“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)





29 June 2012



Rosemary Dobson
8 June 1920 – 27 June 2012

When true poets die
Some usually close wished they knew
Some who knew wished they were close
Few have the true grasp of it
The deading brain running off like bad cream
Leaving a stain some lick from their fingers
The poet chooses not to linger

Philip White

with the full respect and thanks
the photo is by Max Dupain 



Maynard Caught Red Handed
Zis Bloke Work For Penfolds?
Nope. He's The Caduceus Man

by PHILIP WHITE all photos of Maynard and Puscifer by Milton Wordley, who's working on our forthcoming book, A year in the life of Grange

Strange week. Peter Gago was somewhere up in the sky above the Atlantic Ocean, en route to Moscow, when friend of DRINKSTER Milton Wordley took these photographs of Grange lover Maynard James Keenan on stage with Puscifer on their current USA tour.
Networking, see, us blokes.

Gago had just staged the biggest Grange tasting ever held outside of Australia, opening a full set for the adoring cognoscenti in New York. Maynard, meanwhile, put on his airliner pilot uniform to enjoy another bottle off his drinks trolley while he screamed for his supper in Colombia, in his birth state of Ohio. Maynard can also roar, I should probly say. He's really good at it. And he'll purr if you're not careful.

It wasn't too long ago when Grange was only conspicuously drunk by the likes of the Adelaide Steamship Company's John Spalvins. It was a right wing wine for suits. Maynard, the stone bald or bewigged freak fronting bands like A Perfect Circle, Tool and Puscifer, is not like John Spalvins. Maynard is a respected winemaker for starters. He's building his own winery, Caduceus, beside his 1500 metre altitude vineyard near Jerome in Arizona. His wines are as intense and unflinching as he is. And he still holds the record for paying $73,000 for an imperial of Grange 1998. Something Spalvins never paid. The times are a'changing.

Praise Bacchus and Pan for that.


This thing about rock stars and luxury wines is a fraught zone for many hyper-protective marketing floozies. The local Dom people hated it, and Krug quietly loved it when I boasted in the 'eighties that the likes of Mick Jagger drank Dom but I drank Krug.

Readers understood immediately. 

Since then, luxury wine brand owners have cringed in horror as different giant millionaire rap thugs moved ostentatiously through their range on Youtube. Brands with gilt-edged references and impeccable respect in the right halls can suddenly be rendered bad guy bling. Murder juice. 

Ever so carefully, Gago has striven to ensure the smarter end of the rock world is comfortable with the upper limits of Penfolds, through Grange and beyond. Other winemakers envy this lofty image and price realm; some peanuts imagine that to be regarded more significantly as quality winemakers, all one has to do is release a wine that costs more than Grange. Two Hands, Torbreck, even Peter Simic, suddenly presume they're capable of such performance with wines priced through the roof.

So Gago releases the Penfolds Ampoule. Suck on this. This is a custom-made bottle of Penfolds Block 42 Kalimna Cabernet Sauvignon 2004. There is no closure other than the glass itself: no cork; no Stelvin; none of this glass topper with a polymer washer: there's just a twist of molten glass sealing that precious wine in. There are twelve of them, certified, signed, sealed. 

The recommended retail is $168,000. Each.

Adelaide craftsmen worked together on the Ampoule. Glass blower Nick Mount made the conical outer-case. Hendrik Forster handled the metalwork. Andrew Bartlett was the wood worker. Scientific glassblower Ray Leake made the actual bottle. And Gago and his enthusiastic ground crew made the wine from the oldest Cabernet vineyard on Earth still in constant production: a pre-phylloxera clone on its own roots.

But some parts of the world take some reaching. Ask Maynard.

17 June 2012


The beach at Mataró, on the spanish Mediterranean coast ... photo Paco Riviere

Mataro Mourvèdre Monastrell Whatever, it's marching in Oz  
At least Mataro ends with an O

Mataró doesn't even make it onto the map in my battered copy of Hugh Johnson's World Atlas of Wine. The old Catalan coastal town lost all its vineyards to Phylloxera in the late 1800s; potatoes and peas replaced them.

