“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)





15 February 2011



Fizzhags Do Big Dummy Spit
Frogs Take Their Words
Methode Tasmanoise Please

by PHILIP WHITE - from the archive: dusted off and updated

Time’s up. After many years of talking about it, us Ockers are officially no longer allowed to use the word champagne for anything that’s not, well Champagne.

Put simply, the Champenoise have taken their name back.

Boo hoo.

India, Australia, South Africa, the USA ... soon it’ll all be just fizz, bubbles, sparkling, sparks, shampoo, poo, suds. Sophisticate it artfully, and it becomes bucks’ fizz.

Just how our politicians, diplomats, wine mandarins, backbiters and syndicators let this happen beats me: they just rolled over and took the boot on our behalf, and said there’d be no Australian export boom unless we conformed.

Funny, really. Champagne quite literally means an expanse of level, open country, which makes the Champenoise look a bit dumb when you realise that smack in the middle of their joint there’s a bloody big lump called the Montagne de Reims.

Confounding mob, the French. One minute they round up a posse of European Union lawyers, bureaucrats, trade fuzz and politicians to mount a serious campaign (see: campaign: there it is again) to control the language of Australia. Then the French winemakers of Australia, like Pernod Ricard Jacob’s Creek, or Domain Chandon, owned by Louis Vuitton Möet Hennessey, began plastering their bottles with words like cuvée, methodé traditionelle and brut.

Dominique Portet even began calling his Shiraz Syrah.

After William The Conqueror (left) hung the English king’s crown in a hawthorn bush at Hastings, the court and government of England spoke Anglo-Norman French for three centuries. If you were serious about removing the French from English, you’d probably leave us with about 60% of the language. I’m sure Australian ingenuity and our disrespectful creativity in the patois division would quickly fill the hole, but not many other races, including other speakers of English, would be likely to understand us.

At a mere 125,000 square kilometres, our Nullarbor Plain’s a lot more champagne than Champagne, which is only 25,606 km², and our yet unplanted plain is nowhere near so monocultural in its biomass as the big fizz district. Must drive ’em nuts. The Nullarbor’s Cretaceous chalks were deposited at about the same time as Champagne’s – over 70 million years back – but we’ve quite a lot more of it than the Frogs.

In fact, if Nicholas Baudin’s revolutionary lot had actually settled this joint instead of heading home to whinge to Napoleon about their scurvy, they would have called South Australia Champagne.


Baudin’s maps list the location of the Ford family’s delicious Boston Bay winery at Port Lincoln as the Côtes Champagny. The bay was Port Champagny, he called Boston Island l’Isle de la Grange, and Spencer’s Gulf Golfe Bonaparte.

So Fordy would be well within his rights to release a wine called Port Champagny Côtes Champagny La Grange Golfe Bonaparte Cuvée Brut Methodé Traditionelle Syrah, which would give even the Portuguese the shits on account of them taking port back too. He could use Baudin's map, complete with Napoleon's signature, as his label. I dream of the launch at Willy’s Wine Bar, there in the Rue Des Petits Champs – champs, see? - behind the Paris biblioteque where Baudin’s maps reside.

The librarians would drink a pallet a week.

Not to mention Campania, which happens to be in Italy. That’s quite lumpy, too, come to think of it.

There was a tantalising moment in 1992, when my cobber Francois Henri, who was then the chairman of the Remy Martin champagne group, Krug/Piper-Hiedsieck/Charles Hiedsieck, toyed with my suggestion that he should remove the word champagne from the Krug label. He wanted desperately to hike the image of Krug well and truly beyond its pretender, Dom Perignon. Get it done once and for all.

“Krug is Krug, isn’t it?”, I pestered him. “It’s not just the King of Champagne – it’s beyond Champagne.”

We giggled through a three day research tour in Paris, savouring that notion. Getting well and truly Krugged.

Dear Francois is dead now, and I never got to ask him just how far this devilish idea got. But years later, it was a delight to watch Louis Vuitton Möet Hennessey, upon their purchase of the Krug business, work out how to admit that in its Babel Tower of brands, Krug would have to slot in above Dom, but that’s another thing.

The French, Spanish and the rest of the EU should be delighted that we adopted their terms: it was a much simpler and universal wine language than what we’d struggled to invent ourselves.

Australia had a grape called French Colombard, which Joe Grilli made famous by calling it Primo Estate Colombard. Walter Clappis wanted one too, so he reverted to the original name, French Colombard, which the French immediately said was passing off. I suggested he call it French Calembour, as in pissing off the French, but Walter sold his business to Mildara Blass and the idea went the same way as the Champagne-free Krug.

Pity. I was licking my lips to get into court. Early vignerons had only called the grape French to acknowledge the country which kindly supplied the first cuttings. It wasn’t Colombard from Spain, or South Africa. It’s like Shiraz, which Australians called Hermitage for 150 years out of respect of the French hill from whence their cuttings came. They were not passing off. Nobody in Penfolds ever suggested that Grange Hermitage was a French drink.

