“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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09 November 2017

PRAISE THE LORD AND PASS THE PINOT

Home on the range: significant Pinots from the southern forests
by PHILIP WHITE

Bellvale Gippsland Pinot Noir 2016 
($25; 13% alcohol; screw cap) 

In retrospect, there must have been something familial going down the way these two South Gippsland Pinots just seemed to evaporate from the bottles when I snapped their caps. Like right under my nose. From this very dashboard. Er, desk. Voom! Evaporato. 

Then I check the precise location of John Ellis' vineyard and it's just over the range from where my old man Pastor Jimmy used to preach the Hot Gospel at Thorpdale and Childers. 

Like those sweaty summer sermons in the pine-board church in the 100+ metres of Eucalyptus regnans forest, I stand here to declare these wines just entered straight into me like holy spurruts. Nothing temperate about it. Praised be his precious and healing name. 

First up, this one reminds me aromatically of a fortified cherry wine we used to buy by the half-gallon from a bootlegger in Corkscrew Gully in the Adelaide Hills after one of the wars. 

In turn that reminded me of the syrup of the teetotal cherries Mum and Nan preserved in the Fowler's Vacola at our joint on the Leongatha Road in the Strzelecki Ranges in the fifties. Like just one twisty strand of spaghetti drive over the hills from where Bellvale just gradually grew these last decades. This wine's not nearly so alcoholic nor syrupy as either of those nostalgias, of course, and has just one sinister glimmer of juniper or a gloomy nightshade in there with some seasoned oak roast. 

And yep, there's framboise raspberries, too. 

I love it. It's just drop-dead gorgeously viscous, gently, persistently balanced with the older oak and fine natural acidity, and in the end, really long and silky in a clean and polished way. It's got a pointy tail. 

Bellvale Quercus Vineyard Gippsland Pinot Noir 2014 
($35; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

Brrr ... this is the grown-ups-only director's cut of the above, with the dark tone balance wound right up in the nose division, and acrid black pepper grindings in there with woody cordite and atmospheric carbide. 

That prickly hint of violet ozone on the ferns after the lightning struck. 

Spooky Ry Cooder bottleneck. 

Then there's all that dark-hearted fruit welling around the chaise like Anjelica Huston's Morticia with some proscuitto on a toothpick. 

You never saw anything like this up at the Thorpdale Presbyterians. Like the way it squirms around that sheath dress thing without moving more than one eyelash. No lipstick on them teeth. 

Burgundy perves think Morey-St-Denis-The-Menace in brash attitude within, but totally Anjelica's exquisite, outrageous reserve in presentation. Praise Bacchus and Pan and all the Sylphs and angels! 

Hardy's HRB Yarra Valley/Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir 2016 
($35; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

Pepper and flesh; verbena and strawberry; musk and blancmange; marshmallow and aniseed ... this is a very modern 'entry-level' Australian Pinot convertible with its top down to 'premiumise' it. Thus sprach the holy mantra ling of the marketing sickos. All that new stitched leather screaming for flesh. Piquancy and pulchritude. Tickly and tantalising. But it's not the vehicle for those who believe the convertible was invented so the driver could better hear her barking exhausts. This one makes no more noise than a sewing machine. 

Bay of Fires Tasmania Pinot Noir 2016 
($48; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

Also made by Accolade, the owners of that same Hardy's, this is a sublime sextract of the best of Tasmania's east coast, blended. It is a perfume waiting for a parfumier. 

In the meantime, drink the bastard. 

It has pepper and flesh in perfect counterpoise. It is overtly blushing pink to sniff, with just about the right amount of prickly half-time sweat. While it could make younger people, like thirties of forties, pant, or simply resemble them, it makes a single old bloke like me with no kids and a name like Whitey look very very suss no matter the heartbeat.

Really thickly-sliced cold-smoked salmon with fat ripe capers and chèvre, or much better, gravlax with cream-poached kipflers would set me swooning. 

But you know what? Right now I want to go back and suggest to that Pressy belle from Thorpdale she should take a second dainty guzzle of the Bellvale Quercus and have another go at the mambo while the Mountain Ash grows hungrily through the floorboards and the starch keeps them rope petticoats stiff.

03 November 2017

MISMATCH BREWS BY EWAN BREWERTON

Nothing mismatched in these top hops
by PHILIP WHITE

As the craft beer business gradually eats into the empires of the world's biggest brewers, the fashion is for anybody with a shed or a beard to suddenly presume the status of brewer and get on brewing suds. 

If you don't have a shed or a beard, you probably pay a bigger brewer to make the suds for you and pretend you did it yourself. 

