“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)





09 May 2010



Penfolds Lights Fosters Path ... Gago's New Grange All Go ... Gail Kicks Butt For Little Guys
by PHILIP WHITE - a version of this was published in The Independent Weekly

Busy week at the Gago household. One of the Honorable Gail’s five cabinet ministries is Consumer Affairs, so there she was cleaning up the liquor licensing act to make it easier for little guys to sell their wines and bar staff to refuse service to drunks in pubs. Very cool.

At the same time Peter was launching the new Penfold’s super-premiums at Magill, with every wino’s gimlets focused on the new Grange, the 2005.

They don’t need kids, these Gagos. Gail (right) raises smart legislations like offspring. And of the regular annual fixtures on the Casa Blanco calendar, none is better anticipated than the day Pete lines up his new tribe.

Which he did this year at the grand old Kalimna vineyard in the Barossa. Block 42 there is the oldest Cabernet sauvignon vineyard on Earth to be in continuous production. Planted in the Moppa – the flat triangle of alluvium north of the Barossa – in 1888, this is ten precious acres indeed. Grey wind-blown sands sit atop riverine alluvium, and the old grey trunks of the troopers always make me think of Napoleon’s army being snap frozen on the way home from St Petersberg. Biggest difference is, these guys are still fighting, and it’s drought and heat they’ve battled, and wave after wave of owners and corporate geniuses with bad ties.

Gago’s quietly determined restoration of the old farmhouse there looks precisely like the sort of thing you wouldn’t see too much of going on in the way of Fosters these days.

It’s a slomo revolution.

A few years back, Peter complained about how every year for twelve in a row he’d had to re-write his meaning of extreme vintage conditions. Since that alarming utterance, there’s been extreme records broken every year, so it’s almost divinely reassuring to sit down at a table heavy with such vinous reponsibilities and discover they are still mighty Penfolds wines.

“Authority and composure” are words which reappear through all my notes this year. No other big winery on Earth has such an authoritative and expansive range of treasures.

It normally takes four to six dozen wines for me to find something to recommend with more than ninety points. My average over a week of new releases is around seventy, often below. So to gaze confounded at these notes of about thirty wines, including unfinished and unbottled ones from recent years, and see that they fall below ninety on three occasions is, well, can I say comforting?

First wine on the table 94+++. 2005 Reserve Bin Riesling. Opulent, majestic wine more like a mighty Chablis than Germanic Riesling, even at only eleven per cent alcohol. 2009 Koonunga Hill Autumn Riesling, 93: the genteel, autumnal aromas of grannie’s handbag and strawberries in a pleasant off-dry old fashioned style to match the label. 2009 Bin 51 Eden Valley Reserve. Austere and steely: mighty stuff to dissolve that Austrian moustache wax. 93+++. All bases covered in the Riesling dept., see.

And on it went, variety after variety. All bases and styles worth noting are covered. In that unchallengable Penfold’s manner: there’s the sort of reassuring arrogance about them that you like to find in your monarch, especially when times are tough. These may be polite wines, but they’re not shy.

Tellingly, there is no Sauvignon blanc.

Harcore plonkies regard Chardonnay as a sort of gay brother of Riesling, but these four Chardonnays were a lot more Navratilova than Nureyev. Maybe the Thomas Hyland (92+) strayed over toward the younger Bardot, and the Yattarna’s a bit more Catherine the Great (95++), but the forearms are all Martina’s.

The 08 Cellar Reserve Sangioivese (93+++) smelt like a Tuscan kitchen with a big wood oven; a forthcoming 09 Pinot, just bottled and not yet for release, smelt like Penfolds had exploded all over us. Try “black tea, aniseed balls, Choo Choo Bar, juniper, blueberry, beetroot, sour cream, borscht”.

Peter’s ongoing mission to moderate the raw American oak in brands which depended upon it, without letting them lose a splinter of their Penfold heritage, is best seen in the stunning new Bin 707 2007 (93+++), a totally Australian Cabernet of incredible intensity and finesse. The 06 Cellar Reserve Barossa Cabernet (94++) seemed even more woody, but it’s had 100% French oak. The superiority of 06 over the difficult 07 is most evident here.

And oh yes, the Shiraz. Oh Lawdy. A sicko-plush 06 St Henri (93+++) like a Hispano-Suiza J-12. The charcuterie blast of the 07’s: Magill Estate (92+++) and RWT Barossa (93+) the former with a lollyshop next door; the latter so disarmingly open and neat, like the bucherie of the great Max Noske in Hahndorf. (Sorry Barossa, but we got Germans down this end, too!)

And then, of course, the Big Cheese. Grange. You can read my praise of this marvel alongside, and more detailed notes of all the wines on drankster.blogspot.com. I only wish there was a Peter and Gail blog.

Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet sauvignon 2008
$9; screw cap; 13.5% alcohol; 80+ points
I simply cannot imagine why you’d risk fewer dollars on cleanskins of dubious provenance when you can buy this for the price of two schooners of beer. It’s an audacious, cheeky, sassy wine: a brash brat from the Bash Street Kids. The fruit cannot be contained. The stylish oak tries to wrap that fruit up, but it leaps off again and there you go after it, glass after glass. I thought at first the wine had been made like a Beaujolais, with carbonic maceration, but no, Peter assures me, it’s straight down the line conventional winemaking in the Penfolds style.

Penfolds Grange 2005
$650; cork; ??% alcohol; 95+++ points
I gave the 2004 Grange a point more than this, because of its seductive streamlining and silky feminine sheen: Morticia Addams stuff. This is more a cross-dressing Heathcliff. My notes: “Pretty Polly! Wet hessian. Sap: raw sawn wood. Cordite. Incredible bowl of fruits: currants, blackcurrants, red currants, raspberries, nectar, strawberries, cranberries, medlar berries, salmonberries and watermelon. Musk. Civet. Banana lollies. Paper. A chip off the old block. Shit. Cowshed. Milk. Chaos!! Perfection!! Fractal!! In this church, they’re still trying to recognize the congregation.” Which is not to say this wine will not eventually mellow to become one of the best ever.

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