“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

Out for a duck

This was first published in The Independent Weekly in August 2008

Outside T-Chow for his last fag, ever, your correspondent set down his big balloon of pinot, and settled back to observe. Moonta Street, Chinatown: Saturday arvo. It could be any Chinatown on Earth. Our Chinese friends know and love this fact.

The writer was soon confronted by a brace of drinking types. Charles Hawker, grazier (ret.), a rugged rugby, Cooper’s Sparkling, and vintage port man if ever there was one, and his companion, who thrust forth a business card, both hands. “Dr. Eddie Chung Gon, MB. BS (Adel.), photojournalist” read its front; the back proclaimed the Doc to be an inveterate Hash House Harrier of the Kunt Foo school.

The Doc looked down at the glass. “You’re drinking pinot noir”, he said. “I can tell by the colour. Is it from Burgundy?”

“No”, was the baffled response. “It’s from Tasmania. From the Derwent.”

“Aha!” he said, staring at the glass. “Stefano Lubiana. That’s the Primavera 07. Very good!” Having picked the wine on colour alone, he lurched into an eager appraisal of the peculiarities of Lubie’s terroir…

Your correspondent had spent thirty years preaching the pinot gospel; from the days when, apart from an unlikely Barossa job from Peter Lehmann, it all came from Keppoch, where Hardy’s had planted far too much of a clone normally reserved for fizz. Fortunately, the Aussie dollar bought quite a lot of French francs then, so the eager student could easily move up into the Burgundy shelves…. To be lost there forever, if only one could live without a car, family or house… (The exchange rate changed, which is probably why they call it that.)

He had gurgled with awe the pioneering Tassie pinots, Moorilla, Meadowbank, Heemskerk, Piper’s Brook; and early ’80s pinot adventures at Mountadam. He’d corkscrewed his way around Burgundy, frequently mistaken for the dreaded Robert Parker Jr., whose face was not yet known, or Tim White, the FinRev bloke who’d been through ahead, helpfully telling Burgundians what to do.

Your writer had climbed into fermenting pinot noir for the pigeage, that slow snake dance performed naked in a fizzing tank of juice, berries and stalks: it feels like a missionary pot of live shrimps and warm Coke. (The idea is to gently disperse the hotspots that develop in the must when certain subregions of the ferment overheat, making jam). He had eventually drunk such wines upon their maturation, searching their mystery for fleeting whiffs of tootsie or shrimp.

He’d even dined at Le Bourguignon in Tokyo, where the Japanese chef speaks English with a Burgundian accent, gets his truffles and sloppy Burgundian farmhouse cheese flown in daily, and pours only Burgundies aged twenty-five years or more…

He sat through insufferable tastings of pinot with insufferable pinot snobs, and was sufficiently derided by them to be even bolder in his brattish criticism: bold enough to gain certain infamy by daring to award the newly-released Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC) Echézeaux 1995 a miserly 78 points at a blind tasting – although he DID give the DRC Romanée-Conti of the same year 96++.

Tim Evans, the Negociants Australia bloke in charge of Australia’s allocation of the forthcoming 2005 release on August 1st., says all his DRC stock is accounted for, despite the Echézeaux being $560 a bottle, and the Romanée-Conti a mere $5000. I don’t think you’ll get to see too much in the way of a blind tasting going down this year.

Anyway, inspired by Dr. Eddie’s alacrity with pinot’s mischievous hue, the writer engaged Cheong Liew and eight other two-bottle fellows for a duck walk, which involves touring the duckmongers of Chinatown according to a pre-arranged schedule, each diner well-armed with pinots noir and a pair of good pinot balloons. There they were, at Morphett Street, heading for Ming’s Palace and his particular version of Peking Duck after gutsing on duck tongues and giblets in The Grange, and Cantonese duck and duck roast with Chinese mushrooms at Ken’s Barbecue, to hear Cheong excitedly announce that “Soon it’ll be all the white men riding bicycles while the Chinamen drive around in big cars”.

Like Chaucer’s rugged pilgrims those ducksters progressed, marveling at great local pinots - Romney Park; Ashton Hills – and those from further afield, like Curly Flat, Kooyong Ferrous, and yes, Lubijana’s Primavera.

Steve George brought a wondrous classic from Burgundy: a 1983 Comte George de Vogüé Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru from 1983. It’s from a tiny vineyard called les Amoureuses - the Lovers - at the top of la Vogüé creek.

“That’s the year we planted Ashton Hills”, Steve chuckled to Peta. “Twenty five years ago. And they say pinot won’t age!”

While they finished with tandoori duck at the Indian Brasserie, your writer snuck out and lit up his last smoke, ever, wondering whether Dr. Eddie could pick les Amoureuses on its burnished colour alone. It’d be far too pale for Charlie Hawker.

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