“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 December 2012


Grosset Springvale Watervale Clare Valley Riesling 2012
$37; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap; 88+ points

Clare is not a valley.  It’s really the North Mount Lofty Ranges: more of a mess of upland vales which drain in different directions, out of those ancient nuggety hills onto the surrounding badlands.  They display a similar fine mess of varied geologies, which gives the joint some of its fascination, and might begin to justify two vales and a valley finding their way onto this label in spite of the fact of the fruit coming from the one site.  Another common confusion is the popular bullshit that like Coonawarra, the Watervale vineyards are in terra rossa topsoil over limestone.  Wrong.  The white stuff of Watervale is calcrete. The best explanation I can easily lay my hand on comes from western Kansas and you can read it here. But back to Watervale.  This wine smells like Watervale.  It has that slightly acrid dust-and-stubble whiff that greets you when you drive all the way there in the summer and suddenly open a car window or door. And it smells of the classical lemon and lime pith of Watervale.  The wines from these fine slopes are usually less complex and less tropically fruity than the Polish Hill/River/Valley wines, and, while tight, a fair deal more generous of spirit than the highly austere schoolmasterly Rieslings of Eden Valley.  This ticks all those boxes, but to me it seems to lack the tight finishing focus I expect of the best of the Watervale calcretes, and like its Polish sister, seems a little floppy and fuzzy.  Especially for 2012.  A nice drink, but.  Rizza for the Chablister Sisters and the lo-oak Chardy Cardies, but wha?  At this price?  Naw.  Not really.  

O’Leary-Walker Winemakers Watervale Clare Riesling 2012
$20; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap; 92++ points

The claim to limestone on the back label here is probably the wine’s only real fault.  This is classic Watervale Riesling, rich with lime juice, lime pith, and slightly toasted lime skin, as if somebody’s put the spent peel on top of the woodfire stove like my Mum used to do.  Sure beat Glen Fucking Twenty.  It’s a more generous aroma than the coolest Clares offer, richer than, say, a Chablis, and much richer than Eden Valley, but with a whoof of that summery Clare air, laden with stubble and dust and gorse and a little stringy bark. It’s a real good drink: not as cold and Presbyterian spinstery as some Watervales, but lush and clean and streamlined and cushioned just enough to make me dribble at the thought of scallops on the half-shell roast over real charcoal with aged soy and shredded mandarin peel and a little fresh spring onion garnish added before tabling.  But that’s not limestone.  It’s calcrete.

O’Leary-Walker Winemakers Polish Hill River Riesling 2012
$22; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93++++

The Doctors’ Vineyard was for many years the source of Grosset’s famous Polish Hill Riesling, a name he guarded jealously, as if he'd settled the district. O'Leary-Walker Winemakers now have a very happy relationship and contract with the same physicians while Grosset takes his fruit from a new vineyard next door.  Across Blue Cutting Road you’ll find farm master Martin Smith’s Riesling vineyard.  I say master because Smiffy’s something of a doctor in his own way: setting up many of the earliest modern trellised vineyards around the Polish Valley in the ’eighties.  In his brutally practical and intelligent manner.  Both the Smith and orginal Polish Hill vineyards contribute to this wine.  Which seems a touch shy and withdrawing right now, as if it needs a good quarter of a century to get a civil tongue in its head.  But let it sit in the glass awhile, and it o-so-gradually begins to drop the surly “So whatteryou lookin at?” routine to more of a sassy “Okay I’ll show you my tits if you promise not to touch ’em.”  It’s a tight, seamless thing to sniff, first giving the hooter a summery tickle of the mean old schists, slates, and mudstones that make up the scant soil.  Then the flesh starts to pucker and swell, tropical and spicy. Lychee, rambutan, cherimoya, carambola, plantain, feijoa: you’ll find whiffs and twists of the whole damn fruit market in there if you linger.  The flavours are intense and authoritative, but perhaps even more ungiving than that bouquet was at first. It has a slurpy, steely viscosity that’s more burnished whipsnake than brittle citric, but it’s still unmistakable Polish Hill River Riesling of the highest order.  It’ll take many years to properly settle and bloom - pack some away! 

Grosset Polish Hill Clare Valley Riesling 2012

$49; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap; 90++

This wine’s more open in the shirt division than the O’Leary-Walker – it’s more a creamed-and-powdered Liz Taylor teasing Jimmy Dean in Giant than the bossy, lean and mean Kathryn Hepburn/Barbara Stanwyck style O’L-W gets from the original vineyard.  (I reckon them gals woulda preferred to wear bracing men’s perfume, with the dimethyl sulphide edge of the ocean, salt, citrus, and plenty of vetiver.)  This style gap could simply be a result of the vast difference in the age of the vines: these younger ones, right next door to The Doctors’ vineyard, are maybe just a little more blowsy; but the claimed numbers aside, I suspect this one’s of higher alcohol, too – these aromatics are more of the alcohol-soluble type.  The aroma shows more fleshy lychee and rambutan than do the more austere, woodier fruits of the neighbour, and quite some lime cordial after the Bickford’s style. The texture is immediately more viscous and fluffy, and the acids seem softer if a little more obvious and separate.  Not nearly the muscly, lean style of the O’L-W, but more of an early drinker, if just a little breathless and dissolute.  I can see why some love it: it’s easier to love.  More of a pushover.  But friggin expensive. Who are these people?

