“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)





29 July 2013


The throng gathering at Peter Lehmann's Old Redemption cellar at Tanunda in the Barossa ... photos by  Dragan Radocaj  for the Lehmann Family

A few quiet schlücks for Peter
No speeches at Old Redemption
Barossa folks honour Lehmann

The day had a regal air.  The sky was blue and clean and the light had that honest clarity that only a perfect Australian winter day seems capable of turning on when it’s needed.

The gathering in the late Peter Lehmann’s name was appropriately held in the Old Redemption cellar at the mighty winery he built.

They came from everywhere.  From Canada and Keyneton, Switzerland and Kapunda.  Millionaires and simple farmers fronted the bar in the sort of quiet unity that communities these days scarcely manage to afford.

Rob Hill Smith, Norty Schluter and Charlie Melton photo Dragan Radocaj

There was dear Norty Schluter, who loved PL like a brother.  Norty’s family has owned the Greenock Creek Tavern since 1870.  Norty laughed heartily, as he always does, but with quiet tears on the side.  

Norty and PL taught me about harness racing when the big Lehmann house was going up and paying for that took many a seasoned wager at the Kapunda Trots.  We sat one night in the pub, adding a few schlücks to the schnitzels when PL muttered that he needed a big win that evening to pay for his veranda posts. 

“They’re a hundred and ten bloody dollars each,” he said.  “That mightn’t seem too bad Whitey, but there’s a hundred of the bastards.”

Wolf Blass was there in Old Redemption, advising me again that I don’t support business growth. Wolf blended his first red out the back of Norty’s pub. 

Riesling King John Vickery photo Dragan Radocaj

John Vickery, the revered  Riesling meister was there, as gentle and determined as ever.  When I was a babe in this game, I was at his winery once at four o’clock in the morning.  It was vintage, and there was Vickery, riding around the winery on his pushbike in a dressing gown, pyjamas and slippers, with a torch.  Just keeping an eye on things.  Reminding a winemaker to rinse a tap.

The stalwart Andrew Wigan and Charlie Melton were there, and Peter Scholz, and many other winemakers who are now senior men but started as boys working for PL, just as he started a whole lifetime ago, learning his dots working for Rudi Kronberger at Yalumba. Rob and Michael Hill Smith arrived together.  We noted the marks of the years we carry, feinting surprise.

There was a good turnout from the McLaren Vale mob, with names like Paxton and Tolley and Parkinson: people who build things from the ground to your table, like their Barossa colleagues do.  People who look after grand old buildings and simple farm sheds as much as special vineyards and favourite slices of country; people who keep our countryside looking like countryside.

David Franz Lehmann, Philip Lehmann, and the author photo Dragan Radocaj

 There was an army of wine critics from near and afar, all looking a bit lost about the disappearance of newspapers coinciding with the terrible lack of winemakers who offer the sort of Christmas pudding stories that fell off Lehmann like ripe fruit in a heavy year.

Big Bob McLean was there on speech duty.  The modern curse of the open microphone leads some grievers to talk too much on such days.  Big Bob was on orders to grab anybody who looked like opening up
.  There were no speeches.

There were restaurateurs and food merchants from paté magnate Maggie Beer to fishmonger Michael Angelakis; there were musicians and arts entrepeneurs and Rod Schubert, the Mengler’s Hill painter whose works have for decades helped flood the Lehmann household and wineries with colour.

Doug Lehmann and Grant Burge photo Dragan Radocaj

Andy Piewell was there.  He builds giant timber dining tables which will never wear out.  Important people, see?

There were wine merchants, of course.  The Saturno Brothers.  People who help us decorate our lives.

Light Pass growers Colin Kurtz and Dudley Boehm with neighbour of the Lehmanns, Ron "Snow" Andriske photo Dragan Radocaj

And there were The Growers.  Farmers wizened by winter pruning; men with leather in place of skin, and knowledge of country and weather and nature occupying the slabs of brain most of us now devote to television, i-phones and Facebook.

Then, of course, there were Lehmanns.  Doug and Libby surviving from Peter’s marriage to Nan (both her and their son Bruce are deceased); Philip and David from his life with Margaret; and a restless herd of vibrant grand children carrying that loud Lehmann gene that seems certain to guarantee us that there will always be Barossa folks who look just like PL.

Margaret Lehmann photo Dragan Radocaj

And Margaret.  The bright and fierce one who showed a whole generation of us how humans can achieve truly remarkable things by lining their love nest with intellect as much as fearless determination.

After the crowds went home, or off into the pubs and restaurants, a small band of fortunates sat around that famous kitchen table, drinking bottle after bottle of the 1970 Saltram red that PL made for their wedding.  We had it with pizza.

Margaret Lehmann in the big kitchen photos Philip White

Next morning I woke in a darkened room and a big bed with black sheets and red pillows, with fake leopard skin suitcases stacked up beside.  While I found some relief in the fact that I was alone, I wondered where the hell I was.  Eventually I remembered the brandy, and the Golden Scrumpy my host David Franz Lehmann had carefully decanted into me at his place - the old ironstone home where Peter and Margaret lived years ago.  Said tincture's 40% Riesling, 23% Golden Delicious apples, 20% Semillon, and 16% Jonathan apples (top gear; 8.2% alcohol; $80 a slab from David Franz).  

Pillage: Dustin Rogers and David Franz Lehmann photo Philip White

The feeling was similar to the morning I woke spreadeagled on Doug Lehmann’s kitchen floor, after his fortieth, with a strange head on my shoulder, breathing malty miasma into my ear.  It took some courage to turn my own head to discover which mis-placed blossom was the source. 

Fortunately, it was Rommel, Doug’s labrador.   

When somebody asked me who had been there at the big PL house that night, I found it tricky for a moment.  It wasn’t so much identities that had shared that gallant evening, but a team I could not easily describe.  Then, like all things Lehmann, the elusive suddenly became very obvious.

“There were a lot of feminists there of about my age,” I said.  PL liked it like that. 

