“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 July 2009



Dr. Vino Costs Bob A Point Blogs Dig Out Five Bed Boat Drinkster Has A Thinkster

So. The Parkerilla has fallen to number two on The Decanter Power List. Boo hoo.

What makes this writer weep tears of rage and grief is Parkerilla’s replacement at number one: Dick Sands, 58 year old chairman of Constellation, the company currently planning to plant a two hectare yuppie ghetto in place of one of South Australia’s most famous vineyards, the 161-year-old creek block established by pioneer John Reynell.

Parkerilla’s petit plunge from grace comes after much white noise on the cobweb. Since His Blogness Dr Vino first blasted Parker’s shotgun rider, Jay Miller, for picking up a US$25,000 freebie called his last trip to Australia, the internet has buzzed with ill-informed gossip critical of both men.

Particular attention has been paid the October 2007 junket up the dying Murray River, when Californian baconmonger Dan Phillips, of the Californian Grateful Palate wine shipping agency, and his winemaker, Chris Ringland, entertained Miller for days on a houseboat with five bedrooms and a jacuzzi.

Putting the bedwork aside, one can’t help wondering why Miller didn’t write a passionate piece on the wine industry’s contribution to the death of the River, or indeed why he hasn’t got stuck into Dick Sands for his proposed destruction of South Australia’s number one heritage vineyard. But one thought maybe one should nail one’s foreskin to the mast and explain DRINKSTER’s attitude to freebies lest Dr. Vino extends his attack.

Of course this writer accepts free wine samples. Sometimes he also accepts free car rides, or food. He had been known to chug up the River on one or another of Robert O’Callaghan’s old wooden boats in the ’eighties, and has even caught aeroplanes with tickets bought by others.

He even gave Dan Phillips quite a lot of free advice when he first began sniffing around Australia for wines that would tickle the old Parkerilla’s fancy.

Perhaps the best way of summarising DRINKSTER’s attitude to all this is to reprint in full an interview conducted by Jane Nethercote in October 2004 for The Reader, the forerunner of Crikey.com. :

“Philip White is a wine writer, editor and broadcaster who has contributed to many newspapers and magazines here and abroad,” Nethercote wrote. “He has written the wine column in Adelaide’s The Advertiser for sixteen years.”

Jane Nethercote: What do you think about the standard of wine writing in Australia and abroad?

Philip White: There’s too much thespian vanity; not enough imaginative, attractive, intelligent writing. There’s no poetry. The glossies are repetitive gastroporn. Nobody admits that alcohol’s a deadly drug. Publishers want lots of brand names in bold face, so their spacefloggers can sell ads. Who writes about organics, or wine, environment and salinity? Industrial grapeyards threaten our River and ground water like cotton and rice do. Surely water’s gastronomically important?

JN: Is the wine writer’s job just to find and recommend good wines, and identify bad ones, or is there a wider role to educate, inform, editorialise and entertain?

PW: The job is to sell newspapers by doing all that reliably. Few take your advice if your writing’s not attractive.

JN: What do you say to people who say they can’t understand a lot of wine writing?

PW: Who’d blame them? English lacks words specific to flavours and smells, unlike our vocab for colour. Winos revert to confounding, exclusive language. Like film crews: they develop a patois that gives them privacy on the set. I could talk about “yeast autolysis” and nobody’d twig. But call a Krug “nipple polish” and most readers get my drift.

JN: What are your credentials?

PW: My mentors were all great winemakers: Max Schubert, David Wynn, Gerard Jaboulet, Jack Kilgour. All dead and gone, while their wines live on. In the seventies I was a thirsty writer who gradually discovered my good memory for aroma and flavour. Now I taste over 6,000 wines a year, and constantly travel the vineyards. I have to get out and taste the dirt.

JN: Why become a wine writer?

PW: My lovely brother and cousin were killed on the way to my grandmother’s funeral, so I stayed in the pub for four months. Eventually a mate suggested I should apply for a job editing a wine magazine that wanted a writer rather than a wine snob. They pointed me at a bench of all the Jimmy Watson winners to date and asked for my descriptions. I got the job. I could work and keep drinking.

JN: What are the most overused adjectives in wine writing?

PW: Buzz words come and go. Mineral and minerality are currently overused and abused. Which mineral do they mean? All minerals taste different. Once it was mercaptan, which nobody could define. When Bob Haupt was editor of The National Times he pinged me for using “herbaceous” because it wasn’t what he called “user-friendly”. So for months I recommended only user-friendly wines.

JN: Do you ever buy wine, or do you just drink all your freebies?

PW: I’ll start the day tasting a dozen or so free samples before dressing, and progress from there ’til I’m shagged. It all goes down the sink. It’s lonely work. I can’t wait to get to The Exeter for a drink at the end of the day: Campari, gin, or vodka with bitters in the summer; whisky in the winter; maybe a wheat beer. I buy wine for special meals, or to accompany specific dishes.

JN: With so much free wine, and so many invitations to enjoy the hospitality of wine producers, how does a wine writer stay independent?

PW: The moment I recommend inferior drinks, my reputation wilts. The premium wine community is very small, and nothing escapes attention. I rarely accept free trips or attend extravagant launches - you’d get arse cancer from all that magazine food. Independence is elusive while you’re friends with makers of the best wines internationally.

JN: How do you feel about wielding your critical power?

PW: Nothing pleases me more than seeing success bless a winemaker who’s done it responsibly, cleanly, intelligently, healthily, and modestly. I search for them relentlessly, and urge my readers to share my joy in a glassful. Conversely, I hate cheats and greed, so the hell with those.

JN: Do you ever get sick of drinking wine? Can you afford to?

PW: I can’t afford to swallow most of the monocultural, industrial, refinery-made wine which “makes the industry what it is today”.


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