“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)





19 August 2014


Wintry day in the old vines at Kaesler: Reid Bosward (CEO/chief winemaker), Stephen Dew (winemaker) and Sarah McMahon (sales and export manager) ... photo Philip White

Revisiting the Kaesler crew:
new directions at Barossa HQ
stalwart old viners move on

It had to happen. The Kaesler crew were all too smart to leave it the way it was. So they've changed it.

Five or six years back the wine press gang gathered there among the old vines on the outskirts of Nuriootpa to taste the current Kaesler crop of products. Beautifully-made wines they were, but generally of the style beginning to look a touch de trop.

We'd just had fifteen years in which some bits of the world couldn't get enough terribly ripe, highly alcoholic and gloopy Shiraz.

Given the amount of sun and lack of fresh water falling on such parts in this New Heat, it's terribly easy to make gloop. Making a good consommé is a lot bloody harder.

And for awhile, if you're lucky enough to please a Dan Phillips (US merchant) or Robert Parker Jr. (US critic), gloop may be very easy to flog in that narrow window between hoovering unseemly profits and retirement or bankruptcy.

The fad reminded me of the export boom which followed World War II, when companies like McLaren Vale's Emu made a motza flogging what they called "ferruginous reds" to the impoverished English, who were on ration cards and needed fortification. After a few years Europe had stabilised and the likes of the Bordelaise were back in business and suddenly you had the whole of England remembering that it actually preferred the more elegant wines from just across the channel.

Boom? Boom over, babay.

The original tutored masterclass at Kaesler ... photo Leo Davis 
Anyway, after Reid Bosward and Stephen Dew and the Kaesler crew had tutored us in a perfectly-managed tasting of their 15 and 16-plus alcohol monsters those few short years ago, we walked a hundred yards from the tasting room to the winery where the Kaesler owners just happened to have opened two or three hundred thousand dollars worth of French exquisities which we were encouraged to swaller, rather than spit and scribble.

Other than their breath-taking prices, the only big thing about these wines was the size of their bottles: many were in jereboams, even imperials. Tellingly, their contents barely got past 13.5% alcohol.

Guess which tasting won the most praise?

The Sauternes/Barsac table ... photo Leo Davis

It was perversely relieving to scoot up to Kaesler for another drinking a fortnight back, without the er, incentive of the second part of the exercise. Reid, Stephen and Sarah McMahon sat in the cellar with me, chatting around a table with about three metres of ordinary-size bottles: new, old and future releases of the wines they make there from their suite of excellent vineyards in Clare, Barossa and McLaren Vale.

Without deserting those stalwart addicts of such alcoholic extravagances as The Bogan (15%; $50) or The Old Bastard (14.5%; $220), Kaesler has a cellarful of wines that have taken a decided turn to elegance and poise.

Like the new Clare Wine Co. Watervale Riesling 2014 ($20; 11% alcohol; screw cap; 93+++ points) which is as purdy as a Riesling can be, with all those citrus florals and leaf and handbag and bathroom fragrances opening your head for that tight stony austerity that only best of Clare and Eden have to offer. Fresh Coffin Bay oysters and limes, please. And a pepper mill. In the spring.

If that's too adult for you, bung on a Kaesler Barossa Valley Rizza 2014 ($20; 9% alcohol; screw cap; 90+ points) a smoky, bacony mush of delight made after the traditional Barossa spätlese style, which for some fool reason everybody's forgotten. It's what you have with your apricot or apple streuselkuchen at morning tea. While it smells fleshy and comforting, it also has plenty of dusty prickle. The modestly sweet flavours have no apricot botrytis but rather a calming viscosity which winds off into a long tingly sherbet acid finish. This'd be the wine for your local Thai: green chicken curry would sing with it, but tom yum or just about any of the chilli/lemongrass/ginger things would make you just as happy. 

The morning after the recent tasting ... photo Philip White

Another step off the old track is the brilliant Kaesler Barossa Valley Viognier 2013 ($25; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 91+ points). I love the fact that this doesn't smell like apricot. Which is what everyone thinks Viognier should smell like. I mean it's cool if it does, but I suspect that once you've begun to get those apricot/dried apricot aromas you're getting the damn thing too ripe; if it tastes apricotty you're probably teetering around fifteen alcohols. Far too much. That's hot not cool. This is not like that. Think fresh soft ginger root. But it's more savory, and I mean the herb savory, Satureja hortensis: a fresh meadow smell as green and creamy/buttery as tarragon. The flavours are right up that provincial French track, so start with a tarragon chicken and white wine casserole with shallots and you'll be singin'. This is a beautifully gentle wine whose texture is perfect for such fowl. Get some bad people around for your casserole and try this one agin Tim Smith's equally delish 2014.

Hard-core Grenache perves will enjoy the slide through Kaesler's take on the GSM clique/claque thing. They call it Kaesler Barossa Valley Avignon. The 2010 model ($15.5%; screw cap) is a Grenache, Mataro, Shiraz blend which exemplifies how the smallest amount of the dark charcuterie meats of Mataro can overwhelm the Pinot-like tenderness of properly-made Grenache. The new Kaesler Avignon Barossa Valley Grenache Shiraz 2012 ($30; 15% alcohol; screw cap; 94 points) is a much finer, more focussed and precise thing without that extra 0.5% gloop and the Mataro. It's all cherries and redcurrants and wild hedgerow raspberry, with a real dusty tickle, and it'd go zappy with anything from a quiche through a hearty omelette through that casserole above to a more gamey  rabbit casserole. (Uncontrollable twitching in the trigger finger at this point.)

As if to reassure my suspicions of a change of point at Kaesler, Stephen pointed my nose at a barrel of his forthcoming 2014 'Natural Grenache' which is like a Grenache made by, say, Romanée-Conti. South of 13.5% and vibrant with maraschino cherry and raspberry, I can feel this one coming over the horizon like a bliss bomb. Can't wait! 

Kaesler Old Vine Barossa Valley Shiraz 2012 ($80; 14.5% alcohol; cork; 93+++ points) takes us a little closer to the old style jampots, but not very. In fact hardly at all. It's typical of the best twelves in its tight, ungiving "so whatter you lookin' at?" glower. And would be even more so if picked any earlier. A sprinkle of coal dust; a hedgerow of briars and brambles and blackberries; a dry, dusty palate with just the right hint of black snake (serpent, not water hose); all in a long, lithe, delightfully elegant frame that makes me want to live at least until 2035, even with my mistrust of that cursed Portuguese bark plug jammed down its neck.

Which introduces the Kaesler Alte Reben Barossa Valley Shiraz 2012 ($150; 14% alcohol; cork; 95+++ points), a devilish beauty which will be dancing on like Carmen Miranda when the Old Vine's slumped exhausted, sweating at the bar. It's tight, lithe, intense, prickly, dusty, profane, confident, determined and Bacchus only knows how long it will take to touch perfection. From the company's 1899 vineyard at Marananga, this damn thing is a direct threat.

Welcome to the world below sixteen, eh. 

Stephen Dew at Kaesler ... really good winter rains have stacked the ground with water, reducing the need for summer irrigation ... photo Philip White

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