Johnny Ruciak was the last Pole to live in the Polish Valley area, south-east of Clare toward the famous slate-mining town of Mintaro.  I took this photograph of him and his dog leaning against the wall of his house in about 1985.  He had hard mud floors and no electricity, and was a beautiful peaceful and helpful person who never understood what idle meant.  Johnny kept a perfect copperplate diary of  the weather and the garden (vineyard) activities every day of his long and happy, but very hard, life.  He always enjoyed taking me in there  for a cup of tea - after lighting a fire to boil the water - while he explained the details of every change in climate and weather over seventy years, always pulling another precious volume of his fastidious writings from the seaman's trunk his grandparents had brought with them from Silesia.  He recorded forensically accurate details of everything, from the way the sky looked to the flavour of the tomatoes and the moisture in the soil, every day of his life.  I never heard him complain.  Those stones are what gives these Polish Valley wines their special flavours.  Johnny was a real good man.

PS: A note about price: Riesling is a tough, acidic white grape. To make wine from it, you typically pick it, press it, remove the juice from the skins, store this in a chilled stainless steel tank, add yeast or let wild yeast ferment it by letting the tank warm a little, cold-settle it for clarification, sulphur it for preservation, filter it and bottle it.  This can be done in days. No oak is required, and no sophistry other than cleanliness need be involved in the procedure. In other words, the wine should be inexpensive. So how can one producer charge so much more than another when the vineyards are virtually adjacent? Fame? To this critic, the choice is a no-brainer.  But if you find yourself feeling sorry for Jeff Grosset as you buy your bottle of  O'Leary-Walker, buy the latter anyway, and send Jeff $20 for each bottle you purchase.



28 December 2012


Krug Vintage Brut Champagne 2000 
$514.39; 12% alcohol; cork; 97++ points 

This could be the best drink of my life.  Two weeks ago, it invaded me more than seduced.  Just took over.  Still it haunts me, freshly, as if the King had just now walked out of the room.  Having pushed aside the long-stored mental records of many other magnificent wines, it sits glowering in my memory like a heavenly cloud. And not only the gastronomic part of my brain’s library: this liquor took over many other sections, spilling into the history shelves, the music sector, the colour charts.  It dumbfounded the language files completely. I couldn’t talk.

When it was poured, its miasma was not content to merely spill across the table as other vinous rarities sometimes do.  This thing occupied the building.

After half an hour of marveling at its bouquet, I murmured “It doesn’t even smell like wine.”

You know how Tasmanian Leatherwood honey has a dark perfumed richness about it, setting it well aside from all other honey?  You should think like that of this wine: it immediately brought Leatherwood to mind, but it doesn’t really smell like that.  It smells like a master has poached ripe Passe-Crassane pears in it and served them warm on a toasty brioche floating in perfect sabayon.  This Normandy pear is a delicious, granular cross of a pear and a quince. So the bouquet is deeper, more autumnal and complex than simple crunchy pear.  Then there’s that basement of alluring, mysterious spice: some scorched Curaçao orange peel, for example.  Maybe mace, maybe nutmeg, maybe cinnamon, maybe allspice, maybe roast stringy bark.  Which brings me back to the Leatherwood.  And we already know it doesn’t really smell like that: all these insinuations and innuendos have been melted and forged into the one perfectly smooth golden ingot.

When eventually I remembered it was actually a drink I had in my hand, and I took a draught, I lost my voice again.  It sure does taste like wine, but wine crossed with cinder toffee and burnished gold.  It rang my receptors like a carillon.

Everything else is gonna be a letdown.

2000 was really a shit of a year in Champagne, a chaotic juggernaut that commenced with too much mildew-promoting rain then savage hailstorms in July.  But what the hail hadn’t blitzed – like 3,000 ha: one tenth of the appellation – was generous to the point of corpulent after all that water.  August brought a see-saw of further downpours, interspersed with hot sunshine. Then, in mid-September, just before harvest, there was a burst of record heat. That big crop made possible some very careful fruit selection for the fussiest producers, who finally enjoyed a calm, drawn-out harvest in a beautiful Indian summer.

They were still picking clean Côte des Blancs Chardonnay well into October, which may begin to explain why Krug winemaker Julie Cavil employed a little more of it than usual – the blend is 43% Chardonnay, 42% Pinot noir and 15% Pinot meunier.

Over the years of considering the wine’s intricate composition before assemblage, the Krugs ended up calling this astonishment their Gourmandise Orageuse - Stormy Indulgence.

“This vintage brings together the complexity and the generosity of a very exciting year,” Olivier Krug understates on the family website.  “Krug 2000 is one of the most intense, dramatic and romantic Krug Vintages ever made.  It also has a very high ageing potential.”

Nobody would know better.  The wine certainly has sufficient acidity to keep all that opulence and extravagance in harmonious balance, and given the Krugs’ longstanding philosophy of maximum oxidation until bottling, we can be assured there’ll be no more of that occurring as this mighty dream of a drink smoulders on for decades, corks willing.

And the bead?  That lazy, persistent stream of the tiniest bubbles that can make Krug identifiable on sight alone?  Again, just perfect.  Which reminds me of Henri Krug drily remarking on one of my visits to that gracious, understated but totally authoritative maison, “Why are they so small?  I leave that to our technical people, Philip. Just let me say I have spent many years counting them.”

These are the sort of bubbles I could easily spend the rest of my life counting.  I’ll have to sell the Veyron.

