“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)





10 October 2014


Mark Lloyd, proprietor (left) and Alex Shirrah  (right), winemaker, today gave me the best look around the Coriole vineyards and the bright new wines they're making. Mark's vines are in the older geologies of McLaren Vale, in the Kurrajong Formation along the Willunga Fault to the east, and the old siltstones and sandstones on the opposite western side of the Vale. He's growing everything from Picpoul through Sangiovese to good old fashioned Shiraz; Montepulciano, Fiano, Nero d'Avola, Sagrantino and Barbera, amongst other things. Coriole is rockin'. Today we kicked and licked rocks and had a gradual grazing on chef Tom Reid's delish offerings under a tree at the cellars. Check these local stones in the walls of Coriole. Click 'em to enlarge. Neat, eh? Go visit: eat, taste, drink.

Coriole McLaren Vale Chenin Blanc 2014
$16; 12.5% alcohol; screwcap; 92+ points

Only a few years ago I attended a Meet Your Maker tasting, where a large mob of Queensland wine retailers and waiters were flown in to be shown the best McLaren Vale has to offer. They came crusty and yawning by bus straight from the airport to be confronted with a breakfast table groaning with about thirty local white wines. There wasn't much audible groaning from the visitors, but the nonplussed faces and semi-somnambulent arse-scratching indicated internal groanings: only the brightest tasters honed in to two or three wines which I agreed were the best there, and perhaps should have been the only ones presented. Coriole's Chenin blanc was one.

Coriole proprietor Mark Lloyd seems to have had an epiphany since then, hiring a hot new winemaker,  Alex Sherrah, formerly of O'Leary-Walker, and establishing new vineyards on different geologies. They're trialling a wide range of varieties, mainly from Italy, with much more skill and, I trust, more business success than many. On my recent visit, I drank experiments of this and that from here and there: singularly impressive wines all: watch for their Picpoul over the next years. I tasted a cracker first crop 2014 Alex had made in a bin.

But still, the Coriole Chenin - an ancient Loire Valley variety - remains one of the Vales' best whites, and at this price stands out as the district's top blonde bargain. This newie could be their best yet. Alex's previous experience with the O'Leary-Walker Rizza kings shines through.

Mark joked that years ago I'd written the infamous line about one vintage smelling like an old lady's handbag, a descriptor that has always amused such connoisseurs as the legendary Peter Goers, who thought I meant a hooker, and not my grandmother, who was married to a street preacher. At that bonnie table at Coriole, we talked of the aroma of handbags being more along the lines of mobile phones and sex toys these days, so the original metaphor seems rather diluted given the current market and the naughty dreamings of young Goers.

This vintage reminds me even more of the face powder, Oil of Ulan, sachet of lavendar, scented hankies and leather-bound New Testament my granny's bag exuded when I'd consult it to pinch the odd sixpence. Perhaps one of the thrills of pouring it is the edgy risk of being caught. It takes me a while to realise I can wallow around in here with no such threat. It's a disarming, sweet and heady bouquet, with just a hint of lemon pith giving it edge. It has perfect unction, acidity and flavour. It's fresh and bright, clean as a whistle, and manages that rare trick of being both soothing and exciting. It has just a touch of butter, which triggers hunger for the more oily molluscs and crustaceans: scallops, prawns, crayfish and the like.

This wine would be a bargain at twice the price. 

That's not stonemason's mortar between the river stones: it's one solid chunk of  riverbed, with ancient mudstone holding the much older rounded rocks together ... just one piece of the fascinating Coriole walls
Coriole McLaren Vale Fiano 2014 
$25; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93 points

An old Roman grape, Fiano's a buzzword around the traps in recent years, but many of the initial offerings are low on the whelm factor. Not so here. Coriole first planted this variety in 2001 - Australia's first offering was their 2005. The wine has a rustic gooseberry jam aroma, with a tidy burlap edge to tickle and prickle the nostrils. There's also a good smell of pears: maybe a burlap sack full of them, ripe. To drink, it has big presence and an oiliness to offer counterpoint to its bright, neat acidity, and more pears: this time poaching in lemon juice and sauternes. It's like the Passe-Crassagne, the lovely Norman cross of pear with quince. It even has a little of that grainy mouthfeel of quince. The whole experience seems to come from somewhere in the distant past, when a gradual afternoon's accubation was much preferred to a quick tuck-in sitting up. Bring me another Guinea fowl, prithee, and yes, more poached pears. Now, could you massage my neck? 

Coriole Lalla Rookh Adelaide Hills Fiano 2013 
Not yet released; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap; 90 points

A tighter, more crunchy aroma makes this instantly different to the Vales model: this has as much of that rustic character as the other, but its cooler source in the ranges, near Kuitpo, makes it more of an alpine bracer than an afternoon's ooze down on the humid banks of Tiber. It has a slightly weedy hint which is probably from the youthful nature of the vines. Pears, yes, but smaller, higher acid ones, this time with the oxalic acid of rhubarb in place of the quince. It whips across the palate rather than wallowing, maybe like a top young Loire Sauvignon blanc (not a Kiwi version). It has a powerful hunger trigger in its chalky, bone-dry tannin, at which point it's worth recalling that 'bone-dry' originates in the old prophet Ezekiel's hallucination of the valley of dry bones, which he watches the Lord re-assemble and refit with flesh and sinew, so the army could get back to war. Praise the Lord! There'll be no war here, but if you wanted to wait, a few years' cellar would see some flesh emerge. In the meantime, regard this tannin as the equivalent of ground-up bone china. I shall enjoy watching the fruit of this high country vineyard as the vines grow older: it shows great promise in its infancy. Yum-o with a yellow curry of chubby European carp and saffron rice! 

Alex Sherrah with an after-work beer ... all photos Philip White  

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