If you're any good at either of the above, one of those leviathan transnational sudsters might buy you out and pay you to hang around so it looks like you are still the boss and the product remains worthy of the craft appellation. As if. 

Critics like me have been a bit twitchy about promoting many of the craftier crafters as their product often quite naturally varies so widely from batch-to-batch that there's no guarantee my reader will get the same product as the one I taste. 

Which is never to suggest that every beer made in a little shed will be more unstable than one made in a very big one, or even a refinery with no shed. 

It wasn't beer, but it was grain: I bought a tin of Gordon's Gin and Tonic at Hungry Dan's the other day for thirst reasons and the damned thing was buggered by trichloranisole, the corrupting compound in many corks that makes wine horrid. People don't know what it is but simply don't go there again. Bacchus wouldn't even know how enormous that G&T batch is, or how a bitter compound that arises from chlorine's infuence on certain moulds could get into a tin of gin. Its maker, Diageo, was the world's biggest spirit company until the Chinese Moutai overtook them one deep headache ago. 

My point being that the size of the factory doesn't necessarily determine a product's quality or consistency. 

Another trouble is hops. Too many of these aspirant or emergent shedsters are so much in love with this overwhelming, bittering, preservative herb that they simply shovel it in like a fat kid shovels Milo into milk. 

Beer might smell and taste of hops, but hops don't taste much like beer. 

Which leads me to the three canned beers from the Adelaide Hills based Mismatch Brewing Company, which is driven by the beard-free Ewan Brewerton. Brewerton. Fair dinkum. 

Mismatch Session Ale ($25 six-pack 375ml cans; 4% alcohol) is the most overtly hoppy of the trio. It is also the lowest in alcohol. It seems designed to cure spring and summer thirst. Friggin works. While the aroma is stacked with Citra and Galaxy hops there's a comforting fruity underlay whose citrus esters meld perfectly with the Citra hops. Then the malt rises, gentle and reassuring. 

Take a schlück, and the hops ease off, letting those fruity esters and the malt give you a feeling that you'd usually find only in a stronger brew. It's mouth-filling and as clean as a whistle, finishing as dry as a chip. Or a hop flower. Brilliant. More, please. 

Mismatch Lager ($20 six-pack 330ml cans; 4.5% alcohol) uses Hallertau hops and a yeast strain also from Germany, from Weihenstephan, the world's oldest brewery. 

It's lagered, or aged before canning, so its components swell and mellow, and homogenise better. 

This is a very fine beer, smelling of spring meadow flowers like fresh everlastings and a whiff of dusty country as much as hops. It's smooth and creamy like buttery pears below that polite Hallertau edge. 

As a drink, jee whizz. This is up there more than out there: fine, polished and elegant, yet full of healthy, malty, bready, fleshy flavour. It's one of those polished beers that brings no idea of alcoholic strength, and is more immediately satisfying and filling - you don't seem to need so much of it. Brilliant. 

Not so much, please. Oops. Correction: more, but not so fast, please. 

Mismatch Pale Ale ($25 six-pack 375ml cans; 5% alcohol) is a glorious confident luxury from the first whiff. 

Rikau, Mosaic and Blanc hops have tied the malts together like the coarse linen my grandmother used to bind and boil her Christmas puddings, and the beer has a certain pudding comfort, rich in citrus rind with shots of nutmeg and cinnamon. 

The bouquet is tantalising and seductive, complex yet harmonious; edgy yet cushioned and comforting. 

This beer is fluffy in the mouth, seeming to blow past like feather down. Then those brilliantly-cooperative hops move in, changing gears, stretching the length, drying the palate, stirring the appetite and putting a solid savoury basement in the hunger-enhancement sector. 

All these beers are accomplished, obviously well-planned and cleverly executed. 

Their appearance is exemplary: their fine Belgian lace - left like Plimsoll lines on the emptying glass - should be the envy of many very big famous brewers who'd tend to respond with more flocculant addition rather than care, effort, better-chosen natural ingredients or gastronomic intelligence. 

Ewan Brewerton's choice of hops, grains and yeasts from right around both Old and New Worlds is very cool indeed. 

After being a nomadic shedster for years, using corners of other folks' establishments to make his beers, he's happy to have state government assistance to build a proper new brewery near Nairne, in conjunction with the Hills Cider Company, Adelaide Hills Distillery, and Ashton Valley Fresh fruit juices. 

I wish him the grand luck he deserves. 

And I'm sure a few new thirsty connoisseurs would be an encouragement to such a big brave step. This is real good beer. You can also get it in big cans: 50 litre kegs. Check it out. 


