“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)





22 April 2009



Having Pinched His Recipe For Fresh Amarone Frizzante Rosé,
The Italians Give Jesus Vinegar!

by PHILIP WHITE - a version of this appeared in The Independent Weekly

Easter is the weekend reserved for the commemoration of some dirty deeds done a long time ago to the world’s most famous fine wine maker, Jesus Christ.

It’s important to remember that when this self-confessed “winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners” called for a drink during the horrors of crucifixion, the Italians gave him vinegar. And, by the way, it’s likely he was crucified on a saltire, shaped like the X towards the end of that terrible crucifixion word; like the tail of the early Christian fish gaffito.

Jesus did woodwork before oenology. Thirty years in the carpenter’s shop, and he didn’t think of the barrel. Must be a lesson there. It was way over the other end of the Romans’ Empire that the Celts taught them the art of the cooper. They’d invented the smooth carvel hull and didn’t take long to work out that if the technology kept water out, it would probably keep wine in.

When he did the miracle vintage at the Qana wedding, my belief is that Jesus made an amarone. Every village had a cool store of grain, honey, and dried fruits – a grange – in which the water pots were stored. Add raisins, currants and sultanas, maybe even a fig or two, and bring the jugs out into the sun. Hot wild ferment: bingo! Fresh rosé. Frizzante!

Whether he learnt this from the Italian invaders or they learnt it from the locals beats me, but I suspect the latter is the case.

Before the First World War, Samuel Wynn – then Weintraub: wine merchant – made kosher wine in the Polish ghetto from dried grapes he’d travel to purchase in Odessa, on the Black Sea. Upon arrival in Melbourne, he was delighted to discover an abundance of fresh grapes, and set about building the Wynn empire.

It was an emigration clerk, by the way, who couldn’t spell Weintraub. He asked what it meant, and said “then we’ll call you Sam Wine”, and mispelled that, too.

Ian Hickinbotham, who conducted the first deliberate, controlled malo-lactic ferment in Australia, and probably the world - he’s shy about the second bit - when he worked for Sam’s son David at Coonawarra in 1952, has sent me a copy of a speech he’d just made at the Sydney International Wine Competition.
“Ancient civilisations”, he said, “drank increasingly acescent (vinegary) wines during the year, just because they couldn’t keep their wines away from air, and the ever-present bacteria progressively turned all of their table wines to vinegar ... indeed at eleven months the ancients were drinking almost straight vinegar.”

This no doubt encouraged the ancient habit of adding water, even seawater, to wine. If Jesus had made an amarone without so much water, the guests would probably have added it anyway. Strong wine was a no-no.

“Woman, what Have I to do with thee?” he says to his Mum, who’s waiting in the road for him and his gang.

She obviously knows his skill, and he’s grumpy, but he does the job. Having just walked all the way up from Galilee, the lads would have preferred to get stuck into the refreshments immediately. Weddings went for days.

Back to Hick and the vinegar.

“Vintage festivals are a reminder”, he says. “They were the wonderful celebration of the new wine, which really meant no more having to drink near-vinegar.”

Like the Barossa Vintage Festival, which cannot commence til the end of Lent, when everyone rather quickly makes up for their period of abstinence.

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