“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)





28 February 2013


Morgana King is best remembered by many as Marlon Brando's wife in The Godfather.  But she was also the most astonishing singer, and her heady rendition of Lilac Wine has always been a favourite of the DRINKSTER.

23 February 2013


They're On This Planet Because
"Their Parents Drank Ray's Creations And Then Humped"

Puscifer kicked off their sellout Australian tour last night in Brisbane.  Maynard James Keenan reports they performed Dear Brother, a work from their new Donkey Punch The Night EP.

"So we did Dear Brother for the first time ever in front of an audience," he told DRINKSTER this morning. 

"I dedicated it to Ray. Of course no one in the audience knew who he was, but that really doesn't matter to me.

"I know that most of them are on this planet because their parents/grandparents drank Ray's creations and then humped. "

He refers to Ray Beckwith, the great Australian wine scientist and DRINKSTER mentor who died at 100 years of age in November. 

Beckwith gets a credit on the EP cover.

Maynard and mates joined us for lunch last Saturday at Yangarra.  We toured the old (1946) dry-grown (never, ever been watered) bushvine Grenache vineyard, amongst others, munched bunches, kicked barrels in the winery, and enjoyed a politely riotous repast with wine-bearing friends from Marius, Ochota Barrels, La Curio, and Petagna.

Becky would have loved it.

It seems likely that there will be some interchange of dry-grown and bushvine vineyard ideas  between Yangarra vine wizard, Michael Lane, and Maynard's Caduceus winery and vineyard on Mount Mingus, at Jerome, Arizona. Maynard's already playing with Ochota in a Grenache JV.  Good people work together in this business!

That's Maynard's photograph of the Clarendon Vineyard above, and his view of the table.  And here he is at work on Mount Mingus:

Harvest has just commenced at Clarendon, with Pinot, Shiraz and Chardonnay coming off with brilliant vital statistics.  Stacey Pothoven's photograph of the High Sands Grenache vineyard is  below. The author's on the left, the weed-eating sheep are in the vines on the right, and Clarendon's in the hills you can see at the end of that track.

Click here to see an edited version of my last formal interview with Ray. And to hear Maynard discussing Puscifer's first two Australian gigs with the Doctor on the J, click here.


19 February 2013


Some Strange Omissions Sport!
Clean Swabbing Days All Past
Follow Your Men Of Substance  

It’s hardly surprising that people have stopped buying newspapers.  Think of the sport sections.  What, a quarter of every edition devoted to the adoration of, dissection of, photographing of, whingeing about, and general breathless nonsensicalising of sport, its practitioners, and its vast armies of adherents?  Think of the effort, the budgets, the time spent creating this extravagant cornucopia of utter bullshit.  More importantly, think of the number of great brains the proprietors employ to produce these hectares of breathless copy.  And then consider why not one of these friggin literary geniuses ever discovered, or cared to report, that at least half of the heroes and villains under discussion were on illegal drugs, like 25/8.

I mean if Mullette Wonderballs was found shagging one of the many wives of one of his team-mates in a spa, they’d write about it, and get photographs of her at the Magarey Medal piss-up with her breasts oozing out from behind a little bit of string or wire or something while she tried to remember how to teeter down the red stripe drunk on stilts, but they never bothered to report that the reason poor old Mullette found her fascinating in the first place was he’d taken a packet of the blue pills, four eight-paper doobies, five or six lines of the best Peruvian and half a cup of ibogaine.  

Not that such a dose is particularly newsworthy.  It’s what these top-ups do in contraindication of the entire supermarket of big and dodgy pharma the poor bastard had already ingested through the special baby food formula his friggin coach and team doctors and club whitecoats had been forcing down him every friggin day for all his adult life and at least half his teenage years: that’s what made the difference.

Not one of that huge army of arrogant thespian berks aka sports reporters ever got the scoop.  Not one snapper ever photographed ’em with the smoke coming out of their mouths, the powder running out of their noses, the brains dribbling outa their ears or the needles going in; not one great gumshoe or ambo-chaser ever got the whiff; and not one lofty editor or proprietor ever asked why the omission.  Countless billions spent on this abject nonsense every year for whole lifetimes and in the end it took some sly government spooks to work it out and bust the game.   Shock, horror.