Femmes buvant de la biere (detail) - d'Edouard Manet 1878
 

02 November 2017

BIG RESORT PLAN FOR VALES VINEYARD


Richard Hamilton applies for resort approval on prime agricultural land
by PHILIP WHITE 

The last time anything really big and rebellious happened in McLaren Vale was the Tractor Action uprising when local farmers and vignerons blocked the streets and roadways to protest against the very real threat of urban sprawl invading prime agricultural land. 

The Hon. John Rau MP (currently the State Attorney-General and Minister for Planning) eventually came down and held a meeting.

There he announced his approval of Seaford Heights, which put a huge and horrid spread of ill-planned housing on priceless grain and vine land right on the entrance to McLaren Vale.

Snookered, the citizens reluctantly accepted this as a sort of trade-off or downpayment for the guarantee of the Barossa and McLaren Vale Character Preservation Acts, which were designed to protect the unique cultural and invaluable agricultural nature of both regions.

Even Senator Nick Xenophon came down to help plant a Guerilla Vegetable Garden on the perfect farming ground of the Seaford Heights site. This was soon bulldozed for the horrid houses.

Local winemaker Richard Hamilton seems likely to be the first to test the limits of the Preservation Acts with this application to the local Onkaparinga Council.

This huge development is intended to go on McMurtrie Road, on prime vineyard land opposite the tasting rooms of Primo Estate and Hugh Hamilton, between the Salopian Inn and Wirra Wirra.

McLaren Vale certainly lacks a large scale luxury accommodation facility with conference amenities, but one wonders why such a development can't be within the township boundaries of either McLaren Vale or Willunga. 

The test will be whether the local and state governments are willing to push the notion that tourism in itself is more important than the agriculture which attracts it. Locals should get around to the council quick smart and have a good hard look at the proposal.

I, for one, don't want to have to get angry again. But I can.

This is the prominent vineyard in the immediate foreground where the whole dream gadget is gambled to go, looking east across Frank Mitolo's shipping container architecture toward Wirra Wirra:

Never forget: We are the stakeholders.

PENFOLDS G3 REVIEWS REVIEWED

The most discussed Australian wine of the era: but did we make sense?
by PHILIP WHITE

"There is no one in South Australia who has a better 'nose' than Mr. Mazure. If you take him a bottle of wine he can tell you where it comes from. On the day of my visit Mr. E. P. Clarke, the Inspector of Distilleries, arrived over from Stonyfell with Mr. H. Martin. The Inspector produced a bottle of sherry, which he said he had brought from Mr. Tolley's. Mr. Mazure smelt and tasted the sample, and then remarked 'Well Mr. Tolley must have got it from Stonyfell, because that is where this wine was made.' And he was right. South Australian wine has improved out of all knowledge since Mr. Mazure first landed on these shores." 

That's from The South Australian Vintage 1903 By Ernest Whitington From "The Register" which was curated and introduced by Valmai Hankel and published by the Friends of the State Library of South Australia in 1997.

It was written long before journalists began to write much about the aromas and flavours of wine. Nobody dared analyse wine much. If wine was written of, my mob merely reported the condition of the joint, the aspect of the vineyard, and the types and gallons in store. 

On reporting a Mazure-made Kanmantoo St George's red of those days, Whitington went as far as to say the folk at that table all thought it was the "white seal French" but would never attempt descriptors as are now common. 

Mazure held court those days at the Auldana cellars. It was there, and later at Romalo, opposite Penfolds Grange, that he perfected the claret he'd trialed at Kanmantoo and eventually named St Henri after his son. 

Mazure seemed to hover over the table a month back when Peter Gago poured a bottle of the exquisite 1971 vintage of the wine, as made by Max Schubert and his crew there at Magill. The ace Sydney wine critic Huon Hooke was there to share it. 


There are very few bottles of that great vintage left in captivity - Peter had taken our bottle from his own private collection. With other journalists, we'd just had the first taste of the new release Penfolds Collection and the already mythologised - and sold out - $3000 Penfolds G3. 

That drink, in my opinion, has to be one of the most stylised and distinctive wines of the era. Right from the start, I was curious to see how each writer would regard and report it. 

In TheReal Review, Huon echoed Peter's suggestion that the wine was a tribute to the great blender-winemakers of the past, like Max, but was also "a graphic example of the idea that a successful blend produces something greater than the sum of the individual parts. It seems to me, having tasted the wine, that he is correct." 

Without listing the berries and whatnot the wine evoked in his imagination, Huon reported "The wine was aged for an extra period of time in oak after the blending, which could explain the astonishing concentration and sublime texture ..." 

