“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)





16 July 2012


A sense of place. The author shrinking as he's gripped by demons on the new round thing outside the Holy Rollers joint at Chateau Dorrien. Known for its self-deprecatory square and box-headed jokes, the Barossa found the insertion of this prominent round thing quite a challenge. 100 year old Ray Beckwith joked about the locals wondering how the train would get around it. As far as appellations go, this place was called Siegersdorf until "the enemy" German names were replaced by British names in World War I. A great allied warrior, Sir Horace Lockwood Smith-Dorien was the British Governor of Gibraltar. photo Leo Davis

Woolworths extends winery size
More about the sense of place
Or, put better, wine of locality

"You should listen only to music recorded within 100 km of your home", some wag recently tweeted in ridicule of the burgeoning army of local slow tucker emos. Marry this to Woolworths' extravagant propaganda panic to convince us to suddenly believe what we all quite sensibly doubt about how far and long its fruitaveg has been dragged around Australia in trucks with photoshopped dreamfarms on the side, then think of how much their ad campaign is costing, and you get a fair measure of just how big local food has become.

The punter is not a mug.

Which leads me to local wine. Or, put better, wine of locality.

Last week I reviewed a stunning wine from Le Minervois, a spectacular part of France's Languedoc-Roussillon on the north-west Mediterranean. Spread about the Roman city of Minerve, this appellation shares much with McLaren Vale.Like the Vales, Minervois is a hilly ampitheatre facing the sea, with an unlikely mix of recent (less than 55 million years) marine and riverine geologies directly atop much older stuff (around 500 million years).

Le Minervois has appellation laws. Reds wearing the Minervois AOC are blends of some or all of the following varieties: Carignan (no more than 40% of the mixture) and Cinsault (the original varieties of the vignoble); the more recent arrival, Grenache (in both its standard form and the downy-leaved type called Lledoner Pelut); and those modern fads, Mourvèdre (Mataro), and Syrah (Shiraz). 

The whites, tellingly, are Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Maccabeu, Bourboulenc, Rolle, Clairette and Muscat.

The Abbotts & Delauney Alto Stratus wine I loved is an outspoken tribute to the old Carignan, and because it's 100% pure, it cannot be called Minervois, regardless of the fact that it comes from there and it's a much better wine than many of those which carry the patch. At $40, it's more expensive than the same maker's Minervois AOC, a Syrah-Grenache-Carignan blend.

Distances and outdatedness aside, these are the types of details wine enthusiasts increasingly desire and deserve to know. The Minervois locals first worried out their wine laws for official recognition in 1909, a long time since the joint sat like a hinge between the Romans and the Celts. But in the century since the law was made, much more has changed than in the two previous millennia, and those regulations must eventually be altered to suit modern viticultural and winemaking realities and the evermore forensically-curious gastronome. 

Details, details.

But changes are on the way: even the French are gradually modifying their appellations.

You wouldn't know it, but Australia has two basic wine appellations.The cycnic could suggest that (1) these are barely responsible to any legislation, other than what has been imposed by Europe in exchange for our right to sell our wine there, and (2) the novice has no way of telling them apart.

One is wine which is honestly a product of place. The other is not. 37.6% of our production is in bladder packs; increasingly this wine is sold also in bottles. Fair enough. But while the vast majority of wine made in Australia is not a product of place, most of it masquerades as such: Jacob's Creek comes to mind.  Sacred Hill. All those whole mountain ranges of ridges. Why do they do this? Because they think place is as important to the drinker as is the freshness and provenance of their fruitaveg.

We used to rip off European names. They took us to the international courts and stopped us. Now we rip off Australian names. photo Philip White

Woolworths should be planning a similar campaign to save its grog division.It owns BWS, Dan Murphy's, Wine Market, Cellarmasters, and the wine auction house, Langton's, whose results it must watch closely when setting its retail prices and choosing what to buy. 

It also owns Dorrien Estate, one of the Barossa's bigger wine refineries, and is expanding into Beckwith Park, which was the old Southcorp winery at Nuriootpa. At Dorrien, Woolworths already crushes about as much as Penfolds do at Nuri; the humungous volume of bulk wine that also passes through these Woolworths joints for finishing after being crushed somewhere else is nobody's business but their own.  Consider it big.

These are the factories that feed the shelves of Dan's and BWS with those myriad bottles with brands that are the vinous equivalent of the dreamfarms on the fruitaveg trucks.