The author in PL's cellar photo David Franz Lehmann

25 July 2013


Bruichladdich The Laddie Ten Islay Malt Whisky
$85-$95; 46% alcohol; cork; 95 points

Made from malted Scottish barley without any peat smoke, this is one of the most refined and elegant young whiskies I’ve had.  Having been addicted, in those braggadocio minutes of youth, to the extreme malts like Lagavulin, Laphroiag, Bunnahabhain, Ardbeg and the like, I had been impressed by the theory that their principal character was the peat reek instilled in them when their barley was smoked over a smouldering peat fire.  Then, when a new crew of revolutionary whisky lovers took over the run-down Bruichladdich distillery on the western Hebridean isle of Islay a decade back, they released the first of their Octomore peated malts, which smelt nothing like any of the above, in spite of it having higher levels of peat than any of them.  Which led me to wonder about the peat nonsense I’d been fed all my life. 

This led me to wonder about the nature of what I’d though to be peat, and how much it smelt like Brettanomycaes, the horrid yeast which lives in oak and rots it and destroys wine kept in it, just as it would destroy the orginal flavours of whisky, or any other thing left in it.  Given the Scots distillers’ parsimonious history of buying the cheapest used barrels on Earth, then putting strong spirit in them to leach all the flavour from them for ten or twenty years, before blending and watering for bottling, I began to have nightmares about the Scotch whisky boom and what sort of terrible stinky old wood most of the so-called peaty ones came from.  I can’t see the master holy stillman Jim McEwin and his Hebridean gang ever releasing a Bretty Laddie, so if you’d like to investigate the true aroma of highly peated, hyper-clean malt whisky in the meantime, steal somebody’s wallet and buy some Octomore before retasting those other so-called peaty malts.  Your mind will change. 

In the meantime, hit the Laddie Ten: a beautiful, slender, complex and lively whisky that’s been in Bourbon barrels for a decade.  It’s a tease, with no smoke.  It has delightful tweaks of citrus rind, ginger and light honey, and tastes of all of those instilled in the essence of barley fields ready for the harvest. The spirit has sucked some of the caramel from the charred white oak barrels which originally held Bourbon for three years somewhere in Amurkha, but it’s never too rich or sweet.  One small piece of ice (maximum) may be permitted in Australia, which is hotter than Islay, also a dribble of rain.  In this wintery weather, pour yourself one, set up on the veranda, shut your eyes, and you’re in the north Atlantic without suffering the horrid ignominy of modern air travel.  Try it with a tart cheddar and an oatcake, and watch out for the bonksies.

Writer’s Tears Pot Still Irish Whiskey
$75-$85; 40% alcohol; screw cap; 93 points

Triple-distilled, and therefore cleaner, and - forgive me - closer to pure barley vodka than lesser or more characterful whiskies, this lovely thing has no peat smoke, but has slumbered in old Bourbon barrels for up to a decade, depending on how one counts in Irish.  The super-clean spirit has sucked its fair share of caramel from those second-hand white oak barrels, and I suspect there’s been a few more dollops tipped in, but it’s never much like Bourbon.  It has tantalizing, but gentle ginger (from oak) citrus rind (same) and some caramel (same again) and that lovely ripe grainfield reek as well as, er, alcohol. 

Try as I have, I can’t for the life of me discover where in Ireland it is made, but the name Bernard Walsh does re-appear, making me think he’s a clever barrel-selector who buys from everyone else, than makes a blend, then makes up a label which is obviously designed to seduce people who think they should write, but can’t.  Which is a lot of friggin people.  

So I betray my profession with this appraisal, because at least sometimes I can write, and I confess that strong whiskies and whiskeys have been leant on for assistance in this pursuit over the years.  So I am in a better position than most to say that this label’s suggestion that this drink will ease writer’s block is abject bullshit.  It’s like Red Bull having a sign on the tin saying it’ll help you sleep. 

I started out on this tincture feeling like a betraying cad on a particularly grievous day, but have, over several bottles and six, nay, eight months of grievous days, decided that Bernard Walsh, or whoever he may be, can sure blend a stunning racy whiskey, but can’t write to save himself.  Unless he thinks that making a motza buying, blending, packaging and selling this delightful elixir will save him.  

It’ll take more than that to save him.  Give it a burl. 

24 July 2013


Chester and d'Arry Osborn, David Sly and the author

Chester and d'Arry Osborn's
costly search for sub-regions
and the flavours each plot offers

“I dunno whether we make any money out of it,” muttered d’Arry Osborn.  “You have no idea how much it costs to register all these silly names all over the world.  Like we’re in sixty countries.  Costs a fortune!”

Chester Osborn, son of, was “taking us through” sixteen new wines he’d made.  The three which used to be the best are called the Icons now.  These are the Ironstone Pressings, The Dead Arm and the Coppermine Road.  They cost $65 per bottle.  The other thirteen wines cost $103 per bottle.  These are called Amazing Sites.  They are some of the sixty or so wines currently sold by d’Arenberg.  Nice to suddenly have a fifth of your products – the newest ones - priced over the $100 mark, I told myself thoughtfully.

The silly names d’Arry referred to in this case included The Fruit Bat, The Little Venice, The Sardanapalian, The Garden Of Extraordinary Delights, The Swinging Malaysian, The Vociferate Dipsomaniac, Shipster’s Rapture, The Eight Iron, The Piceous Lodestar, Tyche’s Mustard, The Other Side, The Blind Tiger and The Amaranthine.  These were all Shiraz wines from the difficult 2011 vintage. 

These are d’Arenberg brand names which sound like books.  To make things more complex, there are other layers of appellation in the blurbs, the foreword and the endplates.

After he helped invent the Rare Earths Shiraz project in McLaren Vale a few years back, Chester wavered for nearly a nanosecond when I advised that Rare Earths are elements on the Periodic Table that get used for toxic stuff like radioactive warheads and giant TV screens, and are mainly mined in China, a large-ish country which may find confusing the idea of drinking them.  So Chester pushed for the Scarce Earths moniker whilst quietly registering his very own appellation, Amazing Sites.  That’s three overlapping Shiraz appellations in one year in one region. As far as naming credibility goes, Chester’s private one is obviously the best, especially in China.  When they hear of  Scarce Earths, it’s only the rare Chinese in the know who think we can’t translate Rare Earths properly.  On the other hand, a helluva lot of other Chinese know amazing.

None of this has anything to do with the eighteen “districts” it looks like the McLaren Vale wine region is being carved into. Some of these reappear in numerous different locations. Chester’s on the committee.  Most of these wines Chester’s admirable crew poured came from the district he’s dubbed The Beautiful View.  That end of McLaren Vale used to be called Belle View.

