“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 September 2008

A few Burgundies at Romney Park

by PHILIP WHITE - This was published in The Independent Weekly on 12 September 2008.


Having pillaged the top shelf at Smelly Cheese, in the Central Market, I took the bus to Hahndorf to absorb some burgundy alongside some Australian chardonnay and pinot noir at Romney Park. Perfectly named, Smelly Cheese. The minute I’d stashed my suitcase (containing said cheese), the pimpled hoodie opposite croaked “Jeez, sumpin stinks!” Even the elderly Hahndorfer in the seat behind pointed her gimlets at the case like it had somebody’s head in it. I was about to explain the bus smelled like Burgundy, but it wouldna helped.

We scoped out six chardonnays, blind. The acrid and gunpowdery Laroche Petit Chablis 2006 ($35; 88 points) was a shock after the juicy fruit rosé Rod Short had made from some shiraz run-off and served us as an appetiser. The chablis prickled the hooter. Eventually its honeydew/honeycomb fruit arose, and the pillowsoft palate lushed me right up. Ready to go.

Open-hearted peachy fruit announced the arrival of the Jean-Claude Boisset Puligny-Montrachet 2006 ($180; 92+) which seemed so soft and creamy it could have been a bold Australian. Cherimoya, really: the Peruvian custard apple which Mark Twain called the “most delicious fruit known to men”. Slightly smoky, too, but $180? Uh-huh.

Rod and Rachel’s Romney Park Chardonnay 2006 ($34; 90 points) looked a little churlish after those big Frenchmen. It had a delicious lees and malo turn that reminded me a little of my suitcase on the bus: I thought it must have been a lightly-oaked chablis.

The next glass had to contain a king-hell Burgundian bruiser: gunpowder, saltpedre, black powder whoofing up; then an elegant but complex palate with the chalky tannins that come from the kimmeridgian limestone of Chablis - same as the white cliffs of Dover - made up of skrillions of tiny 140 million-year-old oyster shells. “Very elegant extended bone-dry Exclusive Brethren finish” my notes record, “but overall, a really big challenging wine”. Okay then, what is it? Penfolds Bin 06A Adelaide Hills ($90; 94), that’s what. Adelaide Hills. Funny thing. Upon first tasting the Penfolds new releases in April, my notes proclaimed “...the Reserve Bin 06A 2006 chardonnay: a long, savage, crunchy beast from the Adelaide Hills – 94 points, easily. In deliberately untidy counterpoint to the staunch, reserved Yattarna 2005, which looks like an Exclusive Brethren in comparison. Same points, but more later.”

Just what is it with Gago and the Brethren?

Another burgundy. “Acrid phosphate/gunpowder edge. Elegant, restrained fruit. Really shockingly alluring and savoury. The most commercial of the French? Or is it 06A?” Ashton Hills 2006 ($34; 89), actually.

Time for a bad bottle – oxidised, flat, thank Portugal for the cork – of William Fevre’s Premier Crus Vaillons Chablis 2006 ($80; 55).

Some reds. The first, a lovely bright young thing, like a freckled blossom on Bondi, all marello cherries, prunes, English fudge and raspberry, came from Jane Bromley and Hylton McLean at their Honeymoon Vineyard at Echunga. 2007 vintage pinot noir ($33; 92). This is a winery to watch. Order at 0419 862 103.

Australia was also obvious in glass # 2. Leaner, tea tin aromas, insinuating very tight, oxygen-free winemaking. Tight, deep plums. It’ll need air. Open-hearted, but with a dark little soul awaiting redemption. Maybe it’s just in a black funk. ($38; 90+) Romney Park Pinot Noir 2007. (Rod later said they get the sulks for a while after about three months in the bottle).

More tea tin, but with plush dried fig, fresh raspberry and marello cherries, with a finish as soft the crushed velvet bell-bottoms I lived in for three years in the early seventies: Wild Earth Central Otago NZ 2006 ($55; 93+++).

Then, a fair dinkum French affair, leanly acidic, like rhubarb and oxalis, packed with wild cherry and beetroot and sporting that long, lithe, athletic sinew that looks like pink riesling. Daniel Rion Vosge-Romanee Village 2005 ($90; 92+).

Balance and intensity are the hallmarks of any great wine. From the first sniff, the next red was royalty. Perfect form, and a fine, tight, velvet finish that left too quickly, and, strangely, perhaps a little salt. Maybe it was glutamate, which occurs naturally in ferments. Maybe it was those oyster shells. Daniel Rion Echezeaux 2005 ($150; 93+)

The last glass was a puzzle. It was chocolaty. And fresh fruit gels. A rather plush, timber-lined lolly shop with the lady with blue hair and flyaway glasses glaring menacingly across the counter. By the end, alongside some beautifully savoury chicory tannins, sat a Christmas pudding. What started out delicate and fresh had finished complex and cooked. Very curious indeed. Bay of Fires Tasmania 2007 ($35; 93+).

So. The point? Well, a small, unscientific exercise, but with very warm implications. It wasn’t too many years ago we had the likes of big-time English wine scribes Oz Clarke and Robert Joseph telling us that we’d misread chardonnay and we’d never master pinot noir. Call the first accusation the truth, but since corrected with confidence; the second just plain wrong.

Oh yeah. We can also make cheese.


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