“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)





14 November 2013


The elegant, racy wines of the Hickinbotham Family of Mornington Peninsula have a certain pedigree.  Alan Robb Hickinbotham founded the Roseworthy Oenology course; amongst many other significant achievements, his son Ian conducted what was probably the world's first deliberately induced and monitored malo-lactic fermentations at Wynn's Coonawarra Estate in 1952 and '53.  With his wife Terryn, Ian and Jude's son Andrew runs the family vineyards, winery and microbrewery at Dromana on Mornington.

Hickinbotham Mornington Peninsula Aligoté 2012 
$29; 12% alcohol; screw cap; 92+++ points 

A few weeks back, whilst drinking the Trentham Estate Verdejo 2013, the first example of that Portuguese white variety grown and made in Australia, I was tempted to mention the Vino Verde made by Lindemans to combat the invasion of Mateus in the early 'eighties.  Last week, whilst communicating with the venerable Ian Hickinbotham, who'd written since to remind me that as Penfolds state manager he'd introduced Grange to Victoria long before it reached the retail shelves of Sydney, I enquired about the Aligoté his son Andrew Hickinbotham and partner Terryn pioneered since 1988 at Dromana on the Mornington Peninsula.   

Regular readers will recall my constant bemoaning of the fact that there's a much wider range of flavours in your average deli fridge than you'll find in the biggest Australian wine shops.  So I like it when folks like Trentham and the Hickinbothams bother to extend that terribly narrow menu with new stuff that doesn't end in O.  Contrary to the common belief that Burgundy grows only Chardonnay and Pinot noir, Aligoté is that region's second biggest white, with somewhere around 1,700 ha planted.  Aligoté, say its few passionate fans, lost out to Chardonnay in Burgundy (and Australia) because Chardonnay grows like weeds in comparison.   

This brisk, austere Aligoté smells a little like fresh meadow grass, like you may find in Sauvignon blanc, but has a racy slash of Bartlett and Bosc pears, and maybe the exotic cherimoya and sapodilla fruits, which I rarely see in Savvy-B.  Acid-wise, it's closer to really good Chenin blanc.  Typical of the Aligoté, it has enough dusty tannin and dry natural acid to trigger a wince, along with a pressing hunger.  It's a delightful and unusual flavour for Australia, and one which should be pursued with more vigour than we're showing the broad, soft "orange" varieties like the sweaty Mediterranean whites.  Regardless of the suitability of their terroir, these may be suddenly faddish amongst our cargo-panted school of winemakers, but have yet to prove their favour amongst your actual drinkers.  In a country this hot, surely we need higher natural acid, not more sweat and grease.  Try this with bottom-feeding fishies: flounder, scallops and prawns.  Go get. 

Hickinbotham Mornington Peninsula Coffee Rock Merlot 2010
 $37; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 94+++ points 

Contrary to the common bullshit about Merlot being mellow - the pronunciation of both words is nearly identical in the USA - the grape is dead serious, beautifully perfumed, properly tannic red, as you'd expect of a Bordeaux type.  Consider Petrus of Pomerol, for which you'll pay around $3000 per bottle and wait a decade or two to drink at perfection.  The 1945 aside, Petrus is hardly mellow.   

Mornington's fairly close to Bordeaux in climate, if a little cooler in the higher spots, so it's a lot more likely to produce proper Merlot than the poor buggers who torture it in our irrigated deserts.  This wine is not Petrus.  But rather than being mellow, it's a beautifully delicate, quietly authoritative drink with pretty meadow bloom topnotes over a base of expensive "fragrance-free" face cream.  It also has the slightly threatening darkness of the blackberry briar, and maybe the Deadly Nightshade.  Its palate is slender and serpentine, sublimely elegant and poised, with long, extremely fine-grained tannins. 

If you need a hint of its potential, consider the 2004, which I have now in my glass.  This older one is more oaky in that mocha sort of manner, but is a sublimely elegant, refined beauty approaching its optimum.  For the obsessive, I should point out that its headspace - the amount of air between the wine and the screwcap - is about thrice that of this 2010, so this new one will probably take longer.  Sacrifice your best lamb.      

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