“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





30 December 2013


My brother Stephen took these photographs of my Mum and Dad, who both died in the last few months. This one above is very rare: Mum scarcely went out without a hat, but in the end, that brutal Austral Sun killed her by melanoma.  The ones below came from a night when they discovered my hats at Kanmantoo.  One includes Stephen's wife Leah. Perhaps due to his gloating racist tendencies, which he covered by quoting Genesis Chapter 9, Pastor Jimmy loved the plastic Afro. Mum was a lot more adventurous, going from Highland wildcat to Russki commando to the Marilyn Monroe in just a few minutes.  I dunno where the blonde wig came from - it's not mine, but it looks like it might come in handy ... to stop a rising-up amongst the non-conformist protestants, the Lord's Day Observance Society and the Womens' Christian Temperance Union, not to mention the DRINKSTER's great fan, Vladimir Putin, I should make clear that while Mum's glass looks as if it contains an upside-down image of the Evil One, it is in fact a slice of citrus floating in rain water ... photos Stephen White ...  [apart from the one his daughter Hayley made of him planking in outback Western Australia at the bottom] ... Stemmo's an inveterate bushwalker and lover of nature, and can talk for hours about rare native orchids amongst a lot of other confounding stuff that will always elude those who never set forth ... like working for 35 years as a hardrock underground miner ... And Sylvia was a shit hot Mum.


The fierce Marie Linke called by, full of the excited conversation of an adventurer becoming fluent in the Australian outback.  She brought food and drink, transport and valued company at this warped time.  And she attacked my dishes.  We discussed her Outback photography and the height of kitchen sinks.  She felt they are designed by architects to suit the level best fitting some bloke's ideal Barossa frau.  We agreed that somebody should invent an adjustable height sink/kitchen bench to assist us swayback six-footers.  While Mars cleaned her camera, I took this image of the trippy stuff I saw developing behind her:


Then she walked over to the Yangarra Estate winery, and came back with these:

29 December 2013


These globular images arose from December's meeting of the Gawler Humbug Society. George Grainger Aldridge's ear, above, and the heads of George and Jo Vallelonga by Philip White.  Then Winston Head wielded his humbuggery.


My beloved Mother Sylvia died on Sunday 22nd of December.  The Casa Blanco depot is a little overwhelmed by kind folks asking about the funeral details and offering condolence. There will be a service on Friday 3rd at Kleeman Funerals, 1 Morphett Street, Mount Barker at 1000 hrs.  The  cortège will then progress to the cemetery at Callington where Sylvia will be buried beside her husband James (Pastor Jimmy), who died in August.  That's Mum, above with her brother Philip, and below with her surviving children ... both photos were taken at Jimmy's funeral by Milton Wordley, using my new camera which neither of us knew anything about.  Thankyou all for your kind messages. I am honoured and deeply grateful. Be very careful of that bright Australian Sun: melanoma killed Mum.

27 December 2013


"This is gonna leave a mark," says Caduceus winemaker Maynard James Keenan of his preferred Exmess tinctures, Penfolds '67 Bin 7, '62 Bin 60A and Petrus '75.  Along with the DRINKSTER's New Orleans hero, Allen Toussaint, Maynard's one of the Penfolds Grange lovers featured in the big book I wrote this last year with my beloved photographer mate Milton Wordley ... photo Maynard James Keenan

 A year in the life of Grange
reviewed by James Halliday 
Australian Wine Companion 

"This is the title of one of the most amazing books to ever appear on the Australian vinous landscape. It is the work of Milton Wordley, a professional photographer for more than 40 years, and a master photographer with the Australian Institute of Professional Photographers. No less importantly, winemakers, vineyards and wines have been one of Wordley’s abiding interests.

"The words have been contributed by Philip White, who has for long been at the absolute forefront of creative wine prose; to call him a wine writer is to damn him by faint praise. He has been around for far longer than Campbell Mattinson, but the two leave the rest of us in their wake when it comes to setting the scene. 

