“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 December 2014


Just between you and me, the best possible Exmess gift I could imagine this year is to see my dear friend of 35 years, Big Bob McLean, return to good and hearty health. And Wilma McLean, too. Bob was only coming to grips with how hellish intensive bouts of chemo and radiotherapy can be, when Willie slipped on one of those big old stones on their mountaintop vineyard and broke her hip. Their bright offspring, Sarah and Adam, are running McLean's Farm while Mum and Dad repair ... photo Philip White

Happy 2014th birthday, Jesus!
What we'll drink in your honour;
please forgive our forgetful greed

So. Back to that time of year when the market place, Joe Hockey* and the Christian church corral us all into a spendfest too many of us simply cannot afford. Fortunately, this is diluted by the gentle sound of cricket on the radio, and, in my case, the croaking and squawking of a treeful of baby galahs being fed. The blackbirds in my porch are on their third set of chicks; the welcome swallows in the eave are raising their second lot. And with the flowering of their favourite Melaleuca, the New Holland honeyeaters are back en masse. Since a marauding cat chewed up most of the superb faireywrens the remains of that perfectly-named lot have quite wisely moved along.

I do miss the tiny male, however, cheekily hopping through the casement to extract miniscule morsels from the carpet around my feet as I work. He was smaller than my big toe.

The Superb Faireywren cock, and below, their nest pillaged by cats ... while they seem to like putting blue stuff in their nests, the males pick yellow flowers and dance with them and wave them around to lure new spouses ... the little bloke who used to visit me even tried to pick yellow bits of my dishcloth from the clothesline ... for Exmess, give the wee birdies a break: keep your damn cat inside ... photo Marie Linke

Which is to say there is life parallel to Exmess if you bother to look outside, or at least dare to open the door.

In my line of work, it's that time when editors feverishly expect one to come up with miracle drink suggestions that have mysteriously eluded mention the other fifty-one weeks of the year.

So let's have a look back at 2014 and remind ourselves of some inexpensive standouts that will be perfectly entertaining holiday tinctures if there's any bits left to tinct.

At the risk of being repetitious - I've probably recommended this for 35 consecutive summers - it's time for Riesling on ice with a splash of soda. Being in a serious Riesling state, it's tricky advising locals which brand to pursue as everyone already has a favourite, but we are fortunate in having producers like Pikes, Paulettes, Sevenhill and O'Leary Walker knocking out exemplary wines of consistent quality: in the last few vintages I've seen my favour once again fall to the eastern side of Clare, with those Polish Valley makers offering wines of freakish consistency and beauty. The exemplary O'L-W Drs' Cut is as good as it gets, and not so cheap, but there are many beauties at lower prices, including their standards from Polish Valley and Watervale. 

Not to mention the cracker Boston Bay they made from the Ford family's Port Lincoln vineyard: that one hit the Winestate Riesling of the Year gong, cleaning up all comers from New Zealand and Australia. 

The Fabulous Fordies celebrate their big Riesling gong at the hottest new restaurant in town, Sean's Kitchen ... photos Philip White 
And then there's that elegant Holland Creek beauty from Paracombe, and of course there's no better way to drink east into Eden Riesling than to start on top of Mengler's Hill at McLean's Farm.

Three rosés knocked my socks off; the thought of them makes me very thirsty: the crunchy Longview Boatshed Nebbiolo Rosato, and the Grenache-based beauties from Longhop and Charles Melton, neither of which are raspberry-simple and sweet, but perfectly appetising, elegant and dry. A big block of ice won't go astray in these, either.

Speaking of Grenache, this was its year. Finally, growers are seeing it as something other than a low-grade Shiraz, and winemakers are learning of its more supple, satisfying nature if it's picked earlier and made with respect and some gastronomic intelligence. To plug my own landlord, Peter Fraser is continuing his determined rewrite of the Grenache book here at Yangarra. Ex-Hardy's and Wirra Wirra winemaker Paul Carpenter launched his new Long Line brand with a beauty called Albright's, but the king-hit came under Twelftree livery from Two Hands of Marananga, with a ravishing six-pack of wines from the best Grenache vineyards the maker could locate in McLaren Vale and the Barossa.

