“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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25 February 2017

PEACE IN THE VALLEY: DANNY AT THE EX

The party gully of Rundle Street, East End Adelaide, was actually jam-packed with reveling Fringistes last night but I caught Danny Moody, Exeter Hotel night boss/chatelaine, managing to squeeze in a quiet moment. Not even Bacchus or Pan could count the libations that have flowed from the hands of this cool river to her people ... photo©Philip White

22 February 2017

WORKING ON THAT HANGOVER

Hangover; Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec 1889

DROVING ORB SPIDERS WITH COWBOY

Golden orb spider ... photos©Philip White

Full-bore retro at Maslin Beach
by PHILIP WHITE


It's a good strong vintage for arachnids. The vineyards are full of Golden Orb spiders whose beautiful webs are spun from the toughest silk known in nature.

The vineyard blokes here where I live fit their quad bikes with a light-weight  head-high poly frame in the front to keep the webs off. They make it from dripper line. Sort of a locomotive cow-catcher for spiders. Spiders are about as popular as Red-bellied Black Snakes in these parts. Folks get twitchy.

Sitting in Tim Geddes' Blewett Springs Seldom Inn winery over the ridge from here, we were discussing this with the revered stockman, Graham 'Cowboy'  Bramley. We were joking that there's no money being spent on training Golden Orb spiders to lay off eating each other so they could be farmed in a sort of Orb Spider feedlot to make the type of thread used in re-entry parachute webbing and bullet-proof vests.

We could be rich.


"You don't have to farm 'em," Cowboy (above) said, pulling a neat silver plait from his hat band. "See this? This is the cracker of a stockwhip. It's a spare. When the webs are thick in the bush we ride through 'em deliberately and get 'em all over us. Then we roll 'em off our clothes with our palms and rub 'em into thread and plait it. Best whip crackers you can get."

Sitting there with a red in a shed talking about spiderwebs and this wizened bloke matter-of-factly pulls a perfectly-made example from his hat, just like that.

Cowboy's run cattle all over Australia. His knowledge of the outback country is profound. He is much sought after for his old bush knowledge. He spins astonishing tales of where rare birds live in the desert, and all the tricks and difficulties of running the huge mobs of stock horses required on big cattle droves. It's hard enough keeping one horse in top fettle in the hard country; sometimes, in his role as horse tailer Cowboy's tended over a hundred: up at 2:30AM for weeks on end, find all the mobs out feeding in the dark by the sound of their individual bells, round them up and have them ready for work at dawn.

He said he only bells the weak horse in each mob. The others stick around it.

Cowboy Bramley, Darrel Hunt and Tim Geddes ... photos©Philip White 

I met him that morning at Darrel Hunt's cheekily named Le-Fleurie vineyard near Maslin Beach on the Gulf St Vincent, patron of viticulturers. It's not quite Fleurieu Pensinsula in the appellation sense, but it sure is closer to that than Beaujolais, where Fleurie actually is. The Hunt family's been on this land since 1908. Old man Maslin's original settler's cottage is well-kept in Darrel's zen-tidy back yard.


Embarrassed that generations of heavy tractor work has compacted the ground to a cruel degree, Darrel's run a shallow ripper down the middle of his vinerows to open the hardened earth. He hopes that's the last time he has to do it with the tractor. That clumsy, overweight iron horse is about to be retired while Cowboy and him train the two Clydesdales, Banjo and Malcolm, as full-time vineyard workers. They're already handy pulling a fancy restored barrel-cart; Darrel is scouring the countryside for the other implements he needs to run the vineyard the old gentle way.


I couldn't help recalling Max Schubert as I watched these blokes kit up the Clydies. Max's first job at Penfolds Nuriootpa Winery was stable lad as much as cellar messenger: he was responsible for the winery horses. Turn, turn, turn ...


Malcolm, Darrel, Banjo, Cowboy and Tim ... photos©Philip White 


(When asked about the first tractors, my neighbour, Bernard Smart flashes his wry grin and rasps: "Bloody tractor? Kept getting bogged. Bloody tractor. Had to pull it out with a horse" ... Bernard planted the Yangarra High Sands Grenache vineyard in 1946.)

Anyway, we ended up touring the Le-Fleurie vines in Darrel's 1930 Chev ragtop. Bright blinking summer sunlight: perfect vintage cool. Sitting behind Cowboy, without even imagining what it was made from, or what it could be for, I'd photographed that neat spiderweb plait amongst the colours of the Aboriginal flag on his hat.