So there goes the last forty pages of every newspaper in the country.  Not worth wrapping a friggin Kimbie.

Your correspondent can speak with some dignity here.  His form went before him.  Having started in the rock’n’roll writing game, there was never any secret about performance enhancement, neither in the folks under investigation or the critic himself.  Even in those dim days before the fax or the electric typewriter it was pretty obvious that if anybody ever got a snap of Keith Richards alive or maybe just moving it was obvious he was pretty much full of illegal shit, and, in order to have gotten through the security and close enough to push the button, the snapper must have been full of it, too.  Truth be known, the snapper was the supplier, or they’da never let ’em through.  Bugger the performance; it was the level of ingestion that wrote and made the headline. Emulsional, sure, but misleading?  Never.

The sideways slide into the booze-writing racket came very easily after a decade of highly intellectual analysis of the rock music business.  Like the old extended paragraph reviews of some drug addict’s latest recording of squeaks and thumps and bleats about how hard it is getting a girlfriend was a refined literary form which extended ever so naturally to cover the analysis and discussion of the contents of a bottle of grape juice so rotten some of it had turned to raw ethanol.

The idea of the sober wine critic is a very recent event: it seemed to evolve with the advent of sports hacks who remained virginally oblivious to the obvious increase in the amount of illegal muck their subjects were forced to ingest in order to play the game under discussion.

The author sensibly checking his pulse whilst levitating in a peaceful coma induced by a healthy cornucopia of the ingestments his profession demands he administers ... Houghton Winery, Perth, Western Australia, summer 1984 ... photo James Halliday

I wonder if it’s too late to save the back section of every newspaper by honouring the surviving wine critics who actually admit to partaking of the products they recommend.  These people, after all, are the truth experts.  Devote the sports pages entirely to drug reviews, analysis and promotion.  Everything from ethanol to acid.  Wheel out some of the old bottle-scarred warriors Rupert and Fairfax have sent to perdition in recent years, give them the back sections and healthy budgets, and whole gangs of perky little cub sports writers to train up in the paths of righteousness for the game’s sake.  You know, encourage them to enjoy the wondrous fruits of our scientific advancement; promote the pharmacological and biochemical genius of our species, and the vast industries and huge employers that feed it the burgeoning mountain of recreational and corrective compounds it needs to continue its essential growth.

You’d have people pulling their buds out on the tram, reading their newspapers backwards, and talking to each other about what mixture they’d be trying on next.  Watch them ads come marching in!


Yangarra McLaren Vale Mourvèdre 2010
$32; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 92+ points
Disclosure: this wine was made by my landlord - from bush vine grapes grown a short walk away - in a winery about 100 metres from my kitchen sink.  I have no financial interest in any of it, but my emotional and gastronomic fascination is as obvious as this proximity.  Mourvèdre is the French name of the grape Australians have traditionally called Mataro, after the name of the north-west Mediterranean town where our early colonists bought their first cuttings. Mataró is actually on the Spanish side of the border,  where they call the same grape Monastrell. To make things even more confusing, there is no longer any Monastrell in Mataró – it was never replaced after the dreaded phylloxera vine louse killed the vignoble a century ago.  Now that our South Australian state government is intent on relaxing the phylloxera laws so it’s easier to transport grape and vine material from phylloxera-infested areas in Victoria and New South Wales, it’s important that you enjoy wines like this, because bush vines like these will be gone the minute the damn thing crosses the border.  It’s intensely-flavoured, velvety wine, with aromas that subliminally hint at 6B pencils, Parade Gloss boot polish, and freshly-polished horse tack.  Its fruits are somewhere between the rooty-fruity fragrance of borscht – cool beetroot soup with yoghurt – and the meaty twang of blueberry.  Its flavours are somewhere between those fleeting notions, inked with the reek of times and tastes past: it’s nostalgic stuff, with soft tannins that remind me of the grainy images in old movies.  It’s never heavy, jammy, or gloopy. It’s the sort of red I can drink in the morning, without food, just for its powerful memory triggers.  I could have it instead of lunch, or with some, in which instance Wah Hing tea-smoked duck comes immediately to mind.  I could have it in the afternoon, with or without Alison Paxton’s exquisite Kangarilla Creamery goat cheese from next door, and then, come to think of it, I could have it with dinner, with dribbly lamb cutlets and mash.  In other words,  I recommend it.  Trust Unca Phil.