It was very fortunate that our earliest white pioneers had bought their cuttings before the dreaded louse struck, and a miracle that the infestation wasn't brought to Australia on a grander scale.

It's quaint that in their respectful acknowledgement of the source of the vines in their use of the Mataro name, in place of the Spanish Monastrell, or the French Mourvèdre, those early Australian settlers preserved some of the history of that town, a whole world away.

Similarly, their initial use of the name Hermitage simply respected that mighty French hill where they took their cuttings of Syrah. The quaint bit here is that Australia eventually replaced both Hermitage and Syrah with Shiraz, a Persian town which grew no Shiraz that any history records. Just as Mataró has no Mataro, there's no Shiraz in Shiraz.

But Mataró certainly had Mataro: popular history has the Phoenicians introducing the grape to the north-western part of the Mediterranean coast about 500 years before Christ delivered his famous vintage at the other end of that same great sea. 

The wines from Mataró were always boisterous, sun-baked, alcoholic affairs: the sorts that a 19th century Robert Parker would adore. 

They certainly attracted the attention of the likes of Edward Peake, who was growing what he called Mataro at his Clarendon vineyard when wine scribe Ebenezer Ward (left) visited in 1861. In his Advertiser column, Ward reports Peake having a terrible battle with vine-eating grubs in that year. They seemed to prefer Shiraz and Malbec to Mataro.

"Another remarkable circumstance," Ward writes, "is that on the top of this patch 21 rows of Morastel – a variety very much resembling the Mataro – were planted simultaeneously with the Malbec, but not one of the plants has been injured by the grub."

In those days, Morastel was another name some Spanish used for Mataro. Confoundingly, it has since become more commonly used on Graciano. My bet is that Peake's Morastel was in fact Mataro: he'd bought two lots of cuttings of the same grape.

This resilience and toughness made early Australian vignerons fond of Mataro: it was disease and drought-resistant, sun-loving, and easy to grow. It could always be relied upon for gutsy red table wine; it blended beautifully with Grenache and the other north-west Mediterranean red varieties, and it contributed heartily to sweet fortified.

Those first white South Australians knew very early on that their new country enjoyed the best Mediterranean climate on Earth.

I find it fascinating that Peake had planted his Morastel/Mataro with Malbec. If Mataro has a gustatory cousin, I think that at its best, the variety shares something with Malbec. If not over-ripe, Mataro can display the same sinister gunmetal glint as Malbec, and can share its aromatic hints of juniper berry, ozone, and musk. But where Malbec then heads off into blueberry country, Mataro goes meaty, readily offering flavours of black Iberian ham and blood pudding. Cut back on the ripeness, and it's olivine, like kalamata. 

Like Wendouree.

Until very recently, most of our best Mataro has been wasted on ordinary GSM blends. This terrible acronym, first used by Rosemount in McLaren Vale, when the marketing fiends adopted a lab abbreviation, has set a mindless template that Mataro should be the minor ingredient of a convenient blend which has also for years been responsible for the waste of most of our best Grenache.

Of course these varieties lend themselves to blending, as is done all over that Mediterranean coast pillaged by the early white Aussies. The dumb thing is that a lab abbreviation of a blend that just happened to be sitting there on the bench at the time became the rote recipe for a whole flood of mediocrity across all shelves.

Leading the new pack of Mataro lovers we find formidable winesmiths like Tim Smith (right), whose wines I habitually rave about. Tellingly, his preferred blend this year is Mataro, Grenache and Shiraz, in that order. Smithy has form with Grenache, having made history at the London Wine and Spirit Competition in 2010, when his Chateau Tanunda Grenache 2008 won the big gong for Best Single Estate Wine. But he loves his Bandol – the French home of Mataro, where of course they call it Mourvèdre – and he backs up his current incredible 2011 MGS blend with a stunning straight Mataro from 2010.