Which brings me to the wine. Tim Geddes first took me to Le-Fleurie years ago to kick rocks. The neighbourhood has a ferruginous pebbly sandstone cap on the deep Maslin Sands deposit below, with irony-sandy clays and on Le-Fleurie, rises of the fossiliferous limestone of the Port Willunga Formation.

In other words, one of the various spots around McLaren Vale where the rootzone profile very closely resembles Coonawarra's best in its red-dirt-on-limestone centre.

The big difference at Maslin is that its limestone has a hundred metres of loose coarse sand deep below it.

Ferruginous Terra rossa over limestone at Coonawarra ... photo©Milton Wordley
 
But the wines are similar: perhaps the constant maritime humidity of Maslin  giving Le-Fleurie softer tannins. It was too easy to spot Tim's entry from this site in the recent McLaren Vale DistrictsTasting: I reported before about the wines from the various calcareous grounds being very distinctive in the 2016 Shiraz. With all due respect, the 2016s from old seabeds were like Coonawarra.

Tim's been buying Darrel's fruit for years. It's an essential part of his soulful but sharp suite of Geddes Seldom Inn reds. Darrel also makes wine from some of his fruit next door in Alan Dyson's shed at Maslin. These are not for sale, but Darrel's pretty quick to share one if you're lucky enough to visit.

While Cowboy sat in the barrelhouse draping its cool shade with his beautifully-turned anecdotes, Tim opened a line of wines that were composed mainly of Le-Fleurie fruit, or were the full 100 per cent.


2007 was a totally skronky mess of a year: the Petit verdot that survived sure lives up to its little green name: it looks about six minutes old. It's really impossibly tight and raw. Uncomfortably so. On the other hand, the Shiraz from that same year seemed like the very fresh ghost of the Zema Coonawarra 2013 I'd tasted at about four o'clock that morning. The Seldom Inn 2008 trod the same path. More spooky: the silk-and-velvet 2012 model whizzed me back to the legendary Mildara Coonawarra Peppermint Pattie Cabernet Sauvignon of 1963. That was nearly twenty years old when I first tasted it, but the connection was fast.

Very clean. Minty. Amazing.

The biggest stretch of my skill set came with the 2009 60-40 blend of Petit verdot and Cabernet. This incredibly intense raven beauty could hide easily amongst a row of the best Penfolds Coonawarra bin numbers. Like several other offerings there on Tim's bench this will soon be released as a Geddes reserve wine. Start savin' up.



He's got PV form, of course, Mr. Geddes (above). He helped Wayne Thomas win the 2004 Bushing Trophy with a cracker. Did it again a few years later with a Shiraz.

Funny, though: Earlier that day Darrel waved his farmer's fist at his Petit verdot as the Chev purred along the rows. "Bloody stuff! Crop? Does it bloody crop!?! Jeez it bloody crops. Talk about crop ... "



Tim says it's the number of bunches that bedazzles. Darrel's Petit verdot usually chugs along at a modest one or two tonnes to the acre.

Maybe him and Cowboy could train Banjo and Malcolm to do a spot of bunch-counting and leaf-plucking. You can't train a tractor to do that with the sort of deeply soulful pondering common to Clydesdales.

You could harvest the spider silk from their mighty chests.

Only joking. But between you and me, I wouldn't put anything past the wizard  Cowboy. Darrel sure knows how to pick his mentors.

photos©Philip White ... here's Tim deep in red dreaming

20 February 2017

DESIGN AND GENIUS 50 YEARS ON

Reading Octane magazine's March 2016 special on the 50th Anniversary of the release of the Lamborghini Miura, which had an extreme V12 sitting sideways between the back of the chairs and the axle, I was intrigued by this account of the car's young designer, Marcello Gandini. This car's sensual vibrancy and tension reminded me of wine design.

Having been given the job and the opportunity, not to mention a 20-day deadline, Gandini's effort reminds me of the attitudes shown to œnology, the science of wine, by great South Australians like Dr Ray Beckwith, Ian Hickinbotham and Max Schubert. These remarkable blokes were working at their creative peak when the Miura hit. It was immediately dubbed the world's first supercar. Just as it could be argued that wines made by those three were already the world's first superwines. 