"The third contributor to the book is John Nowland, with more than 35 years’ experience in the design industry, winning awards both in Australia and around the world.

Penfolds Magill winemaker, Jason  Barrette, Ray Beckwith's pH meter and Maynard getting the healing treatment from Whitey ... photo Milton Wordley

"So I can hear you say OK, it’s a book about Grange, and three highly talented people came together to create the book. Well, it comes in three forms, all measuring the 38 x 31cm; I’ve got well over a thousand wine books in my library, and only one comes close – which is just as well, because it doesn’t fit in any bookshelf. But it is at this point that the story becomes interesting. Three editions are available, and at least two are intended for pride of place on a coffee table or in a wealthy collector’s wine cellar.

Maynard and Penfolds chief winemaker, Peter Gago ... photo Milton Wordley

"The Collector’s Edition is of 100 copies numbered 1 – 100, leather bound with a kangaroo hide spine, and includes a folio of seven original museum grade giclee photographs from the book printed on archival paper, window-matted and presented in a leather portfolio and black buckram archive box featuring American Oak sides. (Believe it or not I’ve slightly shortened that description.) The price is $4000, which strongly suggests that 99 of the copies will be winging their way to Hong Kong and China the moment they are released.

"The Winemaker’s Edition is of 250 copies numbered 101 – 250, with an imitation leather cover (I will keep my tongue to myself) with a kangaroo spine, presented in a slipcase, and including an exclusive print of the four winemakers (Max Schubert, Don Ditter, John Duval and Peter Gago) once again printed on archival paper, signed by the artist, mounted and ready to frame. The price is $1000 per copy.

Maynard meets Becky's Jesus Box ... photo Philip White

"Finally there are 1000 copies of the Limited Edition numbered 351 – 1350. This has a traditional canvas cover, with a full colour dust jacket and presented in a rigid slipcase; the price $785. 

"Included with all three editions is a DVD of a series of interviews recorded along the way with well-known wine identities.

"Due to anticipated demand and obviously limited availability, the publishers encourage those interested to register on the official website."

At the launch of A year in the life of Grange in the original Grange cellar at Penfolds Magill Estate: chief winemaker Peter Gago, designer John Nowland, photographer and publisher Milton Wordley, and author Philip White ... this book is published independently by Milton, and is not in any way a Penfolds publication or property ... while we had the help of Peter Gago and his stalwart team, it's not a corporate text or Treasury Wine Estates document in any way, but rather the story I always promised Max  I'd one day write to set the record straight ... at least I waited til I was old enough to do it properly ... photo Darren Clements ... Three Muscateers photo below by Milton Wordley ... Whitey wore his best pearls, specially for it

24 December 2013


While you're planning your hangover material, I suggest you begin the foundations of your new gastronomic year with my two top wines of 2013.  Terribly expensive, sure, and a dreadful tease, certainly, they're well beyond my meagre financial grasp.  (Generous friends have shared these precious bottles, giving us a chance to drink rather than taste.)  But I'm determined that they're far and away the most memorable tinctures to flow down my  little red lane in the past twelve months. Go wreck whatever's left of that plastic: 

Krug Champagne 1998 
$450; cork; 12% alcohol; 97+++ points 

It's two years since I first drank this exquisity; another chance at it last June showed it hadn't budged, and my original notes pretty much say it all. I prefer its finesse to the brilliant current release, the richer 2000:

There's an apocryphal yarn about the murderer who, upon being strapped into the electric chair, looked at his executioner and said "This'll teach me". This wine always reminds me of that. I don't really know why: the damned thing is so profoundly confronting in its beauty and intensity that the mind does go silly, in a willy-nilly, electrocuted sort of way. Thoughts fall to the floor and shatter harmlessly about the drinker: they no longer count. Perhaps it's also the serene expectation that one will soon be found dead in one's chair with a really silly smile and a glass, empty, clutched in a grip that makes Charlton Heston's rifleman speech look like something uttered by a total softcock.

