“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)





21 April 2010



Quiet Triumph At Tanunda
Smithy Grabs Gold For Geber
And Makes One Personal Best
by PHILIP WHITE a version of this story appeared in The Independent Weekly
There is a mist and a wind-driven shoosh of sideways rain and up on the ridges where I prefer to be, the vintage is being scrubbed by brush and hose from tank and fermenter and people don’t know what to do because it’s over now and there’s not much of it left.

I kicked tanks in Chateau Tanunda this last week, which is on a sort of a ridge there above the cricket oval and Lot 1 Moorooroo, the first block in the Barossa to be surveyed. But it's really pretty close to the bottom of the Valley, topographically, while master winesmith name of Tim scours the upper ridges for the very best old Barossa vineyards. He has been known to do this on his classic Triumph Bonneville. He also plays drums in a rock band. He is also one of the best winemakers I know.

Of course there’s lots still to attend to vintage-wise: a shred or tonne or bucket of this or that are likely to emerge from here or there if the weather’s right. And then the wines which are finishing their ferments will gradually wriggle through the arcane twists and turns they persistently fizz, tick, or simmer through. There are barrels to wrangle and secondary ferments to steer, and fining and blending and polishing and whatever, but for a moment, the work is done.

Smithy was quite literally putting the last of the Chateau’s harvest through the fermenters. We sniffed and spat this and that, and I apologise to Joel Matchoss, who stuck his head out of the bottom of a vat with a brush in his hand and asked me to pass him a hose. I got a shock.

This is one of the very best vintages I can remember. I think that as individuals we can recall accurately maybe ten or twelve years of vintage reality: the essence of the flavours eventually fades from the vivid memory, and while one might still draw with great accuracy this and that from great old wines, and great old recollections, most people who were there when it happened forget the real flavours of the vintage before it matures. There is much braggadocio, and often remorse, but little true memory.

But I will remember the 2010 wines.

Some of the last fruit was Mourvedre. What we used to call Mataro, after the name of a town in the south of Spain where no Mataro grows. For some reason we didn’t call it Monastrell, which is its Spanish name, but now use the French name, Mourvedre. Amusing.

The prickly French stopped us using the name Hermitage for Shiraz, because they said we were passing the grape off as a French product. We respectfully called it Hermitage, like in Grange Hermitage, because our original cuttings came from the Rhone Valley vineyard of that name. But the Frogs have no qualms about us using their name for a Spanish variety.

As the Australian weather gets hotter, Mourvedre’s likely to be one major grape which takes some pressure from Shiraz, which seems to get too ripe and jammy far too readily with ordinary Barossa or McLaren Vale viticulture laziness.

In the south of France, in places like Bandol and Minervois, Mourvedre rules the roost, often blended with Grenache and Shiraz, but usually over-ruling them in the blends, as its flavour is more intense. In some cases, I think it’s far more interesting.

I saw great Mourvedre last year, in site of the blistering heatwave, and here it was again from a cool, polite vintage: one tank bright with the smell of Morello cherries, another with the sinister gunmetal glint of swarf and carbon. They will make a great blend, these two components. The former tank reminded me of the wines of the Mornington Peninsula wizard Sandro Mosele. It could almost be Pinot noir. I mentioned this to Tim. “I went through uni with him”, he said. “We sat together. He’s great winemaker.”

The second tank reminded me of the mindblowing wines Edouard Labeye helps to make in Mirnervois, near Sete, on the Mediterranean. “He’s awesome!” Tim said. “I’ve met him in France. He’s a great winemaker.”

This is how vintage goes, always reminding me of how few great winemakers there really are, and how the top of the great squishy wine pyramid, the pointy end, contains so few true heroes. Smithy’s got the touch. He’s in my top thirty Australians. To rub that in, we now have over 2,400 wineries. And as if show awards were something to boast of, the Barossa paper calls him Tim Goldsmith. He'll be a true local when they start calling him Goldschmidt.

He poured me the first of the finished - bottled and released - wines I’ve had from 2010, the Chateau Tanunda Barossa Tower Moscato. Eight per cent alcohol, $15, and perfect to settle that bleary vintage visage at about ten o’clock in the morning. It’s sweet and ripe and gently fizzing with estery banana, rose and musk. “It needs to be chilled”, Tim said, nose down. “And while people might think it’s a simple sweet thing, it gets all the proper respect. This is from thirty year old vines.”

Get your shiny bottom up to the astonishing Chateau Tanunda now, and buy a case of this delight. Then wrap your sensories around the new Terroirs of Barossa Shiraz wines: one from Lyndock, one from Ebenezer, and one from Greenock. Smithy’s golden touch is beginning to emerge in maturing Chateau Tanunda wines like these. At last John and Evelyn Geber’s multi-million dollar restoration of Sir Samuel Cleland’s mighty stone Chateau has some wines to match the vision and endeavour of such admirable capitalists.

Chateau Tanunda 100 Year Old Vines Eden Valley Shiraz 2008

$95; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 93+++ points
It’s a bit silly putting points to a wine of this provenance in such an infant stage, but we do it. This is mighty. It has Tempranillo-like Parade Gloss bootpolish tones in its confounding depths. If its vineyard was not quite so venerable, it would fit perfectly in the $48 Terroirs trio, as it’s not like any of those. It has posher French-coopered oak, because it deserves no less. Between that spicy decoration, and the schisty, stony tannins which glower below, there’s layer upon layer of fleshy, intense, devilishly seductive Barossa Shiraz of the highest calibre. Cellar.

Tim Smith Barossa Mourvedre Grenache Shiraz 2009

$28; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 94+++ points
This is Tim Smith’s best wine yet, which is saying something. It pulls you up. Great noses which generally sweep over glasses are suddenly brought to a dead halt when they hit this one. It’s harmonious; perfectly formed and alive, with all the right stuff in abundance: the nightshades, the carbon black, Smithy’s forge, prunes, Morello cherries, dried fig … buy some quickly, but drink it slowly: it needs a decade of dungeon or a day with the top off. Forget Bandol and Chateau-Neuf: this new Australian sets a standard that renders your regular GSM null and void.

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