And Max, at least was a petrolhead. Until a new owner - AdSteam - of Penfolds restricted him to a four-cylinder Volvo two-door brick, Max's work car was a Rambler Matador. He said its was good for 140mph on his regular drives from Adelaide to the Upper Hunter and back: 

Are there any real Beckwiths, Schuberts, Hickinbothams or vinous Gandinis out there now? 

How will we know?


... just skiting, and never suggesting I'm in the same league as any of these great people: this was my cartoon Beetle supercar in a 1973 notepad ... a lot more Rubens than Bertone ... I'm sure the VW people, who could not tell a lie, stole it when they were designing the Bugatti Veyron 30 years later ... as a wine, I imagine my grunty Bug woulda been more along the lines of your angry schnapps ... horizontally opposed, of course ... better balance ... longer lasting ... sounds like bad dogs barking in the back of the ute ... fix it with a spanner ... awkward rear quarter window line but who friggin cares?  Where you'd feel like a taper you gotta make haunches to fit the donk ... Even the Bug Bug never got that lump right.

... probly suckin on DRINKSTER for bleeds, they just went the other way ... never noticing: there's no fucking chrome on my VeeDub ... chrome's my favourite colour but not here ffs ... wanna design a wine?

DONNING THE VEIL FOR VINTAGE '17

They put the bird netting up over the Ironheart Vineyard brides this morning. It's on!

No veils, but it was certainly on at Yangarra boss Peter Fraser's recent marriage to Tessa Hume. We had a fine old time. This is Nick Stock's shot of their arrival at the reception:








19 February 2017

AKHMATOVA'S LAST TOAST


painting of Akhmatova in 1922 by Russian and Soviet writer and painter Kuzma Sergeevich Petrov-Vodkin, Кузьма Сергеевич Петров-Водкин (November 5, 1878 – February 15, 1939) ... I felt it may be an appropriate time for us to cast this cold beauty of a toast to memory

18 February 2017

SOME FRIENDS TOOK ME TO DINNER

On the country out past the edge of Champagne viticulture spread rolling wheatfields. I shall never forget their aroma one day just before harvest when there came a sunshower. Good champagne often smells like this. But this new baby on the left is more like malting barley ready to go after the same light rain. I remember Remi Krug talking about brioche aromas in his family's wine one night while we were getting properly Krugged. This is past Chet Baker with strings in that division. It is a sinful fleshy utterly memorable drink.

I first wrote memorable luxury but it is in fact a drink. Even the perfidious miasma of over-peated whisky from Tasmania that woke me with this morning's first exhalations fell to the memory of this dream all over my mouth.

Certain the end of time was nigh, some friends took me to dinner last evening. Aged steak from Ian at Ellis the butcher on the charcoal. Sit back. Drink. Remember to eat. Chew.

The Chardonnay was as fresh as a lemon; the red ones with a Big House on the front became a sensuous swoon through the high cirrus of Bordeaux, with very deep soul. The one in the middle with the gold ink took the cake. Was the cake. Nearly impossible. Totally Bordolating.

Sorry if it's not gold. I'm colourblind.

In cheeky contrast to these was the thinking man's stubby. The Pinot despatched after the Chardonnay was a totally rakish brat of a thing from barrels which musta been made by a mathematician. Black snake. Astonishing. Whip me.

In the morning the whole goddam world was still there. But it has a better tint. So I made a photograph of the empties before my morning toast.  

Just plain dry toast with nuthin' thanks.

17 February 2017

ZOOMIN IN ON COONAWARRA: ZEMA


Zema Estate Coonawarra Shiraz 2013 
$25; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap 

One is tempted to revert to the standard back label descriptors of the 'eighties to review this lovely traditional Coonawarra red. They'd have a few trite lines about red berry and cherry fruit and something about oak and the wine being great for cellaring and perfect with all foods. 

On the other hand, tasting barrels with Dimitrio "Black Duck" Zema was always a little more basic. He had two tasting terms: "No good? All bugger?" and "Boom-boom!"

The longer I contemplate this Zema, the more I think that its style and quality fits those hazy, heady days. I'm not being condescending in any way: good wine had a certain, almost naïve honesty that was devoid of sophistry: a feeling missing from most of the over-polished or pick-your-nose feral extremities of today.

The only thing missing is that acrid barky whiff of a dodgy cork. 