During the course of this tasting, Chester admitted at one stage getting Scarce Earths confused with Amazing Sites, which one well could.  He referred repeatedly to an ornate-looking map he’d obviously had printed on thick art paper, looking a little like a hand-etched pirate map, showing the actual locations of each of these $103 per bottle vineyards, but these glimpses were fleeting and unhelpful to a humble taster whose brain was fully occupied recalling the name of each wine accurately and trying to estimate its magick.  They’ve since teased us about this forthcoming map on their cobweb marketing tattle, but it’s still not available.

What Chester did make available was a fifteen page document headlined “2011:  The vintage that wasn’t …? temperatures and rainfall of McLaren Vale districts and why 2011 was another very good to great year.”

While this looks like a scientific document about rainfall and temperature, it does not include a humidity chart, which would have been handy when attempting to belatedly re-evaluate a vintage that was indeed the wettest ever recorded in south-eastern Australia and will be remembered for the tragic degree of botrytis and other humidity-driven moulds which made life hell for the wine business from Ceduna to Port Arthur to Rockhampton.

Chester maintains that he had no botrytis in any of his Amazing Sites, an evaluation done by sight on picking.  He said anything uncertain was checked for gluconic acid, which indicates botrytis infection, but all such tests showed negative.

As I say, most of the wines came from the “district” Chester calls the Beautiful View.  The Fruit Bat (14.6% alcohol; 80 points) had some soulful muddy chocolate whiffs, and a little alluring mint and aniseed, but seemed harsh and metallic to taste.  This was similar to The Little Venice (14.2%; 76 pts.) in that the creamy chocolate of the bouquet very quickly disappeared in a metallic palate. From the same district was The Sardanapalian  (14.2%; 78 pts.), which showed some chocfudge with prune and aniseed, but seemed short and metallic in the mouth.  After these three wines, I was recollecting the metallic reds Karl Seppelt made at Great Western in the later ’seventies, when he discovered the ion-exchange column, a device for stabilising wine. 

Unless he’s got some real voodoo on about how to crystallize a vintage with foot treading, Chester must have devised a winemaking technique which sucks every bit of red from the dirt and sands and black from the ironstone rocks.  These wines are uniformly ferruginous.

Beautiful View’s also home to The Swinging Malaysian (14.6%; 88+  pts.) which carried on that choco custard line of the year but also showed some complex autumnal leafy decay tones, and some nutmeg edge, but this too, had that metallic/dolomite streak.  Not to mention The Vociferous Dipsomaniac (15.2%; 93+++ pts.) a more complex and satisfactory drink with sweaty chocolate cream dribbling over valerian and capeweed leaf, and black tea leaf, but still plenty of that metallic spine common to all the wines tasted so far.  Shipster’s Rapture (14.1%; 92 pts.) had some prune, kalamata, anise and sileage wrapped about its tight, bone-dry dolomite metal, where The Eight Iron (14.5%; 88 pts.) had mocha, banana ester and salt spread on its swarf.  The Piceous Lodestar (14.8%; 92 pts.) had fruitcake and fudge on its metallic base; Tyche’s Mustard (15.1%; 85 pts.) had saddle soap, leather, face cream, blackcurrant and prune wrapped around its salty dog.  The Other Side (14.5%; 91 pts.) reminded me of the famed Aberfeldy Shiraz of Clare, with kalamata, blackcurrant and nightshade leaf decking its peculiar iron.  The Amaranthine (14.4%; 93 pts.) had a little raspberry in its chocolate and iron.

As one wondered about the value of this Beautiful View, and the way distinctive winemaking so easily overwhelms terroir, we had one wine, The Blind Tiger (14.9%; 92 pts.), from the Blewett Springs district, a wine with a lot more kalamata, olive leaf essence, nightshade leaf, and coffee and chicory essence in with its scrap iron, which seemed to offer a greater point of difference.

Another glass held The Garden of Extraordinary Delights (14.8%; 85 pts.), from another of Chester’s districts, called The McLaren Sand Hills.  As the entire McLaren Vale wine region, and all its hills, has at least nine different, and wildly disparate sands, and over a dozen types of stone made from different sands, this nomenclature’s unhelpful.  The wine reminded me of the harsher models of Shiraz from Vacqueyras on the Rhone Delta, but with metal more like dolomite.

After these 2011s, one wonders how much softer, more supple, and more soulful these wines would be if they’d had a little botrytis.  As for explaining these districts, Scarce Earths and Amazing Sites to the wine consumer?  Forget it. 

The Icon wines came from another vintage most recall as difficult or torrid, 2009.  The Ironstone Pressings Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre (14.%; 90++ pts.) was rich and rounded, sweet and juicy, if a little salty, and retained some of the old Red Stripe d’Arenberg flagon soul.

The Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon
(14.5%; 85++ pts.) had coffee fudge, fruitcake and even mint dribbling and tumbling over its irony base; The Dead Arm Shiraz (14.5%; 91 pts.) was all black ham, licorice and aniseed cooking on its hot galvo.

None of these three Icon Wines professed to come from anywhere other than McLaren Vale. 

I asked d’Arry whether he had any nostalgia for the old days when nearly all of this went into the dead reliable d’Arenberg flagons, and there was no costly international registration of silly names to worry about.  His eyes glazed over.  “I reckon the last five containers of that was Sangiovese I got from Italy for .50 cents a litre,” he said with a grin.  Then, with great determination, he went to the bank.

Men at work - or Toby jugs? - on d'Arry's Veranda: d'Arry Osborn, Peter Forrestal, Chester Osborn, Nick Ryan, Tash Stoodley, Dave "Bootsy" Brooks, David Sly and Ken Gargett ... you can't eat on an empty stomach

19 July 2013


The terroir of Doug Govan's vineyard behind the Victory Hotel on Sellick's Hill obviously involves a pot of gold : a great Australian publican in his back yard, straddling the McLaren Vale - Southern Fleurieu boundary and the meeting of Kurrajong formation and the Heatherdale Shale, praise Bacchus and Pan! Beyond him up the scarp you see the scrub on the 600 myo Wilpena Group, which reappears in the Flinders Ranges, a day's drive into the north.

