“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)





28 February 2015


Return to Terroir organiser Julian Castagna of Castagna wines at Beechworth, tracking down some French wine which went astray last Saturday morning.

Julian is one of six Australian winemakers in the Return to Terroir organisation, which has has over 180 international members and includes the world's leading biodynamic winemakers in the Americas, Europe, Africa and Australia.

The weekend event in the Melbourne Town Hall was a dribbling success. It was the second such fixture in Australia. Julian attends one or two such tastings somewhere in the world each year. This was a perfect opportunity for enthusiasts to taste the best biodynamic wines the world has to offer.

All these photographs were taken by Milton Wordley ... that's Adam Castagna talking to tasters and Julian Castagna with Dennis and Noah Vice (centre) below. The Vice family's Highbank vineyard was the first organic venture in Coonawarra. The locals treated them with derision when they dared to turn off the petrochem regime. It was a direct threat to the region's standard industrial management psychology.

But that was a long time ago. Now look what's happened!

27 February 2015


Bishop by Ben Glaetzer Barossa Valley Shiraz 2013
$33; 15% alcohol; screw cap; 80++ points

Ben Glaetzer is a big deal in the Barossa. And elsewhere. Winemaking genetics; millions of awards; smart marketing; solid backers and hard-arse back-up. The confidence to charge money. The whole package.

These grapes came from Ebenezer, on the Barossa's sunbaked northern plain. It's a very special little vignoble out there in the sediments. But early frosts limited the crop; dry winter sealed the deal; warm dry summer made everything finally happen really quickly and early.

So whatter we got? Typical Barossa '13 Shiraz is what we've got. This was not a year in the league of the majestic twelves. It smells strong, dense and surly. Maybe even sultry. It smells thick and inky, with aniseed and licorice. It smells of very ripe blackberries and mulberries with a hint of ripe bleeding fig. Delve to an unseemly depth, and you may get the dribbly reek of juicy part-smoked pork. Atop that there's a typical Glaetzer dusting of oak to take the sheen off everything. It's really tight. It takes a couple of hours to even begin to emerge.

After all that stand-off in the nose division, the wine is more lithe and slender than you'd expect. It doesn't seem as alcoholic as the bouquet suggested. I've held the bottle for some months before opening it, knowing its maker and the vintage, and while Ben says he made it to "be approachable early" I can't help thinking it would have been a dense and tricky thing to encounter upon its release: a bit like the titanium/teflon monolith/menhir thingo the apes hurl bones at in 2001 A Space Odyssey.

That's the way Ben does the business. He builds rectalinear teflon menhirs that take years to relax.  Ideally, I'd be giving it a couple more years to let that wood settle, and the ruder meaty bits of the bouquet roll around with the fruits while they swell closer to a conserve stage and the whole dark gadget begins to animate, grows up a bit and lets just a little fleshy pudge hang over the belt at the hips. It needs to lose some corners. Which it will.

In summary, Glaetzer fans will probably think this wine's a bit light on, while others will still find it a touch taut and arrogant in the fragrance, and very direct and linear on the laughing gear. I'm in the latter mob: it doesn't offer me much laughter, but I reckon it'll peel open a beaming smile in about five years. When I'd have it with a stack of field mushrooms cooked in butter, Linke's bacon done crisp and brittle, and parsnip chips properly caramelised. 

Koltz The Pagan McLaren Vale Shiraz 2012 
$50; 15.5% alcohol; Diam cork; 93+++ points 

"The grapes for the 2012 Pagan were picked late February and dried on racks inside the winery for seven weeks and then crushed and fermented for fifteen days before being lightly pressed. The wine was aged in French oak for 22 months before being bottled."

That's winemaker Mark Day's summary of what happened in this soulful glass. It's unfair to compare this to the above 2013 wine, but it serves to make a point. This one grew in the upland shade of Blewett Springs, where it's all sand and ironstone. Its amarone winemaking extends the gap the contrasting vintages and terroirs have provided. The wines are chalk and cheese. And this cheese is the gorgonzola with the worms in it. It's the opposite of teflon.

