating. Many have much to remember.

12 July 2017


Roundup at Ironheart: sheep turning the winter weeds into biodynamic fertiliser

A ray of light on the spray business

Spray drift. First time I encountered it on a serious scale was in the Upper Hunter at the old Penfolds Dalwood winery, which had just been made part of Rosemount. It must have been around 1980 - I reckon Neil Paulett was still working there. It was a hot, dusty summer and the countryside was bleak, with that down-at-heel feel you could sniff in Patrick White yarns. 

A neighbouring farmer had hit his pasture with some sort of deadly herbicide which had drifted into the vineyard on the breeze. You could stand there and watch the vines die. It stank. Winemaker Philip Shaw thought it was so deadly it must have contained dioxyns. 2,4-D or something. Agent Orange. Shut that vineyard down. 

Thirty years later I drove through these bonnie South Mount Lofty Ranges on a warm New Year's Eve, windows down. Paul Drogemuller was at the wheel. As we curled through the cute winding bits of apple orchards and vineyards from Oakbank through Lenswood to his Paracombe winery across the Torrens Gorge Paul named the sprays each farmer had left hanging in the air. A litany of exotic, even playful trade names: you could be forgiven for thinking they were millennial wine brands. Paul had been a farm goods supplier in a previous life: he knows the poisons by their smell. 

This year I watched various vineyards around my neck of the woods spread either unwanted spray or disease into adjacent vineyards which didn't want it. It's a big problem in areas where the fruit is borderline and often remains unpicked and the vines unpruned. Even slightly disshevelled vineyards whose owners can't afford the obvious prophylactic and preventative sprays are trouble. These vineyards are incubators, breeding all sorts of mildews and moulds. If it's not the fungus crossing the fence into the perfectly-kept organic vineyard next door, it'll be the spray the poor devil has eventually afforded drifting on the breeze, infecting that neighbour's licensed vineyard with a poison whose traces will see that certificate of cleanliness removed by the white coat brigade. 

They display a peculiar model of toughness, the bio-d authorities. They'll chop your leaves up and tear them to bits in the lab, and if they find a trace of one little barred substance, your guarantee of cleanliness is gone and it'll take you years to get it back. 

One of the wine industry's favourite sprays is Monsanto's glyphosate-based Roundup. You can see who uses it: any stripes of bare ground beneath a vine row is usually the work of this highly-efficient herbicide. Monsanto's up in arms as country after country bars the unregulated sale of the stuff. As of July 7 that glowing fruit basket, California, has dared to list it as a poison. This follows the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifying glyphosate as a "probable carcinogen." 

"We will continue to aggressively challenge this improper decision," blustered Monsanto's Scott Partridge, vice president of global strategy. "Glyphosate is not carcinogenic, and the listing of glyphosate under Prop 65 is unwarranted."

At the same time, Monsanto's entangled in a federal lawsuit in which people from California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Wisconsin allege  that glyphosate "targets the enzyme 5-enolpyruvylshikimate 3-phosphate synthase found in plants and many beneficial gut bacteria essential for digestion and good health." 

Enter Dr Gerhard Rossouw, Associate Lecturer and Researcher in Wine and Viticulture at Charles Sturt University. With support from Wine Australia, the native South African has commenced a year-long investigation "of exposure to four problematic herbicides on grapevine leaf, fruit and root metabolic responses, and the related implications for fruit quantity and composition." 

Gerhard hopes to study "the injury symptoms (especially related to foliar and bunch development) associated with different herbicides, and link the symptoms to primary metabolic responses in the grapevine ... 

"Essentially," he explained, "we will be creating a simulated herbicide drift under controlled conditions, using rates that replicate what happens in the field ... We want to be able to link what the grower can see as a symptom to what actually happens in the vine and allow them to identify which herbicide is causing the problem so that they can engage with the source of the drift." 

Like that? "Engage with the source of the drift?" 

Short of taking a class action against, well, anybody (or everybody), there's plenty of room next for Wine Australia to put some funding aside to assist those wine producers who don't use petrochemical fungicides and herbicides to advise their customers of this without raising the legal ire of the manufacturers and distributors of those products. 

It'll be a bold step: such responsible wine growers are unfortunately a tiny minority. 

But imagine being able to buy a bottle whose label advises you the wine inside is free of glyphosate. Oh, you already can? Of course. It's called certified organic and/or biodynamic. 

Until that perfectly clean, poison-free, hand-tended vine garden is infected by other people's poisons that come in for free, on the air. 

Meanwhile, the sheep in the vineyard outside my window have trimmed this year's vineyard weeds down to a neat lawn-like sward, evenly spread with tidy little pellets of organic/biodynamic gut-fermented fertiliser. They have thrown a high number of twin lambs this year, since the harvest. By the time the vines shoot in spring, those lambs will go to market at a fine price, and their mums will go back to pasture elsewhere, keeping fit for next year's roundup. 

Sure beats paying for poison.

Which brings me to goats. This may be a naive dream, but amongst the thousands of poor refugee folk trying to get into Australia there must be some who have the equivalent of a doctorate in goat-herding. Engage such an expert, assist in procuring a herd of goats, and put them through the disshevelled unkempt vineyards to prune the vines back to the wood. 

As we now know sheep do a perfectly good job of the weeds, why not try goats in the vine foliage? 