Oz terriers off to terroir class
patching the seamless cloth
in spite of the Old Yurp voodoo 

Having spent three decades imposing its modern irrigated vineyard technology on the ancient landscape of Australia, much of the wine industry here is rather belatedly discovering the marvels of terroir.

From the seventies through the nineties, most big commercial outfits seemed to think their viticulture could be imposed on the country in such a way that it would supply a constant line of flavour regardless of site.  Of course this still occurs on a vast scale, and there are still many winemakers who think this strange French term, which covers aspect, geology, topsoil, micro-climate, altitude and latitude and the way the vines react to this complex web of influences, is merely Old World voodoo.  

While they stand dazzled in the new dawn, things are gradually changing, but there’s no need for faux-conservative panic.  There's still plenty of Roundup being squirted around, and irrigation water we can scarcely afford.  Some dudes just love that squirtin feelin.

As it has long been the Australian industrial norm to blend batches of fruit from vineyards spread vast distances apart in pursuit of a standard, unchanging product, the determination to overwhelm terroir with science was a powerful leveler of flavour in most of the wine made here.

Smell the terroir!

But while even the broadacre grapeyard mentalities are changing, the smartest winemakers have always been aware of the special distinctions of their favourite sites – they simply didn’t use the French word for it. 

David Wynn’s acute eye spotted the essential nature of cool(ish) Coonawarra and its limestone when he virtually created that grand region in the early fifties.  At Penfolds, Max Schubert knew the value of unique vineyards like Magill Estate on the rubble of the Adelaide Hills piedmont, and the ancient siltstones of Morphett Vale when he wrote his recipe for Grange in 1951.

Wolf Blass fell in love with the minty muddy soulfulness of Langhorne Creek, on the Murray River estuary, in the early seventies.  Peter Barry and his brothers were then learning from their father, Jim, the unique beauty of wines from disparate sites like Florita and Armagh in the Clare Valley.

And in the Barossa, smarter vignerons like the Lindner family spotted the distinctive style of vineyards like their 1843 planting of Shiraz in the alluvium of Langmeil, while the great Peter Lehmann, just across the creek, was discovering the wonders of the ironstone of his famous Stonewell Vineyard.

Best to blend into your environment when farming : Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides)

The Henschke family were then beginning the repair of the priceless Hill of Grace vineyard. I once took some British wine merchants to visit that remote site beside its tidy Lutheran Church to find the ground had been planted with radishes between the rows.  Years of horse and tractor work had compacted it as hard as a kettle drum.  Master viticulturer Prue Henschke had planted fast-growing root veggies in there which she let rot in their place, leaving thousands of little cone-shaped holes in the ground, each filled with nutrient, each admitting air and water which would have normally run off.  To plough it would have seen it blow away or erode by rain.  I knew then that Australian viticulture was changing to better respect terroir.

Peter Gago, chief winemaker at Penfolds, understands better than any the bewildering array of terroirs Australia offers.  He uses this knowledge, not just to make stunning wines like the single-vineyard Block 42 Kalimna Barossa Cabernet (1880s planting) that filled the $168,000 Penfolds ampoule (twelve copies; sold out), but to spectacular effect when he’s selecting vineyards for the mighty Grange, which can include parcels of fruit from a web of special sites hundreds of miles apart.  

It’s ironic that in this case we use a constantly-refining knowledge of terroir to make a blend to a certain style, but it’s little different to what the Krug family does in Champagne when they select the parcels for their ravishing vintages.

It’s just bigger here.

McLean's Farm : the Old Vines of tomorrow : 12 year old unirrigated bush vines in the Cambrian Kanmantoo Group sandstones and schists on the Barossa tops - the most Australian-smelling vineyard on Earth?

Gago’s encyclopaedic understanding of hundreds of special terroirs spread over great distances is a vital tool in coping with the recent changes of climate.

“Thanks to Max Schubert, who pioneered the method, travelling vast distances and shopping round for fruit to be made and blended to a specific Penfolds style is a great advantage in presenting wine of the best possible quality,” he says.  “Our main weapon in our engagement with climate change is our geographic flexibility. Starting with our usual appreciation of the unique individual vineyards, our best advantage is our ability to use both latitude and altitude to suit our goals.”   

Ironstone and sands, Tim Geddes' place, Blewett Springs, McLaren Vale.


“After that forensic vineyard selection, the more wines that survive our severe classification tasting procedure, the deeper is the pool of flavour, complexity, and structure of the Grange.”The most exciting development in Australia’s new yearning for better knowledge of terroir is the move to understand its geology.  Much study has gone into the influence of altitude, proximity to the ocean, and local climate patterns, but now the vignerons are beginning to look deeper beneath their feet.  Soil is scant in this ancient land, and winemakers are realising the rocks that feed their vine roots offer a bewildering range of flavours.

Saddleworth and Stoneyfell?  If so, 800 myo Burra Group rubble, deposited from far above at an agitated rate. But it's nearly the highest point of McLaren Vale, right atop the range of the Willunga Escarpment, and the mountain it came washing and tumbling from is long gone.
Nascent geological studies are underway in the Barossa and Clare vignobles, but the leader in the research of its true geological history is McLaren Vale. There, the established producers, like Wirra Wirra, Olivers’ Taranga, Coriole, d’Arenberg and the Jackson Family’s Yangarra Estate and Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard, and of course the ancient Kays Amery, all pick individual blocks according to their terroir.  As have done the best of the Barossa.  But increasingly, McLaren Vale’s doing it with more direct reference to its complex geology. 

Smaller, newer outfits are showing this respect from the start, actually choosing their vineyard sites with this in mind.  Previously vineyards were simply planted on the flattest ground because it was easier.

“With the South Australian government’s Geological Survey we finally published a precise scientific map of McLaren Vale in 2010,” says Dudley Brown, former chairman of the local winemakers authority and proprietor of the tiny Inkwell winery.

Freshwater and marine sediments at Port Willunga.  This is typical of the bottom geology of much of McLaren Vale.

“Great geologists like Bill Fairburn and Wolfgang Preiss spent decades combing this region. Local rock doctor Jeff Olliver helped finish the work.  We’re learning that we were already growing grapes on around fifty unique exposed geologies from seven distinct epochs covering 750 million years of history.  This is profoundly changing decisions on what varieties and clones people are planting and replanting, and where.