Fine white pepper gives a topnote, below that it's all panforte, with blanched almond, date, raisin and fig all smug and comfy. It's silky of texture, with all those aromas continuing smoothly through as flavours. It has the quaint autumnal air typical of these dried-grape wines, and given all that deliberately extended manipulated ripening as raisins on racks, its acid is surprisingly firm and harmonious.

If it shares anything at all with the Glaetzer wine, it's the notion of its alcohol not being as aggressive as the number indicates. Other than that, it's hard to believe that both wines are made from the same grape, let alone grown in the same country.

And what would I eat with this? Panforte. And gorgonazola. On the veranda. Real slow.

24 February 2015


View from my front veranda this morning: removing the veil from part of the Yangarra Ironheart vineyard, which is ready to pick ... the grapes taste utterly delicious. The juice is already unctuous and rich, the acid just beginning to decline, the pips  brittle and walnutty.

This vineyard is called Ironheart because it grows, somehow, in a few inches of aeolian (windblown) sand over solid slab ironstone, like this exposed bit (click to zoom):

Not to be confused with the covering aeolian sand, which is a very recent arrival, this is the Maslin Sand formation. It was washed here by freshwater from the mountains 40-56 million years ago. It's some of the final remnants of the ten-kilometre high mountain range which lived to the east across the Willunga Fault.  Weathered to the limit, these Maslin Sands underlie most of the McLaren Vale embayment, with varying layers of other sediments on the top.

This great range has almost completely eroded away, leaving what we call the South Mount Lofty Ranges. The central part of these is called the Adelaide Hills. That's them on the horizon.

You can see the weathered, eroded, rounded riverine quartzite gravels trapped in the sandstone. Fifteen kilometres away, at the coast, these sands are loose enough to dig with a shovel in the big Rocla pits at Maslin's Beach. These sands have been used to build Adelaide: they're the filler beneath its roads and the bedding below the foundations of its buildings. 

Up in this north-easternmost, elevated part of McLaren Vale, the sands have been exposed and oxidised. Washed for millenia in iron-rich water, they have become ironstone as the iron comes out of solution and cements the sand particles together. My little Ironheart Cottage is built from chunks of this, which may explain its magnetism. The Wirra Wirra winery is also built from this ironstone, quarried five hundred metres from here.

Here's a piece of Maslin Sand which has become partly ferruginised. In a way, ironstone grows. But as that epoch of washing in iron-rich water has long ceased, the process stopped, leaving fascinating examples like this:

Just to prove I took the top photograph, and indicate the great distances I have to travel to do my job, here's Milton Wordley's phone snap of your intrepid reporter hard at work:


The hypocrazy of the state:
c'mon, surprise us, Mr Premier!
Just get on and legalise the herb

Remember when the most dangerous thing you could do was mix your drinks?

Younger readers may find this strange, the notion that the devil would get you and you'd turn into a deranged killer if you had a few beers then a glass of wine or a whisky or something, but it's not long ago that such behaviour was considered more dangerous than copulating without a franger or leaving the single-shot .22 behind the door with one up its spout for that moment when the dogs warned your pop that the fox was back in the fowlhouse.

As a bloke who's spent thirty five years encouraging the drinking of wine under the guise of promoting the gastronomic arts and supporting this state's most widely-promoted essential industries, both primary and secondary, I found this great big scary mixing of drinks theory bemusing.

It held about as much logic as the promise of eternal life singing hymns up in heaven with Jesus if you're good. In a society which accepts as a civilised ritual the notion of having a glass of fizz with your hors d'oeuvres, white wine with your entree, red with your main, a sticky with dessert and a cognac or port as a digestive, fashionably followed by a few cleansing ales, the whole notion seemed anathema to this writer.