Back in the day: brothers Henri and Remi Krug, planning assemblage

23 December 2012


George Grainger Aldridge called by this week, to hand over an inch thick stash of cartoons like this for our forthcoming Funny Book. Pardon my snap - I have no scanner other than this camera and the old eyelid cinema ... click image to crisp.

22 December 2012


I invited that beloved cobber of DRINKSTER, the Caduceus winemaker, Maynard James Keenan, to nominate which of his songs he might suggest as being pertinent to this hard and cruel time in poor old America.  Which by its nature now includes the whole friggin world. He reckons this one pretty well sums it up.  Thanks Brother - I look forward to seeing A Perfect Circle and Puscifer on your vintage tour ,,, keeping a fork polished!

19 December 2012



The big family of Yangarra Estate celebrated the season and the oncoming vintage with a delightful lunch at the recently-purchased Clarendon Vineyard, a few kilometres away on the uplands above the Onkaparinga Gorge ... photos Philip White 


17 December 2012



I had a soul

I had a soul.
I took it through milkshed and byre,
tussock and thistle, ragwort and bog
with a burlap sack on my head for the drizzle.
With me it watched the blackwood hewn
and the underground tank surrender its muck
to bucket and shovel,
till all was strewn on grass so green
it really needed to be seen.

I had a soul.
With me it watched the poddy-calves drop
from the neat plop of the axe-back
and the steam rise from their opened flesh
as their gizzards writhed alive, still digesting.
It flopped with me on soft fresh hides
and the fleas in the hay of the barn,
with brothers playing in the beams:
everything was what it seemed.

I had a soul.
They flayed it over communion wine
and tortured it with hymns exhaled through trembling wattles;
pious old throats filled with the holy spit
and sanctimonious halitosis.
I fucked that soul off across the gaping graves:
kinfolk and kindred who did no harm,
young whose souls some other bastard claimed.
I carry their husks home in the rain.

Philip White

that's sunset above, on a salt pan near Emu Bay on Kangaroo Island ©Philip White


10 December 2012


George Grainger Aldridge as Santa Claus

Happy Birthday Jesus!
2012 Years Old Now
Here We Go Again
by PHILIP WHITE for InDaily

When the stern Mme. Editrix suggests something Christmassy on the occasion of Jesus’s birthday, which happens every year to those of us lucky enough to have a place to write about it, I first choose a typeface.  While I’ve had such an outlet space for only about forty of the sixty times I’ve celebrated this fictional event, I find an essential starting point is my selection of a look to better convene the inspiration which must then follow, God willing.  So pity you can’t read this in Book Antiqua, which is the typeface I’m working in this year. It has a nice King James Bible feel about it.  Just imagine you’re reading this off the finest gilt-edged rice paper in black kid binding, our Lord’s sayings all printed in red.

Just so you don’t confuse them with mine.

Rev Harold Camping loves the feel of the King James


That said, this particular par is devoted to the suggestion that I write pretty much the same thing every Christmas.  

This writing must always be confidently prophetic that Christmas will eventually come around, which can get tricky.  That great soldier for the Lord, the Rev Harold Camping, has been making a regular habit of predicting the date of the Lord's return but seems to have got it wrong every time so far.  These things are very risky. 

In this prophecy division, she who must be obeyed took a double whammy outa me this time, first asking what I’d be eating and drinking at the big lunch, like, separate from this column, with a sneaky sequitur intended to have me show all my cards and reveal any other ideas I might have withheld about something unusual, errant, or, for Chrissake, even new!  That would be published somewhere else in this bonnie journal.  Leaving me wondering what I’d write about on this page, like what would I eat and drink if I actually didn’t do what I'd written there, but had another even more nefarious and secretive agenda with which to wad this Christmas column, in the anticipation that the day will eventually arrive.

Presuming I’ll be alone should it indeed choose to, I would first take a very hot shower whilst drinking a tin of ice-cold Asahi beer with Phil Spector’s Christmas Album on number eleven.  Nothing new in this, I do it every year.  If it’s not a holy day I’ll even settle for a tin of Bud.  If I had a bath the size of the one I enjoyed in the Love Basilica at The Botanic, I’d soak in that steaming hot and have somebody pour freezing Absolut on my head but that would involve the presence of another which is something never to be presumed in these bitter twilight years.

Good eunuchs are so hard come by.


Nope.  No moping.  On this day one should delight in wringing a few more drops of joy from life’s old dish rag, while resisting the temptation to go too far.  At which point the King James scribe would insert a perfect useage of that beautiful word, lest.  This is the message I seem to be getting from government, at least.  It brings to mind a serious warning I once got from my brother Stemmo, who said he was cool smelling Leah’s mess of flaming hair, but once he sniffed the soft freckly bit just below her ear, whooshka!  He’d lose control.

So once the Asahi’s done, wondering again about the movie I want to write about life in Australia sixty years after Japan won the Second World War, I wander from the shower, and don my best suit.  French cuffs, Krug tie, dress shoes.

Author gives good suit : with Michael Hill Smith ca 80
Or maybe my red and black Adidas trackie daks with all the burn holes, a Naked For Satan tee, geohoodie, and my black suede Bata ripple soles with the red laces.  Freebagging.  Dunno yet.

