“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)





17 August 2008

Hold 'em wiv a rag

by PHILIP WHITE - THis was first published in The Independent Weekly in December 2007

Like newspaper columnists, wine merchants sometimes effect a pompous, thespian brand of vanity. A band of Netherlands buyers featured recently with a pernickety attitude to the temperature of their drinks. Each glass of red was to be accompanied by a second glass of ice, with a spoon. They’d hold an ice block in the glass with the spoon, attempting to cool the wine without diluting it.

The great Peter Lehmann has an easier method. Pour your wine into a glass and bung in a big ice block. This works on everything from port to riesling. To avoid dilution, drink the wine.

At the other end of the scale, one frigid night the colourful Hills winemaking identity John Gilbert handed me a glass of red he’d just blasted with a blowtorch. “Chambrer!”, he said, meaning room temperature.

Bugger room temperature. While Australian homes no longer have cellars, we’ve forgotten cellar temperature - roughly twelve degrees C to sixteen. This is perfect for most wines. Fizz, rizza and sauvignon can go in the freezer or ice bucket for fifteen minutes to chill them further; big tannic reds can warm up a little in the glass as you absorb them. It’s more fun, watching them unfold.

I irritated arrogant Sydney waiters in the ’eighties insisting on whites straight from the box in storage, and not the fridge, and into the ice bucket; my reds the same. Nearly all the red wines served there were far too hot at storage temperature, while all the whites were far too cold from the freezing fridges. Common stuff.

After thirty years of worrying about this, I’ve pared my serving temperature philosophy down to three basic tenets.

First: Too Hot. My brother Stephen, Dogger on The Fence, asked me once to bring him some big bottles of Cooper’s Sparkling Ale. I intercepted him at the Tarcoola races. After hours of red hot bulldust, our ute pulled into the back of what could most politely be called a Drinking Shelter at a mid-morning temperature of about fifty two degrees C. “Bewdy mate, where’s the Coopers?” was the eager query from the dusty dags within, who seemed tired of the chilled Victorian keg they’d been working on.

I said the Coopers was in the sun on back of the ute, and would be far too hot to drink. “Hot?” he sniggered. “Hot? They’re not hot ’til you have to hold ’em wiv a rag!”

The lads then went to work on that frothing Ale, sans serviettes.

Moving straight along to Too Cold: in that swanky city whose taxis smell either of dirty toilets or toilet cleaner, I caught a beautifully warm aroma-neutral cab one arctic evening on the Melbourne docks. “Jeez mate she’s freezing!” I shivered to the welcome cabbie. “Mate”, he said, “mate, she’s so friggin’ cold you’d need yer stubbie holder to stop your hand stickin’ to the tin. Hop in.”

For the Medium Zone, we go to where the Scottish Highlands hit the North Sea, and nobody needs a fridge. Chris Hackett, hungover Aussie wine merchant, walked into an Inverness deli and asked for a cold Coke. The bloke pointed to the row of Coke cans on a shelf that ran right around the walls. “Nah mate, I’d like a cold one please”, Hack persisted.

“Take one from near the door”, said the Scotsman.

On top of those hard years spent on diligent field research, this slab of advice has taken me three stubbies of Coopers Ale to recall, consider, and compose. It’s been very slow going, not because of the insufferable heat, but because the Ale is only gradually melting after I’d left it in the freezer overnight. Chambrer, see. Shoulda stuck to cellar temperature. Aussie cellar? OK. Back wall. Away from the door.

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