Wines like these have brought on a quiet buzz of interest in Mataro, and it's good to see more makers reverting to this most Australian name: the Mourvédre/Monastrell monikers always seemed a pretentious and confusing affectation to me. Maybe Australia's current obsession with grape varieties which end in O is making the old name cool again. 

As I reported last week, the internet wine forums showed a frisson when Dean Hewitson suddenly hiked the price of his Hewitson Old Vine Mourvèdre from $70 to $120. He didn't indicate it by getting with the Mataro name, but maybe he sensed the biggest Mataro buzz of all: in May, Penfolds winemaker Peter Gago entered one of his slumbering babies in the London Wine Trade Fair.

"In the eleventh hour, pre-departure," he said, "I sent a few bottles of the 2010 Penfolds Cellar Reserve Kalimna Block 25 Mataro across. It was judged the best red wine of the London Wine Trade Fair ! Nice!"

Peter Gago at Kalimna 

This Mataro – note the name – is on the meaty end of the spectrum. From the Kalimna block planted in 1964, it spent 16 months in new and old American oak barrels. This wood has barely touched the intensity of the fruit, although its resin entwines tidily with the fruit's dusty tannins. It has some shy musk and confectionary perfume, but otherwise it's a bone dry compote of prunes, figs and pata negra Jamón ibérico – that delicious black Iberian ham.

In the truest sense, it's savoury wine: what the nerds will call a food wine: more slender and refined than any GSM I've seen. It has no gloop. In its shape of fruit vs. tannin, it's a little like Nebbiolo. But where the Nebbiolo tannins float above its fruit like a cloud, the tannins in this Mataro settle on its fruit like the dust settles on a bullring.

Due for release closer to Christmas, this moody beauty has yet to be graced with a price. Given its huge bling, I'd be surprised if the marketing division would be happy to leave it at like, the price of the Cellar Reserve Tempranillo, which I see selling at $50 on the net. Just between you and me, I reckon they'd be more likely to follow the Hewitson pattern.

I'd love to discover whether the judges knew this wine was labeled Mataro, as opposed to Monastrell or Mourvèdre, when they wondered whether or not it was indeed the best red in the show. They'd have had a good idea that it was Australian if that was the case.

If they didn't, it's a great boon for the variety: the vinocracy will take close notice. But if they did, it would indicate one thing: a keen Old World interest in a New World take on a virtually forgotten grape named after the place where it no longer grows.

Not to mention a pre-phylloxera clone on its own roots.


The legendary Henschke Hill of Grace Vineyard ... being painstakingly restored to healthier old age by the brilliant Prue Henschke ... photo Milton Wordley 

The Geriatric Vineyard Dilemma Venerable Vines: Better Wines? When Do You Sharpen The Axe?

A regular reader, Peter Pacey, raised some good questions about old vines last week. He wrote a letter about a long discussion on TheWineFront chat site, triggered by Dean Hewitson's sudden hiking of the price of his Hewitson Old Garden Mourvèdre by $50 per bottle, from $70 to $120.

The discussion revolved around the value of old vines, and whether their venerable years alone made better wine. 

The answer, of course, is no.

Vines are like musicians. You can download some bratty teenage spunk squawking on about how hard it is to nail a satisfactory lay, or listen to Willie Nelson's recent recording live with Wynton Marsalis and his band.

"The first thing about Willie is his integrity" Marsalis says in the promo Youtube clip. "He's been travellin up and down the road for so many years on his bus … " after which a shot of Willie's Mount Rushmore countenance and battered and smashed old guitar says just about everything else. Until he kinda ambles that smoke and whisky drawl into the opening lines of Georgia and you have an experience that many would pay enormous amounts of money to own. 

They certainly pay a lot to sit right up the front.

On the other hand, there are great musicians who never know when to stop. Frank Sinatra's final concerts were terrible rip-offs: Frank seemed to charge an exponential increase in entrance fees every year after his voice died, but many die-hards could see no fault, and were deliriously happy to pay.

Bob Dylan comes to mind.

Between these extremes of age and experience, you'll find performers who satisfy on a myriad of levels of evocation, emotion, delivery, fitness and excitement.