“This has a deep influence on the range of flavours this place can offer.

“We’re discovering that McLaren Vale could well have the most complex geology of any major wine region in the world.  Even on my little thirty-acre plot I have two quite disparate geologies which I now pick separately.  Completely different flavours! It’s very, very exciting.”  

Alluvial sand, clay and loam at Langmeil, Barossa. The Freedom Vines groovin in their real slow jive since  1843.

18 July 2013


Lot Thirteen McLaren Vale Grenache 2010
$25; 15.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93+ points

In McLaren Vale, there’s a string of tiny premium wineries growing along the Willunga faultline on the piedmont of the escarpment that runs from Kangarilla to the Gulf St Vincent at Sellicks.  Determined individualists all, stubborn, gnarly, and almost secretive, they stay well out of the usual rabble of Vales A-listers.  I know them affectionately as The Faultliners.  These wisely use, to great advantage, the rubble of the Kurrajong formation, a hotch-potch of very old rocks of many types which have washed or tumbled down from the mountain range that was once there.  They include such nascent producers as Marius, Danshie’s Rise, Cradle of Hills, Petagna, Rudderless and Lot Thirteen.  The veteran Cascabel is in the same formation.  Paul Petagna helped proprietors Stuart and Coralie McMillan make this wine from their delicious, highly sought-after, petrochem-free fruit.  It’s a moody, glowering wine, thick with bitter cherry aromas, prunes, and fresh-scraped nutmeg, and presents immediately as another facet of the region’s burgeoning wave of superlative Grenache.  The palate’s silky and slick, with tannins so fine they approach the texture of velvet.  Those alcohols are up there, but barely evident in the smooth syrupy texture of the wine.  Unusual for Vales Grenache, it’s distinctly chocolaty to taste, which in itself is highly comforting as much as intoxicating.  It makes me recall a big snapper Cheong Liew once cooked at the World’s End, and served smothered in a brilliant Mexican-style chocolate sauce with a little twinge of chilli.  It’s more than a recollection, to be honest: this lovely thing makes me yearn for that remarkable dish. As for the price?  There are Grenache wines with fancy names that will set you back $70 more than this slender, almost meek consideration.  Love it right up.  Jam your tongue into that faultline good and early.

Hurley Vineyard Estate Balnarring Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir 2011

$50;  13.7% alcohol; Diam compound cork; 94+ points

Kevin Bell and Tricia Byrnes dug their vines into the fast-draining, iron-rich volcanic soil of Balnarring in 1998.  They usually release three wines – Lodestone, Hommage and Garamond - from their nine acres, according to their range of clones and the aspect of their particular locations.  Like true Burgundy freaks, they insist on low yields with no irrigation, and matter-of-factly use organic farming techniques.  2011, the wettest vintage in the history of eastern Australian winemaking, was rife with rampaging moulds and botrytis, so infinite care was required to pick, then select, only the healthiest bunches, and there simply wasn’t enough fruit selected to bother about keeping the three plots separate.    The result reminds me of the late ’seventies Pinots from Jacques Seysses in Morey-Saint-Denis, in Burgundy, where a completely botrytis-free vintage is a rarity.  It has a lovely allure built around the aromas of maraschino cherries, redcurrants, strawberries and cranberries, with that unique touch of lightly-grilled cashew that marks many of the paler beauties of Burgundy.  Believe me, pale does not mean frail.  This wine sets all drinkers leaning back quietly, chewing its mystery and form in wonder, amazed that they can see their fingers through a glass of such form and complexity.  It has unction without being thick or gloopy, and has stunning natural acidity and red dust tannin.  If you needed another wine to bounce off Cheong’s snapper in chilli chocolate sauce, this would make a brilliant counterpoint to that Lot Thirteen Grenache.  Otherwise, take it to Amalfi for a classic saltimbocca.  A true bargain at $50.  Rock’n’roll.  


16 July 2013


Know that blurry feeling?  Diageo, the world's biggest beer and spirits manufacturer, makes fun of some of its most enthusiastic customers with a new advertising campaign. One has long and often wondered how the mighty transnational actually viewed one. 

14 July 2013


Chris Crago brought Ross Hannaford to play her birthday straight through into the Too Much Fun That's News To Me genre at The Gaslight in Brompton, Adelaide, 13.07.13.  Ross played his blisteringly bittersweet best. I sometimes dream of the inside of his mind: I see a comic book of rock'n'roll; doo-wop and surf but then he'll open that big bass voice out and we get loveliness like Josephine or Tony Joe White-ish swamp. Or his own stuff or co-works like Weepin In My Joy, which is a beautiful soft monument that I dream of Rick Danko singing up high with The Band.  "I did a gig with him once," he said of Tony Joe, "and I sat with my back to the wall between him and me while he played. I could feel it going into me."  Dear Ross has soaked a lot of that sort of shit up.  Over 50 years he's created his own beautiful volcano of music from it all ... Man we had fun at The Gaslight : I blubbered like a little kid for four hours while Ross doodled and funked and burbled, plucking references from the entire rock canon, bar by bar, then cranking in with something that just flies straight out of him, as it should, not to mention the matching orange Bic Flick for a slide ... no-one else has played, or could, this stuff ... they haven't imagined it yet ... all photos copyright Milton Wordley ... click on the images to get em crisp ... and I'm sorry, Ross, but I'm gonna reach at least forty years back .

11 July 2013


Tim Smith Wines Eden Valley Viognier 2013
$28; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 93 points

Forget about Viognier always smelling overtly of apricots.  I sliced a red capsicum open, put a sliver of fresh ginger root and one broken clove in it with a few specks of white pepper, and got pretty damn close to the fragrance of this beauty.  It also brought avocado to mind – it has that sort of creamy smoothness.  In other words, it’s more green salad than overt fruit, and made me yearn immediately for Thai tucker.  All those flavours swim around the mouth once you’ve tipped some in there, and that creaminess hangs in, giving the wine the sort of satisfying unction that would neatly balance the edgy cut of piquant Thai greens.  I like Tim Smith’s forensic approach to his vineyard selection: whoever grew this knows their dots, and Tim has obviously chosen it to suit the acute gastronomic intelligence he always aims at his wines.  It has just the right amount of tannin, too: a hallmark I expect of the much-misunderstood, misplanted, and poorly-made Viognier.  Now I’ve made it sound far too serious.  This is one of the best.  It has a sense of humour.   