Max Allen (above), in The Financial Review, got a step closer to the standard metaphor and simile: "There's a depth and density to the rich black fruit that is a hallmark of Grange, with the fruit wrapped up in mature flavours of warm oak and damp earth and sweet leather, as well as youthful characters of dark spice and fine, firm, lingering tannins. In other words, you can see the contribution that each of the three vintages, 2008, 2012 and 2014, brings to the wine, but it all marries together seamlessly."  

In The Advertiser, Tony Love reported Peter's mantra: "No matter what you might think about this unique play on an icon such as Grange, the result ... is a wine that arguably is even more mysterious than its parts." 

Then, he too got more specifically metaphorical: "As a synergistic blend, it is intensely dark in colour as well as rising with the wafts of black berries, redolent too with deeply herbal essences like crushing together mint and star anise entwined with a subtle oak background and meshed with fabulous palate enhancing, medium-grained tannins." 

Michael Harry seemed to agree in Executive Style: "It's bright and buoyant, rich in colour, tinged with sweetness, luscious hints of berries and herbs and humming with the full-throttle luxury shared by the very best Grange."  

Nick Ryan followed in The Australian: "Recognisably Grange, but at the same time something more ... the wine quickly proves itself to be more than the mere sum of its parts. It’s packed with deeply set dark berry fruit, Dutch licorice, boot polish and woody spice. It’s utterly seamless, intently focused and perfectly poised. Is it worth the hype? Hell yes." 

Tyson Stelzer was the first one to bring ants into it, reflecting the criticism unconvinced wine judges made when they decried Max's early Granges in the 'fifties: "The DNA of Grange shines strong, in all of its glorious complexity, layered with black plums, blackberries and liquorice, nuanced with black olives and crushed ants," he wrote. "The tannin structure is towering, very firm, very fine and remarkably enduring. Length and line are profound. Age has brought a compelling seamlessness to the blend, with the harmony of 2008 lifted by the brightness of 2014." 

 On The Wine Front, Campbell Mattinson also hinted at the crushed ants, the smell of which resembles formic acid. But he too blended metaphor with the Penfolds promotional line: "It doesn’t taste like any of the vintages ... it has taken the three vintages and become something other. It’s an extremely concentrated wine. Strong fruit, strong oak, strong tannin, strong impression. Ferrous elements, dense blackberry, saturated plum, saltbush, vanilla, woodsmoke. Lots of formic. Pounding tannin. It feels dense, mellow, fresh and silken at once. Drinking it is a somewhat strange experience: it feels mature, partly, even slightly leathery, but there’s a rocket of fresh black fruit too. Its quality is undeniable. That said, the real 'soul' of Grange is an artful combination of its story, its creator, and its reliable flavour. In the glass, this wine tastes as though it’s a step removed." 

"Artful", eh? While he doesn't indicate whether he used this word in its sense of learned and wise or cunning and crafty, Campbell toyed with the price, wondering why punters with the dosh wouldn't simply blend their own and end up with three bottles' worth of an approximation rather than the official barrel-matured blend. 

"Everything about it is wrong save for three things: rarity, prestige, and (no small thing) the taste of it," he wrote. "G3 would have been more interesting, even compelling, had it been released at $1000 per bottle rather than at $3000 but then, the rich and powerful need something rich and powerful to spend their money on, so maybe that would have been throwing easy money away." 

With these encapsulations of the reactions of some of the more influential of Australia's critics, I believe one sees the lot of us tip-toeing between our honest reactions to its style and the corporate line of the wine being an essence of Penfolds. Which demands the query: given their lack of scientific rigour, do our descriptors have anything in common? I think so. But much more vaguely than the way we echoed the public relations mantra, whether our version of it was simply repeated PR guff or our own original thoughts. 

Peter Gago with his G3 ... photo Milton Wordley

Given the distinction we seem to agree the wine has, have we helped aspiring buyers understand the key facets of its true nature? Have we learned anything from it? Can you, the reader, really learn much from us? Maybe. It's just a telling pity that these opinions are all the utterances of old blokes. The women all seemed to be out the back, working in Penfolds public relations division. In which case they appear to have won a major marketing victory, for a wine it seemed they knew very little about.

In simply repeating the spiel we learned from Peter Gago, have we 'critics' taken the role of mere salespeople? I would like to think not. 

To get back to Mazure, one can only wonder how far we've come since his day. How many of us would recognise the G3 if it were presented again, blind? 

Would we buy it if we had the money? 

