“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)





24 November 2017


An affair with the Saturno family's triple take on four clones of Nebbiolo:
Long View Adelaide Hills Nebbiolo Rosato 2017 
($25; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

This lively fishy pink alone is good enough reason to wend your way to this picture-book Macclesfield vineyard for a platter of springtime antipasto and a glass or two while your gaze fixes itself into the middle distance and the bothers of life melt into the haze. 

The noble Nebbiolo gives this bouquet a rindy blood-orange and peach allure: it's comforting and fleshy. But there's a neat spicy prickle there as well: a piquant edge that sets the anticipatory savouries gushing. The body of the wine sets up an entertaining see-saw of that homely fruity flesh dancing counterpoint to the sharper edge with its fine tannin and saucy acidity. 

There's nothing simply raspberry or strawberry about this wine. It's not your simple lollypop Grenache, but a drink with its own distinction: an entertaining and delicious new benchmark in the burgeoning school of grown-up rosés for fully growed-up pinksters. 

Any of the home-grown Italianate dainties on the Longview lunch card will suit it swimmingly. 


Longview Fresco Adelaide Hills Nebbiolo  2017 
($36; 13% alcohol; screw cap) 

I can imagine Dorothy Parker toying with a bowl of this while she dashed off a page or two of hot social bitchery for Vanity Fair or The New Yorker in the 'thirties. 

The whole rockin package is uber-cool: off-the-wall use of the Bailey's bottle with jazz age graphics and a ritzy red content that goes perfectly with twenty minutes in the ice bucket while the pithy one-liners bounce about the deck. 

It's spicy and sultry sniffing: Longview director Mark Saturno nails it when he suggests cherry cola. L-O-L-A Lola. Slinkin past with a cigarette holder as long as her gloves. 

It's peppery and bright and zesty to inhale, but this is not built for inhaling, this is a clubby red potion for guzzling. That cherry cola thing runs all the way along the drink: it almost feels slightly petillant in its cheeky prickle. It's not mindless, but it's not going to interrupt you much. Rather, it's there to hold your chin up if you let too much of that rosato through earlier. 

Dry, neat, tidy, trim: this thing's all about attitude. Massage me an olive, Boris. Sigh. 

Longview Adelaide Hills Nebbiolo 2015 
($50; 14% alcohol; Diam cork) 

Longview's four clones of the noble northern Italian Nebbiolo have now had 22 years to own their slice of the stony Macclesfield hills. Every now and the the vintage rings loud enough for the Saturnos to release a riserva, like a king-hell dead serious mutha red. 

First, this regal work hurls up spice, like nutmeg and long pepper. It really tickles the nose. 

Then you get a glimpse into the depths looming below: hawthorn berries, juniper, blackcurrants, figs, dark cherries: imagine a great silver punchbowl brimming with them, soused in lemon juice and kirsch and dusted with musky icing sugar. That's your bouquet. Oh, and I must mention the bunch of roses. 

Take a sip. The texture is the first thing that gets you: polished, authoritative, smooth and glinty as blue-black gunmetal. This is the boss. 

The flavours are real dark and glinty, too. But there's a certain regal elegance about it: it's as much aquiline Wills as wild hairy Harry. 

Like the best of upland Italian Nebbiolo, there's a unique thing about the structure of this drink. While it has all the above morass of the darker fruits in abundance, they're presented in a smooth, almost raspberry-simple and honest form, much in the manner of a more sraightfoward Pinot, like say from Morey-St-Denis. 

Then, like an afterthought, oh dear, is that a fluff of tannin blowing by? And is that some neat natural acidity edging in? Oooh, I see. It's deceptive. How complex and brooding is this thing gonna get? How many decades will it glower and grow? 

This is a bottle of right royal mystery.

23 November 2017


The view's much better from the edge

Cape Jaffa winemaker Des Hooper went to Georgia in the Caucasus for vintage 2015. 