Old vines can only make really satisfactory wines if they're healthy. Think Tina Turner. On the other hand, they may look as gnarled and weathered as dear ol Willie, but there's still ravishing music in their souls if they're getting nutrients and water and they can still grow leaves and their wits are about them. 

Out of sheer bloody-minded love of old vines, growers like Karl Lindner (Langmeil) and Paul Drogemuller (Paracombe), have saved entire vineyards from destruction by digging the old vines up, one by one, and replanting them somewhere else. Once the roots get going anew, the wines are glorious, but offer nothing I can call "old vine flavour" other than certain frailty until those roots get established and the plants learn to trust their new feet.

Any other distinction will likely be due to the age of the pre-phylloxera clone, and not the age of the vine. Those mysterious old clones have a wide range of flavours. Plant them in a wide range of geologies and terroirs and you have another exponential knot.

All vines must eventually die. It's a cruel moment the grower must face when their yields are dwindling to complete inefficiency: to attempt reinvigoration with trellis management and drip lines, or get on the bulldozer, make a big bonfire, and start again.

The vineyards at Kanmantoo were a perfect case in point. They'd produced the best red wines in the world in the late 1800s, climaxing with the top gong at the Great Paris Exposition of 1889, held to coincide with the opening of the Eiffel Tower. Charles Burney Young planted them through the first decades of the colony and with the help of Sir Samuel Davenport engaged the brilliant French winemaker, Edmund Mazure (above right). Harry Dove Young, Charles' son, carried on the work. 

The genius David Unaipon (left) worked there in the cellars; his fellow Ngarrindjeri helped pick. But by the time Harry's daughter, Nora, came home from studying law at the Sorbonne and impressionism at the Louvre the vines had had enough. Dead arm and white ants and no rain and brutally barren rock had worn them out: the yields no longer reached half-a-ton to the acre. So Nora chopped them in the 'thirties: old vines in their eighties. Romantic to the odd eye, but no good to the vigneron or the drinker.

Even as a kid, I reflected on this in parallel to the ancient Celts, who would take an infirm or indecisive king out and kill him, so they could get a new one. 

Nora didn't bother about getting a new vineyard. She had a 5,000 acre farm to run. Besides, she drank rum. And she certainly wasn't out looking for a new king. Her girlfriend, the fierce Tate Smith, would've had his guts for gaiters.

The Henschke family has faced this awkward viticulture vs. marketing vs. profit for decades in the Hill of Grace vineyard. Many could have argued that it was ready for the chop in the 'eighties or 'nineties. But by brilliant and sensitive viticulture, Prue Henschke has inched it back to a better life and it lives to produce wine which is second only to Grange in fame.

Harvesting the now-healthy bushvines at Greenock Creek's Roennfeldt's Road vineyard ... they took years to be nursed back to health and vigour ... beneath that sward, there's mainly rock ... at least there's a healthy sward! ... photo Leo Davis

When Michael Waugh bought the prized Roennfeldt's Road vineyard to add to his Greenock Creek collection around Seppeltsfield, the vines were dying. He replaced some with cuttings from other venerable vineyards, and with sensitive vine husbandry, coaxed the others back to health over several years.He even gave them a low wire to cling to. While meager, the vineyard now provides a constant profitable crop and makes impenetrable wines that may even outlive the remaining old vines. Only time will tell.

It's not all about alcohol, by the way. Many people think that old vines are best used to grow very sweet fruit for highly alcoholic wines. Two stunning Roennfeldts I've opened recently, the Cabernets from 1999 and 2001, are 13% and 13.5% alcohol, respectively. Eager to please the Robert Parker juggernaut, nearly every winemaker in Australia somehow forgot that it's best to pick when acid begins to fall, not when it's all gone and you have to shovel in the industrial tartaric to balance the alcoholic gloop you've made, thinking you can replicate old vine quality by picking everything later and later and later and patching it up somehow even later. Which is nonsense.