Esperanza McLaren Vale Monastrell Vin. 2010
$35; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 91+++ points
Nowhere on this bottle is Wirra Wirra mentioned, which is tricky, because that’s the only place you’ll get it: it’s unique to the cellar sales there at the late Greg Trott’s magnificent ironstone erection.  Stone which came from the vineyards at Yangarra, just by the way of admitting even more intense local inbreeding.  It’s a more rustic version than the Yangarra brew, and uses the Spanish nomenclature rather than the French or Australian.  By rustic, I mean less subliminally evocative of gentle days past, and more forward in its thrusting of barnyard and veggie garden whiffs into the sensories.  It’s more like an Italian charcuterie, with cappocollo and prosciutto and cacciatore smoky meatiness.  Its harness leather is older and more sweaty; its fruits are dried in the sun, and sweeter.  It has slightly sharper tannin, and more prickly acidity, so I’d be more inclined to have it with lunch, rather than in place of it.  And now I’ve got this far into it, I have to admit my Italian references are silly: this is all Spanish, and bullring-raw, as opposed to the gentler, more French-effete nature of the Yangarra.  I’d take a bottle of this straight to the Elbow Room down beside Leon Bignell’s brand new by-pass at the end of the main street of McLaren Vale, and get chef Nigel Rich to serve great lumps of steak straight off his fiery Argentinian parilla.  Travel advice: visit both cellars; buy a bottle of each, take them to the Elbow Room, drink the Yangarra first with a stuffed zucchini flower and a roast cheese and prosciutto fig, the Esperanza second with your smoky haunch of dray bullock, and then try a fifty-fifty blend of the two with your cheddar.  Let me know which one you prefer.  Call it a Yangaranza Matourastrell and give my love to Nigel.  I’m thinking of jumping the fence for him.

The author beholds birthday cake # 60 : Persian fairy floss and and ice cream by Nigel Rich at The Elbow Room in the main street of McLaren Vale. Go feast!


L-R: Alison Mitchell, her partner, the revered Australian artist Robert "Alfie" Hannaford, with critic and exhibition curator John Neylon and his partner Heather, at the opening of Alfie's current exhibition at Signal Point. The Ballast Stone Winery tasting and sales area is part of this handsome gallery on the old wharves of the Port of Goolwa, on the estuary of the Murray River in South AustraliaDRINKSTER recommends a morning visit to the exhibition, a tasting, a long slow lunch at the nearby Bombora Cafe, and a reconstructive beer at the Steam Exchange Brewery, between the steam train and steam boats on the wharf. Neylon managed to break into Alfie's studio and pinch what he preferred for this astonishing show, which runs until 14th March. It includes priceless sketches from Alfie's childhood notebooks, cartoons from his time at The Advertiser, frank portraits of his immediate family at different stages of their lives, including his Dad, Claude, minutes after his death, and many other stunning works, including a crisp rendition of Prime Minister Paul Keating. For a taste of Alfie's compendium, check the following works.  These are not hung at Signal Point, but I've dug out a few properly photographed ones so you can get the drift. Alfie paints at Riverton, in South Australia's Gilbert Valley, where he has a studio and gallery which you must visit.  It's on the way to the wineries of Clare, and it's there, too on your way back home.  Go, see!  Alfie has painted commissioned portraits of many great Australians, including Dame Joan Sutherland and the official Sir Donald Bradman image in the dining room at Lords ... top and bottom photos by PHILIP WHITE

Looking towards Stokes Bay - Robert Hannaford

Lynda Syddick - Robert Hannaford
Catherine Middleton - Robert Hannaford

Self portrait with tubes - Robert Hannaford
Arthur Shirtock - Robert Hannaford
Pigs at Riverton - Robert Hannaford
Bag of apples - Robert Hannaford
Hannaford speaks of light

14 February 2013


Good mate of DRINKSTER, Caduceus winemaker Maynard James Keenan, is touring Australia's east coast with Puscifer for Soundwave later this month, and returning with TOOL in April.  In the meantime, you can hear Puscifer's new EP, Donkey Punch The Night streaming on SPIN.   

