“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)





28 August 2011


Spring Is sIn: Wine And Rosés
Just Avoid The Lollypop Bling &
Get Down With The Dry & Wild

Oh boy. Bella the fortnight-old filly’s leaping about like a new spring lamb, baby birds are tumbling through their first flying lessons, the beez are a buzzin’ round the brilliant yellow wattles, and pruners are earning their first flush of sunburn. Time to throw some redfin in the smoker, polish up a glass, and attack the rosé section.

Rosé works in cycles. When the rock and stone businesses finally frightened me off and I fled to the safety of the wine racket, the Sex Pistols had just split, and Keith Moon was drinking himself to bits on the Portuguese Mateus Rosé, then one of the biggest-selling bottled wines in Australia.

Jimi Hendrix also had a long love affair with Mateus, but other than suggesting it was red wine he drowned in, the dodgy Aussie Doc who dealt with Jimi's body didn't go so far as to suggest what sort of wine it was. Maybe if he'd stuck to the Mateus, Jimi'd still be with us: click on his photo for all the gory details.

Tollana Wines, of the Barossa, successfully followed the Mateus mob in with a bottle of the same distinctive squashed pear-shape, containing a slightly sweet rosy Grenache. Houghton Wines, of the Swan River Valley in Western Australia, made another big seller: a fairly dry and austere one from Cabernet sauvignon.

As wine snobbery grew, whether they knew what they were talking about or not, people got into discussing wines at table, big Aussie reds became more favoured, and suddenly the rosé thing was as gone as poor Moonie (below).

Almost overnight, Mateus was seen to be a beginner’s wine, something for the great unwashed, and people would not be seen drinking anything even faintly pink at table, for fear of others thinking they were drinking mere Mateus. And when Hardy’s bought Houghton, they quickly butchered the distinction of the highly-popular Houghton wine by making it far too sweet for serious rosé lovers.

Even rosé champagne is cyclical: Remi Krug once suggested to me this pattern seemed to follow the occasional member of Britain’s royal family who preferred their fizz pink: Princess Diana certainly did, and suddenly everybody wanted to be seen drinking it.


In the mid-eighties, when rosé was on the nose again, the tiny Barossa boutique, Rockford, became an instant hero amongst the Adelaide cognoscenti with its determined promotion of traditional Shiraz, big and soft and warming. Rob Hill-Smith, of Yalumba, was leading the trend to back labels with the warning that wine should be drunk in moderation, which we joked about being an island in the Caribbean, or near Ascencion or somewhere. Rockford determinedly plunged in the opposite direction, making unabashed alcoholic blockbusters with back labels with lines like “Black Shiraz is the sort of stuff I was weaned on”.

But the winemaker, Rocky O’Callaghan, needed a money-spinner to pay for his expensive Shiraz habit, not to mention the interminable building of his brand new ancient-looking stone winery, so he launched Rockford Alicante Bouchet, a simple, very sweet pink that seemed to ridicule the dark piety of his black philosophy. In harsh contrast, the Alicante was raspberry-flavoured fairy floss, a fair dink pink blomo. To encourage his drinkers to accept this sudden errantry, he used a humourous back label which suggested the drinker should first slide the bottle into the fridge. “I’ve even put a nice little fridge-coloured label on it for you” was the last line: a dash of self-deprecatory humour long since removed.

This instant hit was made from a grape that remains extremely rare in Australia, Alicante Bouschet. The variety was developed in France in 1870s by Henri Bouschet, whose father had invented it when he crossed Petit Bouschet with Grenache, and for some reason named it after a city in Spain, Alicante. The grape is now grown right across the northern Mediterranean, from Spain to Israel and even North Africa.

Alicante Bouschet is perfect for lollypop rosé, as is it one of the few grapes with red juice. The vast majority of red grapes have white juice; winemakers derive the colour by leaving the crushed skins in the white juice until the desired hue is obtained. With Alicante Bouschet, one can simply squash the grapes and use the red juice without extracting the inconveniently bitter tannins that come from skins. It’s instant, foolproof, and cheap.

The source of the Rockford fruit was always a bit of mystery, as was O’Callaghan’s mis-spelling, without the S. It’s unlikely that he (left) would consider dropping the S from Shiraz, after all. Lord knows what varieties a drinker would expect to find in a bottle of Hiraz. In not claiming that this huge-volume gigglepop is actually Alicante Bouschet, perhaps the winemaker could squeeze a little more Grenache in the wine without squeezing his conscience, but of course O’Callaghan’s not like that.

Grenache, too, makes very simple, raspberry cordial rosé. While the juice is white, the pink hue is achieved by leaving the wine on skins for a very short time. Other rosés are made by simply adding some red wine to white. The obsession with bright pink rosé is silly: most of the best are more like the colours of onion skin, or pheasant’s eyes.

I am singularly impressed by the winemaking of Elena Brooks, wife of that infamous scribbler of back labels with millions of words in tiny type, Zar Brooks. Their new Dandelion Vineyards Fairytale Of The Barossa Rosé 2011 smashes the standard kiddylikker Grenache model soundly into kingdom come: the wine is indeed much more onion skin than dumb pink, and has perfectly generous viscosity and unction, as well as a great deal more complexity than its rivals. It is indeed close in the quality stakes to the exemplary Castagna Shiraz Rosé, a rare and glorious biodynamic wonder from Beechworth, on the northern side of the Victorian Alps (see vineyard below).