In his inimitable On The Road Again blog, Winsor Dobbin has his mind set: "G3 is impressively complex and will be much-sought-after by collectors," he agreed. "But to be totally honest it did not float my boat. I'll take 30+ bottles of St Henri any day." 

photos by Philip White

GREENOCK CREEK 2017 RELEASE

The Big Rock Candy Mountain 
by PHILIP WHITE

In 1928 Larry "HaywireMac" McLintock recorded his unforgettable hobo's dream, The Big Rock Candy Mountain. It's unfair to slice out a bit of it, but try this: 

" ... Where the boxcars all are empty 
And the sun shines every day 
And the birds and the bees 
And the cigarette trees 
The lemonade springs 
Where the bluebird sings 
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains. 

"In the Big Rock Candy Mountains 
All the cops have wooden legs 
And the bulldogs all have rubber teeth 
And the hens lay soft-boiled eggs ... " 

You don't have to be a hobo to appreciate how the new Greenock Creek wines make me feel like that. Like you're about eight or nine years old and you just woke up locked inside your favourite lollyshop in the middle of the night. Eight hours of free candy. 

Tasting the 2015 Greenock Creek reds is like that. The Big Rock Candy Mountain. There's a great deal of confection in the 'fifteens. 

On first opening, 2015 seemed a year when the particular individualism of these vineyards was overwhelmed more than usual by the vintage conditions. They reminded me of a ripe year like somewhere in the late 'nineties. I was initially concerned they were too much alike. 

While it's always an olfactory delight, it is nerve-wracking tasting and evaluating wines so young and fresh and cowed from the humiliation of bottling, however gently that was done. It's like "Hey Mama, I don't wanna go down the thing. I wanna stay here in my barrel." 

But things began to change. After a few days of tasting a glass from each after their bottling in July, then recorking the bottles, the wines all seemed to walk away from each other, shrug off some of their puppy flesh and I dunno. What? Go looking for their first tweed coats? Prove their independence? 

2015 is a ripe and hearty year: fairly alcoholic wines not for extreme-term cellaring, but wines which must not be overlooked as simply boozy. They are boozy and beautiful, and as individually determined and outspoken as usual. They are wines which will grow up a bit faster than most Greenock Creeks. 

I suspect the one I'll love most in a decade is the one with the lowest alcohol. That Roennfeldt's Cabernet truly is sumpin else. But I reckon we'll be all right with the rest once that one's gone.  

Greenock Creek Vineyards & Cellars Mataro 2015 
($25; 14% alcohol; cork) 

Beneath its gunmetal and juniper this is a shy, but alluring, creamy Mataro, much after a cool roast-fennel-and-garlic mayonnaise served in a warm roasted and peeled capsicum shell. It has a comforting whiff of the old woodfire stove, almost coal-tar soap, then that soothing, creamy-green thing. These disparate counterpoints will harmonise, then be singing in unison in a few years. 

That's all aroma stuff: it's a fascinating set of whiffs. 

The drinking bit is perhaps even more polarised: the juniper's ripe and settling into a jellied conserve with the bell pepper and beetroot cubes and what was fennel is creeping towards soft fresh licorice. I'm reaching for the mayo and a few slices of toasted rye. Smoked salmon. Capers .

This wine takes me to the alluvial slopes of Vacqueyras on the banks of the Ouvèze in the south of France. Which is a damned fine way of getting there, in anybody's language. You'd be very popular if you shared this with some of the new generation Mourvèdre makers there. Same grape. Take a case. 

Now, four days open, the bottle makes me determined to stay home and finish it alone. (Retreats to rear of cave.) 

Greenock Creek Vineyards & Cellars Cornerstone Grenache 2016 
($29; 16% alcohol; cork) 

My Grenache obsession is no secret: I've been a missionary for the stuff for most of my bibulent life. I've had a lot of Grenache. But I've never had anything like this. Nothing. It's nothing like McLaren Vale Grenache, Adelaide Plains Grenache or Clare Grenache. It's not like much Barossa Grenache either, come to think of it. Or French or Spanish Grenache, or Italian. 

Overwhelmingly opulent yet slick from go-to-whoa this baby. Mocha dusted on coffee and a deadly well of sinister swirling fruits on the side: a summer prickle on top; all that devilry going on below. 

Reminds me of Syd Long's beautiful Australian art nouveau masterpiece in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, simply called Pan. It shows the celebrated cloven-hooved flautist entertaining a few naked sylphs who are dancing by a pool. This wine's the depth of that purple pool 'neath the trees. 

So slick and jujube happy then the dusty tannin blows in and you have to start dancing again so it doesn't get you. What a delightful luxurious game! 