The smell of an organic wheatfield, almost ripe, after the lightest rain. The smell of the most delicate brioche. Hazelnut. Wet chalk. Sliced, poached almond being fastidiously placed on a perfect marzipan icing in the kitchen of La Crayere. Oyster mushroom, and enoki. I can smell it for an hour, happy to postpone the execution. But finally, involuntarily, the glass finds its way to the lips, and like all Krug, its liquor just seems to evaporate into my organs. My body. The corpuscles, the genes, the chromasomes vibrate in immaculate harmony, and purr. This must send a transmission so powerful it can be received by other life forms, billions of light years away.

Remi Krug remarked twenty years ago that he admired the way I guzzled his Grand Cuvee, rather than inhaling common air through it to make that obscene gurgling noise and spitting it like an Englishman. "But I am a Vikin, and Krug comes properly perforated with bubbles installed by the Krug family," I responded. "It needs no other air buggering it up." And so it goes. No need to change the technique. Gulp it down! Have it from a bigger glass! Pour yourself a tumbler! Do it again! Sell your house!

“It’s like music”, Krug pondered aloud. “There is real music, like Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald. And then there is airport music. Unfortunately, too much champagne is airport music. When I met my wife, she drank the airport music, and she always said it gave her a headache and she would not marry me. So I gave her some Krug, and when she had it she said ‘Ah, this is good, I don’t have a headache’, and so she could marry me. Of course when I discovered she did not have a headache, I could marry her. And so for many years we have Krugged along together.”

Half their Kruggin’ luck, I say. 

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche 2009 
AU$3500 - $4000; 13.5% alcohol; cork; 97+++ points 

I first drank this in 2012. A second schlück in November 2013 earned it another point. 2009 was a wet vintage in Burgundy, with the sorts of moulds and funguses that made 2011 very tricky in South Australia.  But as happened here, through fastidious bunch selection, the smartest winegrowers managed to produce exceptional wine. In spite of its price hike in the meantime, my second taste simply re-affirmed these original opinions:

I know I'm gonna get a backful of silver forks for this, but I honestly wonder how many Australian winemakers would recognise this as Pinot noir. All the stuff most were taught to find in good Pinot is barely here.  Unless indicating abject derision, I rarely use capitals in my tasting notes, but on this wine they're huge:  "NO STRAWBERRIES NO RASPBERRIES NO CHERRIES" they shout.  The secret is the La Tâche vineyard, which has been there by the Burgundian village of Vosne-Romanée for over 800 years.  Think six hectares of 50± year old vines on the world's most expensive irony limestone, pruned so hard it takes three vines to fill a bottle.  The vineyard is managed using very old organic and biodynamic methods; like Moon, horses, no tractors, and only vine-derived compost. Along with the wine from its neighbouring 1.8 ha Romanée-Conti vineyard, it's as good and expensive as Pinot gets, and is simply revered in the arcane world of the Burgundiac and Pinotphile.  This 2009 is being compared to the majestic 1990.  But if there's no primary fruit, what makes it great?  Structure.  Tannin.  Acidity?  The most ethereal and fleeting wafts of perfume?  But really, the damn thing seemed chockers with the nightshade aromas: the dark green aromas of those leaves, as if in thick black tea.  Pepper, juniper, leather, valerian, coaldust, all sat there. Surly, glowering.  Daring me. "Maybe the closest we get to fruit is a faint whiff of coconut butter", I concluded, mystified.  But then, wakey-wakey: the initial glimmers of something between tart juniper berry, sweet beetroot and very bitter cherry began to stir, and long after pouring the thing had awoken sufficiently to give just a glimpse of the overt sensuality which will dominate when the juice of those very special grapes eventually matures to swell and fill the wine's dusty, tannic whalebone corset. In, what? Twenty years? In the meantime, a good whipping would be in order before we do any mouth work.

