“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





21 August 2008

The best recipes

by PHILIP WHITE – This was published in the Independent Weekly in December 2006

“I cut my teeth at Yalumba. I dragged hoses for Charlie Melton. I worked at St Hallett and Tatachilla. I do vintage every year in Portugal, making dry reds from Touriga and Grenache for Azamor in Alentejo. This year I’ve worked as a grunt for Ralph Fowler at Chateau Tanunda. And I make my own wines at various sheds throughout the Barossa.”

So explained the intensely quiet Tim Smith over a duck at T-Chow. It tasted so good it must have anticipated what it would finally swim in: his supple and elegant Tim Smith Wines Mataro Grenache Shiraz 2005 ($27; 14.6 per cent alcohol; 93 points).

“I’m finding I like Mataro more and more”, he said, “like the Bandols of southern France, where it’s called Mourvedre. I’ll be using more of it in this blend in the future. Bugger this obsession with GSM. Grenache Shiraz Mataro? Why should it always be those three in that order? Whose idea was that? I’ll probably end up dropping the Shiraz from the blend altogether.”

Tim’s exquisite wines are a lot about texture. I mean this blend shows amazing fruit intensity, freshness, and depth of flavour, but its texture, its silky smooth viscosity, gives it elegance and form, and what Max Schubert used to call warmth. At the risk of being gender specific, it’s feminine.

“If you want big firm extracted red, drink Stonewell”, he says, respectfully, of one of Peter Lehmann’s macho flagships.

Hot ferments and plenty of stirring of the yeast lees in barrel is the trick to the Tim Smith Wines fleshy, silky style. “That leesy slime is essential”, he continued. “A lot of people can’t sell their wine because they don’t have a point of difference. Their tanks are full of ordinary wine. Attention to detail must be absolutely mercenary when it comes to quality decisions. It’s those one per cent decisions that give you a point of difference.”

So to his Tim Smith Wines Barossa Shiraz 2004 ($33; 14.5; 93), which seemed even softer, sweeter, and more opulent and silky, in spite of its velvety tannin. This wine was fermented with complete bunches suspended in the must, and had daily lees stirring for a month.

“And pigeage”, he says, referring to the old French method of gently agitating the ferment without bruising the uncrushed bunches suspended in it. “Great form of relaxation. Buy yourself a six-pack of beer, wash your feet, and walk up and down in your ferment for a while.”

We chewed over a barrel sample of his 2005 Shiraz (94 points; for Christmas release). This had a tiny proportion of the white, firmly tannic Viognier in it, which seemed in a sense to reverse some of the silkiness which is his trademark, but this will soften with time. “It’s okay. Just a trial”, he shrugged, when I suggested the French put the tannic white Viognier in their Shiraz to make it bigger and drier, especially in the simple, raspberry and cherry Shiraz of the cooler north Rhone.

In sunny Australia, where the Shiraz is already tannic, the questionable tendency is to let the Viognier get too ripe before the addition, and you end up losing its tannin and replacing it with a most unwinelike canned peach syrup.

“Yeah”, he continued. “In a way, Shiraz Viognier is a waste

of time in the warmer Australian districts.”

Thence to the majestic reserve Shiraz 2005 (95 points; release next year), which includes a touch of McLaren Vale Shiraz to further soften its structure. “I won’t live long enough to see this in its full glory” he murmured into his glass. His recommended food match? “Bloody rare haunch of Bison.”

So why the Barossa? There was no pause.

“Location, location, location” he said, finally approaching animation. “It’s fifty minutes from T-Chow. It’s a five minute blast on a Triumph Bonneville to the top of Mengler’s for the world’s best sunsets. It’s ninety minutes to the southern beaches. And it has all this amazing loamy soil with plenty of ironstone.

“Then, of course, there’s a really good vibe of camaraderie amongst the young winemakers now”, he continued, almost raising his voice. “Winewriters call me a young winemaker, but I’m forty-four years old. There’s a whole new generation rising. They’re on fire. Look at their surnames: Henschke, Glaetzer, Teusner, Lehmann, O’Callaghan.”

He went back to his original hush for the last line. “But Whitey, you know, the real Barossa heroes are the unknown hosedraggers and steel fitters who make it all happen and are happy to tell us pompous winemaking pricks where to get off. They’re always the ones with the best humour.” And then in a whisper: “And the best recipes.”

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