“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)





26 September 2012


[ L X X V I ]


Why is my verse so barren of new pride,
So far from variation or quick change?
Why with the time do I not glance aside
To newfound methods and to compounds strange?
Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed,
That every word doth almost tell my name,
Showing their birth and where they did proceed?
O, know, sweet love, I always write of you,
And you and love are still my argument;
So all my best is dressing old words new,
Spending again what is already spent:

For as the sun is daily new and old,
So is my love still telling what is told.

William Shakespeare
(ca 1595)

For asking, rather triumphantly, a teacher whether this meant Billy Shakespaw was on drugs, the young Whitey got thrown out of an English class at high school. By Mrs Moriarty, not Miss Mizing, who would have enjoyed the impertinence. This was not one of the sonnets we were meant to be studying.  So it was with some glee he discovered, nearly fifty years later, when they dug around the old Stratford cellar and grounds, that the Bard probably did partake. Could this be a pertinent lesson for those of us who struggle to find new wine descriptors, dressing old words new when most wines are ever the same? Selah.

25 September 2012


Vale Cru, the determined alliance of some of McLaren Vale's best and smallest premium wine producers, has a record of staging the most enjoyable and informative wine tastings.  This year's event at The Victory Hotel is a JV between the winemakers and Alison Paxton's new and booming cheese dairy  called Kangarilla Creamery, Adelaide Central Market specialists Smelly Cheese, and Bracegirdle chocolatiers.

“The coming together of a group of wine producers, each one small, each one doing the hard yards in the pursuit of quality is a great development for McLaren Vale,” says the group's spiritual patron, Drew Noon. 

“Their motivation is not primarily money but for the satisfaction of seeing people enjoy their wines. We at Noon Winery support the small producers for the diversity, innovation and uniqueness that they bring to the wine scene.”

Tickets are $40 at the Vale Cru website www.valecru.com.au

photo James Hook, Lazy Ballerina

24 September 2012


The following letter was e-mailed to all Australian wineries this afternoon.  Most winemakers seem rather surprised.

Dear Australian winemaker

It is important that you please spend a moment reading this note about pregnancy and wine labelling and  take action to make the suggested  label changes (if you have not done so) from  your next bottling run.

Today the Winemakers’ Federation is announcing a partnership with DrinkWise Australia encouraging all winemakers to adopt “It is safest not to drink while pregnant” messaging on their labels. This initiative provides immediate and free access to the recommended logos and style guide you require to incorporate this messaging into your labelling. The easy steps which you (or your graphic designer) need to follow are set out in the attachment to this email.

The Winemakers’ Federation strongly believes all winemakers should make these labelling changes. Importantly, the changes  will  inform our consumers about the risks associated with drinking while pregnant. Also, it will further demonstrate  that the wine industry supports responsible consumption. It will reinforce the message to Government that as an industry we can self-regulate when it comes to important social issues.

We encourage you all to read the details in the attachment and to take the necessary steps to participate in this labelling initiative. Please contact Paul if you wish to discuss this matter further.


Tony D’Aloisio                          
WFA President                                

Paul EvansWFA 

Chief Executive

Winemakers' Federation of Australia

Monday 24th September 2012


Intoxication and rural civic amenity
A week of feverish wowserism
Big wine festivals barely legal
Prohibitionists march under cover  
Giving wine the tobacco treatment
Interview with lobbyist Michael Thorn 
When you're drunk you're terrific   
Cheap plonk and the war on drugs


DRINKSTER on local ABC radio with Winemakers Federation CEO


DRINKSTER just today received some lovely Pinots from Oakridge, for appraisal. Tony d'Aloisio, the Chairman of the Winemakers' Federation, is one of the two directors of this family-owned winery in the Yarra Valley.  None of his wines carry the pregnant lady symbol, nor the text warning.

21 September 2012


Christ dining in Young & Kacksons, John Percival 1948

It Was Here From The Start
Grenache Gets Its Own Day
Good Excuse For Us To Play  

So that was International Grenache Day. 

To get this in perspective, Jancis Robinson’s hot new ampelography, Wine Grapes, lists 1,368 varieties.  I’m sure the marketing graduates of the future will eventually ensure that each of these has its own individual day, when that’s all we drink. In the meantime, in keeping to my theory that they must be reading their ampelography upside-down, and for some reason started on the varieties that end in O, it is significant that Grenache is recognized with its very own day.

The odds were against this.  Given the vast number of pages between varieties that end in E, like Grenache - or Greenache as it was known here a century back - and those of the current obsession with varieties that end in O, like Vermentino, Fiano, Greco, Alborino, Aleatico, Assyrtiko, et cetero - it is significant that this misunderstood and undervalued variety is very lucky to be honoured so.

It’s been here since the beginning of the whitey invasion, Grenache, and it was the finicky Poms, not the Germans to blame.  My ornery forerunner at The Advertiser, Ebenezer Ward MP, of Mackgill (below), reports its significance in his brilliant columns of exactly 150 years ago.  By the time he hit the winehack track in 1862, Ward reported Grenache grown successfully in the south by Edward John Peake at Clarendon, and north-east of Adelaide town by Alexander Hay at Linden, where it was “thriving better than any other kind”.  Further up the hill beyond Beaumont, William Milne’s Grenache grew “luxuriantly”, but was “more susceptible to the baneful influences of hot winds” than the other varieties.

