“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)





08 January 2009



An Overseas Guest
Muscles Like A Cutting Horse


March 13th 2006 I made my annual pilgrimage to Penfolds’ Magill Cellars to visit Peter Gago, taste his new babies, and a few of their great-grand-parents. It’s a zen thing: the pacific sanctuary of the old wood-panelled boardroom; the way Peter treats it like Geoffrey Penfold Highland was still sitting in the office through there, smoking, and Max, dear Max, in the tiny office out there, blending. Always blending reds, Max. Making the best mud pies in Australia.

Down there is the calm blue of the Gulf St Vincent, patron of viticulturers.

Only thing missing is Leonard Cohen. He should be there in the courtyard in his long dark robes, raking gravel.

On the wall is the fierce Mary Penfold, looking rather like Queen Victoria at a funeral. You don’t get cherry red lips like those from suckin’ oranges.

My lovely mate Tony Bilson came too. He was stacking up his ancient Penfolds for his restaurant cellar in the Radisson, in Sydney.

We’d got through all the whites, climaxing – deliberate choice, climax, not just cause it’s got a Max in it - somewhere between the 2004 Bin 04A Chardonnay and the 2003 Yattarna, thinking I preferred the 04A, when Peter came through the door again.

“I hope you don’t mind sharing with another”, he said. “I have an overseas guest.”

Peter’s overseas guests are always worth stopping for.

But I had 28 more bottles to go, so I put my ugly head down and choogled on.

I have tasted in some fairly famous and fusty cellars in my day: this is always as good as the very best; sometimes better. Today looked like better. Koonunga Hill; Thomas Hyland; Reserve Bins; Magill Estate; RWT; Ka-ding! 2001 Grange. “This is what American oak’s for” my notes gurgle. “Making the gums and cheeks gush.”

I can’t stand American oak. It belongs wrapped around a dangerous big lump of bourbon or rye. It’s too coconutty even for Islay single malt. At the risk of upsetting our friends across the big water, I’d like to go and burn Missouri to the ground for what its beloved Quercus alba has done to far too many Australian reds.

So when I praise a Grange for its amoak, everybody should open their duster just a little and rest their spare hand on their piece. I may be taking the piss.

Not that day. In came the guest, a wide, small hardman with a bonedome and muscles like a cutting horse. He spoke in whisper softer’n a rabbit shelterin’ in a holler, and put his nose straight to the winestone. No trouble there. American accent.

And hang on: speaking of the dreaded amoak, where’s the St Henri? That’s the sublime Penfold red famous for not having overt American oak!

Part way through the vertical of St Henri (1958 to 2002) I began getting the feeling that this whispery guy knew his dots on the wine scale. While I gurgled and gooed and kerchoofed and sniffed he simply got quieter. Did the work.

Later, in The Exeter, Dan The Man (who now leads Leader Cheetah) whispered something like “Jeez, Whitey, you’re a dude. Walkin in here with Maynard!”

Around about this time I began to realise who my tasting compadre was. I thought Tony Bilson was famous! But this must be the dude who a coupla years earlier broke the record paid for a magnum of Grange at auction. Rock star from the States. Band name a Tool, whom I’d never heard. I was far too deep in my tenth Tin Huey/Devo/Pere Ubu phase to know much about Tool.

“MAYNARD”, he wrote in my note book, handling my precious antique Rapidograph like a master. WWW.CADUCEUS.ORG”.

We took lunch, and if anything, his reverent whisper got softer.

1959 Ovens Valley; 1967 Kalimna Shiraz; 1996 Block 42; 2004 Block 42 ... I boast.

Maynard’s delightful partner joined us; we dined. He told me much about how he was planting vines in the high Arizona desert; finding ancient remnant shreds of Spanish varieties that nobody’s ever heard of; propagating; starting from scratch.

“It’s what I do when I’m not screaming for my supper”, he whispered. “Every Tool tour pays for some more vineyard.”

We went our own ways.

Back at The Ex for a cleanser, I discovered my status had gone strato.

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