What I would really like after that is a breakfast of kassler pork chops, cold, from Max Noske’s perfect Hahndorf butchery, with lashings of Beerenberg mustard seed and chilli paste and maybe some capers and sliced Spanish onion on toasted sourdough rye rubbed with raw garlic.  During this dainty breakfast – Castagna Sparkling Allegro 2009 fizzing gentle and pinkly on the side - I could contemplate the Jewish aversion to things porcine and molluscular and wonder anew about our Lord and his twelve acolytes and Mary of Magdelene groovin’ at those endless clambakes on the Galilee shore.  How the hell can you have a clambake if you’re not allowed to eat clams?

Why waste all those pigs filling them up with Legion’s demons and making them run off the cliff into the sea?  Somebody shoulda smoked em.

During all this I’ve had Vivaldi’s Glorias billowing out of the stacks.

I dunno what I’ll do next.  I’ll be blowing about .05 by then, contemplating the hangover Jesus and the lads had got themselves at the clambake – too much Damascus rosé – before they carried that ache up the dusty mountain track to the Qana wedding in the hot morning sun, where they went straight back to work building their next one.  As the little gang learned on their way up the hill, you can catch a hangover even if you don’t drive, and that pink kosher plonk might rarely get you to where you want to go, but it'll get you there quicker than just about anything else.

If I find that Christmas card I posted to myself with the fifty in it, I’ll be itching for a smoke, but the shop’s too far to walk and they’ll be shut anyway on account of Jesus’s birthday so there’s no point looking.

Government will be pleased about that.

At this point I will go back to my first plan, which is the one with the smoked redfin and the tequila-stuffed pineapple, by which noontime said Mme. Boss Editrix promises to be here if she weren’t so far off in New Zealand, throwing her flesh to the harrowing acid of Marlborough Savvy-B, silly girl.

So I shall proceed solo, following the Vivaldi up with some Morricone spaghetti western soundtrack while I pull on my poncho, but that’ll make me yearn for a cheroot, which government would not like, and anyway, if you’ve got proper tasting glasses a poncho’s no good because it knocks them over when you gesticulate.  

As the pineapple thing soon becomes obviously more of a drink than a dessert, I’ll be yearning for something a little more substantial along the line of restorative solids, which if planned correctly, could well come in the form of a pad of panforte, which rhymes with vintage port, which I happen to have over there on the bench in the form of too much 94 Fonseca for one bloke to manage after such a heavenly brunch.

Government will be pleased to see that my fish smoker aside – I’ll smoke anything - this has so far been a fairly low-carbon affair, in which case they might overlook me having a quick B&H if I can find that packet with the photograph of somebody rotting in the tea cupboard and manage to juggle the fags into my silver cigarette case without looking at that image and reaching for a handful of anti-wobble thiamin before setting fire to everything.

If I had a television I’d use it to spill strong spirits and fall asleep at this point, but I don’t, so I’ll struggle on into dinner after some brisk aerobic exercise grinding the coffee.  A shot of Shazza’s special grappa will sort all that out.

Who put this damn spaghetti western stuff on the player?  Time for that mass the infant Schubert wrote for his soprano sweetheart. I like the high bits.

A salad of rocket, kos, whitlof, Yarra Persian Feta and violet flowers with a runny goose egg, pickled artichoke hearts and some croutons would be good to have here, but that’s out of the question.  The artichoke tannins would upset the palate. 


Instead I should revert to the rabbit kittens I smoked with Trinidad Scorpion and Bhut Jolokia chillies yesterday, if I remembered.  I stuffed them with fresh tarragon and great big chunks of ginger and garlic and smoked them on their backs in a bath of olive oil. Like breakfast or revenge or whatever that was I had at the beginning, they’re best served cold.  This will require a modest Burgundy, like, say, Claude Rousseau’s Gevrey-Chambertin, but no cutlery.  By this time, the government will send me a suicide by police if their mozzie drones spot me holding anything sharp. 

Which brings us to the cheese.  It’s a godsend having Alison Paxton’s Kangarilla Creamery within laughing distance of this cosy hut, so I will have wobbled, should I remember, over to her place and purchased a blob of Holy Goat, which may or may not by then be called Billygoat Milk on account of its boisterous ammonia reading.  Which will simply rock with my little bottle of Castagna Aqua Santa sweet Viognier.  This is 100 g/l sugar, and very acid wine, with an encouraging alcohol of fifteen per cent. And it’s pink, I think, like that starter wine away back at brekky.  Colourblindness is sooo crippling.

This is where our Lord returns with a parable unspoken, but bleeding obvious. If those lads had returned to the hair of the pink Damascus dog at the wedding, they’d be on the way to hellfire eternal before the garter hit the virgins, so the world’s most famous winemaker, well, after Maynard James Keenan, the world’s most famous winemaker made a good solid red that even the emcee recognised blind.

The lesson being that one must always take to bed a flavour and colour well removed from the one which began the day, which is why we have drinks like The Bailie Nicol Jarvie Blend Of Very Old Reserve Scotch Whisky.  And cigarettes. 

And now, as the flames lick the curtains, and I lunge to grab the fire extinguisher I keep in my bed, I notice somebody’s laid out my grey suit.  That must be for Shadow-boxing Day.

Praise the Lord!