Contrary to Don Dunstan’s theory that the Italians introduced the vinegar fly to Norwood, August Meyer and Edward Cartwright both grew Grenache there.  Further up the hill, at Auldana, Patrick Auld’s Grenache vines were “flourishing in great luxuriance”, but Mr. Auld had “not yet thought it necessary either to trellis or stake them.” Osmond Gilles grew Grenache at Glen Osmond, where J. W. Bull, his vigneron, thought “very highly of the Grenache and would have planted more of the variety if he could have procured the cuttings.

Short supply, see.

“There can be no doubt that the Grenache is particularly well adapted to this locality,” Ward recorded, “for both Mr. Hay and Mr. Milne give an equally favourable account of its growth and yield in their vineyards.”

Over the Torrens and up the hill at Athelstone, J. G. Coulls already had “old vine” Grenache.  R.  B. Andrews grew it well at Montalta; Peter Cumming at Craigburn; W. H. Trimmer at Fairford.  

Although he travelled widely enough to become infamous for hollering for “Krug’s” in place of the £50 worth of “liquors supplied” but for which Yorketown publican Ludwig Frederick Wicklein was never paid, Ward makes very few mentions of the Silesian settlers, except to mention a “large number of small vineyards in and around the township of Tanunda” where “M. Sobels purchases the grapes from most of them and manufactures the wine himself.”

The only real mention of Barossa Grenache is in the piece about Henry Evans, who was planting it at Evandale, but that was away out near Keyneton.

In these early days of the colony, the gentlemen investors used much of this Grenache to make dry table wine.  By the time our next great wine writer, The Register’s Ernest Whitington got round to singing for his supping forty years after Ward, the business was a very different beast indeed. 

Whitington was no Krug aficionado, but a good numbers man.  Most of his work is about volumes and tonnages.  While he rarely mentions varieties or flavours, you can smell the Grenache in there.  Lots of it.  

The Yangarra High Sands Grenache vineyard: planted in 1946 by Bernard Smart and his Dad, never irrigated, and still going strong ... photo Stacey Pothoven.

In 1902, South Australia produced 2,431,565 gallons of wine, over a third of which was exported.  This marked a fivefold increase in production in only twenty years.  In the same time, exports went from 30,000 gallons to 850,000.  By then, they’d mined enough copper to make plenty of stills, it seems, and the wealth created by supplying England and Australia with cheap sweet fortified plonk was giving rise to the great family wine brands whose traces still linger on our shelves. The Grenache their fathers favoured as a gourmand tipple was now extremely handy as a high-bearing supplier of sugary pink juice to fortify and flog.  Grenache became a sugar mine.

These were the shameful days when mighty wine temples were built on the sale of rotgut to the original Australians, who were devastated even more viciously than the broken white heroes who would return from those two world wars.

By Whitington’s day the revered names included Basedow, Cleland, Seppelt, Tolley, Smith, Hardy and Reynell: all masters of the fortified Grenache.

The Patritti family (above) were masters of Adelaide Plains Grenache between the wars, and are still making great wines in their old winery, which is now completely surrounded by houses.  They still make Grenache from the last suburban vineyard in the southern suburbs on Marion Road, which was saved from becoming a Colonel Sadness during my Adelaide Vines project in 1988-9, when Brian Miller and Richard Hamilton agreed to contract the fruit. Grange creator Max Schubert (below) loved Grenache, too. That's Max and Thelma, centre, with suburban Grenache growers Lea and Jack Minnett, wine merchant David Porter, and Angelsey Estate winemaker Lindsay Stanley in 1982. As you can see, that was a bonnie day indeed. But the Angelsey vineyards were eaten by housing in the nineties; most of the vineyards Ward mentioned met the same fate long before ... photo Philip White
By the time I banged into my first Grenache the Second World War was over, and the sickly sweet ports and sherries that kept the wine industry afloat had killed nearly all the old soldiers and their wives, so Grenache was beginning to re-emerge in dry red blends, like that flagon of Hardy’s I commenced as a schoolkid in the bushes at the back of the Crafers Hotel, and finished in the handbasin of a very sexy schoolteacher later that evening in Mt Barker.

To get an idea of how Adelaide was in those days, click here.  To see it a little earlier try this. Both these old movies show suburban vineyards: the second one shows Grenache being picked at Penfolds' Grange.

A temple to dead Grenache kings: the Seppelt family mausoleum at Seppeltsfield in the Barossa.  The Para Grenache vineyard here is Australia's biggest bushvine vineyard.

When I lived in the Barossa in the ’eighties, the pride of Tanunda, its biggest pub, was notably bought by a Greek, Peter Paulos, who cast open the cellar there and let us pillage its remarkable collection of Château Reynella McLaren Vale Burgundies, which were various blends of Grenache, Shiraz, Mataro and Carignan, maybe even some Cinsault, which was then called Ouillade. These great bottles were already fifteen to twenty years old, and drew the thirsty Whitey in like an empty camel.

