“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)





02 October 2014


Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay 2012 
$150; 13.2% alcohol; screw cap; 95+ points 

Suddenly the Abrams tank model Yattarna which I really liked, 2011, driven by Gertrude Stein, looks even heavier. In contrast, this is the '62 Ferrari 250 GTO: the most sought-after, elegant Ferrari of all. The one that went for US$38 million at auction in August. Ultra lightweight/heavy-horsepower business, near the edge yacht designer Ben Lexcen sharpened when he said, "If it won't break it's too heavy."

Through precise vineyard selection in Tasmania's Derwent and Coal Valleys, Henty in Victoria and the Adelaide Hills, this wine's many bits have been fitted and amalgamated in a way that purrs such taut power and finesse. And Audrey Hepburn's driving.

Change gears. Racing chassis apart, car 2012 smells like a frothy zabaglione on lightly poached clingstone peach, sliced real thin, and served with amaretti. There's nothing thick or gloopy about it. Which is a relief; also: I'm not going to swallow a Ferrari. But I could sit here for a week, dreaming up all the nuts, berries and fruits it brings to mind, and miss the fact that all those many individual components are working altruistically for the good of the mob, not the individual. Only together do they have strength.

Precisely how those myriad shards of this and that come together to form Audrey Hepburn driving a  250 GTO beats me.

It'll easily handle ten years of cellar. But with Audrey at the tiller - on Ferrari or Vespa, I don't care - I'll plan on getting through the next year or so. Go for lots of laughter. Put wheels on footpath and share that zabaglione with the peach and amaretti and argue happily about all these mad theories. 

Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 
$350; 14.5% alcohol; cork; no score awarded 

It's a perverse freak of history, the notion of putting your best Cabernet in 100% new American Quercus alba hogsheads for fourteen months. I'd be reluctant to put whiskey in American oak, just between you and me. When this was first poured, it seemed mainly sap, like a carpentry. After three days, it's settled down to smell like Wild Turkey Rare Bourbon and Cola. Which is at least a premium RTD: the kind of thing preferred by only the best lumberjacks. I've drunk centre cut on tour with Jimmy Russell, and was trained in this stuff by great Bourbon bibbers like Christos Juhansen, but I still find it tricky to regard this sort of Quercus alba as a food. 

Max Schubert toasts Rada Penfold Russell in the early 70s ...  from Huon Hooke's book, Max Schubert Winemaker (Kerr 1994)

After three days, this smells even more like a classic 707. Think of the history. Max Schubert had wanted to make Grange from Cabernet from the start. It was too scarce and expensive, as was the good French oak he'd have preferred to use. It was just after the war. The French forests had not been loved. So Grange became Shiraz and French barrels became American ones. 707 was first released in older, more subtle American oak in 1964, and was named after the Boeing 707, the coolest thing in the sky. 

These were Chet Baker days. Even Raoul Merton shoes released a 707 V-jet brand of flash pointy-toed shoes for blokes in them 'sixties. 

But Cabernet was still too scarce and unreliable, and by the re-launch of 707 in 1976, the 747 Jumbo ruled the sky, men's shoes had grown clunky platform heels, and prominent American oak had become as vital to the Penfolds style as the 707 had long before been to Boeing.

Wrong way up: Tex Johnson's famous 1955 barrel-roll over Seattle ... test pilot Tex was showing off the new aircraft to the VIPs assembled below at the boat races ... anything 707 was a really rockin' thing ... barrel rolls help
So, forgiving it for the type of oak beloved by such gourmands as John Spalvins, what's it really like? Like in your face. Like hurling everything at you. Across the table. Like licorice, blackcurrant, blackberry, deadly nightshade and aniseed. Uh-oh, here come the patent Manolos. Drink it? Narrow, strapping, ungiving Cabernet of the highest order, in wood I can't abide. And because, as Peter Gago says, that oak is "totally absorbed ... certainly at one with the wine," I find it very tricky to fairly appraise other than to say that if you're a 707 traditionalist, you'll love this.

Let's call it the most 707ly of 707s and hope my comments don't deter the Chinese, who seem to  love it like rich Australian people loved it as they learned about premium table wine in the '70s and 80s.

Now. Would you like your stilettos back? I've given them a bit of a polish. 

Penfold's Bin 95 Grange 2010 
$785; 14.5% alcohol; cork; 97+++ points 

For the technicians: this is the best new Grange in decades. Gago's brilliant team has nailed the oak. This lot's harmonious. Always will be. Similarly, they've nailed the volatiles: the traditional trademark balsamic is here, but in harmony. The tannin? Persistent and intense, but gentle. Harmony. The rest of it's been done by brilliant viticulturers and rustic grape farmers in forensically-selected vineyards in Barossa, Clare, Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale and Magill. This fruit is as good as it gets in these parts. Harmony, see! This is a thirty year Grange that would go fifty and more under screwcap.

For the romantics: it stuns and dumbfounds from the first pour. People walk around, mumbling and groaning. Shaking their heads. Over the days it has simply, calmly overwhelmed me with its perfect harmony, complexity and authority. Yet maybe it's unfair to drink it at this compressed stage: it may amaze and delight to the point of gastronomic hallucination, but I think it impresses only by the myriad facets it reveals at unexpected moments. It doesn't ever seem to unravel or unfold, but rather glints and glimmers, sometimes releasing a fairytale firework against its own darkness; sometimes just oozing smooth harmonious calm. I keep thinking of a kaleidoscope made from a well-blued gun barrel, lit from within, and turned real slow, so the patterns hesitate before they tumble against the deep night sky. 

I'll gradually unload reviews of the entire Penfolds release over the next week.

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