Which leads me to the tricky bit never mentioned in the Food and Wine pages: ethanol is intoxicating.

Too much wine leads to falling over ... photo Philip White

All those millions of words spread over all these media for all those years were fine while they attracted the rivers of gold through the advertising spacefloggers, but how many wine columns can you recall that warned that too much ethanol is a really dangerous depressant?

All those thousands of hectares of countryside cleared of native flora and fauna to make way for monocultural barley to make beer or vineyards to make wine? I can't recall a coincident mention of ethanol or intoxication relative to that tireless human endeavour in all my long years of schooling or decades of doing the right thing by the farmers and our splendid rural communities by encouraging the consumption of their wares.

Intoxicating vista ... McLaren Vale ... photo Milton Wordley

As a bloke with dangerous literary tendencies who's well versed in various degrees of intoxication, I've long related this state-imposed hypocrisy to the car industry. We were proud to have thousands of workers building splendid cars at General Motors Holden: automotive products whose quality was measured by their capacity to break the road laws within a certain number of seconds and top speeds at least double the hike the law permits.

Not to mention the lucrative taxes raised every time a driver has a go at using this technology.

Putting extreme versions of such machines in the city streets to display their capacity to break every law relative to transport, safety or noise in an annual state-funded orgy of excess was always bizarre to me, especially when this is wrapped in ethanol promotion.

Why aren't we leading the world in electric cars that quite safely drive themselves?

Politics? Start with the left. It's only a few weeks since Premier Weatherill promised us some radical new turns in government endeavour. Expect some big surprises? The only examples of this new order that stick in my mind are the state angst over losing the rights to build incredibly complex and expensive underwater spaceships designed specifically to kill people and the promise of a royal enquiry into the possibility of value-adding to our uranium industry.

I won't mention our capacity to over-deliver in our radioactive exports. Or Fukushima. Feel the quality.

Imagine Japan following our drug policy, punishing the dealer rather than the user.

This country's mindless lurch to the right sees the good people of New South Wales expected to love their Premier's promise to evict drug dealers from public housing. Like it's fine for them to drive their 220 km/hr broom-brooms down to Hungry Dan's for a bootload of discount booze grown by the aforementioned farmers and refined by those ethanol industrialists which government markets as glamorous tourist attractions, but sell a bag of pot? Uh-huh. Out on your arse, Sunshine. Take to the streets and don't get in the way of the traffic.

Back to the top. The mixing of drinks boogie man has been replaced by the state-sponsored fear of what it names pre-loading, which means daring to have a few drinks before venturing forth to a night on the town, like the Fringe or the car races or something. Government would prefer those dollars tipped into tills where the tax far exceeds the pittance they took on your discounted pre-load.

Mr Premier, if you want to do something enlightened to help our economy, legalise pot. Tax commercial sales; let the rest grow our own, like we home brew. None of this bullshit about doing it as a medicinal move, which it would be regardless. Just legalise it. Pure and simple. You won't need a Royal Enquiry: we already paid for that in Don Dunstan's brilliant time. It's called Cannabis: A discussion paper, Adelaide, South Australia - Royal Commission into the non-medical use of drugs 1978.

Dangerous criminals: DBC Pierre and the author committing the deadly sin: Honey, take the kids inside ... photo by Pike

My longest-lasting pair of jeans are made of hemp. You can build houses from it. Car panels. Make paper. Relieve pain. Encourage an appetite when you're on chemo.

As for the state-promoted fear of mixing ethanol with cannabis? I'm obliged to advise that a puff significantly enhances my capacity to enjoy the finest of the gastronomic arts. I consume less ethanol. And the conversation is better.

But then, I don't drive. For obvious reasons, I deliberately let my license expire thirty years back. I have taught myself to live comfortably, in the country, many kilometres from the nearest shop. There are cars going everywhere, all the time, with only one occupant. Drivers like company. Learn the neighbours' habits, catch a ride. You don't need to burn petrol in your personal 220 km/hr vehicle every time you need milk.