The title comes from the song "Dear Brother", which is dedicated to the memory of  brother musicians, Adam Yauch, Mike Brown and Edward Willie Jr., sister Susan O'Brien-Brockway, and that great winemaking brother, Ray Beckwith.  The five  get equal mention in the album credits.

"Well, you know the Beastie Boys gentleman," Maynard explained to SPIN.  "That was a sad day when I got that news. It also pays tribute to our friend Edward Willie, Jr. from Uncle Scratch's Gospel Revival — they're a band who opened up for us, out of Ohio in the area where I was born. And Ray Beckwith was an Australian winemaker, who, in a way, reinvented the wheel in winemaking. He discovered the relationship between pH and acid balance in wines. They really didn't take Australian wine too seriously before him."

Click here to see the twisty Bohemian Rhapsody video!

Puscifer photo by Tim Caliente

12 February 2013


Bellevue Estate McLaren Vale Shiraz 2011
$18; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93+++ points

STOP PRESS : LATE NEWS : I wrote this review in February. Today (04 SEP 13) this wine has won three trophies at the Australian Boutique Wine Awards ... best Shiraz; best estate-grown and produced wine, and best red wine of the show. 

Don’t ask how winemaker Corey Vandeleur can get this wine on the market at this silly little price.  It has something to do with no sales or marketing staff and a hatred of having wine lying around in the warehouse while he’s off making wine for a living somewhere else.  But he grows and makes this on the family property in McLaren Vale, and a fine example of the region’s mellow fruitfulness it is.  If it had more sappy American oak, I’d liken it to the best of the Wolf Blass Grey Label reds of the ’70s and ’80s.  Because it’s all old oak and a lot of it French, it’s a better wine than those were at their release, and that screwcap will ensure it’s a much better wine upon maturity: Blass reds had notoriously variable corks.  But it IS similar in style to those trophy-bedecked glories of yore.  And it’s $18.  Rich, intense, brooding, and silky-smooth, it’s a perfect example of McLaren Vale Shiraz at its most soulful.  And it’s another grand example of how the most canny and sensitive vignerons made exemplary wines from the tricky 2011 vintage.   It’ll live for decades in the cellar; ideally, I’d attack it in 2020.  I doubt that I’ll find another bargain of this quality before the year’s end. In case you're of the common school which believes I point too high too easily, I should explain that it usually takes many dozens to find a wine that hits my ninety-plus sanctum. And oh yes. We gotta make an adjustment to the geology map.  There's more Blanche Point Formation here than we thought!  www.bellevueestate.com.au

Veritas Winery Rolf Binder’s Bulls Blood Barossa Valley Shiraz Mataro Pressings 2008

$45; 14% alcohol; Diam cork; 93+++ points 

Charging at us from a bygone era, Rolf’s bull has lost none of its momentum.  Rich with plum pudding from the best old vine Shiraz, and pure carbon from the old Mataro, it’s made only from the gentlest pressings and given a good few years to get its blood up before they let it run wild and loose.  While it’s thick and dense and Bible-black, it’s not as jammy, dim or gloopy as many of the super-alcoholic Parkerilla reds of the last fifteen years.  It has much more lithe athleticism in its mighty bovine frame than all that overtly alcoholic jello, and while its bold front makes you expect them, there are no coarse tannins in the follow-up.  Just pour it in a jug, let it sit for an hour or three, and tip it into yourself around the gaps left by the most succulent dribbling haunch of beef with spuds and beets and spinach.    


13 Advance Australia Blonde
How To Save Millions On PR
And Get A Good Vintage Too

So far, 2013 looks like is one of those years when the promo-Goebbels army hirelings of the vino-industrial complex have nothing much to say.

I mean, they will, of course, because they need to get those invoices in.  Everybody’s gotta have some butter on their bread, you know, buy some new soccer boots for the kiddies, pay the phone bills and get a haircut or a Brazilian or something.

When there’s a bad year, like 2011, they really earn their money writing nonsense out about how good it is and sending it to people like me to copy out and forward to people like my stern Editrix at InDaily hoping that she won’t realize I just did a fast cut and paste job so I can send her an invoice anyway for spreading the lie and keeping the valley nice and peaceful.