After a day or two some of the more regionally typical aromas emerge: old harness comes out of the dust. And that flavour whips around the sensories like that jar of brandy you kept  the figs and quinces in. So in this its infancy the wine is a sort of gender-bender, phasing between a dessert red and a savoury one. 

Third morning, its fruit is like cranberry and redcurrant. If you're quick enough to get some, it's going to last a long time, this Grenache. Unlike my bottle ... it was the first one empty! 

Greenock Creek Vineyards & Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 
($38; 15% alcohol; cork) 

This disgustingly vibrant, eager-to-get-on-with-it, perfumed and polished Cabernet seems like the best of Clare at first. It's slick and sinuous. Deadly. Very shiny shiny in the dark: a shockingly honest raven oil beauty. 

The hand of blacksmith Harry Hennig, who beat out many metres of iron like this to make the beautiful wrought gates for Michael's private cellar. 

Next day it's not so completely Clare - it reminds me too of the exemplary Cabernet John Glaetzer found in a couple of Langhorne Creek vineyards for Wolf Blass' paramount reds thirty and forty years ago, but without so much of their minty eucalyptus. That's been replaced with another few coats of shiny black lacquer and a flavour that could be more of a feeling, like the feeling of fresh vanilla bean. It's like a dream where all you get is a fragrance, a flavour, and a feeling, and the figure is just starting to form and you're suddenly awake and feeling cheated and very thirsty. 

There's only one solution: more of this gorgeous, willowy, classical Cabernet. It'll be like totally deadly in about six years. 

Greenock Creek founder Michael Waugh at the tasting room at Marananga with the author and Vern Schuppan ... photo Leo Davis

Greenock Creek Vineyards & Cellars Casey's Block Shiraz 2015 
($26; 17.5% alcohol; cork) 

It has always been an education to watch new Greenock Creek vineyards manage their first few crops. No two have ever produced the same baby flavour, but their manner - their inherited routine - has much in common. The new vines seem to grow with an inbuilt battery of almost too much energy. It's obviously to get them through the few first vintages whatever the weather throws at them. Their first fruits are enthusiastic and extravagent peacock displays before they settle down exhausted to face the routine they expect to continue for what? 150 years? 

And Casey's? What a show-off! Provocative, bright and fresh this dandy ... it's alarmingly cheeky and vivacious. This is the banana lollies, sherbert and fruit tingles section ... ripe raspberry and redcurrant gels ... a piquant hint of the old empty pepper tin ... oak that hasn't quite settled yet, but shall ... then a texture like a fluff of marscapone or meringue and a sweet delicate simple palate that tapers off ever-so-slowly ... like a pudgy young dancer awkwardly reluctant to leave the stage ... when it does, after all that wickedly heady booze, it leaves a neat acid finish wrapped in a Medlar Shiraz gel with soft, ripe juniper berry in the middle. Peace offering. 

Greeock Creek Vineyards & Cellars Alice's Shiraz 2015
($35; 17% alcohol; cork) 

Wow. Licorice rings and mudstone. Framboise and crème de cassis. Country dust and sun on the stubble. This Alice's is a sunday school trifle some wicked backsliding aunt has smuggled her personal blend of sherry and cherry brandy into. Then extra nutmeg too I reckon, to hide the whiff of alcohol. Fail. I seem to recall that she once raided the party with the same trick at the Apricot Block. I can smell Nanna Sarah's doughy scones here, with her amazing raspberry and fig jam. They're beside the trademark panforte with its nuts and dates and figs and marshmallow sugar dusting. 

After awhile you can feel half the congregation would really prefer to be dancing in that old hall rather than eating dessert at a dry show for somebody's anthracite wedding anniversary. So they get the old slap bass happening and a squeezebox and start bouncin each other off the walls my goodness all those rope petticoats. Flagons of old muscat out the back. 

Oh yes, it smells like chocolate crème caramel, too; maybe more crème brulèe. These wowsers have no hope. This Alice's really is Devil's Brew. I'm with him. But it'll be the drinker's death on day six: advise finishing day four. While you're in front. Put him down. Have a snooze. 

Greenock Creek Vineyards & Cellars Apricot Block Shiraz 2015 
($40; 16% alcohol; cork) 

Perhaps since it's had its usual trifle and even its crumbly/crunchy/doughy apricot strueselküchen  suddenly pinched by Alice's, the Apricot Block just had to hunker down and say "Well here I am: your most accomplished and together member of the Greenock Creek family on the table this year." [Michael glowers.] 

"Oh sorry most accomplished and together in the row, so far." [Michael looks away.] 