All those vineyards were swallowed by houses under Labor governments.  Apart from the doomed Seaford Heights land, the best and last of the old geology is now ghetto.

Learning, learning.  A man is not a camel. A man is a ravaging, more destructive and greedy beast.

By the time of the horrid advent of GSM, which was first formalized at Rosemount in McLaren Vale, you could tell which varieties were in over-supply: #1: Grenache; #2: Shiraz, and #3, Mourvedre.  This abject horror amongst three-letter lab acronyms surreptitiously became the recipe for a whole generation of terrible red drinks which never were the match of those old Reynellas. 

Frank Gagliardi's Grenache Vineyard at Munno Para.  Tim Freeland and Dominic Torzi use this fruit in their exquisite Old Plains Grenache.  See how the streets are designed to eat the vineyard the minute Frank loses his stubborn resolve? The Marion vines survive, too (below) That's Patritti winemaker James Mungell picking the tricky 2011 vintage.  This vineyard should be a walled, sacred site, secured forever.

The Cadenzia project, which started in McLaren Vale with the 2003 vintage, was partly an exercise in encouraging wiser blending, whilst putting McLaren Vale Grenache back on the pedestal it held in Ward’s day.  In 2002, McLaren Vale Grenache was selling for around $500 to $800 a tonne, but much of the old vine stuff was in danger of being uprooted.  Now Vales Grenache is in short supply at $2500+ per tonne, and is increasingly made without blending. 

People are learning to make it again.

Which frees up all the Mourvèdre that had been slopped by rote into the GSM blends, giving newly-interested winemakers a chance to learn better respect for this other stalwart, which has also been with us since those first whiteys hit.  To help make it look contemporary, they’re even changing back to its old name, Mataro, which of course ends in the correct letter for these fickle times.

And this, in turn, frees up all the second and third-rate Shiraz that was losing itself, often with the dreaded Viognier, in the GSM tank.  Which inevitably led to the necessity of inventing a Cadenzia-like project to move Shiraz, so suddenly we got Scarce Earths Shiraz at $100 a pop.

Maybe they should have just gone for Shirazo and Viognio.

But that’s off the track.  I’m having a great International Grenache Day as I tap away here, enjoying blends from Tim Smith, Gilligan and Dowie-Doole, and bouncing beaut straights from Wirra Wirra and Olivers Taranga off the one from the winery outside my window, Yangarra.  That’s the one Robert Parker’s Australian envoy, Lisa Perrotti-Brown, advised the world would “blow your mind” the other day on Twitter.  Unlike the big, overblown alcoholic models, this 2011’s only 13.5% alcohol, and it’s been made like a Pinot.

That’s the next step. Even more respect.  

Grenache photographed by David Burnett.


To hear Margaret Tait, this remarkable Orca poet, scientist and film-maker read some of the back labels of her life, click on her image. Deep thanks to the Scottish Poetry Library for giving us this essential work! Libraries should do a lot more poetry broadcasting.

18 September 2012


Dom Perignon 2003 ... another vintage made dark by the hot sun ... Do we drink it now, lay it down, or wait forty years for Dom to disgorge it for release in the exquisitely expensive Œnothèque series? ... Will another 50 years of cool dark dungeon give it the distinction of other hot vintages preferred by Dom chef de cave, the great Richard Geoffroy? Could Geoffroy's sophisticated dark campaign possibly have been influenced by Killey-Withy's old Cooper's Stout commercials starring the late Maxwell Cooper wearing his Blues Bros shades? Remember?  The dark side of the family?  Impossible. It's funny to think about, however, given the enormous volumes, the extreme prices, and high camp extravagance routinely flaunted by the royals of Champagne ...

One Cool Night On The Dom
Reaching Into Hot Years Past
To Light Up Geoffroy's Dark 03

I’m a sicko for the company of Richard Geoffroy.  Particularly since he contentiously chose to release a vintage Dom Perignon from 2003, a year which he quaintly calls “solar”.  I want to stare into his eyes across a table so small he can feel the urgency in my knees as I ask, like deadpan, “Richard, why?”

Ol Sol had a fair bit to do with France in the vintage of 2003.  Nearly 15,000 people perished in the heat.  On my birthday, September 3rd, the last 57 unclaimed bodies from Paris were buried. As far as birthday presents go, that was on a par with World War II commencing on the same date. By the time that dark day rolled round again in 2003, I presumed the vintage, in Champagne at least, would be frites.

In this hellfire, HRH Richard, (and please forgive Harcourt's photoshopping) the Royal Peace of God, which is pretty much what his old Vikin name means, made a wine that was suddenly 60% Pinot noir, and then went in to the government or somewhere and registered the colour “dark”.  

Trademarked it with Pantone.  Dark.  Fair dinkum.  Mr. Maxwell Cooper would never think of that.