When that great wine writer Mark Shield was alive and we hunted in a two-pack we put a proposal to the wine business.  We worked out how many millions the impoverished wine makers of Australia were spending on public relations flaks who wrote bullshit out on press releases which were then sent to us in the hope that we’d copy them  out accurately and put our regurgitations in the newspapers, which we still had in those funny old days.

There were about, aw, maybe six or seven wine writers worth worrying about, and about a thousand PR flaks sending us the nonsense so they could bang those invoices in.

Say it was two million bucks total.  It was probably more like four, even then, away back in the naughty ’nineties.  The nature of the proposal Shieldsy and I devised was we’d cut that by half to save them the money, take half each of what was left, write the stuff out ourselves, and put it straight in the paper with some photos we’d taken.  Then, to get our weekly income, we'd bang in an invoice to Fairfax or Rupert or whoever it was that was publishing us while they trained up the new generation of young hacks and hackettes to quit newspapers, set up pubic relations businesses and make up press releases full of nonsense which they could send back to those of us who were still chained nose to the winestone at Fairfax or Rupert.

Double-dipping?  Nah.  It was much cheaper than paying to train new young journalists to grow up telling the truth after relentless investigation. It was the origins of recycling, come to think of it.  The beginning of the green movement.  It gets to its most refined point when the Jacintas and Troys with the spiky hair gunk in the chrome and black glass offices actually copy out great slabs of the stuff we’ve written and published, put it in a press release as God’s honest truth, and send it back to us in the hope that we won’t recognize our own work, and obediently copy it out and publish it again.

Us genuine authors would be paid, I dunno, say $200 by the newspaper, and the flaks would copy that out badly, send it back to us, and bung in an invoice for $2000 to the stupid winemaker/client whether we reporter/critics took the bait or not.

But that’s off the track.  Under our scheme, the readers would have been a lot better off, like as far as being told the truth went, and Shieldsy and Whitey would be able to pay for a pair of new soccer boots for the kiddies and put another few gallons of gas in the Subie and the wheels of commerce would turn much more efficiently as far as we were concerned and the entire wine business could relax in the knowledge that they’d saved a million or so, the best wines were getting the sales, and, well, you know, advance Australia blonde*.

Anyway, my point is that when, say, the wheat and barley growers have a bad year, they get on the wireless and in the papers and whatever and say “shit we’re having a bad year.  The crop’s  buggered.  It’s got Freak Weevil or Irish Blight or Blue Twerp Fungus or whatever, or it’s just not there at all on account of no rain or snow or something and some government money would be nice.”

The wine industry’s not like that.  In a really scum vintage, like 2011, they get the cheque books out and send wheelbarrows full of money to the Goebbels division to write out lovely stuff about how gorgeous  it all is and send all that bullshit to me in the hope that when I get in a car and go for a drive I fail to notice the mould and mildew and rot that's infesting the grape harvest, as if  to provide winemakers the chance to devise a new vocab for ranking grape quality.  Like pus, slime, clag, or lumpy slime.

Anyway, that’s what they do.  And if you don’t play the game, they’ll blackball you and call you un-Australian or a traitor and won’t talk to  you in the pub.

# 1 But then, well, a year like 2013 comes around.  Just between you and me, I have to say this is looking like one of the best vintages I’ve seen in about 33 years.  The heat’s been off, the rain’s been meek, the nights have been cool and the breezes fairly constant, so everything’s getting its lungs full and all the moulds and whatever are being dried right out without the need for poisonous fungicide.

# 2 The bunches seem unusually pendulous, especially in the Shiraz: they’re long and healthy, and while they’ve got plenty of space between the berries to let that healthy air through that sparsity’s counter-balanced by the fact that the berries are tiny (better flavour) but the yields will be down (ease the glut).   

# 3 And guess what?  Anybody who believed their lies when they told us 2011 was fantastic has absolutely nothing to say.  Like what can they say? 

PS. Just a final word to the Jacinta/TroyBoys: when you copy this out, don’t worry about the top twelve pars.  Just stick to No.s #1 and #2 of the three immediately above and send them back to us. If you’re charging by the word, copy them out twice and get that invoice in.  I doubt that the winemakers will notice the repetition unless perhaps you forget and also include # 3. Or send your invoice to us.