Witness also the old vines around Seppeltsfield. The great Para Grenache bushvines – the biggest dry-grown bushvine Grenache vineyard in Australia – were dying when Fosters sensibly installed underground drippers there before selling the property five years ago. Those old troopers are much happier now.

Yangarra High Sands bush vine Grenache planted by Bernard Smart and his Dad in 1946: they've never been watered, but they're healthy and well now, producing vibrant, healthy wine ... photo Stacey Pothoven

The second-biggest bush vine Grenache planting is the High Sands Vineyard at Yangarra, close to my abode near Kangarilla. Compared to many Barossa vine gardens, these are babies. Bernard Smart and his Dad planted them on a dune of deep wind-blown sand as recently as 1946. They've never been irrigated, and never looked particularly tired or crook, but under the care of master organic viticulturer Michael Lane over recent years, they're thriving. Like Willie, the wines do the singing. 

In spite of their hardy stubbornness and great age, the High Sands vines wilted in the 50 degree heatwave of 2009. Since then, viticulturer Michael Lane has converted the vineyard to organic management, using sheep instead of herbicide, so the highly-reflective sand here now usually has better vegetation cover, and doesn't act so much like a brutal solar oven ... the vines are much happier ... photo Philip White 

Yangarra, by the way, is one of the few brave outfits to be planting large areas of good land to new bushvines, and that same Bernard loves showing new hands how to prune them so they form the classic basket shape from the start. Like Bob and Wilma McLean on Mengler's Hill, they're amongst the very few who are foregoing years of early profit to ensure there are old bush vines when we're all dead. 

While geology obviously influences flavour, it does not alone determine the limits of vine life when we compare the widely-contrasting geologies of the abovementioned vineyards. Sand, rock, clay, loam - whatever it is the vine lives in - a deeper and wider-reaching spread of roots will get the plant a bigger drink, and if those roots are healthy, the vine will live on.

As for the "old vine character" some enthusiasts claim to detect, uh-huh. Unless the vines are so decrepit their juice tastes like the last teaspoons of dead blood left in the beast: like the first years of Waugh's Roennfeldt's before they got new life, and the last years of his Creek Block as it died of salt poisoning from upstream irrigators. The Creek Block was never irrigated, but picked up brackish water set moving along the top of the underground creekline clay, where its roots had thrived for sixty years. 

More than the simple factor of age alone, the wine of old vines is generally reflective of their gardener's effort and sensitivity, their makers' philosophy and skill, their choice of oak, the geology, climate, aspect … all this wondrous jumble we call terroir of which humans are an highly influential component.

Whatever the situation, you can be assured that a healthy young or middle-aged set of roots will make the best of it, just as some much older buggers somehow continue to manage the business. 

As for the price? I run into a lot more Dean Hewitsons than Willie Nelsons. And nowhere near enough Tina Turners.

02 June 2012


The old Al Capone speakeasy in Louisville Kentucky where Maynard married Jen whilst on tour with Puscifer on 29th February ... This story is about marriage vs. pairings ...

The Marriage Of Like Finds ...
Contrast Complements Chaos
... And All Points In Between


Maynard James Keenan is a rock star. While he generally speaks with measured softness, he sings in various bands, an act he refers to as screaming for his supper. To Australians, his most famous band is probably Tool, but right now he's drilling holes in the northern summer touring Puscifer. Apart from the obvious addiction to artistic expression, one of the reasons he still goes off screaming for his supper is to pay for his Caduceus winery and Merkin vineyard way up in the mountains in Arizona where those sparse vines live only on stones and the freezing dry sky.

It's at Jerome, a spooky ghost town which attracts other strange hombres and kindred spirits.

Maynard brought a full set of his current releases to Adelaide last time he played here, and we went to a restaurant and drank them with our good friend Peter Gago, the Penfolds winemaker. While no other excuse was required, this summit happily coincided with the birthday of Maynard's giant bodyguard.

The Caduceus wines are as intense and confounding as their maker and their rocky mountain source. Their authority and density still stand, slightly sinister, in the dark corner of the library in my head which some people call their "palate memory."