These more elegant forms of the variety are all good summer replacements for the types of brutal Shiraz which will dangerously threaten your hydration scale in the coming heat.

2014 was also the year in which we finally saw some good coming of this country's belated discovery of various Italian varieties. Coriole and the new megacoolbuzzbrand, Jericho, both released beautiful Fiano whites while Mark Day's all-Italian Eccolo trinity includes a brilliant Garganega, the prime white ingredient of Verona's Soave.

Italianate reds that caught my greedy gaze came from various uphill directions: the Fox Gordon Nero D'Avola Tash Mooney made from Caj Amadio's Kersbrook vineyard set a delicious new standard for that variety, while the spacy John Gilbert (in post-vintage repose, below) kept at it with his delicious blends and straight varietals at By Jingo near Wistow.

But my true Roman star was a new one on me: J. Petrucci &  Son's rad McLaren Flat Colorino is one of those entertaining inky brutes that for some reason drinks beautifully after a touch of the ice bucket, an extreme rarity among reds of such persistent tannin. It manages deep intensity at cellar temperature or just slightly chilled without being gloopy and thick.

Joe Petrucci, McLaren Flat vigneron, with his son Michael ... photo Philip White

Two stables which win my top gong for sheer persistent value are the brave new works of Rhys  Howlett at Small Change wines, and the Torzi-Matthews-Freeland mob at Mt McKenzie: their Longhop, Old Plains and Torzi-Matthews products prove that you don't have to resort to Hungry Dans to get really good hand-made wines starting below $20, which is the cost of three or four beers.

Speaking of which: It's more than the intention of drinking local that sees me recommending the beautiful beers of Goodiesons: this Sand Road, McLaren Flat brewery can do no wrong in the suds department. Their Pilsener is de rigueur at Casa Blanco, just for starters. Enthusiasts who feel obliged to taste every beer in the new craft genre should plan an afternoon there on the Goodiesons deck by the creek. The other impressive beer was the hearty, creamy, limited edition Botanic Ale made from barley grown in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens and available there in the restaurant or at the Lobethal Bierhaus.

The other notable aspect of the year was the boom of hippy wines: cloudy 'natural' creations which seem to live in the hope that as a group, they may eventually become a sort of Cooper's Pale of the wine world. My Exmess gift to you is my reminder that it is not compulsory to drink these. It is entirely possible to make preservative-free organic and biodynamic wines which are not murky with protein haze and have a shelf life much longer than unpasteurised milk. Which is a handicap many of these Very Old Wave newbies unfortunately boast.

Finally, with all the money you've just saved drinking wines at such low prices, consider A year in the life of Grange, the book Milton Wordley photographed and published, and I wrote. This has won numerous international awards, including the Best In The World award for wine book photography at the Gourmand international book fair held this year in Beijing, and brought home gold and silver medals from the Independent Publishers' Book Fair in New York. A hand-made, hand-stitched, hand-numbered luxury Adelaide product, this large tome will add an aspirational tone to anybody's tree. Through our listed stockists only, we're chopping $185 from the price until December 17th. Order through your independent liquor store (Melbourne Street, East End and Edinburgh for starters), or visit the Penfolds tasting rooms at Magill or Nuriootpa, and it'll be yours for $600. Which is less than a bottle of Grange (the usual price), and about $167,400 cheaper than the amazing Penfolds Ampoule, which, fortunately for all those tempted, has sold out.

I dare you. You could make Joe Hockey happy.

The author and photographer/publisher Milton Wordley with our New York book show bling ... photo Gail Gago

*FOOTNOTE: Having failed to get his kick-the-poor budget through Australia's Senate, and doubling the national deficit inside one year, arch-conservative Australian treasurer Joe Hockey advised struggling Australians “Don’t let Santa down, go out there and spend for Christmas.”

Governor of New South Wales, Sir Roden Cutler VCVC , AK , KCMG , KCVO , CBE (1916–2002) , enjoying a touch of PR with Big Bob McLean in 1984. Bob left Orlando to take the marketing boss job at Petaluma, then moved to put St Hallett on the map and finally to McLean's Farm. Get well both you lovely McLeinigs!