“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)





24 October 2014


There's a lot of bristly haggling about the role of 'wine writers' lately. I've always preferred to call  myself a wine critic and get on with it.

Ten years ago, Eric Beecher and Jane Gribble ran a hot little half A4 stapled weekly called The Reader. Deputy Editor Jane Nethercote called and asked about the nature of writing on wine. I was delighted at the accuracy they'd employed in publishing the quotes. That's rare. Anyway, given all the current hubbub about its politics, I dug this ten year old interview out.

I don't think any changes are necessary. All that's gone is the newspapers. And I don't attempt to taste nearly so much average wine these days. 

The Reader became Crikey and, in a way, InDaily.

Funny, eh? Nope? 

Philip White, Wine Writer 
The Reader, Friday 22 October 2004

Philip White is a wine writer, editor and broadcaster who has contributed to many Australian newspapers and magazines here and abroad. He has written the wine column in Adelaide's The Advertiser for 16 years. 

What do you think about the standard of wine writing in Australia and beyond? 

There's too much thespian vanity; not enough imaginative, attractive, intelligent writing. There's no poetry. The glossies are repetitive gastroporn. Nobody admits that alcohol's a deadly drug. Publishers want lists of brand names in bold face. Who writes about organics, or wine, environment, and salinity? Industrial grapeyards threaten our river and ground water like cotton and rice do. Surely water's gastronomically important? 

Is the wine writer's job just to find and recommend good wines, or is there a wider role to educate, inform, editorialise and entertain? 

The job is to sell newspapers by doing all that reliably. Few take your advice if your writing's not attractive. 

What do you say to people who say they can't understand a lot of wine writing? 

Who'd blame them? English lacks words specific to flavours and smells, unlike our vocab for colour. Winos revert to confounding, exclusive language. Like film crews: they develop a patois that gives them privacy on the set. I could talk about 'yeast autolysis' and nobody'd twig. But call a Krug 'nipple polish' and most readers get my drift. 

Speaking of thespian vanity .. photo Steve Hardacre, from  Made In Adelaide - The People - Including the Satchell Tapes (Marie Appleton, Savvas Publishing 1987)

What are your credentials? 

My mentors were all great winemakers: Max Schubert, David Wynn, Gerard Jaboulet, Jack Kilgour. All dead and gone, while their wines live on. In the '70s I was a thirsty writer, who gradually discovered my good memory for aroma and flavour. Now I taste over 6,000 wines a year, and constantly travel the vineyards. I have to get out and taste the dirt. 

Why become a wine writer? 

My lovely brother and cousin were killed on the way to my grandmother's funeral, so I stayed in the pub for four months. Eventually a mate suggested I apply for a job editing a wine magazine that wanted a writer rather than a wine snob. They pointed me at a bench of all the Jimmy Watson winners and asked me for my descriptions. I got the job. I could work and keep drinking. 

What are the most over-used adjectives in wine writing? 

Buzz words come and go. Mineral and minerality are currently over-used and abused. Which mineral do they mean? All minerals taste different. Once it was mercaptan, which nobody could define. When Bob Haupt was editor of The National Times he pinged me for using herbaceous, becuse it wasn't 'user friendly.' So for months I recommended only user friendly wines. 

Do you ever buy wine, or do you just drink all your freebies? 

I'll start the day tasting a dozen or so free samples, before dressing, and progress from there til I'm shagged. It all goes down the sink. It's lonely work. I can't wait to get to The Exeter for a drink at the end of the day: Campari, gin or vodka with bitters in the summer; whisky in the winter, maybe a wheat beer. I buy wine for special meals, or to accompany specific dishes. 

With so much free wine, and so many invitations to enjoy the hospitality of wine producers, how does a wine writer stay independent? 

The moment I recommend inferior drinks, my reputation wilts. The premium wine community is very small, and nothing escapes attention. I rarely accept free trips or attend extravagent launches - you'd get arse cancer from all that magazine food. Independence is elusive while you're friends with makers of the best wines internationally. 

How do you feel about wielding your critical power? 

Nothing pleases me more than seeing success bless a winemaker who's done it responsibly, cleanly, intelligently, and modestly. I search for them relentlessly, and urge my readers to share my joy in a glassful. Conversely, I hate cheats and greed, so to hell with those. 

Do you ever get sick of drinking wine? Can you afford to? 

I can't afford to swallow most of the mono-cultural, industrial, refinery-made wine which 'makes the industry what it is today.'

photo The Advertiser - Celebrity Fridges - 1990

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

love the ratsack whitey