“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)





25 March 2009



Will The Ockers Listen To Anybody Who Isn’t Bob Parker?
Maybe The Heat Of ’09 Will Flush Out Some Lighter Wine

A version of this story was published in The Independent Weekly on 20 MAR 09. I shall post a much extended version soon.

“They say it’s the ’eat” croaked Chips Rafferty, the dehydrating copper, explaining the suicide rate in The Yabba, his blistered patch of outback. “I like the ’eat.”

This was Wake In Fright, the profound 1971 film which launched Australia’s modern movie industry. While buffs raved internationally, Australians hated it – it was far too frank an appraisal of our condition. Our disgust was more overt because the movie had been highly-anticipated, being a British and Canadian endeavour.

All known prints were let rot.

We’re addicted to blithe praise from famous others. It’s sick. Press, pollies and public beg foreigners to like us, tell us they love it here, that we put on a good bicycle race, a great festival, world-class tucker. Mike Rann formalised this grovelling by spraying money at his Thinkers In Residence, shiny foreign carpetbaggers who pick the brains of anyone who can think who actually bothers to live here. They transcribe and paraphrase our ideas, hand it in, pick up their two or three hundred nicker, and mosey back to the Old World. If they are critical, we never hear.

One foreign critic influenced South Australian life more than any of Rannbo’s mercenaries. The American Robert Parker Jr. changed the way our winemakers make red when he fell in love with the highly concentrated tinctures of a few of our best tiny winesmiths.

Parker made these famous; the wines sold abruptly, some people made good money, and within a few years, in the fey hope that they’d also get rich and be beloved by foreigners, everyone’s red was suddenly above 14.5%.

Recently I posted to my blog an archive story about Mick Morris and his very strong Rutherglen durif. “Yes, it’s about 15.1%”, Mick admitted, “... apparently oblivious to the rest of the winemakers in Australia, who try to keep their table wines between eleven and thirteen percent alcohol by volume.” That was 1991. By 2000, 15.1% was standard.

As Parker has withdrawn hurt, and now sends Jay Miller to taste Australia, his influence is receding rapidly, and a new wave of critics is rising. As an highly-unpaid thinker in residence, I’m humbled by these great foreigners finally agreeing with my tiny provincial attitudes.

The USA blogosphere now fizzes with disdain for the sorts of wines they call “Dan Phillips gobstoppers”, referring to the Californian merchant who first took those strong specialist reds to the Parkerilla. And, finally, major newspaper columns are begging for wines of more finesse, better balance, and less dumb thickheadedness.


“Finessed and Light: California Pinot Noirs With a Manifesto” was the headline on Eric Asimov’s piece in last week’s New York Times. “I could see my fingers on the other side of the glass ... It was vibrant and refreshing, nothing like the dark, plush, opulent wines Mr. Guthrie used to make ... ‘It got to the point where I didn’t want the wine to be fatter than the food’, the winemaker said.”

The Washington Post is on the delicacy bandwaggon, too. In his piece, The Trouble With Syrah - which is shiraz - Dave McIntyre took a blast at “syrupy monsters, with alcohol levels often exceeding 15 percent but not enough fruit ... winemakers need to stop deadening our palates with excessive alcohol and learn to leave the finesse in the wine. Until they do, here's my advice: stick with proven winners, and always check the alcohol level on the label before buying.”

Which won’t work here - our winemakers are permitted 1.5% “error”, so 14.5% can be 16%; 15.5% might be 17%!

Appreciating that rare strong wines have sufficient natural acidity to balance their mass, McIntyre conceded that “some syrahs succeed in that fashion ... if anyone should offer you a glass of those hard-to-find rarities, don't hesitate to accept”, citing Sequel, John Duval’s 14.7% alcohol Washington state shiraz. (Since he quit making Grange, JD also has his own formidable John Duval Barossa brand.)

“But poor imitations abound”, McIntyre wrote. “ ‘Food friendly’ used to be a politely dismissive term to describe wines that show poorly in competitive tastings against big, floozy blockbusters. It's time to elevate ‘food friendly’ to the top rank of praise and reward wines that complement, rather than obliterate, dinner.”

See? He likes to eat. The lighter move is on, heavily.

Ocker winemakers might just manage to follow this criticism, even if it’s coming from the USA. They have a really good excuse. They can blame it on “the ’eat”. Scared of a repeat of last year’s record heatwave, thinking winemakers picked earlier this year, and from the hottest vintage ever, they’ll release wines two to four per cent lower in strength.

Prepare your sensitivities for these promising delicacies, and for the freshly-restored print of Wake In Fright, screening soon. I’m afraid we’re still very much the Australia portrayed therein. Like too many of our dumb, clumsy, dehydrated wines.


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