It does indeed reek of those bitter cherries, with the simple seductive ooze of ripe raspberry conserve, the woodfire stove and a crackled old chesterfield. But there's fresh-bathed flesh, too: you're not alone.

It's generous of flavour and those traditional Coonawarra tannins put their warming fur over you whilst also drawing the finish out into a long dry reverie that triggers much contemplation and nostalgia, and then hunger.

It spins me back to the hearty tomato and olive pasta Mrs Zema would shovel into me after that long, flat drive south. Don't hold the parmigiana. Or the pepper. 

Zema Estate Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 
$29; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap 

After the mighty stack of pasta came the game. I recall being served two pigeons and a duck on one big white plate. I was scolded when I tried to pass it round the table: I thought it was to be shared. But all, all for me.

And then, with great pride, came the Cabernet.

Like this: teases of coffee, tobacco, blackcurrant and whole blackberry bushes, with all their brambly prickles, dark leaves and ripe, almost dripping fruit. It is precise Coonawarra Cabernet from an exceptional vintage.

The flavours and form take the shape of what was called claret. Claret was usually more lineal, less fleshy and tighter of form than what was called burgundy. But then, after a few days of air, the wine is edging more towards the fleshy opulence of a Rubensian Aussie burgundy.

It is indeed a lovely Coonawarra of the old school: perfectly reflective of the Zema family's constant rustic faith in their practice in both vineyard and winery. 

If you didn't grate all the parmigiano onto that spaghetti, finish it with this lovely. 

Zema Estate Family Selection Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 
$46; 14% alcohol; screw cap 

Vino famiglia. The title often given to the odd barrel of house wine for grandpa in this instance goes to the best, finest assemblage in the family chais.  More precise fruit and barrel selection, and an extra year in good French oak almost erases the rustic allure of the two 2013 reds. But not quite. This is the Zema Lambo. 

The best Coonawarra Cabernet is one thing. Really posh French oak, like we rarely saw in the 'eighties, is another. In this case that wood adds lemon and a hint of wintergreen and mint to the already wildly alluring mess of hedgerow berries soaking in crème de cassis, drawing the whole glorious dish into precise focus.

While the 2013 wines will glow with a few more years' cellar, this extra refinement will carry this baby for well over a decade. In the meantime, I'd have it with a juicy, lemony saltimbocca.

16 February 2017

BAR IN PENNSYLVANIA

Bar in Pennsylvania (1904) John Émile Laboureur (1877-1947) French

15 February 2017

McLAREN VALE TASTES ITS DIRT

all tasting photos©Philip White
 
Licking the 2016 rocks for science
by PHILIP WHITE

While its maceration still confounds me as it growls around my mind, the McLaren Vale Districts Tasting of barrels of one-year-old Shiraz left a few prominent, and I reckon fairly trustworthy, presumptions.

That's probably presumptuous. Let's forget that. We'll call 'em suspicions worth pursuit.

This annual event is where a group of bright McLaren Vale winemakers sit around examining flights of Shiraz deliberately made according to their source terroirs, stored in neutral aged oak for a year, decanted into a bottle and presented.

This is a full-bore forensic tasting conducted by local experts fluent in the most complex aspects of their region's unique terroir and history. I had a couple of years away from the table and it was a delight to be back there in that fruity-yet-crisp intellectual and organoleptic atmosphere. The table bristles like a chess championship, or a Miles Davis rehearsal.

Everyone gets their solo.

The trick is not to go fault-hunting. The appraisal nerves here are most useful wrapped entirely around the matter of whether or not the wines in each subgroup share component factors. If they do, what are they? If they don't, why not? What else do they offer?

Every year, the collective findings of these tasters vary. Some vintages I've seen one geological group or another dominate in individual character or quality; some years it seems almost every geology shows unique distinction, for better or worse.

The individual shards of memory and notes of this tasting won't be of much use scientifically until they're added to the database built from all these vintages of annual appraisals and countless hours of discussion through each year.

Wes Pearson, who slides comfortably down the razor blade between the Dodgy Brothers, his winemaking partnership, and his other life as a scientist at the Wine Research Institute ran the tasting in a methodical and reassuring way. In an operation which can suddenly seem overwhelmingly complex, it's good to feel reassured as you progress.