PPS.  Before you go meltdown, I’ll guarantee that Western Australia aside, about fifty out of Australia’s 2500 wineries made really good wine in 2011.

PPPS.  At this instant, McLaren Vale and the other Fleurieu Peninsula growers look like getting better crops than the Barossa (lower humidity – less rain) and Clare (even lower and less).  Since I started on this essay I’ve had reports from mildly panicked growers in the warmer bits of both those regions saying yes the yields are quite low and the alcohols are rising very quickly. The best vineyards, I am assured, are sending in the best flavours in some time, but that's not saying much when the other 99.3% of all our vineyards are considered over the last decade.  I feel the return of the normal drought.  I’ll report later on the South Mount Lofty Ranges and both the hot north and cool south of the Murray Basin.

*FOOTNOTE: With regard to Advance Australia Blonde, here are the lyrics to the Australian national anthem Advance Australia Fair : 

Australians all let us rejoice,
For we are young and free;
We've golden soil and wealth for toil;
Our home is girt by sea;
Our land abounds in nature's gifts
Of beauty rich and rare;
In history's page, let every stage
Advance Australia Fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair.

Australians all own ostriches
Four minus one is three.
With olden royals, we're fair and loyal,
Our home is dirt by sea.
I learned to bounce on nature strips
In booties stitched with care.
In mystery's haze, let's harvest maize
And plant azaleas there.
Enjoy full trains and let us in
And dance Australia yeah!

Beneath our radiant Southern Cross
We'll toil with hearts and hands;
To make this Commonwealth of ours
Renowned of all the lands;
For those who've come across the seas
We've boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing, 

Advance Australia Fair.

Many still insist that fair means reasonable and not blonde and blue-eyed.  The second verse is a mondegreen, or mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase as a result of near-homophony - it gives it a new meaning but has nothing to do with the colour green. It's more like soramimi—songs that produce unintended meanings when homophonically translated to another language. It makes much better sense than the original words, which I reckon are outright racist. The third verse makes utter ridicule of our attitude to refugees. All that aside, it's blokey by nature, but  this here is probly the best real old whitefella song for our state, South Australia, and it shits on the national anthem for honesty and intent. It's sung, for starters, by Brits, who obviously want to come here but make not much mention of who may already be here.  None, in fact. Other than to stress their suggestion that they themselves were born here, which is a bit of a stretch. Which has even less to do with anything in the story we started on other than it proves some of us feel we have a voice and some of those use it all the fucking time whether or not we're capable of thinking it through, and/or whether we deserve any of it or not. Selah.


De Bortoli Sacred Hill South Eastern Australia Unwooded Colombard Chardonnay 2012
$7.50; 12.3% alcohol; screw cap; 80 points

When my expat Sefrikan/Taswegian wine scribbling colleague, Winsor Dobbin (real name) tweeted that this was “terrific quaffing wine” I jumped on him about encouraging humans to drink too much cheap plonk terrifically.  I had the same bottle open at the time, and was less than whelmed.  But I kept the damn thing open for days, gradually learning to marvel that whatever he meant, he was pretty much right. It reminds me of the days when Wolf Blass was adamant that Australia was no good for the Chardonnay that Croser and Evans were preaching about and released his Classic Dry White just to show ’em.  That was usually a blend of Colombard, Trebbiano and Semillon, and it friggin worked.  So does this, even if does contain some Chardonnay.  The Colombard's the key.  It’s sort of waxy, like fresh church candles, to sniff.  Maybe like honeydew melon. And it’s similar to taste, but with fine acidity and that almost neutral melony juiciness. That low alcohol number is a big part of the secret.  AND IT'S NOT SAUVIGNON BLANC.  So go buy – it’s even cheaper in some joints – and chug-a-lug beneath the patio next weekend.  Soft cheese, rye bread and nuts will put the necessary lumps in it.  Maybe cold chook with chilli. Wine for drinking, not thinking.  Just don’t blame me. Blame Winsor.

