“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



Great Aussie Plonky At Fault With Fault Obsessives
Letting The Wrong Crap Out And The Wrong Crap In


The Ian Hickinbotham speech I quoted last week grew legs. Hick addressed the Sydney International Wine Competition, talking about bacterial diseases in wine, and human tolerance to them. He wondered whether the export approval tasters employed by the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation were “actually stultifying individualism in our winemakers” by occasionally refusing export approvals to wines unfamiliar to them. His insinuation was that they imagined too many wines had bacterial spoilage.

Hick’s point was that the forensic scrutiny with which judges seek faults eliminates many interesting wines with organoleptic characters which they mistake as faults. He said that there are no bacteria in modern finished wines, implying that everybody should relax a little, and that maybe we don’t need these approval tastings at all. Huon Hooke reported this in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Steve Guy, who manages the export tastings, quickly reassured his troops that Hick was out of touch: things have changed; systems improved. But beautiful wines – Grange, Castagna, Torbreck etc. - have been refused approval in past years. These judgings have been like our wine shows: powerful levellers that can lop the eccentric, brave, and strange, and reinforce the industrial status quo which writers and drinkers all over the Old World are rejecting. They’ve approved thousands of dead flat boring crap plonks plastered with dot paintings and weird beasties, then denied the likes of Castagna et al an export approval because they thought they could smell something funny in one of his biodymanic beauties.

Having had one wine refused approval by two tasting panels, Julian Castagna told the authorities he would take the wine to London, call a press conference with television and all the wine critics who'd been suggesting Australian wines were all too boring and show them the quaklity of wines that we were not permitted to export. He suddenly got his approval.

Hick also took a typically obtuse swipe at writers who recommend wines which smell of lychees. “This disease is a consequence of bacteria attacking grape sugar during some stage of fermentation”, he said.

Lychee is an aroma, and flavour, I often find in gerwurztraminer. I like it there. Gewurz can also have lovely musk aromas, and rosewater, or turkish delight. Very few Australians have mastered this grape: this country is too hot for something that comes from the colder reaches of Alpine Europe.

Gewurztraminer succeeds in parts of New Zealand and Tasmania, but you need a hillbilly winemaker. Wild yeast, old oak, disdainful treatment is what it loves. No hard hats or safety glasses required.

In the early ’eighties, I learned to love the Reserve and Vendage Tardive gewurztraminer of Hugel, and my Alsace mate, Michel Dietrich, taught me how to drink this variety with his father’s Dietrich of Kaiserberg wines, with choucroute, the Alsace sauerkraut. You serve a great steaming plate of pickled cabbage with dollops of hot mustard and grilled smoked sausages of pork or game packed with chili and black pepper and you drink gallons of flinty, musky gewurztraminer.

Now, if gewurztraminer is not the ideal grape for this baked slab of country, I cannot imagine why on Earth anybody’d gamble for success with traminer, the original alpine white from which the slightly pink gewurztraminer mutated.

So why are Australian winemakers who have never worked in Alpine Europe suddenly growing, making, and marketing, traminer? They don’t attempt gewurztraminer. So why its awkward grandfather? And why are they calling it albariño?

Because they were sold a dud, that's why.

In the desperate search for new flavours, somebody in Australia decided that the punters would just love alboriño, the acidic thick-skinned white from Galacia and northern Portugal, where it’s called alvarinho. The CSIRO, in response to persistent demands, imported some, put it through the serpentine wiles of the government's quarantine process, and grew a scrillion cuttings, which they sold. These have been planted along the dead River, and everywhere from Orange to Clare, the Barossa, and McLaren Vale.

I expected it would take our winemakers a few vintages to work out what to do with the new baby. They seemed oilier, somehow thicker than expected. “They’ll work it out” I told myself thoughtfully. You can check my reviews by searching for alboriño on DRANKSTER. But it suddenly appears that the stuff they bought is savignin blanc B, a Tyrolean grape that also grows in Jura.

Even forgetting the freezing alpine nature of these places, which we do not emulate anywhere, it would be fair to say that the “yellow wines” which are where most European savignin ends up, are not too much in the way of your standard Australian industrial export-approved sort of a thing, if you get my drift. Try the Jura Vin Jaune recipe: six years in old untopped barrels, where a yeast like flor grows on the meniscus, slowing oxidation, to make a sort of unfortified sherry.

Savignin blanc B is traminer. Their DNA matches, like zinfandel and primitivo. Same diff. We may well see some respected albariños suddenly becoming savignin blanc B, much to the embarrassment of those critics who raved fulsomely about their quality and promise. To do their savignin blanc B justice, all Australian regions might have to sprout a snow-peaked mountain like the one on the Seaview bottle. Pity the whitecoats hadn’t done a little import checking and sniffed the cuttings for lychee.

But the lawyers will make up for them. This’ll take years.


"I should tell you that the lychee smell of 'disease' is not that of Gewuerztraminer. It is possible you have never seen it, but it is most likely to occur in Chardonnay (where it does not 'over-lap' the pleasant lychee smell associated with that fragrant variety).

"Interestingly, Gewuerztraminer still only constitutes 0.5% of German vineyards (in spite of its name). People tire of it!"

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