20 December 2013


The DRINKSTER first found this lovely Roundup commercial, made by the clever folks at Airbag Productions and  starring the White Pointer shark, away back in April.  It's clever, more honest than the client probably realises, and it obviously cost some money.  If there's anyplace on Earth, other than perhaps South Africa, where the White Pointer loves to feed, it's the waters between South Australia's Yorke and Eyre Peninsulas. So it's wry that it took a Yorke Peninsula farmer and farming consultant, Bill Long, to come up with this modest, but equally effective response: it's called The Wild Radish Song, and it deserves millions of hits.  Apart from the fruits of the few serious organic and biodynamic viticulturers, we have yet to see anything remotely like this come from that giant herbicide addict, the Australian wine industry ... have you ever heard a herbicide policy or comment emerge, from, say, the Winemakers Federation of Australia?  In the meantime, I trust this shark is not the savage beauty Airbag hired.

19 December 2013


O'Leary Walker Drs' Cut Polish Hill River Riesling 2013
$30; 12% alcohol; screw cap; 96+ points 

Having recently raved about the O'Leary Walker Watervale Riesling of this same year - "one of the finest white wines I've seen from South Australia this vintage" - I was stonkered to then open this.  It's all the Watervale is and more.  While that was the race-stripped Lambo, this is the Bugatti Veyron. It's at least as fast as the Lambo, but it's got luxurious upholstery and plusher design and you can drive it down the shops. And, oh yes, it costs more.  It's spicier - even peppery - and more complex, with that same fresh-sliced ginger, but also musk sticks and other confectionary, like pashmak, the exquisite Persian fairy-floss.  Beneath all that stuff, below the influence of the wild yeast and the fermentation on solids, below the six months of weekly stirring of the yeast lees, lies a natural acidity with all the unflinching authority of a piece of stainless steel 2cm marine cable.  And this comes from that barren, stony, 41-years-old vineyard in the Polish Valley.  If you let the bottle die slowly after opening, like a glass a day for a week, all the pretties and the poshness and the plush bits gradually fall away, revealing this remarkable spine.  The wine will live for a very long time in the appropriate cellar.  But I usually prefer them fresh and fast, and love this staunch beauty for what it is now.  I can't imagine awarding it many more points in, like, a decade, when many will swoon over its secondary and tertiary maturation characters, which will be, no doubt, profound.  Considering all that, it's impossibly cheap, regardless of your taste.  This is as grown-up as great white wine gets.

Tim Smith Wines Eden Valley Riesling 2013 
$25; 11.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93+ points

 Eden Valley, and what I call the High Barossa, often produces Riesling of more austerity than most of Clare.  But the Drs' Cut is atypical of Clare.  So's this beauty from a 91-years-old vineyard in Eden Valley: it's a little further out there than its neighbours, and more entertaining in its youth.  It smells rich and buttery, like struselkuchen, with slices of lemon, lime, blood orange and even curaçao orange where the Barossa typically places apricot or apple, between the yeast cake base and the crumbed strusel topping.  What started out smelling like soft white bread grew toasty after just an hour's air, and then out jumped that sugary crumbed strusel and the damn thing became a cake.  Yum-O.  One of the flavours gets close to Rose's Lime Marmalade, just to add to the morning tea atmosphere of the whole effort. And those citrus bits persist: even to the extent of the D-limonene from the bark of Cascarilla, which gives Campari much of its savoury phenolic bitterness.  But while it sure has dry phenolic tannins, this is no bitter drink: everything's in harmony here.  I can think of no better accompaniment than a top-flight Barossa apricot struselkuchen and a cup of white tea at 1100 sharp.         


The Wedding Feast at Cana, painted by Paolo Veronese in 1563 as commissioned by the Benedictine Monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice.  Not one of the people in this painting has their mouth open. At 660 × 990 cm., It is the biggest painting in the Louvre.

