“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)





12 February 2015


By Jingo! Adelaide Hills Montepulciano Zinfandel 2009
 $48; 14.2% alcohol; screw cap; 94++ points 

Nostalgia will eat your brain, then your meat and finally your bones as the earth resumes them. 

Before that process grows too much inertia, it can be a lovely thing to recall the past without melancholy. This wine does that: it just kinda sucks my awareness back three or four decades. Released now at six years of age, it is a time machine. It returns me to that era when wines like this were losing ground to those manufactured by what was beginning to boast of being an industry, but hated me calling its irrigated, petrochem-addicted products industrial.

They began to call wine 'product' in those days.

The smooth, prefectly-assimilated nature of this beautiful drink is far from nearly everything that's happened since those 'seventies.  It has maturity, but it will grow much more of that: beneath its mellow autumnal flesh and pungent fresh cowshit it has the structure of a locomotive. Most drinkers will not see this. That bit is my job to see. Even reporting it is a risk, because this bit about that ordure and that chassis may take away from the message about the deep glow one gets absorbing its earthy pungence.

The Duke of Edinburgh at the Murray River Port of Goolwa, not far from Gilbert's Siding ... photo Philip White

It would be a very brave wine nerd to name its varieties, or perhaps even its vintage. Not to mention its source in a tiny vineyard south of the Mount Barker township in the Adelaide Hills. As I have hinted before, it is a wine that would snuggle well amongst those of Serge Hochar and Max Schubert, of whom I wrote on Tuesday.

Few people have the spirit, the nous, the soul, the patience, the gastronomic intelligence ... whatever it is ... to even think of wines like this anymore.

John Gilbert can, and then he gets up and ever-so-gradually makes them.

"I just watch them," he told me in the vineyard last night. "Like slowly, they make themselves."

At a time when the best of the past is hard to grasp, it's worth realising that these wines can only "make themselves" in the hands of such rare, patient, confident and sensitive persons who are hated by their accountants. For the maker, six years is a lot of spend to wait for. Even Grange now hits the market at four years of age.

This is majestic, mature, supple red wine like kings once drank. 

By Jingo! Adelaide Hills Montepulciano 2008 
$55; 14.2% alcohol; screw cap; 94+++ points 

Even harder to explain, this is the above without the immediate comfort of the raisins and currants the Zin brought.

Still mellow and mature, and a whole year older, it's more Zen than Zin. It's the Master version. It's hard and stony in a way, like waking in the snow to realise you've just spent six or seven winters and all those other seasons in a full lotus on a slab of granite.

It's a slender, velvety wine, yet with calm authority, it oozes the following up the organoleptic hoover: lovely old saddle-soaped harness. Soft English toffee. Cinnamon and nutmeg, well stewed into the structure; not overt. All the briars and ripe hedgerow berries of the whole of old Europe, picked and macerated at the peak of summer, with their leaves and their heavy drooping fruit overt, steeped and aged. Billy Shakespaw and Kit Marlowe jumping over the fence for a frolic in the summer sward; sonnets emergent. Ginger. Fruit mince. Soft candied citrus rind. Suet. Caul fat.

There's nothing else like this on the market.

It makes my mouth ooze, and its beautiful hidden acid sucks the blood dangerously close to leaking through the inside of the lips. It's sick.

The Sicilians have a special recipe for stew made only from wild black rabbits. I want it. And gorgonzola. The one with the worms in it.

I may have been mean with my points. Not jokin'. Such quality at this price is hard to grasp. Get some.  Wallow. 

By Jingo! Murray Darling Grillo 2012 
$29; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 85+ points 

John Gilbert fell in love with this wild white variety during his days winemaking in Sicily. Loving one  batch of fruit which came into the winery, he tracked down its grower, thinking that the variety would adapt well to the warm dry climate of inland Australia. He bought cuttings, imported them, had them identified as Grillo, then endured the long haul while it passed Australia's rigid quarantine and was propagated in a nursery.

Once he had some fruit, he pretty much let it make itself. A gentle squeeze of whole bunches released an intriguing must which was let settle and clarify before decanting into old French barrels where it was quite simply left for whatever yeasts which happened to be sauntering by to float in on the air and get to work.

The wine was left there for two years, when it was ready to bottle.

A winemaker can't do much less than that.

It has the aroma of soft dried apples and pears. Some hempy burlap. It's moody, complex, and mellow. Calming. It has a faint hint of caramel, like soft English toffee. Fresh nougat. If you chill it too hard, it's a delight to sit with your glass and watch it bloom as it warms. Just sit there sniffin.

When you finally surrender to a taste, you'll find it has a most unusual full texture. The long time on yeast has given it a warm zucherkuchen flavour. That's a simple buttery German yeast cake. Then a savoury rise of pickled and candied citrus gives it a neat, appetising focus. It lingers, and draws you out in a brilliant piece of tease. Dribbly visons of duck a l'orange and drunken chicken waft by.