Tim Smith Wines Barossa Grenache 2012
$36; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 93++ points

Here’s a good wine to drink when you’re curious about the difference between the very best of Barossa Grenache and the style of the McLaren Vale stuff.  While the clays, sands and topsoils – even the deeper underlying geology – of the regions are generally the same in composition and age, the higher background humidity of the Vales seems to guarantee softer tannins than the drier Barossa air cranks out.  The best Vales wines are softer without being too plump, with lots of cherries and raspberries.  This one’s more solemn and imposing, with a bit more nightshade, forge and leather.  It’s more acrid, prickly and darkly foreboding.  There’s plenty of deep dark fruit in the flavour division, even beetroot, with hints of licorice and juniper leading to really neat drying tannins. This one’s cut out for big field mushrooms and Portobellos and steaky things; top of the Vales models are better when you’re in veal territory, even salmon.  If you’re curious about this, try this deep, dark Spanish-style loveliness against cheeky Frencher (new word meaning north-west Mediterranean coast) Yangarra, just for starters.  Both lovely things, but chalk and cheese in style.  While this is Tim’s first straight Grenache under his own brand we should approach with the respect due his Chateau Tanunda The Everest Old Bush Vine Grenache 2008, which won the International Wine Trade Fair trophy for being the World’s Best Single Estate Red Wine in London.  Welcome back aboard the Grenache train, Mister Smith!

Tim Smith Wines Barossa Mataro 2012

$36; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 93+++ points

Smiffy loves the Mataro of Bandol as much as he loves his old Trumpy motorcycle and his drum kit.  Bandol’s close to France’s southernmost tip, near Toulon.  They call it Mourvèdre there, and make a deep and dark wine from this deep and dark variety, which grows all along that coast west into Spain, where it’s called Monastrell.  If you’ve ever caught a young Bandol, before it grew its comfortable double chin, you’ll understand this wine.  It still has juvenile tweaks of linseed and wintergreen, anise and fennel root amongst all its Bible-black coal and midnight aromas.  When I inhale it, I’m lost between that scared-of-the-dark feeling and the first yearning curiosity of the black velvet unknown which drew me out into it so deep I’ve lived there for decades.  And oh yes, it also smells like the lavendar fields of that part of France.  I’ve always thought lavender fields smell more alluring in the dark.  It tastes pretty much along the same lines, with its scratchy satin black dress cigar-smoking chanteuse attitude, and the most mischievous tickle of feather boa and black velvet tannin daring you to fall in too deep.  Buy a bottle, and get straight down to pillage Smelly Cheese. Lulu will advise which fromage is best, especially if you take her a tipple.

Tim Smith Wines Barossa Mataro Grenache Shiraz 2012

$28; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 94+ points

“Picked from really old vines grown by really good people,” Tim tells us on his back label.  The most frivolous of these three masterful reds, it’s a carefree breeze of a drink, silky and slick and as quick as a skink.  It’s mainly about texture in that sense, with that perfect balance of slime and finesse.  While the other two reds are serious and sombre, maybe even slightly threatening, and worthy of five years in the dungeon, this one’s straight-out full-bore naughty, right from the start.  It knows no guilt.  It’ll bite you and never look back.  So catch the ride and slide.  It has the dry tannins to remind you of the hand brake, but that’s best forgot. Saltimbocca with capers, please.  Then whizz me home in the Ferrari, attagal. 


09 July 2013


Peter Lehmann builds a house  -  photo copyright Milton Wordley
PETER LEHMANN - 18/8/1930 - 28/6/2013

On the 26th of July, on the grounds of Peter Lehmann Winery, there will be a gathering of those who seek to acknowledge the life and work of Peter Lehmann, who died on the 29th of June aged 82.

Philip Lehmann, one of Peter’s three winemaking offspring, told DRINKSTER that his father “did not want a funeral, nor any speeches,” but there would be this opportunity for those who respected and remembered the man, with “no speeches or pontification, except from one mate to another.”

It is perhaps the greatest tribute to the mighty winemaker that upon his death of complications relating to kidney failure, his family’s grief was made so much more difficult by the thought of attempting to stage a funeral: there would simply be too many people for any Barossa church or hall, and the notion of holding and catering for such an event outside of the Barossa was, as Peter would say, “not on the cards.”

For a person who is exhausted from his own recent spate of eulogising, the notion of capturing the life and importance of a friend like Peter in an obituary of the usual length is a difficulty of similar proportion.  Each time I start, I know it will be impossible to stop for hundreds of pages, and the grief is too raw to embark upon the biography which should be written.  Adding to the scale of this task is the mountain of facts that would need forensic checking, for Peter was quite simply a man of legendary status in his own lifetime, a reputation now magnified by the plethora of tributes his death triggered from journalists and wine-writers all over the world.

Everybody loved Peter.

By its nature, legend cannot be verified factually; it is an old story which tradition eventually presumes to be historical.  It’s something a biography can contribute to, but this should happen only by the painstaking separation of fact from emotion and opinion.  In the case of Peter, this is an insurmountable task at a time like this.  Bacchus knows, there are thousands of us suffering a flood of emotion and opinion, as is our due, and is even more Peter’s due.

But one thing said by many needs clarification.  Peter’s greatest move was not simply his leading of the children of the Barossa, its small grape-growers, on his famous exodus from Saltram after he’d been ordered to cease buying their fruit.

Through those turbulent and treacherous years from the formation of his first redemptive winery, Masterson Barossa Vineyards in 1977, until his eventual sale of the majority of Peter Lehmann Wines to Hess Family Estates in 2003,  Peter was involved in a constant string of momentous, often desperate moves to save the growers and therefore the nature of his beloved Barossa from mindless industrial homogeny.

Anybody who witnessed any of those urgent meetings around the Lehmann kitchen table can never forget their intensity.  The combination of full-strength B&H smoke with the fume of burning Mallee roots and redgum in the big fireplace; the table with its books and documents and newspapers; the constant ABC FM classical music; the endless supply of beautiful red wine, crusty bread and smoked ham; the gathering of those scarce ones with the money; those with the intention and the ideas, and those with nothing more to offer than support and awe at the sheer torque of that collective engine that Peter drove are a set of sensory images that remain etched in the lives of all who were there.