As if in a perfect blonde moment, Joe’s cracker Colombard suddenly became La Biondina, which has thus far failed to get a rise from Berlusconi or his whorish mob.

When I started in this racket, the Hunter Valley grew lots of a grape called Semillon, which they variously called Hunter Riesling, Hunter River Riesling, Shepard’s Riesling, just plain Riesling, or, if it had some Muscat in it, Traminer Riesling. In the Barossa the same grape was called Clare Riesling in the early 1900s, while in Clare they called the Crouchen grape Clare Riesling until well into the 1980s. Their own true Riesling was called Rhine Riesling.

To make things really clear for the punter, one company, Lindemans, always ran three Semillons. If it had heaps of sulphur, it was called Riesling. The one with the medium dose of sulphur was Chablis. The one with the least doseage was, you guessed it! Burgundy!


I stood astonished once at Tyrrell’s cellar sales, watching that old rogue Murray Tyrrell tell customers “Yes, our old Hunter reds start out like beautiful Bordeaux clarets and end up like great old Burgundies.”


In another stroke of sheer genius, Murray called his Chardonnay Pinot Chardonnay.

With Murray, anything was possible.

The Frogs have taken claret back, too, which is a bit rich, considering that word was a London wine merchant’s patois abbreviation of the old French clairette, meaning rosé. To celebrate the banning of our use of claret – which becomes law on September 1st 2011 - the bloodthirsty wine bats of Penfolds have blended a beauty, which is in magnums and wrapped in a handsome art deco label. And it ain’t friggin rosé. It’s claret, see.

It’ll become one of Australia’s most collectible collectibles.

Then, take port. That was abbreviated cockney slang for Oporto, so how the Portuguese can claim that as their own beats me. Let alone tawny, which is also now verboten, despite the little matter of our native flying gadget we call the Tawny Frogmouth owl (below), which is, in fact, not an owl at all, although it’s often misnamed mopoke or morepork, which sounds like a bit of a hoot, but is actually the call of the Southern Boobook Owl, which is a real owl and a raptor and a different bird altogether.

The Tawny Frogmouth’s family, the Podargidae, have been continual inhabitants of Earth since the Eocene, 56 million years ago. And they’re tawny, so how the hell somebody can prohibit our use of that name for a fortified wine should be delighted if we call it Frogmouth Fort.

But back to our true masters of gobbledygook in the Hunter. In 1983 I interviewed a famous winemaker there called Mark Cashmore, who threatened to sue my alter ego Sidney Tidemouth MW for calling him Mark Morecash. After Robert Joseph stole Tidemouth’s cartouche for his own Hong Kong dinkus Tidemouth retired hurt before he could apply the word mawkish to Crashmore, leaving Bobby-Jo to get off lightly.

I knew things would never be the same in the wine business when I learned that young Cashmost was addicted to those disco aerobics classes that infested white Australia in that nefarious epoch. But what nobody saw coming was his release of a great wine called Richmond Grove White Bordeaux. This was to complement his Richmond Grove Chablis, Richmond Grove White Burgundy, and Richmond Grove French Cask Chardonnay.

This white Bordeaux was made from Semillon, Sauvignon blanc, and French Colombard, names Cashmore insisted “the consumer would never remember, for God’s sake!”

This wine won invaluable publicity when the French government took him to court. He tricked them by then changing it to Hunter Valley White Bordeaux, just to make everything clear.

When I asked him why he’d changed the name of his Richmond Grove blend of Chardonnay and Semillon from Richmond Grove Pinot Riesling to Richmond Grove Semillon Chardonnay he clarified the issue thus:

“Pinot Riesling doesn’t mean very much at all. Chardonnay’s not Pinot Chardonnay and I don’t think Riesling in the context of Pinot Riesling means very much. I mean Riesling is Semillon and Pinot is Chardonnay, and we have more Semillon in the wine than Chardonnay, so it should be Semillon Chardonnay.”

I know we don’t like having it forced on us like this, but it’s a good thing that Australia, and now France, has finally followed Mr. Cashmore’s brilliant clarification and both countries now tend to use the real names of the grapes in the bottle. While the French will no doubt continue with scams like the pearler they bunged on poor old Constellation and The Gallo Brothers, flogging em a Shiraz Merlot mix in the name of Pinot noir, they’ll no longer be permitted to release Barossa Syrah, and even Portuguese bathers will now do the freestyle in place of the great Australian crawl.

I think I’ll have a glass of champagne.

Tasmanian champagne, please.


vagosivi said...

yo funny whitey

Wayne Jackson said...

I would LOVE your blogs in book form!!! Does your site offer that as an option? I know when I started my blog, you could pay to have them sent in book format...

You ever thought about having them published? I would love to see those words on pages!

Ian Hickman said...

It's not just wine either - there's a story on the ABC this morning that we're now not allowed to use the word "Cornish" for Cornish pasties anymore: