“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)





20 January 2009



Aussie Fizzhags Spit The Dummy
Frogs Take All Their Words Back

Time’s up. After many years of talking about it, us Ockers are officially no longer allowed to use the word champagne for anything that’s not, well champagne.

Put simply, the Champenoise have taken their name back.

Boo hoo.

India, Australia, South Africa, the USA ... soon it’ll all be just fizz, bubbles, sparkling, shampoo, poo, suds.

Funny, really. Champagne quite literally means an expanse of level, open country, which makes the Champenoise look a bit dumb when you realise that smack in the middle of the joint there’s a bloody big lump called the Montagne de Reims.

Confounding mob, the French. No sooner had they begun their serious campaign (see: campaign: there it is again) to have us cease our use of the word than the French winemakers of Australia, like Domain Chandon, began plastering their bottles with words like cuvée, methodé traditionelle and brut.

Dominique Portet even began calling his shiraz syrah.

At a mere 125,000 square kilometres, our Nullarbor Plain’s a lot more champagne than Champagne, and it’s nowhere near so monocultural flora-wise. Must drive ’em nuts. If Baudin’s revolutionary lot had actually settled this joint instead of heading home to whinge to Napoleon about their scurvy, they would have called it Champagne.

Baudin’s maps list the location of the Ford family’s delicious Boston Bay winery at Port Lincoln as the Côtes Champagny. The bay was Port Champagny, he called Boston Island l’Isle de la Grange, and Spencer’s Gulf Golfe Bonaparte.

So Fordy would be well within his rights to release a wine called Port Champagny Côtes Champagny La Grange Golfe Bonaparte Cuvée Brut Methodé Traditionelle Syrah, which would give even the Portuguese the shits on account of them taking port back too. I dream of the launch at Willy’s Wine Bar, there in the Rue Des Petits Champs – champs, see? - behind the Paris biblioteque where Baudin’s maps reside.

The librarians would drink the whole shipment in a week.

Not to mention Campania, which happens to be in Italy. That’s quite lumpy, too, come to think of it.

There was a tantalising moment in 1992, when my cobber Francois Henri, who was then the chairman of the mighty Remy Martin champagne group, Krug/Piper-Hiedsieck/Charles Hiedsieck, toyed with my suggestion that he should remove the word champagne from the Krug label. He wanted desperately to hike the image of Krug well and truly beyond its pretender, Dom Perignon. Get it done once and for all.

“Krug is Krug, isn’t it?”, I pestered him. “It’s not just the King of Champagne – it’s beyond Champagne.”

We giggled through a three day binge in the bistros and bars of Paris, savouring that notion. Getting well and truly Krugged.

Dear Francois is dead now, and I never got to ask him just how far this devilishly subversive idea got.

Australia had a grape called French colombard, which Joe Grilli made famous by calling it Primo Estate Colombard. Walter Clappis wanted one too, so he reverted to the original name, French colombard, which the French immediately said was passing off. I suggested he call it French calembour, which basically means “pissing off the French”, but Walter sold his business to Mildara Blass and the idea went the same way as the Champagne-free Krug.

Pity. I was licking my lips to get into court.

And, as if in a perfect blonde moment, Joe’s cracker wine has become La Biondina.

When I started in this racket, the Hunter Valley grew lots of a grape called semillon, which they variously called Hunter riesling, Hunter River riesling, Shepard’s riesling, just plain riesling, or, if it had some muscat in it, traminer riesling. In the Barossa the same grape was called Clare riesling in the early 1900s, while in Clare they called crouchen Clare riesling until well into the 1980s.

To make things really clear for the punter, one company, Lindemans, always ran three semillons. If it had heaps of sulphur, it was called riesling. The one with the medium dose of sulphur was chablis. The one with the least doseage was, you guessed it! Burgundy!


I stood astonished once at Tyrrell’s cellar sales, watching that old rogue Murray Tyrrell tell some customers “Yes, our old Hunter reds start out like beautiful Bordeaux clarets and end up like great old Burgundies.”


In another stroke of sheer genius, Murray called his chardonnay pinot chardonnay.

With Murray, anything was possible.

The Frogs have taken claret back, too, which is a bit rich, considering that word was a London wine merchant’s patois abbreviation of the old French clairette, meaning rosé.

Like port. That was abbreviated cockney slang for Oporto, so how the Portuguese can claim that as their own beats me. Let alone tawny, which is also now verboten, despite the little matter of our native flying gadget called the tawny frogmouth owl, which is, in fact, not an owl at all, although it also answers to the name of morepork, which sounds like a bit of a hoot.

But back to our true masters of gobbledygook in the Hunter. In 1983 I interviewed a winemaker there called Mark Cashmore, who threatened to sue my alter ego Sidney Tidemouth MW for calling him Mark Morecash. (Tidemouth was retired before he could apply the word mawkish).

I knew things would never be the same in the wine business when I learned that young Cashmost was addicted to those disco aerobics classes that infested white Australia in that nefarious epoch. But what nobody saw coming was his release of a great wine called Richmond Grove White Bordeaux. This was to complement his Richmond Grove Chablis, Richmond Grove White Burgundy, and Richmond Grove French Cask Chardonnay.

This white Bordeaux was made from semillon, sauvignon blanc, and French colombard, names Cashmore insisted “the consumer would never remember, for God’s sake!”

This wine won invaluable publicity when the French government took him to court. He tricked them by then changing it to Hunter Valley White Bordeaux, just to make everything clear.

When I asked him why he’d changed the name of his Richmond Grove blend of chardonnay and semillon from Richmond Grove Pinot Riesling to Richmond Grove Semillon Chardonnay he clarified the issue thus:

“Pinot riesling doesn’t mean very much at all. Chardonnay’s not pinot chardonnay and I don’t think riesling in the context of pinot riesling means very much. I mean riesling is semillon and pinot is chardonnay, and we have more semillon in the wine than chardonnay, so it should be semillon chardonnay.”

I know we don’t like having it forced on us like this, but it’s a good thing that Australia has finally followed Mr. Cashmore’s brilliant clarification. The French will no longer be permitted to release Barossa syrah, and even Portuguese bathers will now do the freestyle in place of the great Australian crawl.

I think I’ll have a glass of champagne.

Tasmanian champagne, please.

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