First, all the wines were brought in by makers who pin-pointed their source on the Geology of the McLaren Vale Wine Region* map of 2010. A committee, including some of these expert tasters, has been working to establish a series of sub-regional compartments based on geology and often a more complex discussion of aspect and climate and other critical influences on the tricky bits.

They call these sub-regions Districts. They are not recognised in any law, but are tentative sub-regional boundaries for agricultural, geological, organoleptic, œnological and viticultural study. It's about science, not marketing. It's nascent science.

First up, whilst the 60-odd entries were poured in 11 flights, we first tasted blends of all the wines from each district. These we discussed intensely. Equal proportions of each entrant from a particular district would be blended and poured, then pored over.

Next, district by district, we examined the individual components, always then reflecting on the vineyard's geology and site. If, say, one component turned out to dominate its district's assemblage, the tasters can form an idea of that spot's general trend by removing the dominator. Sometimes there were only three or four wines, so one treads with great sensitivity. Other districts had many more entries.

There are a couple of possible trends that fascinate me most this early in the piece.

First, I felt the 2016 vintage may have been outstanding for the way in which the year and its conditions overwhelmed many abiding suspicions and presumptions I'd had about geology. The boundaries were a little smudged this year. Like overall, these were elegant, racy wines without so much of the fat the local runners can put on so easily.

I certainly had my favourites, but to me, the lithe style of the year seemed to overwhelm a lot of the geological hints I'd expected.

Otherwise, there could be a shot of subconscious industrial psychological stuff going here where the winemakers quietly and probably independently decide to show a bit more attention to letting their grounds speak by pursuing a more elegant style for the barrel they set aside for this remarkable exercise.

You get a fashion drift like that now and then.

If in this instance, the vintage has magnified their focus, making the goal closer and more easily attained, that's very cool.

If it's only a viticultural fashion or accounting thing, I hope there's some science to it.

To my burnished saxaphone, one geological base totally distinctive in 2016 was the calcereous Eocene (young at 56-34 million years) geology of the Blanche Point formation, which reappears in various locations spread kilometres apart. These old seabeds almost invariably dinged up a tab of descriptors more akin to a ripe and juicy young Coonawarra. In this case, geology seems to overwhelm vintage.

Please don't begin to think these reflections of mine will suddenly change your eventual bottle of McLaren Vale: this was merely 60 trial barrels out of the region's 3,218 hectares of Shiraz. There will be many more woody, and probably many a bit like this eventually assembled from each cellar's stack. But there's plenty of time left for polishing. The blenders have not touched these wines.

Which is what makes them special.

Neither does this tasting have anything to do with the so-called Scarce Earths Shiraz marketing scheme, which obviously causes great confusion to those being introduced to this project.

Consider the unpronouncable Scarce Earths, which in China translates to Rare Earths, which are a set of glowing beauties on the Periodic Table. They're used in stuff like warheads, TV screens and phone batteries and China's probably got most of it waiting to be mined. See how easy I get off the track ... but his is really very confusing, especially to the Chinese! 

I set out to say that until they hire a poet or writer to come up with a better name than this smart-arsed Rare Earths/Scarce Earths nonsense Chester Osborne invented, the committees of good folk who've spent years on these studies could help individual local growers confirm their geology so they could sell that vineyard's wine under the region's special seal to guarantee that geology is exactly what the label claims, whatever the variety.  

Then we'll learn stuff. And growers will learn to name their geology, rather than revert to the dumb District numbers currently used by those not fluent in the names of the numerous geological groups. I'm tired of hearing well-intentioned growers say stuff like "I'm in the corner of eleven, but I've got some thirteen and six."

If such an advancement could be made, our map would make a lot more sense to many more people, including savvy customers. There'd also be a more inclusive and varied stable presented from across the vignoble: one which includes all the new varieties being planted by pioneers and adventurers who deserve as much recognition as the old couch potaters. 


*Geology of the McLaren Vale Wine Region, PIRSAMinerals and Energy Resources South Australia Publishing Services©Government of South Australia June 2010

I'd love to see an overlay on our geology map, indicating the price grapes bring per hectare ... this would immediately begin to indicate the geologies winemakers prefer, and maybe begin to discourage vignerons from planting in the less-appropriate  districts. 

... and Coonawarra talks about limestone! This is Blanche Point Formation fossiliferous limestone beneath Maxwell Wines. Maxwell winemaker Andrew Jericho grows exotic mushrooms in this drive now, for the winery restaurant.