06 December 2012


That soul of DRINKSTER, illustrator George Grainger Aldridge, has been away drawing camels for the government and painting portraits of the world's biggest trucks for the local Caterpillar agency.  Never fear - we're working on the biggest piss-take wine book since Dennis Hopper dropped some mesc and wrote Perfume under the pseudonym Susskind.  Or was it Johnny Depp writing Jitterbug Perfume under the pseudonym Tom Robbins?  I always thought that was obvious, either way.  Maybe it had something to do with Joan Didion slouching towards Jim Morrison like he was some giant source of restorative goanna oil?  Or twisty-shardy-broken windscreen generation z stuff that crinklies who smell of wee can never understand ... stay chooned ... that's his Georgeness in recline with his favourite pet cow on his sweet home patch in the Flinders, below ... he says he didn't notice the UFO coming outa his ear ... maybe it was just your basic minor ectoplasm.


In her unique unflinching style, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard says the Mayan calendar was right after all and that we should be preparing for the world to end. She also promises to fight to the end for us, whether it's flesh-eating zombies or demonic hell beasts comin' over the hill. So?  To get with the Ranga?  Sharpen your axes and click here!


So who's a happy winemaker this Xmess?  Maynard James Keenan gets rockin' with some brand new retro oak at his Caduceus winery up on Mingus Mountain in Jerome Arizona. And the names of these Indigo Children? Naga, Anubis and Oneste. He's bringing A Perfect Circle here at the end of summer - read vintage - for the Soundwave Festival tour.

05 December 2012


quick snap out the window at the lights on Sydney Road by Philip White


Joel, Alfredo and Carla Pizzini in the cooking school kitchen at their Pizzini Wines cellar in the King Valley, in the northern side of the Victorian Alps ... photo Philip White

A Few Quiet Ones On King River
Smokes Give Ground To Drinks 
Foodnwine Family And Friends

Like the idea of a vineyard with a trout stream ripping across its foot? King River’s the go.  She runs fast north down the Victorian Alps toward the Murray, threading through country that was devoted to tobacco when first I visited as a kid.  It was mainly Italians growing the stuff. As the noted weed fell from grace these tough, proud families stepped sideways into wine production, but the farms still sport the tall galvo sheds built to hang and dry the tobacco leaves.  They remind me of the oast-houses of the English countryside, especially parked amongst the verdant oak-and-birch laced sward of these lush flats. But that most Australian of building materials, rusting galvo, snaps the viewer back to Aussie, and as you raise your glass your eyes rise too, and you’re gazing through your prosecco to the granite slopes beyond and you’re lost in the blue eucalypt haze and England evaporates and anyway it’s Freddy  Pizzini you’re drinking with and he’s very obviously Italian.

Alfredo and Katrina Pizzini run the most civilised wine and food business at Whitfield.  Their stylish newsletter, Tre Amori, promotes their three loves: wine, food, family and friends, which you immediately realise is actually four until you tune back in to listen to Fred and it becomes obvious that to this mob, wine and food are one and the same.  Right beside the cellar sales tasting bench, for example, there’s a broad open doorway that leads to a big suave stainless kitchen.  That’s where Katrina and Carla Pizzini run the cooking schools.

The Pizzini Prosecco 2012 is the most delicate yet authoritative introduction to the Pizzini adventure.  It’s made from a grape called Glera, and it’s bone dry and only eleven per cent alcohol.  It’s tangy sherbert joys aside, I first suspected its gentle parsnip and radish flavours must have been unique to this scarce variety, but there they were again in the Pinot grigio 2012 and the White Roman 2012.

“White Roman’s a brand,” Fred says.  “The 2011 was an orvieto style made from Trebbiano, Prosecco, Chardonnay and Pinot grigio.  This year we made it to suit Thai and south-east Asian dishes so we blended Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot grigio.” As well as those distinctive savoury tangs of the radix family, it showed another indicator of the Pizzini terroir: the acrid granitic whiff of the sediment of that broad valley floor.

We worked on, through a brilliant yet delicate Riesling (11.5% alcohol), a chalk-and-butter Chardonnay that had a third of its make done in old oak but still seemed more Chablis in style than full-blown Burgundy (12.5%), and a Sauvignon blanc of 11.5% alcohol that had no hint of Kiwi cat piss or battery acid but instead seemed to reek of plantain and banana leaf and had me yearning for vongole pasta.

The plantain reappeared in the stunning Arneis 2012, an elegant thing of the finest delight.  I remarked that this finesse and understatement of alcohol and force was an uncommon grace amongst today’s droll dunderheaded industrial grapeyards.

“We never need to add much acid here,” Fred said.  “We tweak it a little bit sometimes.  If we get really hot conditions we have no choice.  But on the other hand we get maturity here at 10 and 10.5 Beaume.”  One degree Beaume, fermented dry, will generally produce one per cent of alcohol in the finished wine.

Even the Verduzzo was elegant, in spite of this rather agricultural variety’s tendency to push honey flavours and oily textures.  “Yeah, it’s a maintenance-free variety,” Fred said, “it’s got quite thick skins.  It makes great dessert wine, but we like this dry style too.”

Like? Like?  Your little Bianco was in gastroperve heaven at that bench.

As we switched into rosso mode, I mentioned the first Pizzini wine that lured me many years ago, the 1998 Sangiovese, and an envoy was dispatched to a storage shed somewhere to quickly reappear  rather dustily cobwebbed but bearing a bottle of that very wine.  It still had fresh berries amongst its bitter chocolate, blood orange and leather. By Bacchus and Pan it was a treat!