We'd known for a long time that modern winemaking probably started there between the Black and Caspian Seas, where Europe meets Asia. Last week a group of scientists from the University of Toronto and the Georgian National Museum, funded largely by the National Wine Agency of Georgia, reported in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences (USA)  that they'd pushed back the earliest proven date of grape winemaking by about a thousand years into the Neolithic, 8,000 years ago. 

We know the Chinese were using grapes to make alcohol a thousand years earlier at Jiahu in the Yellow Valley, but that beverage also included fermented Hawthorn berries, mead and rice wine. Chemical residues from the Georgian pots show their wine was all grapes, pure and simple. 

Winery excavation at Gadachrill Gora in Georgia. Photo: Judyta Olszewski
Des and Anna Hooper were pioneering biodynamicists on the Limestone Coast: he uses the modern ceramic egg-shaped version of the ancient Georgian vessels, but experiments with fermenters and containers of many different shapes. 

Their newest Cape Jaffa range, called Winemaking on the Edge, includes the following two radical trials, made with those 8,000 years of practice foremost in mind. 

Cape Jaffa CJ Samphire Limestone Coast Skin Contact White 2016 ($29; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) was made using ideas Des brought home from the Caucasus. It's a "mix of varieties we might not necessarily expect to see together" but is mainly Chardonnay. You can't tell. 

The blend was fermented on skins and left on them for another six months in barrel. 

Right from the start, the wine smells big and rich, perhaps along the lines of a unusually ripe Alsace white. It has, in lovely alluring harmony, syrupy hints of melting butter with shallots and rind, lime-and-ginger marmalade, rose petals and white pepper. While these are all pale items, this bouquet is as hearty and complex as many reds. 

Given all that, the temptation is to serve the wine at a red temperature. This works well, but I prefer it after about twenty minutes in the ice bucket. 

Its texture is as syrupy as that bouquet indicates, with flavours that turn on all my autumn leaf colours, from golden to russet. It has an earthy vegetal hint, like parsnip tails caramelised in a roast, and tapers off into very fine chalky tannins with a flavour that reminds me of that sprinkle of white pepper I sniffed at the start. 

Given all that, I can't help thinking of spaghetti vongole with plenty of Italian parsley and garlic, or oilier, weed-feeding fish. Coorong mullet, flathead or leatherjackets would all work grilled or slightly smoked; a yellow curry of European carp with saffron rice would also work wondrously. 

This is delicious, fascinating wine. 

Cape Jaffa CJ Mesmer Eyes Limestone Coast White and Red Blend 2016 ($29; 15% alcohol; screw cap) takes its name from the German quack philosopher, Franz Mesmer, whose invention of the term "animal magnetism" covered his teaching that there's a natural energy transfer between all animate and inanimate objects. 

In keeping with that transfixation, the wine is a blend of batches of Gewürztraminer, each fermented on Shiraz skins. 

It's paler than full-bore dry red, and darker than any rosé, a little like the Cab Mac lighter reds Stephen Hickinbotham conjured in the 'eighties. It smells red, like raspberry, cranberry and salmonberry. But even if chilled it includes, in its tantalising bouquet, white aromas like celery, citrus pith and fresh-sliced white beets. It also has a distinctive character Hick typically, lovingly, called 'cold stew'. This includes white pepper and bay leaf. 

Like the distinctive Cab Macs, it tastes somewhere between complex rosé and really savoury light red. It's vibrant and engaging and seems brightly pickled, like the best Barossa dill. Its tannin is barely there, but there's just enough to add to its piquant sharps. 

The thought of a red that does well with salad is a strange notion, but this radical beauty has the perfect structure to suit a bowl of alfalfa and mung sprouts tossed in a light dressing with smoked salmon or raw - or canned - tuna, sliced dill, capers and peppery cress and/or rocket. 

If you're thinking weight and texture, this is the lighter, brighter wine of the pair. 