I know he means dark of mood, not colour, but to me, Dom is about light.  Bright white light.  Like the ’02: Chardonnay at its crunchiest.  You can even buy it with a label that magically illuminates from within.  Pardon my synæsthæsia, but if you want a sound, think Chopin. Aggro, presistent tinkle tinkle, like Waterford crystal hitting the slate floor.  But 2003? Suddenly we’ve got a Pops Pahinui playing the slack key Hawaiian slide.  Or maybe an islander even more corpulent.  Either way, it’s as mellifluent and bold as fresh-thieved leatherwood honey on a real hot day.

So Richard calls it solar, and then dark.

I reckon he has a secret thing with heat, as if he’s been anticipating global warming before anybody even thought of the term.  I dug out my notes of a dinner he gave at Tetsuya’s in 2000. Tets had been slaving away with recently disgorged bottles of Dom from 1980, ’85, ’73, ’64 and ’59, working out which ingenious flavours he could fathom in accompaniment.  Tough life.

1964 was a hot year in Champagne.  Thanks to Ol Sol, the crop was already the biggest in history when it rained in late August.  That swelled them little babies so plump the jaundiced were saying this was no longer Champagne, whilst the really thirsty leered and dribbled with anticipation.

Tets had nearly worked out what to eat with that ’64.  He presented tiny serves of tataki of wild venison with rosemary and honey vinaigrette. Braised oxtail with Western Australian marron.  Roasted breast of duck with confit potato, sautéed shallots and ginger.  Roasted breast of squab with ragout of mushrooms. And a slow-cooked pigs cheek with gobo. 

Not to mention the seasonal winter fruits.

My notes?
“You could call this tired.  No primary fruit, but maybe a country drawer full of cheese. Just a little pineapple; cloves on an apple tart.  Short, slightly dirty to look at, spermy/carob to sniff; flat aftertaste. Then acid/astringent aftertaste rebound, long and teasing.  Pity.  Great with the foie gras! 84 points.”

Somehow my glass got a mixed pour on the first lap, and I tracked down the better bottle.

“2nd bottle much better.  Smoother, longer, fresher.  Pity they mixed the two.  Pretty good with the salt beef. 89+.”

Richard looked me in the eye.  “The ripest vintage in France,” he swooned.  “The aftertaste!”

The aftertaste of that dinner still haunts me.  It was, what can I say, a seminal evening in my exploration of the relationship between glutamates, great old Champagne and pheromones, which often have no aroma, but are frequently transmitted in parallel with alluring aromas we can detect.  The entire perfume business works on this thesis: creating aromas which titillate because we subconsciously expect to receive a pheromone in parallel.  It’s brilliant cheating; using the placebo idea in the most ingenious manner.  We rarely get the pheromone we expect when we receive that smell, but the anticipatory thrill is already well installed. 

Similarly, the most expensive wines and foods commonly exude aromas which set our pheromone receptors trembling or purring in a fru fru frisson of anticipation.

Simultæneously, the dinner was a kind of Everest expedition around what Richard considered to be some of the loftiest peaks of Dom, playing delicious cadenzas over Tets’s chamber orchestra.

The ’80 got us off.  Pure Chardonnay-dominated Dom, a perfect aromatic reflection of its source, just full of chalk and the smell of the wheatfields on the vast wide open spaces of Champagne. “Fabulous combination of sensual fullness with heaps of refreshing mineral acidity … it rolls on and on and on … 94+”

Chopin, see?

We spoke a lot of Richard’s use of the word mineral during this expedition, and finally seemed to agree that he meant somewhere between chalk, crushed bone china and stainless steel, which suited me.  It is the essential basement, the foundations of all Dom. But I was more fascinated by the flesh such austere bones can support. That ’80 had plenty, and quite ripe it seemed, especially in the counterpoint of oysters in rice vinegar.

This is where we began discussing umami; the natural glutamates of great wine, and their teasing entanglements with our pheromone reception and their powerful involvement in the very way in which we smell and taste. Richard went coy when I asked whether he checked these great old wines for their glutamate content.  

As the complexity of Tetsuya’s amazing food increased through sashimi, scampi, quail eggs, sea slug, truffles, foie gras to aubergine and sweetbreads, it became obvious that one of the greatest pivots of the whole excursion was not so much the primary flavours of these things that counted, but the exquisite umamis that simmered away in the sauces: great aged rice vinegars and soys did the real bell-ringing.

In this line, Richard showed astonishment at my audacity in suggesting the ’85 smelled like a great aged saké, as if rich in umami, but he agreed. It seemed a bit softer than the ’80, was richer and sweaty with smoky flesh but it still balanced on that incredible crisp acidity, and eventually seemed to change aromatic gears completely and whacked us with smells of nutty honeybutter biscuits.  94+.

The magnum ’85 rosé was the most feminine lush.  Here, the austerity of the Pinot took control, its rigid slide-rule acid and extremely fine tannin supporting the lolly shop full of giggling Sunday School teachers upstairs.  I’ll bet they were buying jelly snakes.  But, I noted, “roses and strawberries spoil the house style in a way.” 90.

’73 was the pinnacle. “Rich, but frail, and well into that third stage of development.  Goes absolutely brilliantly with the foie gras dish # 4 (I think with alfalfa).  Honey and toast, but lovely cleavage sweat.  Umami left right and centre. The wine smells fatty.  Susan, my companion across the table, likes it more, but the isovaleric acid story’s a bit over the top for her. Lovely texture and greasy weight. Really soft luxurious heaven, even with white rice and wasabi. 95.”