It is difficult to explain the power of forces which worked to clear the Barossa of its peasant-scale grape-growing culture once the big industrialists convinced themselves that their modern trellised monocultural grapeyards were capable of replacing any notion of terroir or heritage.  Their new version of the science of viticulture would overwhelm any notions so emotive or industrially inefficient and replace them with better returns for their shareholders, at the cost of the very nature of the Barossa and its residents as much as the drinkers.

By the mid-eighties, even the government was seduced, and used taxpayer money to pay for the destruction of irreplaceable, invaluable heritage pre-phylloxera vineyards to make way for modern monoculture in what was brutally called the Vine-pull Scheme.

Of the many deserving credit for the final cessation of this destruction, and it was war – for two years there was smoke in air from burning pre-phylloxera bush vines - none assisted in a more practical manner than Peter, who, through his untiring stubborn determination, schemed and borrowed and strove to keep sufficient money in his coffers to pay these threatened growers for their fruit.

He did this first through a collective financial cunning, but then equally via his personal sensitivity to bouquet and flavour in his winery: Peter was first and foremost a very special winemaker, beloved by his stalwart winery team.

Ancient vineyards which now provide the much-modernised Barossa with its international respectability amongst wine-lovers were saved, leaving the world with a genetic resource and a set of flavours which phylloxera destroyed in Europe. 

The Barossa has a good memory.  It knows this.  Which is why Margaret Lehmann and her family faced an impossible task, handling their deep grief on a day when they’d also have to handle a crowd of unknown proportion.

The Lehmanns, and the Barossa, now have time to gird their loins and get down to doing something they do better than any other community in this country: work together to organise a gathering.

What a gathering it will be.

05 July 2013


Goodbye Peter - 18/8/1930 - 28/6/2013

As a family we’ve drawn together and are privately digesting the enormity of his death.

Given the life he led, for him there weren’t too many questions left un-answered. While we’re incredibly sad, we’ll say goodbye with the richness of his life in our hearts rather than the regrets for what might still have been.

It was often said that PL was a gambler. And yes, he loved a punt. The truth in his eyes was he didn’t consider it chance when he knew he had an unbeatable hand. Margaret, always by his side, was the ‘card counter’ that gave him the formidable edge.

PL was a man of many words … but rarely were they expected, and never self-aggrandising. 

He endured ceremony poorly and never suffered ‘self-importance’ except as fodder for his incisive wit. He would see anyone on their deeds, rather than their position. One thing that we all know is that PL could see through the bullshit. “My name is not Mr Lehmann, call me Peter.”

To his close family and friends, PL made it abundantly clear that there should be no funeral, nor memorial service for him. Since he detested funerals, why would he want to go to his own? What he would have highly approved of, however, was a get-together over a schlück, a bite to eat and plenty of larger-than-life yarns.

So in fitting style, on Friday the 26th of July, a gathering will be held on the grounds of Peter Lehmann Wines, from 2pm-4pm, so we can all do just that. There will be no speeches, rather just come together to cheers a mate, a father, and most importantly, a husband.

If he were here, as usual, PL would have had the last word: “Yes Margaret.”

Philip and David Lehmann,
5th July 2013.


03 July 2013


There's a lot more art - and artfulness - than science in the matter of wine judging, particularly in big wine shows ... photo Grant Nowell, with apologies to Frans Hals

Robert Hodgson's frank science
Cruel stats of swirl, sniff & spit
Facts swab wine race jockeys 

It was hardly news to long-time followers of Robert Hodgson’s painstaking science, but this week’s viral winers’ shock horror nyah-nyah I-told-you-so flash-in-the-attachments spitbucket revealed again some of his findings relative to wine judges. 

Like, fair dinkum, wine judging is not science.

Hodgson is a retired oceanographer with a background in statistics and a small winery, Fieldbrook, in California.  His curiosity led him to maintain a study of the vagaries of wine show results. Commencing with an analysis of the scores his own products won in various competitions, he went on to mount larger-scale testing of the judging results over entire wine shows.

Hodgson’s eight years of methodical analysis reveals that even the most respected wine judges vary widely in their scoring of wines, not just from week-to-week and day-to-day, but from minute-to-minute.

"The results are disturbing," Hodgson told David Darbyshire of  The Observer.  "Only about 10% of judges are consistent and those judges who were consistent one year were ordinary the next year.”

Unsurprisingly, this variation increases significantly as the number of wines judged in each sitting multiplies, which is why most wine shows are judged by panels of judges working together. Typically, their scores for each wine are averaged to achieve a final ranking.  Under the instruction of the chief judge, they keep a check on each other.

My most recent experience in this arcane world of Wine Races occurred last week when I assisted in the selection of McLaren Vale wines to be poured at the next Gorgeous Food, Wine and Music Festival.  The wines were all served blind.  After a large mixed class of what were loosely called Reds – Anything But Shiraz, I was disappointed to the point of depression.  When we six judges retreated to discuss our findings, this feeling was common.  

Regardless of the wide range of “new” and “alternative” grape varieties on display, and the stalwarts like Cabernet sauvignon and Grenache, it had been very difficult to find anything of exceptional quality, and we all shared the feeling that we doubted our palates, and confused and exhausted ourselves re-examining and scouring the lines of glasses in search of something outstanding which we all believed should be there but wasn’t.

Admittedly, many of my personal favourites from the region were not entered: some winemakers didn’t have the volumes required, preferred to keep their stock for sales to regular buyers, like at cellar-door, or simply forgot to enter.  Nevertheless, there were dozens of wines there from reputed large producers, and many from the smaller wildcats, cult heroes, and respected pioneers.

If the same selection had been poured to the judges at the annual McLaren Vale Wine Show, half the entries would have been awarded medals.  While these would be mainly bronze, simply indicating the wine had no overt faults and was technically sound, there would be several silvers on average, a gold or two, and a trophy.

If our team of tasters was composed of local winemakers rather than experts who don’t make wine, I have no doubt the results would have been more sympathetic to the competitors.

Whoreses for causes, see?

My mantra for the selection of wine show judges is simple.  Any winemaker who doesn’t recognize their own wines in a blind tasting should not be judging – their organoleptic skills are inadequate.  On the other hand, any winemaking judge who fails to award their own wines well, or wines of similar styles, should not be expecting us to buy them.