While obviously pushing today's droll boundaries, and as far removed from Jacob's Creek as Alpha Centauri, these are not unfinished or unmade hippy wines. They are both quite stable, entertaining, happy drinks, clean and tidy. They both involve a great deal more planning and design than almost everything from the murky naturalists. These two wines are complete. Accomplished. They have finesse. 

Which leads me to the labels. The Spanish call labels etiquettes, after the little instructional cards newcomers were handed at court in order to know how to behave in the presence of royalty. The etiquette of wine labelling serves surely to instruct us as to what to expect in a bottle. Very handy basic information like what it is, what's in it, where it comes from and how alcoholic it might be. I'm not yet blind, but few adults with the readies to throw at unusual wines like these could ever manage to read these back label texts without bright light and major magnification. Which you won't find in a restaurant. 

So: forgiven - just - for the fashionably unfinished livery, but praised to kingdom-come for daring, vision and finesse in the wine kitchen, here are two new age crackers with very very old roots that I recommend from the bottom of my thirsty, greedy heart. 

Which in turn leaves me keen to see what modern Chinese winemakers will do when they forget Bordeaux and Burgundy for a century or ten and start polishing their own ancient recipes. Just take it easy on the tiger dick.

21 November 2017



The author, Pierre-Henri Morel, Joel Mattschoss, Peter Fraser and Michael Twelftree

Grenache from the south of France to South Australia: an intimate trip

It was one of those special tastings where one gets a chance to gaze over somebody's fence. Perhaps the best example of Experiential Tourism. Have a quiet look into several decades of one family's distinctive contribution to Grenache. 

Barossa Two Hands man Michael Twelftree raided his own cellar and tabled a string of great vintages from the famed Armenier sisters, Sophie and Catherine, of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Watching the way the Armeniers changed the direction of the old family estate is a real intimate, dead honest treat. After brother Philippe moved to the Napa and winemaker Sophie and business manager Catherine secured complete control of the company in 1996, you can see the brand finding its cult through consistence and sensitivity in vineyard and winery. This tour of the highlights of their scarce grail, their Domaine Marcoux Vieilles Vignes, from 1990 to 2015, was like opening somebody else's mail: it is that private. 

Sophie and Catherine Armenier

They make only about 300 cases a year of Vieilles Vignes, from three of the best of their priceless suite of little vineyards. The sisters farm incredible 50-100+ years bush vine Grenache biodynamically a few kilometres from the Rhône. Their family, originally called Armani - no not the Italian lot -  were well-established in this south-of-France district in the register of 1344. They were probably there before any popes came fleeing from Italy. The calcerious geology supported that little village of lime-burners so well it was called Châteauneuf Calcernier dit de Pape until 1893. 

When I consider the limestone and calcrete, and the red and paler clays of McLaren Vale, I feel certain this Austral district could go very damn close to replicating the riverine alluviums of Châteauneuf. Then the Kurrajong Formation of the Willunga Faultline and its escarpment often reminds me of bits of the Rhône delta, before it was washed to riverine roundness. It's been a long time since a stream with the force of the Rhône came out of the Mount Lofty Ranges. Instead, the Vales has the recent wind-blown æolian sand of Blewett Springs and Kangarilla atop much of its clay. Yum-o. 

And I'm not being an antipodean smartarse when I say the range of modern winemaking technologies well established in the best of McLaren Vale leaves most of Châteauneuf for dead. There, a vast amount of the vintage is fermented and matured in open concrete vats and big old skanky oak the like of which most of the Vales left behind in the 1970s and 80s. 

Relentless winehound Dr Bob - Robert de Bellevue MD - from New Orleans, with Yangarra Estate/Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard manager/chief winemaker  Peter Fraser and an experimental stainless steel temperature controlled amphora ... photo Milton Worldey

To be fair, the great makers of those days, like d'Arry, Jim Ingoldby, Reynella and Seaview, were quite capable of using old kit like that to make Grenache very much akin to the top of today's Mediterranean France. And Spain. 

