“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 September 2014


J. Petrucci & Son: Joe and Michael in their barrel house near Wirra Wirra ... all photos Philip White

J. Petrucci & Son puts on weight
Chianti's Colorino moves to Vale
and settles on old Riesling roots
"I put on fourteen kilos in a few weeks in my village," Joe Petruccio says of his recent trip to Castellino, in Molise, near Abbruzzi.

"The food is always there. In Ireland, I lost twelve kilos. They only bring one plate."

Greg Trott introduced me to his neighbour Joe in about 1980. "In the Barossa," Trott sagely explained, "they have Germans. McLaren Vale has Italians."

One got the feeling Trott preferred Italians. He loved the influences they had on his beloved McLaren Vale, and particularly admired their attitude to tucker. He refused to put a fence between his Wirra Wirra Winery and the Petrucci vineyards next door.

Twenty-two years later, when Trott was dying of cancer, and I was editing his book, McLaren Vale - Trott's View, he insisted I included as many photographs as possible of his Italian neighbours. He would scour the rejects box for any image I may have discarded.

"You can't leave this one out," he'd say. "That's Joe Petrucci."

Petrooch had his own waltz with Jimmy Dancer last year, but the treatments, backed up by a touch of familial feeding in the old home town, have put the zizz back in his demeanour. 

Once again, Joe has both fusto and gusto a-plenty.

"I wasn't ready," he murmured of his visit to the departure lounge.

Now, with his winemaking son Michael, he's making some brilliant new wines. J. Petrucci & Son is the bargain brand to seek. These dudes overdeliver.

Colorino is certainly new to McLaren Vale, but it's hardly new in Chianti, where it seems to have run its race. For centuries it was used to add colour and weight to the red blends of that ancient vignoble. In recent years, with modern science and new trellises and whatnot, the Chianti makers have learned to get the colour and character they need from their beloved Sangiovese, so Colorino is not top of the pops.

Many are uprooting it.

So Joe grafted some onto some mature Riesling roots in his sandy slope at McLaren Vale and Michael made a stunning wine.

I first drank it a few weeks back at the Willunga Farmers' Market, where Joe always has a little tasting stall. For a while I thought it would suck all the water out of my eyes; it certainly sucked quite a lot of light outa the sky. It's like a big damp perfumed velvet stage curtain has descended on you.

J. Petrucci & Son McLaren Vale Colorino 2013 reminds me a little of Petit verdot, the very late-ripening grape of Bordeaux, used for tannin and colour in those great French blends. I hear that global warming has seen many French replacing Merlot with Petit verdot, as the early-ripening Merlot gets too ripe and gloopy far too quickly in this new heat. The Colorino also reminds me too of Carmenere, which served a similar role in Bordeaux but survives mainly in Chile, although underground goss says some radical Bordeaux growers are playing with it again.

Mainly, the Petrucci Colorino reminds me of Saperavi, the Caucasian red grape which is distinguished by its red sap and red juice. While nearly all the other red grapes have white juice, leaving the winemaker to extract the colour and flavour from the skins and pips, Saperavi actually has black juice and sap the colour of beetroot juice, so intense levels of flavour and colour can be achieved without pressing too hard, leaving the tannins softer and more welcoming.

Also, surprise, surprise, full character can be gotten without too much alcohol. This wine's a dainty 13.8%.

"I put 14.5% on the label because that seems to be what people still expect," Michael laughs. He's well within the strange law about alcohol labelling: the permitted margin is 1.5% either side of the claimed figure in Australian wine. Most makers bend their label number the other way, so the wine appears lower in alcohol. 

This drink sure feels and tastes like it's stronger than 13.8%! Customer reassurance, see?

It's a deep dark thing, I tell you. It smells of black coffee and tea tin and aniseed. It glowers. It's sinister. But as a young wine, it smells harmonious and tidy. It's slightly syrupy, but the velvet tannins remove any illusion of sweetness and the acid creeps up and draws the whole thing out real long and slow and dry.

That finish is as dry and fine as ground-up bone china.

I've had it straight from the freshly-opened bottle. I've tried it over days. I've had it roughly decanted and smooth; nothing seems to make much difference to it. It's as confident and stoic as the giant stone faces on Easter Island.


Yet it's the damned thing's straightout intensity of character that gets you, not alcohol. I don't want to mention the gooey black Pedro ximénes sauces they cook and fortify in Jerez, but in truth it's almost one of them, lite.

The idea of your actual fruits doesn't seem to arise until well into the aftertaste when the drinker suddenly wonders why. If anything, it leaves flavours of soft-dried figs, dates, quince paste and fresh juniper pulp.

It doesn't quite smell like panforte, but it's so much in that direction that I reckon it'd accompany one perfectly. With thick fresh cream. Otherwise, I keep dreaming of big dark wild mushrooms. Morels. 94++ points.

Before I scare you off, there's an antidote to luxury so intense. In counterpoint, it's luxurious in a wicked cheeky way. Under their bargain-bargain Sabella label, Michael's made a slightly frizzante moscato from Joe's Muscat of Alexandria.

Just as the mystery of the Colorino is its modest alcohol, the mystery here lies in the wine's sweetness number: it's drier than the lollypop fairy-floss ones. And it's only 7% alcohol.

"It makes me laugh," I said, showing unseemly thirst.

"That's why we called it Allegria," Joe shot back, bringing my attention to the bottle in hand.

This baby doesn't have the rubbery aroma that spoils moscatos made from the wrong muscats in places too hot. It's rather just grapy, with the gentlest cordite edge. Slurp the bugger, and you're laughing.

And what do you drink it with? Joe suggests another bottle. "But Philip," he clarified, "I take another from the fridge, and I try to do things ... " At which point he finished with a perfectly Latinate shrug.

If you're safe at home and not driving, pop your skateboard armour on and try it with Absolut vodka on the rocks with a bruised mint leaf.

The Petruccis showed me a Shiraz which is serious Bushing King quality, and exciting wanderings through Mourvèdre, Nero d'Avola and Aglianico which are still on the cooker.

Wait for those, but don't wait for the two I'm pumping: the Sabella of McLaren Vale Allegria Moscato is $18 (85 points); the J. Petrucci & Son reds are a meek $25. Unless you bump into Joe at the Prospect market or the Willunga one, where they are several dollars cheaper.

They are indeed delightful things to be on the end of. Especially considering there's more to come.

It's a long time since Joe's father Michael brought his kids from Melbourne and bought 120 acres of the best vineyard land in the south. Right beside Greg Trott. Then Michael Snr. died falling from the roof when he tried to fix the tv antenna, leaving Joe, John and Vicky 40 acres each. That was 1976.

Michael Snr. and Trott would be delighted to see what hard work, persistence, and acute gastronomic intelligence has done.

And being Italian.

Take note, Jamie Oliver.

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