There’s been an increasing attempt around the burgeoning wine-racing circuit to select expert judges who are not winemakers, or at least to import winemaking judges from other regions, but it’s still too easy to influence the results by inviting judges who the selection panel know to be sympathetic to certain styles of wine.

Then, of course, as Hodgson’s work reveals, you risk the variable induced by organoleptic exhaustion in the bigger classes, a problem which can be partly diminished by selecting bigger tasting teams or better ones, but even this ends up leveling the results because the scores are averaged.
Derbyshire also reports the works of French academic Frédéric Brochet and American economist Robin Goldstein, who independently proved wine judges award higher scores to wines they perceive to be more expensive.  And he mentions British psychologist  Professor Richard Wiseman, whose testing showed that of 578 people invited “to comment on a range of red and white wines, varying from £3.49 for a claret to £30 for champagne, and tasted blind ... People could tell the difference between wines under £5 and those above £10 only 53% of the time for whites and only 47% of the time for reds,” meaning that “overall they would have been just as a successful flipping a coin to guess.”

My research is slightly different.  I was once invited to present a tasting to a large conference of hardrock mine managers and mining industry executives and directors from all over the world.  We did this over a four-course dinner.  I selected two good wines to harmoniously accompany each course; one under $10 and one over $30.  Nobody knew their type or identity.  In the vast majority of cases, these red-loving, high-earning men thought the cheaper wine to be the over-$30 job.

Knowing the parsimony, if not the sheer meanness of mining executives, and I’m only half-joking, this indicated a presumption that wine of the price they commonly drank seemed the best, and therefore most valuable, to them.

This test was hardly scientific in the clinical sense, but it gave me a fairly good idea of how many enthusiasts simply get things wrong.  While all the wines were Australian, there was no discernable difference between the opinions of the Australian drinkers and those of the internationals.

All this led me long ago to withdraw from the giant wine-racing circuit, and sit at home with my glass and the endless string of bottles that arrive unsolicited, and simply get on with explaining which ones I prefer and why.

And yes, without tasting blind, I award them scores.  It’s a one-man continuous field wine race, and it’s a long course.  Unlike the quick glimpse of each entry the judges have time to take in the big national sprints, at least I get to savour each wine over many days, to best grasp their nature and potential.  In fact, I watch them run until they die. 

So trust me if you dare.

The Gorgeous Festival, by the way, will take place beneath the red gums at Serafino Winery on Friday 22nd and Saturday 23rd of November.  I can guarantee the wines served there will all be of superior quality.  If you doubt me, enjoy your water, and see how you go scoring the music.  To my palate, the organisers are lining up some damn fine acts. 

Keep an eye on the website:  http://www.gorgeousfestival.com.au/


As regular readers are aware, I award wines a score out of a maximum one hundred points.  While many accuse me of scoring consistently high, I should explain that it generally takes me dozens of wines to find one worth more than ninety points.  Tasting almost daily over a normal month, my average score is usually around seventy points.  Fifty pointers are all too common.  I have never awarded a perfect hundred.

To read of the mystery tongue-in-cheek parasite that infests the mouths of some wine judges click here. For a detailed discussion of the vagaries of the judging of Australia's most famous wine trophy, the Jimmy Watson, click here ... The George Grainger Aldridge cartoons are from our forthcoming funny book; working title:  Evidence of Vineyards on Mars (out soon - almost ready for the printer).


Ace Riesling master Colin Forbes pays homage to some determined ancients (NOT Riesling) in the Hickinbotham Vineyard at Clarendon ... photo Philip White

Forbes & Forbes Eden Valley Riesling 2007
$35; 11.5% alcohol; screw cap; 96+++ points

Aw baby, look at those numbers!  Small alcohols.  Six years in bottle.  $35.  Those alone make it seem a steal.  But add the words: Eden Valley kicks it up to another level.  Put Forbes on there, too, and we’re rockin. Previous to this, the last Forbes Riesling I reviewed was the mind-numbing 2002, which, at seven years of age screwed 96++ points out of me. Screwed is not the best term really: the points just seemed to ring up like I’d hit the jackpot on that pokie every poor bugger dreams of but never meets.  Colin Forbes knows better than anybody how to capture the old stony air of the rocks on the Barossa Tops: his Rieslings seems somehow to combine the austerity of dust and the ancient sandstones and schists with a hearty, creamy fullness which blows all but the most expensive Chardonnays clear off the bench.  Like this is Yattarna territory. It’s a ravishing luxury of a wine.  Of the 2002, I wrote “In the mouth, it’s much more elegant and fine than that huge bouquet would insinuate, with beautiful unsalted butter touches – beurre blanc with soft poached diced white onion sort of thing; plenty of lemon juice on the King George Whiting fillet that’s wrapped around that frothy prawn mousseline – and then those dry old upland soils come back to haunt the aftertaste. Fantastic maturing wine. Fair dink swoon city.” Ditto here.  If anything, this one’s even more creamy and limy.  It has all the exotic tropicals of its predecessor, but seems more composed and smug, like a bone dry triple-X rated lime marmalade. It’s heavenly, transporting wine. Beam me up Scottie.      

Forbes & Forbes Eden Valley Riesling 2012

$25; 11.3% alcohol; screw cap; 95+++ points

As if that wasn’t enough, here’s another one from the schisty Woodman Vineyard that Forbes sourced his fruit from during his old days at Craneford Wines.  It’s not as generous as the 2007, but it’s heading in that direction.  All those citrus blossoms and cosmetic tones, all the tropical jackfruit sweets and lantana greens of only the best juvenile Eden Valley Riesling are presented in a perfectly smooth, caressing manner.  I know I tend to anthropomorphise great drinks too readily, and it’s hardly fashionable to get gender-specific about ethanol, but this is the more feminine wine, and it seems as far removed from your actual alcohol as a wine could get.  It’s like a mother resting her lips on her new baby’s forehead. Rarely do we see a wine as gentle, delicate and composed, nor one which will perform such wondrous miracles in the cellar.  Go buy.  And be quick: both wines are in limited volumes.  That gold bling, by the way, is from the Barossa and Canberra wine shows: two of the toughest Riesling classes in the country if you’re interested in being the best.