“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)





26 March 2015


Fleurieu Hills Vineyards 300+ Pinot Gris 2013
$17; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 93 points 

Sitting in the office of a big contract winemaker a dozen years back, I overheard a conversation. A huge retailer wanted this new stuff they had on Mornington Peninsula called Pinot grigio. The winemaker explained that his district hardly grew any, and he had none. The buyer yelled that he didn't care what it was made from, as long as by the time it got to him, "it had better be Pinot grigio!"

I think I heard him suggest Semillon.

Varieties that end in O were only just beginning their surprising surge in popularity. It was interesting that the buyer made it clear that regardless of the variety in the bottle, he certainly didn't want it labelled Pinot gris, which is the French name of the grey-skinned form of Pinot which is called Pinot grigio in Italy. The French, who grow it in Alsace, tend to make a longer-living, more austere version than most Italians.

All that aside, I have long held the suspicion that anywhere that can't grow good Pinot noir, which includes most of South Australia (Ashton Hills being a brilliant exception) shouldn't even attempt to grow the grey version.

So it was a delightful surprise to discover this lovely wine, which was grown by Linda and Trevor Desmond on the range beyond Willunga and made at Dennis Wines on McLaren Flat. The photographer Milton Wordley kindly brought me two samples saying "Try these, Whitey. I reckon they're pretty good."

Pretty good? It is a rare thing in my line of work to make a discovery like this. Thankyou Milton. I came over all emulsional.

Milton Wordley: hard at work ... photo Philip White
As the Desmonds are just south-east of the McLaren Vale boundary, their vignoble's called Southern Fleurieu. They're at 300+ metres of altitude in grey podsolic dirt spattered with ironstone the size of shotgun pellets, peas and grapeshot. Without even tasting, thus far, on paper, it all looks promising. Whitey really likes ironstone.

But then I pour a glass and realise the table is flooding with the creamy aroma of ripe white peach. Pure and honest and wholesome. Stick the nose in closer and it simply becomes more intense. It's not that overt yellow peach that used to mar rich Chardonnays like the dreaded Upper Hunter Valley Rosemount Roxburgh, which is now a coal mine, nyah nyah, but clean and unblemished ripe white peach grown somewhere cold. Maybe some buttery pear, too, like the Anjou type. It makes me think how delightful it would be to smell a human with flesh like this. Second bet would be to simply find a scrubbed one and pour this on. Nipple polish.

The texture is pretty much what you'd expect after such a fragrance: viscous and a bit thick: like a ripe Pinot noir. It's what that empress of Mornington Peninsula Pinot gris/grigio, Kathleen Quealy quite correctly calls 'slime'. And it's the sort of wine I'd expect only to find down on that cool protrusion into that fizzy southern ocean.

After that comforting fleshy bit, the tannins arise, very fine and dry, much along the lines of what you'd find in a middle-range Burgundian Pinot noir from a warmish year. Imagine the raspberries and cherries of that wine replaced by white peach and you're on the money. I think that served in a black glass, many would imagine this to be a red wine because of that reassuring textural form.

This is close to the best example of the variety I've had from South Australia, and one of the best from the whole bloody country. I can think of nothing better than wrapping it around a crayfish cut in half lengthways and cooked until its shell begins to blacken on a char grill, presented with lemon juice and a little hot chilli, fresh basil and crusty white bread with great chunks of Paris Creek butter. 

Fleurieu Hills Vineyards Pinot Gris 2014 
$20; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 94+ points 

Similar, but a little more precise and tight to sniff, this one has the slightest edge of carbide or cordite, a little like the aroma of that wasted, infertile grey podsol after a sprinkle of summer rain. Below that the fleshy part of the bouquet is a smidge less peach and a bit more pear - the Bosc in this case - and maybe a touch of loquat.

The texture is much like loquat: not quite so syrupy as the 2013's, but sort of fluffy at one end and precisely dry and acidic at the other. So it's both satisfying and tantalising, which is pretty much what I hope for in good wine. The pear and loquat is dominant in this flavour, as it is in the fragrance.

This is a finer wine than its predecessor. Which is saying something. Like it will be the best one I've had from Australia. It reminds me much of the remarkable wines Jean Dietrich made from the same variety in Kayserberg, in Alsace, in the 'eighties. Shit it's good.

To add extra fascination, that loquat character reminds me very much of one of the trials Neville Falkenberg made when he was commencing Penfolds' quest for a 'White Grange' in the mid-nineties. That wine was from a few kays south of this vineyard, but it was Semillon. I thought at the time that it was a much more refined wine than any of the Chardonnays in the same rigourous trials. I wonder what would have happened if they'd over-ruled the marketers and stuck to Semillon.

It was the same sort of marketers and wine grocers who gave the Semillon the thumbs down that convinced the Desmonds that they should drop the 300+ from their label. They said it was confusing. What nonsense. Totally friggin abject nonsense. These are the types of minds that would have tried to get vendors to remove the word 'plain' from flour.

Accompanying food? Two crayfish please, served as above. 

To order wine, e-mail cellardoor@fleurieuhills.com ... to visit Fleurieu Hills for tastings, platters and picnic area. it's 159 Pages Flat Road, Pages Flat ... open weekends 11- 5 or by appointment 8556 1314.

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