Yelland & Papps Devote Barossa Valley Shiraz Roussane 2011

$35; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 94+ points 

Madam Lash once laced the eager young Whitey into what she called fidgeting restraints: a beautifully made pair of soft black leather silk-lined sleeves that tapered to a point and were webbed right up the sides, so my fingers were coned up and restricted at the ends when it was all pulled tight, and the arms were crossed so the hands were beneath the ears, with Bacchus only knows what knottage and buckling went on at the back of the neck, where I couldn’t see. It took a long time to have them affixed, with all the appropriate stern whisperings and nudges as the procedure progressed.  One was chastened. I wore them on several occasions after fidgeting at table, which is the sort of thing one did in the presence of Her Majesty.  Eventually, tired of the bondage, and hungry for the food and drink Bilson had laid out before me, I realized that all I needed to do was withdraw my arms, which simply slid out, leaving the leather and silk hanging stupidly limp down each side of my torso. I had been tricked by my own perverse yearning for punishment.  This wine is like that.


James Brown
Another Tricky Wine Descriptor
Bretty Old Oak And Wild Yeast?
Or Do We Mean Smokin' Skank? 

Some of the older wine critics – particularly the 18-23 year old group – and the Master Sommeliers, who seem a bit younger, are intent on clinging to the word funky as a descriptor of preferred vinous drinks, usually red.

I struck funk in the rock business.  Little Feat’s third album, Dixie Chicken, was white funk, which was a new thing back then when freshly-released in 1973.  What had been a sort of white Texas/Hollywood country/psycho/acid rock ensemble had suddenly got infected by New Orleans in the form of the great Allen Toussaint, who is black. Sam Clayton, the Feats' new god-shaped black conga-playing bass singer in the white bib overalls and the afro and nothing else didn’t help much either.

I remember thinking then that I would eventually get used to having this new word in my mouth.  It was indeed a newly-emerging word in Australia.  Musically, it indicated an appellation somewhere out there between the delta bayou and the Chicago blues, between Professor Longhair and the Parliament-Funkadelic collective.

The Feat were foremost amongst the white boys to up and go the get downs, and sacrifice a little craftily-artificed melody for that repetitive soulful locomotive shuffle that in the mouths of more commercial opportunists quickly led to way high camp deep groove disco. Soon there grew a vast, unjumpable politico-philosophical gap between the slow, determined chug-a-lug of Little Feat, Tower of Power and The Meters et al and the frenetic disco delirium of Love To Love You Baby, or the chill junked-out thump of Esther Phillips with Joe Beck.  But whatever happened, down in the guts of that gully the funk oozed like treacle. 

Earl Palmer gets the blame for introducing the word funky to contemporary music.  He played drums for everyone from Little Richard to Tom Waits via Professor Longhair and Fats Domino.  He’s reputed to be the man who in the early sixties would urge his fellow musicians to get funky, as in play a more syncopated and danceable rhythmic groove.

Probably the earliest musical use of the term was also the most telling: Buddy Bolden’s 1907 jazz song, Funky Butt referred to the word’s earlier meaning.  Lu-fuki had been a Kikongo term for “bad body odor” in the Congo.  This sense of the word was an honorable descriptor for black jazzmen who sweated their arse off to get their joint rockin’, but it also had an aged parallel in England, where by the early 1600s it had come to indicate a particularly bad stink. Tellingly, by 1743, funky was common slang in Oxford for the smell of tobacco smoke, which was usually regarded as offensive. This useage is thought to have come from the Old French funkier and fungier, from the late Latin: fumicare, fumigare, fumus.

Funky Brother Mick Eckert by Philip White

This makes sense through the Old English funka and fanca; the Middle English funke, fonke; from the Proto Germanic funkô, fankô, and the Middle Dutch vonke, which all meant spark, the Bic Flic of the day - thankyou Leonardo da Vinci and related too to tinder and touchwood, which brings in spunk (or tinder) and the time when funk meant rotten wood, and punk, the abbreviated spunk, related to a worthless person, a hoodlum, a big male prisoner’s pussy boy or the archbishop’s catamite.