In the spirit of a dusty attic, like something from an ancient trunk, they reminded me of Robert Mitchum in Dead Man, that amazing Jim Jarmusch tutorial with Johnny Depp and Neil Young. But these wines were not by any means dying. And they're far from dusty. These wines are gonna be the Sheriff. They are densely-packed life. And Maynard will supply his own music, thankyou.

In fact, he'll also supply his own movie.

Spring bottling, Caduceus, 2012 ... photo obviously by Maynard

An avowed lover of the wines of Penfolds, he hit the headlines a few years back for paying a record $73,000 for an imperial of 1998 Grange at auction. He has also been known to sneak into the Magill winery and stain his hands with some work experience at vintage, picking up every trick he can learn.

Every trickle.

Of Peter Gago, Maynard last week told me "I'm proud to consider him my mentor. I learn more about winemaking in an hour of sitting with Peter over dinner than from any other source I've been exposed to. 

"Of course you need to ask the right questions."

Not a bad idea, really. While Maynard's won tonnes of bling of the multi-platinum appellation, Gago and his fierce Penfolds gang do pretty well themselves. On top of his recent international Masters of Wine award as the Winemakers' Winemaker, the top gong on Earth in this business, they've just won another for exhibiting best red wine in the big-time London International Wine Trade Fair. The sweetest bit is: he did it with a straight Mataro

Maynard makes very funny, hard-hitting video clips that take the piss out of things that deserve it. He's also liable to devote big slabs of his life to helping others, something we call charity. While a highly reclusive fellow – he has more than his fair share of stalkers - he was back in the headlines of the Miami New Times this week when some bright spark there called to ask what he'd eat with human face.

[Perspective:While naked on MacCarther Causeway in Miami, Rudy Eugene accused the homeless Ronald Poppo of stealing his Bible so beat him unconscious, pulled his pants off and ate most of his face including one of his eyes.]

"Any vulgarian can wash down a lunch of human face with LSD and half a dozen bullets," reporter B. Kaplan commenced. "A true gourmand, however, knows that to get the most out of a meal, one must pair each portion of the face with the right wine."

In a gruesome lampoon of the current American obsession with "pairing" specific foods and wines, Maynard returned brutal ordnance.

"Well, for cheeks you'll obviously want a Pinot noir," he straightfaced. "And the nose? That's mainly cartilege so you're better off with beer. It's more aligned with hotdogs or bratwurst. That's true of the nose as well as the lips.

"The tongue is heartier and is going to be a little gamier of texture. I'd go with a larger Shiraz with some oak on it. Barolo, if you serve it raw. If you serve it raw with olive oil and herbs, you'll want a Barolo. That sounds good for summer."

We don't get too much in the way of this type of gastronomic pisstake going down in Australia. In our sicko snub to the starving and homeless, our fat undead guts themselves on the couches worshipping a mob of crowing TV cooks of dubious provenance who slide shit like "pairing" into our gastroporn patois.

Jen on the stalks hopper

As far as elegance of language goes, "pairing" sits on a par with the misleading and unpronounceable "Scarce Earths", or stupid wine-tasting buzzwords like "minerality" or "reduced". 

I cannot hear "pairings" uttered without thinking of the speaker's toenail clippings. And now you've heard that, I'll punt that you'll forever share this problem.

As for selecting wines that will entertain and delight in the company of specific dishes, I have two basic approaches. One involves attempting the service of a wine which harmonises with the dish; the other is to pour one which offers direct contrast.

Once you've mastered this trick you can move on to the wondrous chaos you get by fusing both methods.

To keep it simple, I'll stick to whites, not to use my name too lightly. A buttery aged Hunter Semillon, for example, will make perfect harmony with a buttery sauce, like beurre blanc. I recall many happy occasions enjoying this magic with Cath Kerry's prawn mousseline wrapped in whiting fillets and served with that exceptional butter sauce, made with reduced vinegar and shallots. In this instance, the slight remnant of the vinegar's acetic acid mingles with the tartaric and malic acidity of the Semillon, while the fatty acids the wine develops with age mingle beautifully with the butter. Harmony, see? You can already taste it, and it doesn't remind you of toenail parings.

