“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)





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.

1 comment:

Dee said...

Congratulations again, to Maynard and Lei Li. Great article. I love a bit of ocker. :D Dee