You wouldn't need the expense of fences; the spread of wind-born disease would diminish, and the local cheese-maker would love access to all that fresh milk, no? 

Oh yes: that Upper Hunter vineyard. Last I heard it had become a coal pit.

photos by Philip White

11 July 2017


Old Plains Terreno Old Vine Adelaide Plains Grenache 2016 ($30; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) is another of the new rush of sweet little 'sixteens, this one made by old Gawler schoolmates Tim Freeland and Dominic Torzi from remnants of what was a vast and important vignoble, stretching from Virginia to Angle Vale and Smithfield. 

These old Grenache vines have oozed out an essence, a jujube, a gel of sweet black-earth-scented fruit. Like black plains dirt under the plow after rain. Chocolate and manure. Soft licorice. The blacksmith's forge, ticking as it cools. Her greasy leather apron. The dried wormwood spilling through the ceiling hessian. 

Then comes the palate, the sort of smooth velvet unction that seduced great old winemakers like Doug Collett and Max Schubert. This is nothing like the distinctive Grenache of McLaren Vale, or the Barossa. But maybe, with that black cherry essence and vanilla bean, and those leathery coaldust hints of the smithy, it's the bridge. 

That would make sense. Writer Richard Peck claimed "The only way you can write is by the light of the bridges burning behind you." I'm firmly of the belief that if the bridge is any good, it's better drunk. Use the crook ones for lighting. They are many. 

Orders of the British Empire to these men for preserving a flavour otherwise lost forever to malignant tupperware tuscany and the developers' greed.

Frank Gagliardi's Grenache with his glass houses at Munno Para. Note the magnificent presumption of the developers and planners, designing streets and drainage as if Frank's gonna simply give up and go for the money. Rather, he'd deliver his Grenache to the winery until his son Pat takes over. Like this:

And laurel wreaths too for Old Plains Power of One Old Vine Adelaide Plains Shiraz 2015 ($30; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) which is a four-wheel-drive version of the Terreno. This seems a touch more sinister, this one. Droll 'fifteen vs. cheeky 'sixteen, sure, but this Shiraz is something genuinely uniquely deep. Maybe the blacksmith has gone home, bathed by the fire, melted some marshmallows and eats them dribbling now with a mixed box of Haigh's liqueur chocolates, like the nude Maja on her very best, utterly private, highly-polished personal chesterfield. So whatter you lookin at? 

I could talk on about the blackberries and the unction and all that stuff but let's face it, I've had a glass from this bottle for each of the last five days and apart from its bare-faced deliciousness, it offers a fragile flicker of a gone past: a vast garden eaten by houses and mindlessness. 

C'mon she says, sit back here with me. Drink from my glass. 

Which brings me to another wine and another world of opulence and style, where the polished sheen of the drink hides the great aristocratic engine whirring within; where the complex panforte aromas of currants, figs, dates, prunes, nutmeg, mace, citrus rind and whatever are presented in such a finely-homogenised and harmonious syrup you simply cannot win ... you name any luxurious item from the table of a renaissance monarch in Verona and it's here with bells on. 

In fact, here's a wine of incredible strength and depth that doesn't seem gloopy. 

Instead, it's savoury. It makes me hungry.

So how did it get like this? Prof Brian Freeman's daughter Xanthe came home from vintage in Valpolicella and raided her dad's maturing Corvina vineyard in the cool 560 metres of upness in the Hilltops region near Young, on the western side of the Blue Mountains. They picked selected parcels from April through May, three months after everything else. They put these grapes in their neighbours' prune dehydrator for ten days, then gave them two months to ferment. Two years in old oak; three years in the bottle and here is the first Freeman Robusta Corvina 2012 ($70; 16.6% alcohol; screw cap)

"Not for the faint-hearted" warns the back label. Which is being a bit sizeist really: I reckon this'll make a faint heart great. To me this surly royal Robusta could do to the lily-livered what sherry did to Shakespeare's Sir John Falstaff (below), whose fulsome appreciation of a fine-brewed pottle of good sherris-sack did, in his own words, this: 

"It ascends me into the brain; dries me there all the foolish and dull and curdy vapours which environ it; makes it apprehensive, quick, forgetive, full of nimble fiery and delectable shapes, which, delivered o'er to the voice, the tongue, which is the birth, becomes excellent wit.  The second property of your excellent sherris is, the warming of the blood; which, before cold and settled, left the liver white and pale, which is the badge of pusillanimity and cowardice; but the sherris warms it and makes it course from the inwards to the parts extreme: it illumineth the face, which as a beacon gives warning to all the rest of this little kingdom, man, to arm; and then the vital commoners and inland petty spirits muster me all to their captain, the heart, who, great and puffed up with this retinue, doth any deed of courage; and this valour comes of sherris.  So that skill in the weapon is nothing without sack, for that sets it a-work; and learning a mere hoard of gold kept by a devil, till sack commences it and sets it in act and use ...  If I had a thousand sons, the first humane principle I would teach them should be, to forswear thin potations and to addict themselves to sack." 

So there. That'll be your health warning. Dunno what Xanthe would have to say about that. 

And food? Go pre-renaissance and then some. See that missionary pot with the woolly mammoth haunch and the beets? Throw a bale of spinach in there just before you serve ... oh all right, you can have it on polenta ... yes, leave the missionaries in there ... spread the table good and thick ... give each guest a trowel for their wine, there's a dear ...