That IVA reference related to another of the dreamy strings of conversation that hung across our bonny table like gossamer.

The ’64 followed, a little like the depression that hits after the reaching of a brilliant pinnacle, and then, just in time, the ’59:

“Utterly outstanding freshness and vivacity: light green coloured; lovely, pale; fresh pineapple, hazelnuts, candlewax, cantaloupe peel, wood, astonishing freshness and life; no real primary [grape] fruit, but the wine’s elegance and acidity make up and more.  Onions.  Utterly delicious with truffle ice cream.” And then, as it simmered and sulked away, “banana and peach rise with time.  95”

Twin peaks, see.

Funny thing.  ’73 was really hot. And although the autumn fell early in ’59, that was a particularly sunny summer, too.

While the Pinot-dominant ’03 is more like the
64's apple pie than shattered windscreen Chardonnay at its most pristine and austere, I suppose there’s the wafer of a chance that it will sit on a table like Tetsuya’s in fifty years, freshly disgorged, and completely transfix a table of lucky punters. 90++.

I wonder whether they’ll be listening to mellifluous slack-key Hawaiian music, lush with tremolo, or that pretty tinkle of the Chopin.

And, your grace, dear Richard le Roi, while my delving into the past may have answered in part at least, my own initial question about the hottest vintage yet, I’d hate you to think the urgency for that next meeting is diluted in any way, non

Don’t go completely dark on me.


The wine critic's life's a lot more gritty than the general pristine show hall imagery would suggest. Most tasting gets done without lab jackets. Or ties, for that matter.

Just Sayin' For What It's Worth
Whitey's Top Tasting Technique
Best Darn Method I Can Devise 

As the discussion of the purpose and method of Australia’s wine show system continues, it does begin to seem possible that the selection of judges can be fixed, to put an end to winemakers judging their own wines, or indeed judging team leaders urging their other two judges to promote wines of the style they themselves make.

The suggestions proffered here last week triggered a vibrant fizz on Twitter and the busy wine chat fora, with many of the more prominent wine writers and emergent bloggers agreeing that something need be done.

This leaves unattended the matter of how any judge can fairly appraise the giant classes which confront them, day after day, in the biggest shows.  The pace at which the judge is obliged to mow through endless lines of glasses leads to the overlooking of delicate and finer wines, or wines of modest alcohol or oak, and any entry which appears belligerently off the style of those around it tends be regarded with suspicion.

In the late ’eighties I began conducting a Top 100 at The Adelaide Review. Not too many years later, after I’d taken the same operation to The Advertiser, the entries were in their thousands.

Over the years in which that exercise grew to a humungous scale, I gradually developed a system of judging which, in the end, was a hybrid cross of the true blind, or masked tasting, with a gradual unveiling of each wine, so that by the time I got round to writing the final reviews of the chosen hundred, I knew their identities and their source. And I was not quite so blind.

This may send a shiver of derision through those who insist on totally blind tastings, but it is no different to the course of any winewriter’s daily task, when the identity of the wine must eventually be revealed to the taster before the publication of the review.

Even if he doesn't recognise it masked, there comes a time when the critic must be aware of the identity of the wine under review ... photo Philip White
The notion of a good taster, with wide-ranging awareness of what’s on the market, tasting great wines blind, without recognizing them, or at least being suspicious that they be this or that, is like a motoring critic being given a Jaguar to review, with all its badging or branding removed.  The thought of the competent tester driving the car for a week without realizing it is in fact a Jag is nonsensical.

I admit there’s a warp here: my weakness for certain styles is no more respectable than a winemaker confident in the style he or she makes urging its promotion in a Royal Wine Show like Adelaide.

My technique required several stewards that I could call up at a day or two’s notice.  It was terrible attempting to simply work through the one-judge show day after endless day: there were times when I’d have to say I needed two days off for simple reasons of exhaustion, or the sniffles or grumps.  So this was extravagant in its way, but a necessary evil if I sought real confidence in my deliberations.

Wines were divided into classes of variety first, and set up in interminable lines of bottles, each in a numbered brown paper bag with a poured glass. 

The first sense to wear out and leave the taster is indeed the taste: the nose still works well, but added tannins, preservatives and coarse acids quickly get into the cheeks and gums and the mouth begs off.  After, say, a class of commercial Shiraz three or four hundred glasses long, the skin of the inside of my cheeks would in fact be tanned, and I could drag it out of my mouth like a sheet of cellophane.

So to spare the aural tissues, my first job was to judge on the aromas alone.  Anything that didn’t smell good was discarded without tasting, simply to preserve the tender laughing gear. You wouldn’t want to be recommending anything that didn’t smell good, anyway. 

I would work in suites of twenty wines.  Anything that didn’t pass the aroma test was unbagged and its identity recorded.  Then I would taste the rest unrevealed, note them, point them, and select the best for re-examination later in the day.  These would be re-bagged by the stewards, re-numbered and re-inserted further down the line, so they remained blind.

