“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)





30 January 2010



After The Albariño Affair Knocking Off A Few Marines Tash Mooney's Got The Touch!

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

When somebody, somewhere, decided that the Iberian variety, Albariño, was the great white hope to save Australia’s wineries from damnation, this writer was confounded by the reasoning. What would we be copying? Had anybody actually been in Spain and Portugal to see how, why and where it was grown and made? Had they checked the source geology to see whether we had anything to match it? Had they considered its tendency to put on high alcohol, given the world’s abandonment of our narcotic deadhead plonks?

Highly sceptical about the first efforts made here – they seemed too oily and lacked the precision of good Alboriño – I tended to put their awkwardness down to naive winemakers struggling to perfect something new. But the stuff wasn’t Alboriño at all. It was Traminer, an awkward grape indeed, used mainly for making autumn-brown sherry-like wines in Jura, and fairly agricultural, messy things in other obscure bits of the Old World. Somebody’d imported the wrong cuttings; the CSIRO distributed them; everybody planted them.

Now they expect us to drink them.

Traminer is the warty fat grandfather of the stylish, aromatic Gewurztraminer, a much more alluring variety which Australia has singularly failed to perfect. We can’t make the easy one, so what do we do? Attempt to make its awful progenitor, and call it Savignin, because that sounds a bit like the mega-trendy Marlborough, NZ, Sauvignon blanc which we drink by the oiltankerload. Sheesh. Who do they think we are?

Knocking off a few marines with Natasha Mooney before Jesus’ birthday, I tasted her range of “alternative varieties”, and immediately nominate her to be the selector of new things we should try: while she admits to being a learner, her uncommon gastronomic intelligence sees her doing greater things with the newbies than most blundering tossers.

After Roseworthy, Tash worked through some rather serious wine stables: Penfolds, Lindemans, and Barossa Valley Estates. Wisely selecting fruit from the ancient vines of the two mighty Elmores, Roehr and Shulz, she virtually invented E&E Shiraz. Her first bash at this beauty got her best red, then best wine, at the International Wine Challenge and only the second Australian to make the Wine Spectator top ten. So she has a profound and abiding respect for the works of those who went before, and understands, as she says, that “profit is still shiraz-driven.” But her experience working vintage across the Old World is what we see emerging in her brave new landmarks.

She tipped me an Arneis from Caj Amadio’s vineyard on the banks of the South Para Reservoir, north of Kersbrook. It’s for the pointy end of her Fox Gordon range: branded as Anniversary Hill. It equals the two excellent 09 Langhorne Creek whites – a Fiano and a Greco al Tufo – that Briony Hoare released last year under her Beach Road label. Beautifully aromatic, richly flavoured and textured wine, with only 11.9% alcohol. This is the duck’s guts.

If purple had a smell it would be her Barossa Aglianico, an obscure variety from Greece via southern Italy, which was next. Blanched cashews and deep cherries in a silk sheen that gradually becomes velvet as the tannins rise and the swooning begins. Then a Barossa Sagrantino, the Umbrian grape: all musk sticks, beetroot, prune and white pepper; impossibly enveloping in its aroma, and yet fine and focused and furry with lemon pith tannins as it winds its way down your little red lane.

A bright and cheery Sangiovese next; squishy and jolly; bouncy and beautifully bright; a drink that leaves the purple kisser grinning while the paw goes out for more. Just to show she can do the odd Parkerilla, she showed a Zinfandel, made big and alcoholic for Darryl Groom’s Californian business.

“To me it’s good honest fun mucking about with these varieties, and while this is a very difficult one – there are better varieties than this – these guys are very persistent about the style they want, so it’s a pleasure, in away, to learn. But my other hobbyhorse is Cabernet ... ” and on she went to explain her concerns about how much of the new varieties the community can absorb, and just how great the traditional stalwarts can be, pouring classic Cabernet sauvignon, Shiraz, and blends of the two, concluding with her mighty Barossa Valley Estate E&E Black Pepper Shiraz 98.

“You’ve got to respect the old masters”, she added, staring into the glass. “We’ll never replicate this with new varieties.” And then, with the wonderment of a teenage pop fan, she explained her thrill when, delivering Meals on Wheels in the Barossa, she discovered her next call was Ray Beckwith, the great Penfolds wine scientist from the thirties, who among other world-breaking discoveries first revealed the importance of pH in winemaking.

“It was like serving David Bowie”, she said. “I want to go back and listen to him."

Which she has since done, and will do again. As well as taking the odd Harley scoot with her winemaking husband StepHen Dew, of Kaesler Wines, managing two scarily sharp kids, and training thoroughbreds by riding big time trackwork every morning of the week. I dunno how she does it.


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