Let's defer to that bastion of democracy which we always follow, The USA, where there are only 23 states that still prohibit pot outright; where 'medical' marijuana, the decriminalization of marijuana possession, or both, have been legalized in 27 states. Not to mention the District of Columbia.

So far.

The taxes raised are very shiny indeed.

You can also empty the ridiculously expensive overcrowded prisons, Mr Premier.

Take the advice of Bill Maher, whose viewers number four to five times South Australia's population per show. On Friday he said:

“Obama should acknowledge that putting people in jail for non-violent drug offences was a giant mistake in the first place, and then he should use the power of the presidential pardon and free them all. Come on, you know you want to! You’ve been stingy with those pardons! Here’s a great way to make up for it, and there’s plenty of precedent. Lincoln, a Republican, pardoned the southern rebels after the Civil War. Ford, a Republican, pardoned Vietnam draft dodgers. Ronald Reagan signed an amnesty for 2.7 million Mexican illegals. If Republicans can forgive people for armed insurrection, desertion, and speaking Spanish, a Democrat can forgive us for getting high.”

19 February 2015


Oakridge Meunier 2014 
$26; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 92 points 

It's very late and I've been listening to too much Chet Baker and I've been nursing this bottle for two days, trying to make it last longer than Chet ever looked like lasting, or possibly could, although he lasted longer than anybody expected. And he invented the thing we call cool. Truly. You know why I'm dragging it out so long like this? Because it's a beautiful cool sensuous thing, and it teases and teases with its wicked bleeding flesh and the way it makes me pucker and my mouth wince with disbelief. It has the grape smells. You know, real ripe blueberry and crême de cassis and some of the other things we by rote expect of good red wine. But it also has that sicko bilious curl, the amino acid twist, the bits that somehow put more human naughtiness than you would expect was possible into your glass. There's not much tannin, but pure relentless pink human flesh that's so frank and accurate and honestly disarming you can taste the salty blood just beneath the skin. I put the glass down, and wait, and try again, and yep, impossibly, all those delicious things happen again. Get into bed with the human that tastes best to you and share it. Trust Unca Phil. You'll have to really screw the winery to squeeze a bottle out of there, but I know they still have some. Bugger 'em. Make threats. And line up for next year. Pity they don't say where it comes from. The winery's in the Yarra Valley. But nearly all the Pinot meunier I know of in Australia grows at Great Western.

FOOTNOTE #1: Winemaker David Bicknell tells me this is all Yarra Valley fruit: "Southern and higher. Two vineyards in this brew. Willowlake (1980) and Beenak (1990?). Traditionally went to fizz." 

FOOTNOTE #2: Viv Thomson once gave me a bottle of his Best's Wines Pinot Meunier 1967, his favourite vintage, which I took to share with that Champenoise champion of the grape, my friend, the late Henri Krug. As all his Meunier went into the glorious Krug Champagne, he'd never seen anything like this sensual dry red beauty. Henri had the greatest palate I've encountered. He shook his head for about an hour over that bottle. It blew him away. Keep at it, David!

Andrew Peace Wines The Unexpected Shiraz 2014 
$18; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 92 points 