Out of the rest of the suite, I’d make a suggestion of a fair price for each wine, remove it from its bag, discover and record its identity, and record the retail price, which would be marked on each bottle.  If the wine was way beyond the price I thought it deserved, it would remain in the rejected lot.  But if the price was well under my estimation, and therefore a bargain, it too would be re-bagged, re-numbered, and re-inserted further on down the line so it would be encountered again, blind, for a second examination. So after each suite of twenty entries, I would have one or two candidates for the final hundred promoted to be re-tasted later in the exercise, and I would know the identities of what was cast out.

During this unbagging of each set of rejected wines, I would uncover the odd wine of great repute which hadn’t looked so good blind. To cover the chance of me misunderstanding it, this, too would be rebagged, renumbered by the stewards, and re-inserted further down the line.  I would never know where they’d crop up again for re-examination.

This meant that some wines ended up being appraised three or four times in the course of the day: they would not gain final selection without particularly forensic examination.

This meant too that as the day wore on, the wines had absorbed much oxygen, giving me a hint at their potential longevity: anything that still didn’t look really good after six or eight hours’ air was rejected.

It also meant that I had some eager anticipation of discovering what was in my final selection.  As the day passed, the quality of the wines in the diminishing queue would steadily increase.  In the end, I’d have, say, twenty sublime finalists, out of which I’d finally select, say six or ten or whatever.

When my notes and points were finalized for these beauties, the excitement of discovering what had made the ultimate cut outweighed any exhaustion: the thrill seemed to give me the energy required to apply the full focus of my sensory skills in a more intense way than I could possibly have applied at the beginning of the day.  It was always a surprising delight to discover the identities of the chosen few.  It also meant there’d be some famous classics in the cut, along with many real surprises.

To me, this method was the best for not only guaranteeing a reliable result, but left me a great deal of confidence in that result: there’s nothing worse than walking out of the tasting hall heavy with worry about possible mistakes.

I can’t imagine any way of conducting a major wine show like this: it would simply take far too long, require too many ground crew, and cost the organizer far too much money.

However, the method to me was the closest I could get to foolproof adjudgement. Having brought some fishy notions to the surface with the hand grenade lobbed in the water last week, I offer this system for consideration by those who are hard at work devising methods of improving the ways in which the wine business spends millions discovering and recommending the products it thinks are the best for us to drink.

For what it’s worth.

14 September 2012


This is ironstone typical of the sort which occurs at the north-east corner of the McLaren Vale vignoble, atop the Maslin Sands formation.  This  beautiful region, in which I live, has many disparate geologies.  But unlike the Rare Earths group of elements, some of which are radioactive, rocks like this ironstone,  common in the Blewett Springs area and across the ridge toward Baker's Gully and Kangarilla, are great for growing grapes of unique flavour. As are many of the other distinct rocks and sands  around the Vales. Fortunately, they are not radioactive. Neither are they scarce. When the McLaren Vale winemakers got their geology map, some of them hastily chose the name Rare Earths for the appellation of their best Shiraz wines grown in certain distinct geologies, as displayed on the map. This to me seemed an unseemly and ill-researched grab at an idea that might to some justify a sudden hike in Shiraz prices. Shiraz is the most prolific grape in the region, and when this action began, the winemakers certainly had little idea of the implications of the intricate geologies they were about to begin learning.  Anyway, overlooking the true value or rarity of these seminal wines, I explained this nomenclature problem.  At which point the winemakers glibly changed the name to the almost impossible to pronounce Scarce Earths.  And sure enough, wines bearing this appellation immediately began appearing at around $100 per bottle.  (Chester Osborn, one of the proponents of both the previous misnomers, cleverly backed up with his own Amazing Sites selection, kicking off with fourteen wines.) China, rapidly becoming our biggest market for wine, also happens to be the world's biggest exporter of Rare Earths, the mining of which has become an internationally political, environmental and public health nightmare.  Quite reasonably, China hasn't twigged that there's a difference between scarce and rare, as best manifest in the following unsolicited sales e-mail. It is the latest of many I get from Chinese vendors who obviously scour the net for references to Rare or Scarce Earths. I doubt that they're looking for premium wine deals, although if you happen to mention it ... I have left some of Ruby's contact details attached, just in case you hope she's thirsty, or you plan to manufacture any of the products outlined below.

Dear Sir/Madam,

We are pleased to get to know that you are on the market For Neodymium Oxide

We are Taige International Trade Limited Company in China. We supply Neodymium Oxide with good quality and low price.

Our products :

Lanthanum Oxide, Gadolinium Oxide, Cerium Oxide, Neodymium Oxide, Europium oxide, Erbium Oxide, Samarium Oxide, Ytterbium Oxide, Lutetium Oxide,Terbium Oxide, Yttrium Oxide, Dysprosium Oxide ......

Please contact us to know details.

Thanks & B.rgds!


Adress:No.168, Dongchang Road, Liaocheng City, Shandong
Website: http://www.taigetrade.com

11 September 2012


One wonders what the critter label makers can do with this: Doggie Bag Wines?  Then there's the exciting marketing potential of the mink cover, the quilted leather, the alcantara for petrol heads ... the LVMH touch?  Click image for details. 