Michael Twelftree brought his wines south from the Barossa with his Two Hands General manager, Pierre-Henri Morel, who worked for M. Chapoutier on the Rhône for thirteen years before starting at Two Hands as Sales and Marketing Director in 2014. Joel Mattschoss, Wilton Hill Vineyard proprietor with probably Australia's highest Grenache at 525 metres up on Mengler's Hill in the Barossa Tops came too. Yangarra Estate boss Peter Fraser made us welcome in the White House on Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard. He brought Yangarra High Sands Grenache 2010 and '15; we also tasted a few of the recent popular prize-winners from the Barossa and McLaren Vale. 

The Marcoux wines were such open-hearted, honest reflections of Grenache from a particular spot with such a grand old culture that as I say, tasting them seemed to involve the presumption of an intimate trust. They showed how very special Grenache is often unique for the disarming human-ness of its flesh. Which is probably why we like it. From pink bubby flesh to great powdered Rubensian folds, it can can all seem deliciously human at its best. 

Even my tasting references to pork belly or carcuterie meats, Nivea or tack dressing, cream and cherry gel all offer fairly thin drapes over the simple honest humanness of Grenache made with so much love that itself can degrade to simple obsession at the cost of due respect. 

Which is not what happened here: We could see Sophie locking her winemaking in through 2000 and '03, gathering pace in '04 and '05, then really changing gears with the tight clean precision of '07. Then the '12 was even more so, racy and fresh with the thrill of speed and risk. To which I must have made a motoring rather than anthropophosical reference. Our colleague M. Morel made a remark about the profile of your average new age Châteauneufer in suggesting that while there are plenty of Lamborghinis crammed in the little burgh's laneways, he'd never seen one in a vineyard. 

"But it's the biggest car show in Europe some weekends," he said. 

Somewhere in there lies the thing about Grenache. You can make it low and fast or cushy and luxurious; carbon fibre and titanium or plush old leather and rivets but in both extremes the sins are like totally carnal and indulgent. Much more so, I suggest, than Pinot, which is more acidic and tannic. 

McLaren Vale Grenache is low in acid and tannin, but also has a low pH, which lessens the need for their preservative role. At the risk of contradicting myself and committing heresy, I continue however to dare McLaren Vale makers to nevertheless pick some of it earlier and learn to make it in accordance with that extra elegance at the risk of shedding some pounds in the flesh division. 

Yangarra and Hickinbotham Clarendon estates viniculturer Michael Lane under attack from an ancient Grenache vine that didn't take too much of a liking to the look of his pruning snips ... photos by Philip White

I daren't go so far with Barossa Grenache, however. I don't understand the harsher, drier tannins there, arising I suspect from the region's lower background humidity. The moistening, softening influence of Gulf St Vincent is the key to McLaren Vale. Moisture, see? Geologies repeat everywhere. 

So, what's best? Locally, we need now to remember what we lost, and nearly lost forever in our national desertion of Grenache when the cool climate Cabernazis and Chardonneighs took over. 

McLaren Vale in particular was making more wines along the lines of these gorgeous Domaine de Marcoux delights in the 'seventies than it does now. At the same time, wines like Kay Brothers' two recent trophy-winners, including the Bushing King crown, show some have never stopped doing it with long-distance love, stoic determination, and an admirable disdain of the fashion of the day. . 

The wine coming from Yangarra and Twelftree/Two Hands is another thing again. They're gently edging some reinforcing science into this very old, mystifying intrigue. It is this sort of modern intelligence which drew Pierre-Henri Morel to Australia.