Also from the Victoria side of the border but up the Murray Valley way, this is a little like the above, but in the thicker Shiraz manner. It has all the same business going on, but with the added attraction of aniseed balls and some rude barely cured black Iberian ham. And that old white pepper tin you found at your granny's when you were cleaning her joint out. It's black and dangerously sensual but it has a slightly sinister air, like there may be crocs outside on the back lawn if you plan to sneak home that way, indicating you're no longer at your granny's. I mean big hungry prehistoric reptiles with teeth, not plastic shoes. That's too much about the smell; let's have a schlück. Yep. Lickety-slick sensuous silky thin skin and that bloody bleeding flavour that's almost more human than grape. Well done, Andrew Peace Wines. I really didn't expect this from your neck of the desert. And  thankyou for sending two bottles. I abused the first one attempting to assuage my disbelief. Kept that one open for days and it just sat there looking me in the eye til it was all inside of me. Stared me out. Haven't even got down to the top of the label on the second one and I'm convinced. Suckered. And you know what, dear drinker? This wine has no preservatives, like no sulphur at all. It's what they call "vegan-friendly," which scares me well off if I eventually bother to read the label. I don't even know any rabbits that are vegans. But maybe that's the secret. This would go perfectly well with stewed rabbit. Shoot it, dress it, quarter it and poach it in red wine with a bunch of fresh green herbs and some juniper berries and a few big chunks of the beautiful sugar-cured smoked pig fat you will find on the edge of the kassler Max Noske makes in his butchery at Hahndorf. Best kassler in the world. 

Dodgy Brothers McLaren Vale Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013 
$28; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 90++ points 

This is a bit like both the above wines, but you can't really tell because it's a lot stronger in the ethanol sector and it has OAK that I can smell and taste which I'm sure adds a dollar or three to that spend. If you're a conventional colonial boyo of any sex who drinks Jack or Jim with Coke and you have your glass of red with a slice of Bega Tasty Cheddar I'm sure you will appreciate this more than either of the above naughty sensualities. Like bourbon, this is all about wood and the other two aren't. It has a toasty, sappy piqant edge with bits of eucalyptus and wattle bark, but it also has rather schmick fruit below that. Which is why I kinda like it. However. GSM, which this wine does not claim to be, but is, was a name invented at the Rosemount winery in McLaren Vale back when I was only middle aged. It was a lab abbreviation which some marketing genius spotted on a blending bench and turned into a whole friggin genre which became a recipe for the entire industry in the sense that blending mindlessly happened, henceforth, always in that descending order: Grenache, Shiraz then Mourvedre. I think you'll find that if you have Grenache worth the drinking, you'll now be selling it successfully as Grenache. Mourvedre, also known as Mataro or sometimes Monastrelle, is also now appearing brilliantly on its little ol' ownsome, like in the Dodgy Bros. version I recommended here some time back. Neither variety needs the helpful (for the grower and winemaker) wadding of the over-abundant Shiraz in the middle. So I hope those of you who still like that GSM thing will buy this artisanal version of it and love it knowing that the huge Rosemount winery that invented the recipe is in mothballs and nobody even works there anymore. Finito. Enjoy.


Francis Bacon (1909-1992) by Philip White 1.6.2007

I choose to take this risk of writing 
(for Francis Bacon, after too many drinks in the Coach and Horses)

Those arms I felt:
softened they were by Death;
but sorrow warms them too,
and I could feel your strength coming through.

In those arms.

When it happens, nobody understands.
The anchor in the heart
slowly pulls tight as
the ship draws away,
and great steaks of flesh and rib
drag pumping down the pier.

Now the cables are drawing tight.

The garbage men are banging in the street.

It’s not so much the muscle that goes,
but the bone.
Eaten and eaten and eaten.
From the arms, I mean: the loving arms.

The other bastard sits there smoking,
nonchalant, on the bed,
while the bone goes out of your arms
and your chest is dragged pumping
down the pier.

He puts his hat on, jerks down his cuffs,
and stalks out,
shoulders swelling thinly against his shoulderpads.

When you curl your throat like that
and I’ve got my fingers soft in the back of your knee,
that’s when we pull the wadding of the sky
back into the wound and shoot those
stainless cables down the marrow to the future. 

Philip White

Francis Bacon in  his Soho studio in 1977 ... photo by Carlos Freire ... in the three years to 2001, a team led by Barbara Dawson catalogued every item in the studio and moved it to The Hugh Lane Dublin City Gallery, where it was painstaking re-assembled. There's a fleeting but powerful advertisement for Krug in the first video.