“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)





15 August 2008

Iced out on O

This was first published in The Independent Weekly in June 2008

“Rosemount serves up wine over ice”, shouts the headline… “New trend in wine hits Australia and re-writes the wine rule-book”.

This missive lobbed in a week heady with chatter about the pushers of kiddylikkers for the eccy gen, and blacker RTD brews for the iced coffee men, both a touch tishy for the fine wine business. But it came from Lisa Saunders, Group Marketing Manager of Rosemount.

“Rosemount O is a first in the ‘over ice’ sub-category to hit our shores”, Lisa writes, “satisfying a growing trend toward lighter and more refreshing drinks…it’s a must-have in refresh ment…a new innovation in wine, specially blended by our winemakers to taste it’s [sic] very best when served over ice…which means that you can enjoy a bottle of wine with your friends and feel refreshed at the same time”.

Gee whiz. Refreshed. At the same time as what? Getting maggoted? Iced? Would the new O trend be a kiddylikker like Pernod/Ricard/Orlando/Jacob’s Creek released years ago, just as the ecstacy wave hit? They called it “e”; one could drop a coupla e’s with impunity. So. Anybody heard of a new party drug called “O”? Oh no: here it is, further down the page: “the unique name was selected as a general reference to the ‘O’ in ‘over ice’, while also eluding to the shape of the bubbles and the ‘O’ in zero degrees – the temperature at which water turns to ice”.

Cool. For a moment there I thought it might have referred to somebody’s IQ. Elude comes from the Latin eludere, meaning to play, befool or cheat. Maybe Lisa intended the modern meaning: to evade compliance with, to escape adroitly from.

At least e WAS part of a new-ish trend. The Rosemount’s a copy of moscato d’Asti, a sweet, light wine from Italy’s Piedmont, made with the maximum amount of fizz you can put under a conventional wine cork without it popping. That’s about one atmosphere of pressure: not very fizzy. More fizz, and it becomes spumante, which needs a champagne stopper. The O has a screw cap, and has more than one atmosphere. At 75 grams per litre of sugar, it’s fifteen times sweeter than regular riesling. Which some of us have been drinking with ice all our bloody lives.

At 9 per cent alcohol, the O is more like spumante. Moscato d’Asti’s usually about 5.5. So we have a cross of two old north Italian drinks masquerading as a brilliant new Australian conception. Then, Lisa does say “to hit our shores”. She knows it came from somewhere else.

Moscato d’Asti’s made from moscato bianco, the grape we call muscat blanc á petits grains, frontignac, or just plain fronti. Barossadeutschers call it front’n’back, which is a great name for a drink. While Rosemount O also includes another muscat grape, muscat gordo blanco, there’s nothing new about it.

After all that, the Rosemount O is a good slurp, and a lot more honest than its breathless propaganda. While it’s not a patch on the more rustic Innocent Bystander Victoria Moscato 2008 ($12.50; 90 points), which comes in crown-sealed 375 ml. bottles and includes some black muscat, the O’s cheaper at $18 for 750 ml.. Made by the fizz ace, Chilli Hargrave, it’s clean, fizzy, cute, and, well, sweet….a prime breakfast tipple for those who crave a little sugar to ease them into the day; perfect for aperitif or dessert. 80 points. And you don’t really need ice.

Next came news from Tallarook, in the Central Victorian Highlands. Chalk and cheese. “Tallarook has consistently followed a path combining the best of Northern Rhone traditional winemaking practices with our own New World philosophies”, writes Luis Riebl. He lists the French winemakers who have influenced him, and explains in detail how his hybrid techniques differ.

Lisa says “grapes were machine harvested at night to preserve the natural flavours”, but machines bash every berry from its stalk, making a hole in the skin where the juice oozes out and oxidation begins. They also pick every critter in the canopy. Luis insists on “early morning hand picking of very cold fruit”. Humans don’t pick lizards, snakes, rats, mice or grubs.

Riebl’s always down the line. “From where I sit”, he writes in his corporate brochure, “this is a lousy industry that produces the occasional gem. I don’t like talking about all the difficulties faced in the wine industry let alone agriculture in general, but there is so little else…God this is boring, but it does take a long time to work up the desire to grow things and make beautiful wine in this beautiful country out of one’s bloodstream...

“And don’t believe the nonsense you hear all the time about drought concentrating flavours”, he continues, blowing another dumb shibboleth outa the water. “You ALWAYS need healthy leaves to build intense and mature flavours, basta!”

Basta indeed.

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