20 November 2017



Shiny new points on the sharp Wirra Wirra trident  

As Wirra Wirra sits back into what looks like a very comfortable armchair as far as its bold front-of-house evolution proceeds, releases like this top-flight trio quietly show there's no armchair business going down out the back. Paul Smith and his winemaking crew are obviously thinking hard about the direction their top wines take, and working hard to nail it with more authority each time the vintage makes it possible. 

At a time when much emphasis is cheekily applied to leaving wines unfinished, by avoiding the tricky matters of filtering and fining and even simple cold settling, it is clear these Wirra Wirra folks know how to polish their most premium products to a most luxurious silky sheen. 

Much of this key work is done long before before bottling. Like in fastidious vineyard selection, choice of the percentage of whole berries and/or whole bunches included in the ferment, very crafty intelligence applied to making the cut of soft from harder, more tannic fruit in the basket press, and then the ongoing matters of just what types of oak are best suited in which formats and at the most appropriate age. 

Then comes the bit the accountants hate: deciding which barrels are good enough to go in the top cut, and which are demoted to products of lower prices. 

Which is followed by the moment the naturalists choose to decry: actually straining the wine so no remnant grooblies get in the bottle, and choosing how much sulphur - a common non-metallic rock once called brimstone - to add to stabilise and protect the wine after all that work. 

With slick exquisities like this trio, it's obvious that the effort they've put in early in the piece relieves the need for last-minute correcting. There's no hint that they've been over-filtered or over-sulphured. Unlike a million lesser products, corrections late in the piece are hardly required with elixirs of this calibre. 

Wirra Wirra The Absconder McLaren Vale Grenache 2016 
($70; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

This is at the forefront of the silky-smooth Grenache school. The damn thing glows with the calm persistence of a burnished sea captain's lamp. It has all the dark berries and cherries and stuff we've  learnt to find in grand Grenache, against grand old oak beams. Then there's the slightly sinister deeper darkness in the corners: spooky juniper and blackberries on the dusty twilight briar ... shadowy flickers at the edge of organoleptic vision, just to make you happier about that lamplight. 

Drink. After that healthy fleshy beginning the bouquet promised, the wine tapers ever-so-gently to a long, lithe, acidic twist with barely a flake of tannin. 

The titanium trident has 24 carat gold on its barbs. 

Wirra Wirra RSW McLaren Vale Shiraz 2015 
($70; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

Following the same polished style, vineyard selection is the cornerstone of this shiny, dark assemblage. It has glorious florals amongst its glowering berries and gentle fresher oak, reminding us that out amongst all that mindless gloop-on-a-stick Shiraz that clogs the Shiraz shelves, you'll find utterly seductive, very much alive dainties like this dancin' around. 

Add semi-dried dates and figs to the juniper and berries of the Grenache, and some star anise and licorice root, and you're in this heady realm. 

It's both darker and more shiny. And this one has a shade of very gentle velvety tannin. 

Wirra Wirra The Angelus McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 
($70; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

One of the most vivid vinous memories of 2017 was an Onkaparinga Hills Cabernet batch Smithy showed me at Wirra: man that was bright and vivacious and just a hint at the sublime Cabernets the Vales can produce in the sorts of priceless upland siltstone currently disappearing under villa rash at Seaford Heights. 

There are odd patches still productive north of the Onkaparinga. 

I can smell, taste and feel that stuff in here. It's a bit like the Cabernet Michael Waugh gets off his tiny Roennfeldt's vineyard at Greenock Creek in the Barossa, which has all this floral brightness when picked below 13.5%. Which he does more than you'd think. 

Otherwise, this is the perfect pointy tip to this southern triumvirate: clean and cheeky, shiny and blue-black, as glossy and polished as a lacquer screen. 

If you prefer your reds with a few more corners on them, you'll find them abundant amongst the tasting room only biodynamic and organic trials at the Wirra Wirra cellars. They're really good. Go have a slow lunch in the courtyard. But if you're committed to the luxury spend and you want concourse shimmer, few establishments can offer this sort of polish at the top. Yum-o.