'Seventies ... the brilliant Adelaide chef Cath Kerry with the author in the good ol prawn mousseline with beurre blanc days ... is that quail in flaming cognac?

In other words, it's more of a marriage than a pairing: a long, involved relationship more than a quick fuck for the camera. "We don't need a piece of paper from the city hall keeping us tight and true," thanks Joni. Whether they're certified by the authorities or not, marriages are prone to more fractal chaos. They work or fail for a much greater range of reasons. 

The obvious example of the contrast approach is the habitual serving of Sauvignon blanc with battered fish, or salt'n'pepper squid. The thin, battery acid nature of the Savvy-b performs a trick quaintly known in the wine trade as "grease-cutting". You pose out there on the footpath in the sun in your Pradas, your Maltese fluffball tied to the leg of your chair while you slosh your malic Marlborough grease-cutter over the batter fat in the mastication division, all the time struggling to keep the lipstick off the teeth while you enjoy your fag.

It's an act of faith really, trusting the fat's not too rich in the perfectly-named Butylated hydroxyanisole

Savvy-b's great for dissolving the lippy from teeth, come to think of it. Being grease dissolved off sheep's wool after they've had their annual haircut, lanolin is the rancid fat that makes lipstick stick.

Sucked any ewe's hair today, have youse?

A more gastronomically elegant method of trying the contrast trick is to head down to Wah Hing, opposite the Chinatown Lion Gate in Gouger Street, and settle in to a repast of their exquisite battered salt'n'pepper eggplant with a bottle of Berthold Salomon's Austrian Grüner veltliner. This wine not only has more elegant acidity than your average Savvy-b from the Land Of The Wrong White Crowd, but it also offers the faintest oiliness of texture, which mingles with the glycerols of the aubergine. 

It's like Maynard's white blends: while your acid does the simple contrast job of lemon juice on your fatty batter, the texture of the wine performs the appropriate degree of harmonizing with the nature of the nightshade fruit.

This more complex fractal action enhances the basic binary nature of contrast. 

And yes, the old aubergine is a member of the nightshades, which include the deadly variety, plus tomatoes, potatoes, wolfberries (go-ju), chillies, capsicums, Datura, mandrake, and tobacco – plants which share the tropane alkaloids which can kill if overindulged, but comfortably sedate or stone otherwise. They also share many of the distinctive aromatic compounds wine tasters identify in Cabernet sauvignon and Sauvignon blanc, like that acrid tomato leaf reek.

I'm sure these associations tickle our subconscious flavour libraries, enhancing our appreciation of the food and wine because somewhere back in there there's an inherited or acquired reference to these compounds interfering with our neurology. At the same time, I imagine one of the rare lucky idiots who survive Datura poisoning may find the tiniest indication of the same compounds repulsive.

Good for them.

I'm also sure that in this baroque chemical tangle, you'll find the secret of that dwindling school of great wine judges who recalibrate their sensory receptors with tobacco smoke. It may not have been particularly deliberate, but in his rad feature movie Blood Into Wine, whilst deliciously ridiculing the mumbo-jumbo peculiar to the French wino, Maynard provides an hilarious example of the harmony some see in the marriage of a good smoke and a drink. You shouldn't put that glass down before you study this brilliant three minute expose of everything we get wrong in our vinous presumptions. 

Maynard does not smoke. Long may he tool around.

Maynard in the Merkin vineyard


While the Salomon Grüner is on the Wah Hing list at a modest cost, you might also like to take along the Hahndorf Hill model, which is not listed, and pay some corkage. Larry Jacobs and Marc Dobson have wisely chosen to plant this Austrian grape in place of Sauvignon blanc, and have imported four clones and paid to have them quarantined. The first two cleared are already used in their hyper-stylish wine, and the lads have generously made these clones available to other Hills growers for planting. It certainly seems to love life at chilly Hahndorf, a site they deliberately researched and selected for this purpose. Their wine is superior to most famous Hills Savvy-b.