This year, it's cocoa powder. It's more. Yep, it's dark bitter ValRhona cooking chocolate around a cherry gel. An Adults Only Cherry Ripe. Not such a complex business as some years, but maybe the easiest one for that wicked sesh you've been postponing. 

Hang on. There's roast dry chillies, too. Like that Mexican chilli and chocolate sauce. And the rind of Curaçao oranges. Bring it on. 

Interestingly, this Apricot Block lost interest in me after four days, indicating it's probably best consumed within a decade. Not too much to ask, surely? 

Greenock Creek Vineyards & Cellars Seven Acre Shiraz 2015 
($48; 16.5% alcohol; cork) 

I have no idea whether licorice rings were puffed out like smoke rings from the oldest rocks around Greenock Creek in 2015, but I must say that the licorice rings emergent in the fruit of the Tapleys Hill Formation siltstones (about 700 million years old) under Alice's are magnified in the fruit of the even older schists of the Upper Burra Group that begin to emerge beneath Seven Acre. 

So there's your lollyshop colliding with the geology division down the crossroads. With help from the Panforte Shop next door, Lollyshop wins. I mean real soft licorice gel rings dipped in sugar crystals.  

Other than that, this is another Shiraz quite obviously of the geologically-diverse but house-driven 2015 vintage at Greenock Creek. As much as ever it reeks of that classic panforte hallmark of the cellar, but perhaps made by a Nonna this time in a village with a bit more afternoon sunshine, so the cake has a softer, riper touch. 

Day five, and everything's different. The Wild Seven has settled. Even the panforte has slid into the trifle liquor with the blackberries. Just in time for me to hear a footy coach on the wireless, sagely  advise carousing young players: "nothing good ever happened in a bath after midnight." 


Greenock Creek Vineyards & Cellars Roennfeldt Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 
($195; magnum in display case $595; 13.5% alcohol; cork) 

In this its infancy, this is a two-level piece of architecture, probably on wheels. If you're on the street level and you're on the paleo diet you'll think the nightshades are contentious or verboten so you can steer away from this smug baby from the start: it's full of bits of tomato, eggplant, plumcake tobacco and peppers. In here they're toasty and roasted with some very racy French oak. But not for paleo people. Aren't they still making their waddies from Yew? 

Out the back of that freshly-painted, baked-and-peeled capsicum family of aromas it's acrid and sharp, like hemp. Burlap sacks in summer. 

Take a good schlück and all that is given flesh of the most delicate yet intense crème de cassis form. 

This is an amazing rarity, a Cabernet of this lissom build with such compressed intensity. It will take years to convince some that this is indeed a wine of royal elegance as much as provenance. By which time it will be well beyond their reach. They can wait at the bus stop with the paleos. Bye-bye! 

Looking grim, but having the time of his life taking the V12 E for a fang: Michael being unfaithful to his vineyards
 
Oh yes. Forgot to take you upstairs. The top floor is open to the sky and it's all prickly summer backroad, from everlasting flowers through lavendar to wormwood, and then the sorts of tiny, beautifully aromatic shavings of nature somebody like Guerlain would work into a perfume. Violets. Ylang ylang. Black lilies. Perfection. 

Greenock Creek Vineyards & Cellars Roennfeldt Road Shiraz 2012 
($195; magnum in display case $595; 15.5% alcohol; cork) 

Another very frank lesson in fashion: The resinous Quercus alba wood is not so sharply sappy this year as in some Roennfeldt Shiraz but it's still very bourbon in style. Which makes this the sort of full-bore '80s and '90s fashion top-price Barossa Shiraz that came from a certain company then under the winemaking husbandry of the great Misters Ditter and Duval. 

It's a bit like Gerard Depardieu's mad pirouetting swordfighting Cyrano de Bergerac crossed with the 120 kg boy with freckles and bib overalls who lives down there in the swamp and when his mighty paw crushes yours in a handshake he leans down and murmers "The name's Bubba" right in your ear and you smell fresh bourbon and feel suddenly safe. 

Drinking it is a much less confronting adventure: it's slick and snaky in a luxurious velvet-then-silk manner and could well eventually pour comfortably with what? Say the best Shiraz of the great comet vintage, 1986? Perhaps the best Roennfeldt's Shiraz yet? 

We may know in 20 years. In the meantime, you couldn't get much more of a contrast than the faultline between the tectonic  plates of 2012 and 2015.

German settler's stock trough hewn from a Red Gum trunk at Greenock Creek ... photos by Philip White 

25 October 2017

PEACOCKS FROM BEAUTIFUL ISLE

Boho Adelaide winers will remember Cynthea and David Feldheim: Cyn for her clever winemaking at Hardy's; David for his role in the Sugar team at the East End club of that name; then his winemaking with Stephen Pannell. 