“This was our first Sangiovese clone, the Grosso, and it was a difficult one to work,” Fred said.  “But we worked hard in the vineyard and kept the vines balanced to go for lower yields and look at that: it worked ... that was only our third vintage off those vines ... we’re not alkaline here in our soils.  We’re acidic, so we’re gonna get these flavours of the ground in our wines ... keep them long enough and you’re gonna get good drinks.”

He popped his Sangiovese 2002, by which vintage they’d planted the superior Brunello clone as well.  It was an explosion of fatty chocolate acids and sweet Marello and bitter Maraschino cherries with a tantalising, languorous taper of a tail that seemed to flick a lemony zabaglione about my sensories.

By 2011 they’d established four clones of Sangiovese on four distinct geologies.  These are fermented separately and then blended.  “They’re four very different wines,” Fred explained, “but we blend to get this bold style that’s really acid-driven and assertive, but you know, we don’t want any heartburn, so we pull it back a bit and get this complex wine that’s fruitsweet, yet there’s no sugar.  It’s bone dry.”

And a complex, closed in, hammered compaction of thing it is: a brilliant and lovely drink which will eventually blow the socks off that glorious 98. As will the 2008 Rubacuori (“Stealer of Hearts”) Sangiovese, which is their super-premium $110 jobby. One small corner of a hillside vineyard devoted to the Brunello clone makes this exquisity.

“We really wanted to give Sangiovese the importance it deserved,” Fred murmured into his glass.  “So we think we finally found this spot in all our vineyards, this one corner on the hill, less than one acre, and it’s sunny and warm there.  Sangiovese likes some warmth.  We’re very proud of this wine.”

And so they should be. As far as the blood of San Jove goes, it’s bloody lovely. Those bittersweet cherries are there in abundance, and given the corks chosen are $1.80 a pop, should eventually bloom even brighter and more alluringly than the 98.

To finish, we wandered into that vague and mystical world of Nebbiolo: “the mist”.

“I won’t be opening my share of this for four years,” Fred sighed as he poured the current 2009 model.  It seemed minty and lollyshopped – nothing like Nebbiolo.  “You just gotta wait,” he said, pouring his 2002 alongside his 09.  “This is proper Nebbiolo. I took it to a Nebbiolo producers’ conference in Italy, where it poured blind among all the others and they said ‘THIS is Nebbiolo’!”

Damn right it is.  All those pickled walnuts and red berries; the orange oil; the creamy blanched almonds; the Campari bitters, the chinotto and the Fernet Branco welling together as mysterious as the mist … but even that was no mystery at all alongside the last glass of the day: the incomparable  Pizzini Coronamento Nebbiolo 2005.

This moody mess of dried sage, wormwood, juniper and currants was like a Fellini movie. Licorice, saffron, dirt, nuts, currants … you name it, it’s there.  Just proving that to this beautiful warm gutsy Pizzini family, food and wine are indeed only one thing.

Which is not to say you can’t do it in a million different ways.  Go visit. 

two more Victorian beauties found on the track:

Mount Langi Ghiran Auxerrois 2006
$20 (cellar door); 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93 points
This rare old variety was probably brought into Australia by the Swiss vignerons who settled Geelong.  It smells a little like Sauvignon blanc from a warm year: it’s dry grass, not cut lawn.  That’s one thing.  It’s another thing completely when you get it in your mouth: after that illusory introduction, it’s surprisingly full, almost to the point of fulsome as in lugubrious, like oily, like slimy Kath Quealy Pinot gris.  But while it dangles you out there in the expectation that soon you’ll be lowered into it to be gone forever, it gives blessed relief in a slender, neatly tapering acid finish with a savoury bitter melon tannic tweak.   So it’s a fair dinkum adventure: a gastronomic ghost train with a very happy ending. I want it with a warm cannelloni bean and pork belly stew. Like now.

Best’s Great Western Dolcetto 2011
$22 (cellar door); 11.5% alcohol; screw cap; 88 points
Best’s have had this Piedmontese variety since the late 1800s.  It’s a cute frivolity; a light-hearted party red that you could serve from the ice bucket. In other words the sort of red our thick-headed wine grocers will probably never understand, which is why you’ll have to avoid them and get it direct. Dolce is sweet, the etto is diminutive, so while it means sweet littlie, it’s sweet hearted not sugary.  It is in fact dry and tannic in a rockabilly more than hard rock manner: more slap bass and polka dots than megametal.  The fruit is snappy and nutty in a hazelnut sort of way, with bright red cherry jumping about.  It’s the perfect happy red for summer, and I can’t help thinking it would make one king-hell sangria. Should be more of it!


04 December 2012


Ironstone from the Ironheart Shiraz vineyards at Yangarra Estate photo Philip White

The brilliant and pointy Zoe Laughlin's been investigating people's preferences in the wide flavour range of metals ... her well-ground, finely-honed curiosity drives straight  through the doors into the DRINKSTER  Heretics' Hall Aflame!  We got a new one on the team!  To hear Zoe's recent Radio New Zealand discussion of this disarming work and her discoveries about the importance of the flavours of cutlery, CLICK HERE.  Forget the starched chefwits and all that shiny gastroporn.  This is the next frontier: way down under the ground. And just so youse all know, the correct pronunciation is cuttle-ree.  Cutler-ee is affectation.