Many were alarmed and aghast when I called the Castagna Rosé 2001 the top wine of the thousands I tasted – all varieties, all colours, all types - that year in my Top 100. But there it stood, shining out, through days of repours and re-examinations. People were really bloody snooty about it, suggesting it was even more evidence that Whitey had no idea what he was doing. It was as if the best wine in Australia could not possibly be a rosé. That wine, too, was more a burnished onion skin colour than rosy pink, and I hear it drinks perfectly now.

Elena’s Fairytale is the result of more intelligent, less intrusive winemaking than nearly all the others show: 85 year old vine bush vine Grenache from Karl Lindner’s vineyard in the very old geology of Gomersal on the Barossa’s western ridges, picked just below 13 beaumé. She used only the slightly-coloured free run juice, and let it ferment in old French barriques with wild yeast, which she quaintly refers to as “other people’s yeast” in the sense that it simply blew into the winery from wherever it came. Elena left the wine on lees for eight weeks and bottled it without a malolactic fermentation, unfined and unfiltered. For the vital statistics freaks, the wine has a whopping 7.9 grams per litre of natural acidity, a pH of 3.02, and has just under 4 grams per litre of residual suger: not enough to be discerned by taste, but just enough to add some gentle natural syrup to the texture, which was already deliciously creamy from that period on dead yeast lees. I thoroughly recommend it.

At the risk of being repetitive, I also love the Ulithorne Epoch Rosé 2010 that former Bushing Queen Rose Kentish made last year in the Côtes de Provence. She hired local ace Remy Devictor and his Domaine de la Sangliere winery, destemmed, cooled and pressed organic Cinsault, Grenache and Mourvedre, bottled it dry at 12.5% alcohol; and brought it on home. Yum.


At the risk of having vested interests, I’m also anticipating the vibrant beauty my landlord, Peter Fraser, and his team made at Yangarra this year. Baby bush vine Carignan, Grenache and Mourvèdre were picked together at just under 11 Beaumé, (before the rains), left intact in sealed cabmac bags in whole bunches for a week, where fermentation began perfectly naturally inside the untouched berries, then pressed and let ferment to dryness. This wine smelled stunning from the pressing on: vibrant with roses, Turkish delight, maraschino cherries, grapefruit, and a perfect acrid flintiness, not to mention a delightfully astringent, slightly tannic palate that makes me really damn hungry! This wine will be launched, with other “Small Pot” delights at the winery on Saturday September 3rd, and it’s in limited supply, so wobble on in.

And finally, at the risk of harping about wines made by other good mates, the Old Mill Estate Langhorne Creek Touriga Nacional Rosé 2010 is a slender stunner. This time a Portuguese grape used normally for vintage port was picked early, naturally fermented with minimal skin contact and bottled without any sophistry. Contrary to the insistence of your average infant sommelier and cocky plonk grocer that only new rosés are worth attention, these Touriga Nacional rosés are great with an extra year or three on them: they grow alluring complexity and texture in the cellar.

I shall never forget, or regret, drinking ten year old Houghton Cabernet Rosé in the old Ceylon Hut curry house under Hindley Street. The wines were utterly scrumptious. Then the silly buggers at Hardys mucked it up by making it too sweet and dumb. Damn.

So kick back this spring, feet up, chill out and pour yourself some pink, salmon skin, pheasant eye or onion, whatever you like, if only for the sheer bloody hell of it. Just steer clear of the kiddylikker, the raspberry cordial, and fairy floss, and anything that’s not what it seems.


Mike said...

Delightful piece thanks Whitey - my understanding is that Virgara at Angle Vale supply a fair bit of fruit for Rocky's rose'.

Philip White said...

Did you mean Viagra? Only joking. Yeah, that's where some of it is sourced.

Christian Kerr said...

Rose and the Ceylon Hut... It would have set off a Proustian soliloquy if dear Marcel had ever written about getting so pissed over a curry feast that he couldn't find his way through the subterranean tunnels from the floor of the restaurant to the gents and back again.

Philip White said...

Aha! There were no madelaines down in that wondrous temple to cricket, Christian; chilli and yellow pork curry ... I loved that place ... and yes, the pissoir was often very hard to find.

Christian Kerr said...

Oh no! Yellow pork curry... Where the hell would I find that in Canberra on a Sunday?

Philip White said...

Yes, Mike, at least some of the fruit grows there ... his first crop came from Angle Vale. He used to work at Angle Vale winery for Doug Collett, of Woodstock, who bankrolled Rockford. That was in the days when Rocky and Tony Parkinson (now Penny's Hill) tried to "save" Angle Vale by being the first in Australia to put wine in little tetra-pack cardboard bricks with an attached straw for the fridge ... since Doug's death, his son, Scott, of Woodstock, would be the biggest shareholder still, perhaps other than Rocky. Few people know. Also, many Rockford customers would be alarmed if they saw the refinery, of which Rocky and Scott are both shareholders, where the wine is made. It's called Barossa Vinters. Nobody realises how big Rockford really is. It is NOT a cute wee boutique, believe me!

Dale Evans said...

Whitey, a pedantic intrusion. Horse world chatter says the filly's not Bella, after all. So what's her true appellation?