For years now they've lived and worked making their Beautiful Isle wines at Cyn's home place at Legana on the Tamar. This premium Peacock Series offers wines with more plush shimmer than many of the angular and acidic sharpies of the bonnie southern island: 

Beautiful Isle Tasmania Vintage Sparkling 2015 
($60; 12.2% alcohol; cork; 960 bottles)  

These clever folks know how to let some luxury grow in their suds. 

On the face of it, this is a sublime presentation of spicy honey syrup on a diced salad of everything from gooseberry to jackfruit in kirsch and lemon juice. Then I begin to catch chips of cindery honeycomb toffee and the rinds of various bitterish citrus. Some of it's toasted. Like that mandarin peel Mum would leave on the stove to make the house smell good. 

Then I discover its lively acidic depths. And its long slim cleeeaaaannnn flavour form. Folks, neath all that 'polstry and patina these wheels have a tight racing spaceframe lit to roll. 

When it's swallowed, it leaves a dry summer air thirst and then more of the fruit takes control with its saps and syrups and soon one feels all clean and oiled and fit for a looser toga. 

All the way through the story this saucy fantasy counterpoints the strawberry heart of Pinot with the steely form of Chardonnay.  I love a fizz that's like a little surrealist movie. 

The back label says "made with persuasion and encouragement to parade like a peacock." 
That worked! 

Beautiful Isle Tasmania Chardonnay 2016  
($40; 12.3% alcohol; screw cap; 1392 bottles) 

 Again it's lazy nostalgia, that hazy recollection of the autumnal edges of Chardonnay in the afternoon, winding this honeycomb/cinder toffee with grilled hazelnut and dry nutmeg-spiced mead affair beneath the oaks. After the same peacock mood as the fizz, this plushness weaves through those delicious grainy mid-tones Ken Russell and Billy Williams got onto the screen in Women In Love

As the sparkles did, this first presents those comforting promises. Then you find the fleshy white clingstone peach gushing forth, freshly-picked and peeled, and wander off up the rambutan/lychee/starfruit end of the market lane. Praised be! 

It's lovely, fresh, clean, peachy-cheeked wine. Sometimes I imagine a dollop of good yoghurt or sour cream on it; sometimes it's more along the lines of a peachy lemon sabayon with a flake of meringue on its spume. 

Dappled veranda in the afternoon: white anchovies; garfish; King George whiting grilled in a flash with lemon and pepper; crusty white bread with butter ... 

Beautiful Isle Tasmania Pinot Noir 2015  
($40; 13.2% alcohol; screw cap; 1416 bottles)  

This a beautifully rich, mellow wine. It is profound in its complexity and the deep retreats of its extremes. It is fresh and clean and yet somehow learned with the confidence of a few decades up the mountain in a robe like Leonard. 

I would prefer, mind you, to risk it in a spill across a table from Nina Persson: it works a-slurp with fresh herrings properly pickled with juniper and fennel. 

Not often you get a lovely fleshy Pinot that makes me go fish. 

It is an utterly easy slurp with the finest velvet finish. 

A day after first snapping that cap, it begins to remind me of the grand old Daimler David's Dad Sid lost to Max Harris in a card game. Or something lower and quicker: Back out here in the dickie seat I get the tannins of that great engine wafting on the breeze: perfect wine for medium-to-fast top-down touring after soft poached breakfast eggs with a scarf that won't strangle you if it gets caught in the wheel spinners. 

Today I'd prefer it with smoked snapper and shiitake or maybe enoki in a rice wine sauce ... 

Beautiful Isle Tasmania Syrah 2016  
($40; 13.6% alcohol; screw cap; 3465 bottles)  

Cyn made half this crop using full-bunch small batch techniques; David made the other half in what he calls the "big old McLaren Vale Shiraz manner" in a large open fermenter. 

While the original intention was to release the parcels as separate wines, one thing led to another and adventurous blending being the move of the times, here they are swimming together. 

I say swim because they'll get aboard and this flying boat will take off eventually: Cyn agrees that the two wings haven't quite stuck on the fuselage yet: the tighter cherries of the full bunch side have yet to admit the broader fruit cake of the trad batch into the co-operation game, but they'll get there: it'll fly right in a year or two when it looks more like a wine with an extra zero. 

In the meantime, it'll probably forgive you for bashing it round a bistro with a crusty wood-oven pizza or pasta. 

For once, I'd rather wait. It'll be well worth it.

Solomon, Aristotle, Cynthea and David Feldheim at home on the Tamar

VAN GOGH'S CHAIR