You can rest assured that the Second Cheapest Wine will be made from the second cheapest grapes. Or worse. Free Portuguese cork in the top; free Portuguese millipede in every glass .... what's a little protein between friends? Click image for details ... photo Philip White


Michael and Annabelle Waugh launch their new release Greenock Creek Vineyards and Cellars wines to friends and regular buyers at the beginning of each spring ... it is always a memorable day .. the cellar will remain open until the wines have sold, which will probably take a few months this year as the 2010 yields were good ... but then again, the wines are under screw cap for the first time - a change which seemed to delight the gathered throng - so they may even sell faster ... my personal favourites? 2010 Cabernet sauvignon (13.5% alcohol) and 2010 Seven Acre Shiraz (14%). 
Micha Ilich, food and beverage manager of The Adelaide Club (founded 1863), Tim Gregg, proprietor, Lion Hotel (founded 1872), the author (foundering since 1952), and Michael Schluter, whose family has owned the Greenock Creek Tavern since 1870
Local wrought iron smith Harry Hennig and Margaret Hennig; Greenock Creek Vineyards and Cellars proprietor, viticulturer and winemaker, Michael Waugh; retired Greenock Creek Tavern publican, Norty Schluter; retired Riesling genius and neighbour John Vickery, the author, and Mary Vickery.
Annabelle's rose garden in the Cabernet vineyard is being replaced by this wisteria arch, which already has the atmosphere of a site conducive to many a rambling long table lunch. Before "retiring" to become a winemaker, Michael was a master stonemason.  He built Rockford and the major stone cellar at Henschke before concentrating on his own winery on Roennfeldt Road, and the cellars and their home in the vineyards on Radford Road.  The original cottage here is unusual for the Barossa, in that it was built by a Frenchman, who ensured that the cellars beneath were bigger than the house above, which is a good excuse to keep the cellar full.

Smoked trout centerpiece: Barossa hospitality at its best ... catering by Malcolm and Helen Filsell's Barossa Country Kitchen ... photo Philip White; all others by Leo Davis.

07 September 2012


‘There is no one in South Australia who has a better “nose” than Mr. [Edmund] Mazure.  If you take him a bottle of wine, he can tell you where it comes from.  On the day of my visit … the Inspector of Distilleries … produced a bottle of sherry, which he said he had brought from Mr. Tolley’s. Mr. Mazure smelt and tasted the sample, and then remarked “Well, Mr. Tolley must have got it from Stonyfell, because that is where this wine was made.’  Ernest Whitington, reporting his visit to the Auldana winery; The Register, 1903.
Oz Wine Shows In Disarray

Judges Gather: Big Interface
Hunter Summit Attempts Fix

The Australian wine show system suffers a terminal disease.  I call it endogenous corruptibility.  This wasting ailment seems to have grown with sufficient malignancy to squeeze a bleat from one of the last bastions of the ’70s and ’80s wine control school: a quaint annual affair called the Len Evans Tutorial.

This is named after that tireless and ebullient rogue, Len Evans (below), the Mt. Isa Mines storeman who pushed his way into the wine biz, lived through a career of wild booms and slumps with other people’s money in his own erratic wine businesses, and basically ran the wine show system from the seventies through ’til his death in 2006.

Evans’ business cronies and admirers maintain this annual wine judges’ school in his honour. While it was designed to program prospective wine judges to conduct their work in a more scholarly and informed manner, it leaves itself open to accusations of clubby exclusivity, a trait which makes it seem more of a homogenizing exercise.

Some old scholars met in the Hunter for a touch of interface on the  weekend before last.

“Many of the country’s agricultural societies and wine show committees were represented at the talkfest, which has been hailed as a historic meeting of the minds for the Australian wine industry,” The Drinks Business politely repeated. 

Then, in a tidy wrap-up that obviously tells much more than it intended to, former Wirra Wirra winemaker Samantha Connew said “It is hoped that future changes that result from the reunion weekend will give consumers a better understanding of the integrity of the wine show system, as well as continuing to provide winemakers with the forum they need to benchmark their wines.”

Integrity? Herein lies the rub.  People cheat.  The tenets of the system’s current philosophy sets the consumers’ interests against those of the winemakers: it’s ethanol drinkers vs. ethanol peddlers.  One system; two mutually-exclusive purposes. How can wine shows possibly fulfill both roles while they are judged by the people who make the wine?

I have a mantra which covers all this:

“Any winemaker who works as a show judge should of course be capable of recognising their own wine.  If they can’t achieve that simple task, they shouldn’t be judging.

“On the other hand, any winemaker who makes a certain style of wine and expects you to buy it and put it inside your body and then fails to award it with gongs shouldn’t be expecting us to buy it in the first place.”

Simple, see?

It’s a long time since Messrs Hardy, Penfold, Seppelt, McWilliams, Martin, Mazure, Tolley and the like sat around a table in their lab jackets, discussing the entries in the modest wine shows of their day; easily recognizing each other’s wines, praising them; pulling them apart.  These must have been fascinating exercises in discovery and innovation, and no doubt led to vast improvements in the technical quality of the wines.