Artist and maker Zoe Laughlin is a co-founder/director of the Institute of Making and the Materials Library project at University College in London. She holds an MA from Central Saint Martin's College of Art and Design and obtained a PhD in Materials within the Division of Engineering, King's College London. Working at the interface of the science, art, craft and design of materials, her work ranges from formal experiments with matter, to materials consultancy and large-scale public exhibitions and events with partners including Tate Modern, the Hayward Gallery, the V&A and the Wellcome Collection. Her particular areas of interest are currently The Sound of Materials, The Taste of Materials and The Performativity of Matter, with outputs ranging from theatrical demonstration lectures to the making of instruments and features on both radio and television.  www.twitter.com/zoelaughlin 

25 November 2012


Heath Cullen played two perfect sets at Lazy Ballerina this afternoon, singing mainly about birds. In fact, it was about one hundred and ten per cent perfect. Heath's about to release his second CD, which he's just recorded with Marc Ribot, Jim Keltner, and Larry “The Mole” Taylor.  You can't get much cooler than that ... photos Philip White


We've cut my my last interview with Ray Beckwith from 120 minutes to thirty.  To view it, click here ... photo and video by Milton Wordley.

23 November 2012


The Exeter photographed by Ned Meldrum in Counter Meal - recipes and stories from great Australian pubs, Funtastic 2005

Wowser Prohos Come And Go
Waves Of Dries Ebb And Flow
But The Exeter Still Runs Pure 

So. The proho dries are on a rise.  Don’t panic.  They come and go.  Dry waves wear out through public boredom and the need to keep the wheels of the economy well greased.  In more ways than one, the Exeter is the ideal location for the contemplation of wowserism.  Lean your bows against her rubbing strakes, get the ebullient landlord Kevin Gregg to set one or two up for one, and ponder.

Blue-green biker: the author arrives at the Ex to contemplate abstinence.
Even the name Exeter has form. The ancient Gaelic word for water is uisge. Whisky is a corruption of usque-baugh, the water of life.  The Old Welsh Celtic for current of water is wysg; water is gwy or wy.  The Welsh take a wys, not a piss. And they tend to get, shall we say, on it.  They have a river Wysg, commonly mispronounced by the English as Usk.  As also happened with a river in Devonshire, this name was mispronounced by the Romans, who called both rivers Isca.  The Devonshire stream gradually morphed into the Exe.  It quite naturally flowed through the place which became Exeter. 

Former Exeter publican, Nicholas Binns, with the late Gabriella Bertocchi, photographed by Victoria Straub in 1996

Although his quote came from the lugubrious Peter Ustinov character in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, my esteemed colleague John McGrath glanced nicely through the edge of this history when he called a previous Exeter publican, Nicholas Binns, on the occasion of his retirement, “a river to his people.” 

The Earls of Exeter traditionally lived in Cecil House, opposite the Savoy Hotel on the Strand.  It was on this site that the mighty Exeter Hall was raised and opened in 1831.  This quickly became a meeting-place for non-conformist protestants, the Anti-Slavery Lobby, the opponents of the Corn Laws, the suffragettes, and, well, the YMCA. As its main auditorium  sat 4000, it was also a favourite concert hall for the likes of the revolutionary French composer, Hector Berlioz.

 It was in these rooms that the fathers of this British colony held a meeting at which it was first decided to establish the South Australian Company. Flushed with this proud recent history, our forebears named a suburb and two pubs after it.

As wowser uprisings follow waves of over-indulgence like tides, Exeter Hall also became a favourite hangout for the proho dries of the day.  Enter one George Cruikshank (left), a second-generation political satirist, cartoonist, illustrator and drunk.  The nineteen-year-old Cruikshank had watched his father Isaac perish in a coma after downing a whole bottle of spirits in a drinking competition in 1811, but seemed to take more competitive challenge from this than purposeful consideration of its folly.  He spent the years between this and his 55th swinging in constant exacerbation between merry drunkenness and extreme and audacious creativity. His biographer, Robert Upstone was to call Cruikshank’s 1819 toon of the Prince Regent (later George IV) farting in the parliament’s face “one of the most deliberately offensive and provocative images ever produced.”  Even after the Crown paid him £100 to desist, our man was quick to be back at his feverish assault.

Between public bouts of carousal and long absences from society and sobriety -- “surely no man drank with more fervour and enjoyment, nor carried his liquor so kindly, so merrily” wrote a contemporary -- Cruikshank produced some 10,000 illustrations, etchings, paintings and designs.  He illustrated two books for Charles Dickens -- Sketches by Boz and Oliver Twist – and his annual Comic Almanac always sold out.

But at the age of 55, Cruikshank produced The Bottle, a series of eight prints portraying the collapse, through their abuse of alcohol, of a fine lower-middle-class family.  This sold over 100,000 copies in a few weeks. It was reproduced on tea sets and dining plates.  He followed this up with The Drunkard’s Children the next year.  These highly profitable enterprises led to Cruikshank morphing rather quickly, through a new-found moderation in his attitude to the booze, to outright evangelical wowserism.

“An admired, theatrical, highly-effective speaker” writes Upstone, Cruikshank “lectured  tirelessly on temperance … a mass movement … a following of around three million being claimed out of a total population of around 20 million ... The temperance movement, however, were a generally compassionate group, not usually targeting drinkers for anger but instead the distillers and politicians who benefited from the poor’s weakness. ”

William Hogarth, Gin Lane, engraving 35.7 x 30.5cm., London 1751

Cruikshank himself was becoming increasingly perturbed at the links he saw between alcohol and crime.  “There are a number of besettling sins connected with drinking,” he preached, “such as robberies, brutal assaults, garottings, house-breakings, suicide and murder … if we could do away with intoxicating liquors altogether, we might wheel out that dreadful instrument the gibbet … and make a bonfire of it.”