The delicious 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue; A Dictionary of Buckish slang, University Wit and Pickpocket Eloquence mentions a schoolboy’s trick called funking the cobbler, in which cotton and asafoetida gum (from the giant fennel plant) were lit in a tobacco pipe, and the stinking smoke then blown backwards through the stem of the pipe so it better projected through the cracks in the cobbler’s stall, thus bringing him deeper annoyance.  This naughtiness became the shotgun method of shooting spent smoke from one's lungs back through the pipe into those of another, and probably evolved from the late 1700s quack scam in which a mouth-blown pipe or bellows was used to force tobacco smoke, often infused with other herbs, like the anti-flatulent asafoetida, up the rectum of folks with all sorts of ailments, from epilepsy to drowning.

By the early 1800s, this medication was discredited, giving rise to the type of punk who would “blow smoke up [somebody’s] arse” to bullshit them.

That 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue also opens the gate to another string of meanings for funk, or funky, when it says “to smoke, or stink through fear”.  The Oxford Dictionary On Historical Principles mentions this “cowering fear; a state of panic” with a hint of a link to spark, when it refers us to blue, “a flame or flash without red glare,” or “low-spirited; affected with fear, discomfort, anxiety”, bringing us straight back to the blues.

The Chambers Concise Dictionary drives this further, listing as its primary meaning of funk “a state of fear: panic: shrinking or shirking from loss of courage: to draw back or hold back in fear”, and proceeds to translate funk hole as “a place of refuge, dug-out: a place to which one can retreat for shelter: a job that enables one to avoid military service,” before following the Oxford Historical Principles into blue funk.

The essential G. A. Wilkes’s Collins English Dictionary Australian Edition 1979 opens with “1. Funk. Also called blue funk, a state of nervousness, fear or depression. 2. a coward. 3. to flinch from (responsibility etc.) through fear. 4. To make afraid” - all before mentioning anything about smoke.  This was the first respected dictionary to list Frank Zappa, which meant a lot to me.  It also gets my argument back into the redzone when it reminds me that blue is an Australian informal noun for "person with red hair." 

As a music descriptor, funky is "1. passionate and soulful,reminiscent of early blues. 2. pleasing or attractive esp. in an exaggerated or camp manner; perhaps alluding to music that was smelly, that is, earthy (like the early blues.)"

In his 1988 Dictionary of Crime, Jay Robert Nash takes us back to New York in 1900 when funk meant “1. A swindler or cheater. 2. A police informer. 3. A sneak thief.” Nash suggests that from 1809 in Britain, funk meant “to trick or cheat”, that a funk box was by 1930 a locked box holding cash within some safes; that funked out meant “under the influence of drugs or alcohol” and that in 1893 London a funker was “a streetwalking prostitute who retreats indoors when the weather turns bad.”

Which leads us to funkify, “to retreat fearfully”, which is a move them dudes in the first paragraph could learn from our weather-wise hooker.  Before they use the word again as a blithe stand-alone wine descriptor, they should invite her to a big pow-wow where everybody works out what funky currently means.  While they’re doin’ it, they should listen to James Brown.


03 February 2013


Luke Buckmaster, editor of the Crikey website and Cinetology columnist/blogger there, has written a fine piece about Denzel Washington's new movie, Flight.  Buckmaster  discusses the nature of alcoholism in a way I've never seen anyone in the wine/booze writing racket discuss it. Ever.  Should we?  Click on Denzel for the link and a look at the trailer, then let me know what you think.


George Grainger Aldridge sent this brilliant cartoon to me for inclusion in our forthcoming funny book.  We all know this bloke. It sure made me laugh, but also brought to mind a poem I wrote when I was just a kid: something which isn't at all funny.

on account of my mouth being blind

for nineteen paper years
when they said look
i turned my mouth to the sunsets and the gums and the views
and on account of my mouth being blind I didn’t see

of course there were the fresh green
rich days of farming growing up in me
drinking straight from the cow’s tit

and of course there were the fresh green early girls
honestly knowing no further than a kiss
i loved it

and there grew the knowledge of loneliness
grown into with hay and hill pines
not resulting from being the only
sometimes i loved that too

and i came to feel the real of people
the beast in them
the self in their deeds and their minds and their souls
and in me
and in me

but anyway
when you think of it
i’ve really only crumpled nineteen paper years from a bloody huge book
i’ve taken them shyly and torn them loose
and there’s many left
and they’re blowing away already
and they’re falling in the fire
and they’re falling in the streams
and o god how am i
o god I’m the litterbug of the universe

o god my dreams

philip white
september 1971