These artificed brands often refer to a famous wine family or place. Often, these sources sell the fruit, or bulk wine, to Woolworths because they're finding it hard to compete against the rock bottom prices in Dan's and BWS. Who knows? The Woolworths buyer might have suggested their original branded wine was too expensive for his needs "but if you like we can take the fruit off your hands to help you out ... and our art department will be in touch about adjusting your old label to suit the new, ah, position, no?"

So we see an army of brands emerging that looks like a whole lot of joint ventures between somebody respected somewhere and some other vague entity, with no mention of Woolworths. And if the company accountants weren't looking very closely at claiming the WET rebate at every opportunity with all these products they should be out on their arses. The rebate is there to be claimed and shareholders rule.

And then come the oceans of miserable plonk that make no pretence of place at all. Most of the wine in that first appellation should really be in with this.

It's high time the makers of true wines of place are guaranteed the recognition they deserve for their honesty.One handy step toward this would be to legislate that the name and address of the manufacturing winery, like the place or places where the wine was actually made, should be clearly presented on every package, along with the name of the owner.


A sense of place: former chief winemaker at Pernod-Ricard's Orlando, Phil Laffer, on the edge of Jacob's Creek, Rowland Flat, Barossa.

Being French, and presumably pernickity about appellations, even the Jacob's Creek people might now join me in suggesting that it should be illegal for any wine to be branded in such a way that it appears to come from a place which is not in fact its source. Pernod Ricard's ongoing use of its famous Australian brand could be guaranteed in exchange for them accurately listing the regional sources, wineries and percentages of the fruit within.

Once they got wind of the plan, it'd be sickening watching the PO Box winemakers, flash harries all, run to register every town, ridge and wetland, real or not, before the cut-off date came round, but I'd rather walk into a wine store where place actually meant something.
As it does with the Minervois wines.Their laws might not be perfect, but at least they're out in the open for all to see. And they can be refined.

As for restricting your music to local recordings only? Australians are pretty good at supporting their musicians, and there are many similarities between the music and wine businesses. If you want to save your local littley from Woolworths' big slurpmachine, buy your wine accordingly. I'll bet you'll enjoy it more.

The Yearlings play at Yangarra Estate ... Like many vignobles, McLaren Vale loves its local artists, and tries to keep them busy and eating. photo Milton Wordley

Abbotts & Delaunay Alto Stratus Carignan 2010
$40; 14% alcohol; cork; 94+++ points
And this is what Carignan's supposed to taste like. Sanjay Chhabra's very smart Fourth Wave Wine Partners has begun to ship this treasure through Sydney; Chace Agencies will do it in Adelaide. I am hugely relieved. It is a rare 100% Carignan. It comes from the north-west Mediterranean, at the freshly-nascent region called Minerva, as do an increasing number of stunning red wines. But a 100% pure Carignan like this is not permitted to claim it comes from Minerva, which is a classic piece of Gallic dumb – the outdated appellation insists anything called Minerva must be a blend of at least two prescribed varieties. But no other flavour is necessary here: the wine is entire; whole; intact: without being fat, it is quite simply a gorgeous soft plumpness of luxurious proportion and entirely satisfying form. I have studied the one bottle for over a week now, and it'll run out before it falls apart. It still has beautiful fruit after all that air, with fig, date and prune taking over from the primary blackberries and satsuma, and it has some lovely deep leafy hints, like grilled beetroot greens. The wine is still in elegant balance, its persistent acidity teasing more length and satisfaction from that plush fruit and its enduring, velvet tannins. In other words, it'll last for many years if you need it to, and make you very happy in the meantime if you want it to.


Anonymous said...

Do you know that over 30 small winemakers use the Dorrien Wineries small fermenters and tanks to make their wine that you often write rave review about.

Philip White said...

I was aware. That's good. What do you think they should put on their back labels?

Anonymous said...

A good question, the winemakers brand is not owned by Dorrien Estate. The winemaker and or grower ususlly cannot afford to build a small winery with associated cost and financing and uses a contact winery instead. This is a typical solution used by many small producers world wide.

Typically they use their vineyard or home address so that interested buyers can contact them. I doubt that any contract winemaking facility, large or small would want or allow the use of their address.

Philip White said...

Of course I am aware of this. So tell me: how healthy is this arrangement where the very littlies that Woolworths threatens are now dependent on their biggest enemy just to have their "boutique" wine made? Is this what makes you insist on anonymity? Are you worried they may make life difficult for you?

Moredsir said...

If you get in bed with the devil don't be surprised if your your horny partner takes advantage of you - even if you're not in the mood for their attention.

And hell yes we need some decent labelling sanity for the consumer.