The most radical wine crew on Earth at the time; perhaps ever? Rock'n'roll: Penfolds has a little wine show of its own in the lab at Grange in the 'fifties. Penfolds winemakers and scientists, left to right: Murray Marchant, Gordon Colquist, Ivan Combet (father of Federal Cabinet Minister Greg Combet), Perce McGuigan (father of Brian and Neil), Jeffrey Penfold-Hyland, Max Schubert, John Davoren, Don Ditter, Harold Davoren (John's father) and Ray Beckwith.  Ivan Combet's father was a winemaker, too, at Minchinbury before him. Note the hyper-modern timberwork and lampshade! This was space age.

Although, of course, it must be said that great unsung individuals, like the genius centenarian Penfolds wine scientist Ray Beckwith, had more and better influence over the quality of wine worldwide than any wine show system. Especially this system which, without coincidence, was responsible for destroying for years the reputation of Beckwith’s colleague, Max Schubert, whose early Granges were viciously derided by the powerful judges of the day. 

In the rapid industrialization of the wine game through the seventies to the nineties, the shows certainly worked to improve the reliability and biochemical structure of Australian wine.  The wines became more sanitary, and so won much international respect, best manifest in the amazing export boom of the last twenty years.

But at the same time, the shows repeated the Grange debacle, slowing much stylistic innovation and constantly reinforcing the status quo to the point at which international commentators began deriding the planar, synthesized homogeneity of most Australian wines, leading to the collapse of entire markets. 

I recall handing Len Evans himself a glass of delicious Yeringberg Yarra Valley Marsanne Roussanne in the Universal Wine Bar after a Royal Adelaide Wine Show.  This was simply too much for Australia’s most evangelical Chardonnay proponent, who took a sniff, went back on his heels, and delivered a derisory tirade about how such lumpen things were below him, and never could catch on.

I wonder how he’d see things now, when entire wine companies are wisely devoting themselves and their vineyards to such north-west Mediterranean varieties, which are much better suited to Australia’s Mediterranean vignobles than varieties like Chardonnay, which evolved in parts of Europe where it snows.  Contrary to Evans’ persistent preaching that “Chardonnay will become the vanilla of the Australian wine industry”, it soon became more of a synthetic vanilla essence, especially when grown with unseemly irrigation in the desert and flavoured with sawdust, chips and the sort of oak essences - an additive not then  permitted in wine - that I signed for upon their delivery to Evans’ Rothbury Estate winery in May 1983.  

Under Evans and his gang, the Australian wine show circuit had a deadly stranglehold on the development of new varieties and flavours in Australian wine, and can be accused of stifling the development of many more varieties than Marsanne and Roussanne.

It was during his watch that the notion of shows being quiet, internal wine industry tools for biochemists and technicians to methodically improve wine quality became terribly confused with the advent of the modern marketing horde, scavengers in the business of promoting the procuration and hoarding of the gongs Evans and his like handed out.

While each capital city had its wine show, virtually from the beginning of Australian viticulture, every tiny region now has its own.  Glimpse through the Australian and New Zealand Wine Industry Directory, and you’ll get to fifty in no time at all. Bacchus only knows how many trophies this system awards, but it must be well in advance of 500. 

For the impoverished wine hack, the matter of tracking down ten new trophy winners a week is daunting, if not plain impossible, so there’s no independent checking.  The notion of a consumer, however keen, managing the same tasting exercise is ridiculous.  Add the thousands of medals and you’re basically drowning in bling.

To survive, to retain any credibility at all, the shows have to do a lot more than repeat the Evans gospel.

I have an impertinent suggestion.  To have any credibility amongst consumers of ever-improving gastronomic intelligence, regional wine shows should be judged by experts from outside each region, none of whom have any business interest or employment whatsoever in the region being judged.

The chair should also be completely independent.

All the gold medal winners from each of these shows would then be eligible to enter the capital city competition in its relative state.  Once again, the judges and chair should all come from outside that state.

At these shows, a trophy should be awarded in each class.  No medals; they have already been awarded at the regional level. All that’s needed now is a trophy, if indeed these judges think it’s deserved.

All trophy winners from the capital city shows would then be eligible for entry in the National Championship Show, to be judged only by experts from outside Australia, preferably great chefs with no financial involvement in any of the exhibitors.  At this event, a championship trophy would be awarded to the single best wine on display.

One national championship trophy, pure and simple.

At every step of this logically-tiered judging progress, the opinions and scores of each judge relative to each entry must be published for all to see at the completion of each competition.  These can then be compiled in an annual publication, be it book or website.

If there are still any winemakers with the estimable skills of Edmund Mazure, or indeed winemakers desirous of such abilities, one would expect them to be part of this Len Evans Tutorial cadre.  In which case, given the dog-eat-dog nature of an industry in gross over-supply and extreme financial stress, the Tutorial is utterly incapable of adopting such a system. 

Put simply, it has been trained to think there’s too much to lose.

I’d love to be proven wrong.  Bring it on.


"That's reverse, you silly man!" ... photo Philip White ... click to enlarge.