A rehash from the archive:
Winemakers return to Jesus
Big lesson from Cana wedding

With the solemn approach of his birthday, it is appropriate to ponder the technique used by the most famous winemaker in history.  Apart from, perhaps, Maynard James Keenan.  At many shows, Maynard probably plays to more people than Jesus ever saw in his life.

But it is indeed belated attention gotten upon this aspect of Jesus.

Humans have been thorough at mimicking, marketing and channeling carefully-selected or totally perverted aspects of the life of the Son of God since they thought he was here.  But for some dumb reason, everybody forgets his winemaking.

It turns out that only one of the gospel writers, John, managed to squeeze the first miracle into his book.  Matthew, Mark and Luke make no mention of it.  Maybe they didn’t get to the wedding.  Maybe they had so much to drink that they forgot the details, or lost their tasting notes.  Unless, of course, some savage proho dry editor simply removed the good bits of their accounts to prevent too much in the way of fun going down at every wedding since.

As its stands, John’s account leaves a fair bit to be desired.  He seems more interested in the way Christ rebukes his Mum.  The lads have been partying on the beach at Galilee.  Clambake, skinsful of fresh Damascus rosé, Mary of Magdalene dancing in the sand in the moonlight.  The Lord must have itched in those moments to make his first miracle the invention of the ghetto blaster. But he held off.  In the morning, he must have dryly thought of inventing the blue electrolytic hangover drink and the portable fridge, but again his reluctance to show off slowed everything down.

Imagine them.  Wake, sandy and groaning in the bright sunshine, reaching for fresh water which isn’t there.  Christ reminds them they’re two days late for the wedding his Mum insisted they attend ... you get the picture.  A ratty hungover procession up the dusty mountain track all the friggin way to Cana and there she is, akimbo in the road, hissing about them being so late that the wine had run out.  According to the Jewish tradition, there were still four full days of partying to go.

“Mother,” he spits.  “What am I to do with thee?”

Regular readers will recall my theory that as a famous winebibber, and friend of publicans and sinners, Christ would have been fluent in the latest winemaking techniques introduced by the occupying forces; the thirsty Italian boys with the hairoil and the flat-tops.  The boundaries of the Roman empire were always determined by the edge of viable viniculture, as any self-respecting Italian soldier would refuse to march without his wineskin. And as the Son of God had refused to invent the fridge, the matter of keeping wine fresh was a bother.

As it was, they drank it wild and young and fizzy.  With their raw onions.  Thus the line about not putting new wine in old bottles.  The bottles were wine skins, bags without boxes, which would burst if the wine in them underwent a secondary ferment.

Generally, overall, fart city on the march.

Back at headquarters, in Rome, the whitecoats of the day were still using red lead to stabilize and preserve their best table wine, resulting in the sorts of behaviour typical of the rulers: Nero, Caligula, Claudius and Co..  While away out on the frontier, not only was such luxury out of the question, but the troops would never operate efficiently with lead poisoning.

Enter the grange.  The middle east may have been the Holy Land, but in such a dusty, godforsaken wilderness the only way of keeping fruit was to dry it.  Every village and major household had a grange where they’d store their currants, raisins, figs and dates, maybe some pots of honey.  The clay water amphorae and pots would be in there, too, in the cool.

Put simply, the amarone technique used to this day in Italy involves the fermentation of dried grapes.  So when Christ called for the water pots to be brought into the sun, and his Mum was baying for booze, it would been just plain dumb not to throw in some dried fruit from the grange, maybe even dates and honey.  And he wasn’t mucking about: the six water pots were of two or three firkins apiece.

 An ale firkin, or barrel, is about 40 litres; a wine firkin about 300 litres. So he made somewhere between 600 and 4500 litres of the best, which should have got the nuptials rockin. No wonder three of the four scribes forgot to record it, and the one who did, on reflection, think it was a miracle.