To illustrate his frustration, Cruikshank had a big idea in 1859.  He envisaged The Worship of Bacchus, a a terrifying epic work in oils, encapsulating the decay of Britain in the mood of Hogarth’s Gin Lane with respect to Pieter Breughel the Elder’s surreal The Triumph of Death. Powerpoint and the movies were still a long way off, but Cruikshank dreamed, if you like, of a huge still version of Mickey Rourke doing Charles Bukowski with a cast of thousands in Barfly, delivered, with associated promotional billboards and brochures, live to a hall near you.

The Triumph Of Death - Pieter Bruegel The Elder (c.1525-69), oil on panel

Cruikshank began pencil sketching and watercolouring immediately, but his impatience led to him working harder on the big oil than on the initial watercolour and consequent prints, which would pay his income while he toiled away at the big picture.  This bungling with the schedule caused a delay in the making of the prints, so there were no sales when they were most needed, and anyway, public interest was waning. 

“I have not the vanity to call it a picture,” he told a temperance gathering of the finished work in 1862, “it being merely the mapping out of certain ideas for an especial purpose, and I painted it with a view that a lecturer might use it as so many diagrams … In the centre of this mass is a madman … it may indeed be said that madness prevails over the whole of this mass of worshippers; for excitement from strong drink and drunkenness is in fact temporary insanity.”

When he launched The Worship of Bacchus for public view in August of that year, nobody came.

Exeter Hall, The Strand, 1905. It was demolished in 1907 to make way for the Strand Palace Hotel, which survives to this day.
Mortified, Cruikshank moved the work to Exeter Hall.  As if once again forecasting the movies, it was propped up on the stage.  Even at a monstrous 236 x 406 cm. the work would probably have looked small in that huge empty auditorium:.  However, it turned out that our man’s giant dry vision itself had shrunk not just in the social change from Georgian to Victorian taste, but, as critic Francis Turner Palgrave noted “his high tragic power has been exercised mainly against those abuses by which the poor and the helpless suffer. His sympathies are clearly those of a man of the people for the people; and this excludes drawing room popularity.”

For drawing room, read the private parlours, sitting rooms and counting-houses of the distillers, brewers, lawyers and politicians on the make. There was far too much money at stake, and the public remained very thirsty.

The Worship of Bacchus, etching after the oil painting (236 x 406 cm) by George Cruikshank, London, 1860-2 ... click image for closer look 

After a century hidden away, The Worship of Bacchus was restored and exhibited by the Tate Gallery in 2001, where it resides to this day, and, given the current form of the ascendant wowser wave, initially attracted much more supportive fame than it ever did in the artist’s time.

These waves, however, really do come and go.  Hannah at the Tate tells me that unfortunately, the work is back in the vaults, and Cruikshank’s bio is no longer in the bookshop there, so you’ll just have to trust my account or make the hits I suggest below.

Cruikshank went to his grave leaving a document a lot more pertinent to the nature of the colleagues moored beside you there at the bar.  Buoyed, he professed, by his obsession with fitness and teetotalism, he lived into his 86th year. His will looked well after his widow, Eliza, but provided even more proficiently for a woman called Adelaide Archibald.  This secret mistress lived just around the corner from Cruikshank’s marital home.  Of all the contents of Adelaide’s house, Cruikshank bequeathed to her “all such furniture books wines and household effects belonging to me” adding wry irony to what could have been the perfect acronym for the lass: AA.

For household effects read their ten children, for whom Cruikshank had stacked up capital in trust.

Adelaide’s relationship with her Exeter rarely gets more simple than this.  While the proho dries, the wowsers, and the busybody interferists will always come and go, order a double, and draw it so slowly you can fully digest the fact that there are always more old drunks than old doctors.  And many, indeed, are both.

The Worship of Bacchus is so big and intricate that no normal browser can handle it in any detail.  I have selected the best links to it here:

The Guardian’s Steve Bell takes us to visit The Worship of Bacchus in the vaults of the Tate Gallery.

Fine detail of Bacchus from the British Journal of Psychiatry

Medium and very high resolution images of the etching which was printed for general sale.

One of my all-time favourite prohos is the American evangelist Billy Sunday, whom I was taught to revere without much idea of what he was like. Turns out he was like this (official clip). Although he enjoyed the support of the Almighty, even Billy lost his battle gainst the mighty thirst of America.  You can also see him preaching on prohibition on this scratchy old doco.

The top half of Adelaide's premier thirst emporium, The Exeter Hotel, 246 Rundle Street, East End, drawn by Millie The Kid (Amelia Dickins) at 17 years of age in 1987. And oh yes, just in case you're wondering, that's my grandfather, Pastor Teddy Seymour, below. Having married his daughter, my father, Pastor Jimmy White, followed in Teddy's street-preaching footsteps, being active in the Women's Christian Temperance Union and the Lord's Day Observance Society as well as being close buddies to the likes of Rev. Ian Paisley, Pastor Wally Betts, Dr. Bob Jones Jr., and Dr. Carl McIntyre.  After that dry ebb, I'm a Mercurial wave of the opposite, thanks to Bacchus and Pan.