The tail has tight neat acid entwined with the sorts of fine bone china tannin you'd usually expect to find in red wine.

While I was thinking along the lines of 'By Jesus! By Jingo's solved the Riverland!' an intriguing problem arose. Somehow, through the whole nursery process, it seems the Grillo propagations were confused with the out-of-fashion sherry grape Palamino, which old Victorian growers confused with Golden Chasselas. Whatever that was, it seems possible it was brought in through Geelong with the original 1840s Swiss settlers, who probably bought cuttings when they called in for provisions at  Cape Town, where Palamino was widely grown for sherry production.

Or maybe they got it in the Canary Islands, where it was called Listán Prieto, and was used to make the canary sack sherry much guzzled by the likes of that ebullient boozer, Sir John Falstaff. 

So. This miracle Murray Darling breakthough? Golden Chasselas, Palamino, Grillo or Grolden Palagrillo? What the fuck is it?

In a strange rerun of the Alboriño kerfuffle, when many eager Aussie beavers planted what they thought was the new top-ten-with-a-bullet Portuguese miracle white, to discover too late it was actually Traminer, which is marketed now as Savignin, it seems we're entering the beginnings of another tantalising ampelographic puzzle.

I pose an innocent query: Whatever this variety is, John Gilbert is on the verge of peeling open a surreal sardine can full of vinous wonder. If he can make Palamino taste like this, with such minimalist  technique, like generally using only one inexpensive addition, like time, why can't more winemakers make such fascinating wine from the poor old Palamino?

It grows, after all, like weeds.

Stephen Condy as Sir John Falstaff

I'll leave it in the mouth of none other than Falstaff, who in William Shakespeare's Henry IV, act 3, scene 3, sprouts forth this wonderment:

'I would you had but the wit: 'twere better than your dukedom. Good faith, this same young sober-blooded boy doth not love me; nor a man cannot make him laugh; but that's no marvel, he drinks no wine.

'There's never none of these demure boys come to any proof; for thin drink doth so over-cool their blood, and making many fish-meals, that they fall into a kind of male green-sickness; and then when they marry, they get wenches: they are generally fools and cowards; which some of us should be too, but for inflammation.

'A good sherris sack hath a two-fold operation in it. It ascends me into the brain; dries me there all the foolish and dull and curdy vapours which environ it; makes it apprehensive, quick, forgetive, full of nimble fiery and delectable shapes, which, delivered o'er to the voice, the tongue, which is the birth, becomes excellent wit.

'The second property of your excellent sherris is, the warming of the blood; which, before cold and settled, left the liver white and pale, which is the badge of pusillanimity and cowardice; but the sherris warms it and makes it course from the inwards to the parts extreme: it illumineth the face, which as a beacon gives warning to all the rest of this little kingdom, man, to arm; and then the vital commoners and inland petty spirits muster me all to their captain, the heart, who, great and puffed up with this retinue, doth any deed of courage; and this valour comes of sherris.

'So that skill in the weapon is nothing without sack, for that sets it a-work; and learning a mere hoard of gold kept by a devil, till sack commences it and sets it in act and use.

'Hereof comes it that Prince Harry is valiant; for the cold blood he did naturally inherit of his father, he hath, like lean, sterile and bare land, manured, husbanded and tilled with excellent endeavour of drinking good and good store of fertile sherris, that he is become very hot and valiant.

'If I had a thousand sons, the first humane principle I would teach them should be, to forswear thin potations and to addict themselves to sack.'

Addicted to the sack: John Gilbert: the winemaker in repose ... photo Philip White

[I used the word resume in my first sentence. To clarify, look here.]

[More clarification needed here ... what is this bloke propagating/growing/selling, and where did he get it? And where's Nigel Bleitschke?]


Ted said...

Fresh cowshit and old (leather) harness, characteristic aromas of 4-EP and 4-EG; I'd say both of these wines have a significant Brettanomyces/Dekkera problem.

Philip White said...


go starch your lab coat Ted, steam up the iron, squeeze your Fabulon and get back on the job ... you picked two out of eleven brazillion active zerblies that plague this horror.

Next time, use your full name you wuss.

Susan Mcauliffe said...

I'm drooling, I can almost taste the wine as I read. I remember.

Anonymous said...

Wonder what Ted thinks of the axle grease on the Duke of Edinburgh?

Ted II

Philip White said...

A mate brought a 98 Latour round the other night. I thought it had a touch of brett or weird TCA. We were at dinner, so there was no white coat forensic shit on the plate. The mob seemed to drink that up pretty quick, Ted.

Philip White said...

There couldn't be any Brett in Sardinia, could there?

Brett said...

Brett in the barrels? Worms in the cheese! Go for it Whitey!