What does seem miraculous to me is that somehow the water jug - pot; amphora - is making a comeback in winemaking.  At Castagna wines two years back I was surprised to see Julian’s fermenters: two metres high, thick concrete, and egg-shaped, like amphorae jugs.  He explained that the concrete breathes, like oak; and that this organic natural shape ensures the wine circulates constantly and gradually within, ensuring maximum lees circulation to protect and enrich the wine; that there are no corners which are difficult to clean, and that the solidity of them keeps their temperature naturally constant and cool.  The tapered shape also affects the thickness and form of the cap of skins during ferment.

This new international move to the past began in some Roman ruins near Nimes in 1991, when the keepers of La Mas de Tourelles, a museum of ancient winemaking stuff there began using the old tools to make new wine. The classic amphora shape seemed to impart a half mystical atmosphere to the wines: they seemed more smug and composed, and retained better freshness.  In the twenty years since, many experiments were conducted, making egg-shaped fermenters from terracotta, concrete, plastics and polymers, steel, and now oak.

Some south-of-France winemakers are combining these technologies with the ancient techniques of Caucasian Georgia, and partially burying their amphorae. 

But the biggest, newest egg-shaped buzz came from Italy, and SIMEI 2011, the Milan technical show.  Through coopers Foudrerie Francois, Bordeaux artisan Joseph François launched his big oak eggs.  Strange that it took 2000 years for somebody to combine Christ’s water-into-wine pots with his first employment, carpentry.

So what came first?  Jesus or the egg? 


Kevin Judd Greywacke Marlborough Chardonnay 2011 
$38; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 95 points

 Of the increasing number of finer style Chardonnays to cross my desk this year, this, the last one to hit, is probably the best.  It has that rare combination of complexity and finesse which sets it apart from the current well-intentioned plunge to more racy, less obese Chardonnays.  This knee-jerk fad has unfortunately seen too many over-simple, high-acid, shattered windscreens masquerading as Chardonnays, as if the misdirected makers had a Riesling fetish but couldn't grow that great variety.  Here, the clever Judd has built a wine that smells like the Greywacke stone of its vineyard, stacked with ever-so-fine layers of jackfruit, fresh-sliced ginger root, hessian superphosphate sacks, and Bacchus only knows what.  To drink, it's a fine, perfectly viscous lineal thing, with as much citrus as buttery Jackfruit vanillin.  Its acid is never too powerful for this modest texture, but serves to tease the entire heady effect out.  It is a beautiful elegant wine which is not trying to be Burgundy.  Something makes me feel that it's past that.  Scallops on the half-shell with strands of spring onion and tiny little slices of mandarin peel, fresh outa the grill, please. 

Yangarra PF (Preservative-free) McLaren Vale Shiraz 2013
 $25; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 92 points 

Declaration:  I have no interest other than curiosity and fascination in the business, but I live in a small flat beside the Yangarra Winery. If I were a motoring writer, I would hope to live beside, or in the Ferrari factory.  Get my drift.  Peter Fraser and Charlie Seppelt designed this wine to be a safe, clean, easy-drinking whizzer, without preservatives (sulphur), finings (eggs or fish) or acid (tartaric or acsorbic). It is certified both organic and bio-dynamic, so there's an extremely long list of other things that aren't in it either.  It smells dense and compressed, like a Spanish quince paste, but made instead from blackberries, redcurrants, fresh juniper and beetroot. It is a delightfully intense, but fresh aroma.  The flavours are similarly intense, but like that Greywacke Chardonnay, remain freakishly elegant and racy without losing any complexity.  The only bit that's not your actual fruitaveg is a whiff of dust, like the vineyard smells in the summer.  It is not orange, bearded or brown wine.  And, like coffee or tea, it has been filtered, or strained, which some fanatics insist precludes it from being called a "natural wine." So much for them.  It is clean, fresh stable wine made for drinking in the year of its release, like most Beaujolais.  I have kept a bottle open for several days, to surprisingly little detriment.  It finishes dry and adult.  It makes me smile.