“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 March 2015


Vasse Felix Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 
$35; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 92++ points

The erudite Janet Holmes à Court, a brilliant businesswoman, chairs her Heytesbury, which is now run by her son Paul and includes in its properties the Vasse Felix winery, where Tom Cullity first planted vines in 1967. His visionary Vasse Felix Cabernet was the first red produced in Margaret River in 1972, making this its fortieth release. Virginia Willcock is the winemaker. While this vintage also contains 13% Malbec and 1% Petit verdot, it is the Cabernet that rules Margaret River also giving this wine its quiet authority.

Janet Holmes à Court ... photo Australian Children's Television Foundation

Coming from many individual patches of vineyard, each with its own peculiarities, the grapes are fermented by wild yeasts and depending on the batch, often spend three or four weeks macerating on their skins. The wine gets a judicious mix of new and older French barrels (50-50) before assemblage.

You'd be hard pressed to find a more typical Margaret River Cabernet. It has a sweet eucalypt forest topnote, which is not intrusive, and a breath of velvety summer dust. It's musky, reminding me of a sweet old Guerlain perfume, somewhere in the direction of the heady nostalgia of Jicky, which was built for the lasses in 1889 but was worn to great effect by the likes of Oscar Wilde and Marcel Proust. Not to mention that infamous fop, yours truly, when he can afford it. Which is never, now we really need it. Then there's a layer of fresh ripe blueberry which is a meaty-smelling berry when you delve properly into it; more like the smell of a blue movie than your actual sky or gunbarrel colour.

The texture is more velvet than silk; I suspect that tiny dribble of the very late-ripening Petit verdot has given the normally prominent Cabernet tannins a kick along. Appropriately, the natural acids are firm and steely enought to guarantee a rewarding five to ten years of dungeon; maybe more.
While this lovely drink would dance a fine duet now with dribbling pink cutlets of lamb, I would urge the true Cabernet perve to lock a few bottles in the dungeon and enjoy the wine more in a few extra years, when it drops some of its austere carapace to reveal the sensuality that lies within.

Otherwise, just sink a bottle straight away and toast Tom Cullity and now these visionary women for what has become, in forty short years, one of the world's few truly great Cabernet vignobles. It's up with Napa and Bordeaux. 

Bremerton Old Adam Limited Release Langhorne Creek Shiraz 2012
 $56; 15% alcohol; cork; 80+ points 

It's a long time since Premier Dean Brown and this writer officially opened the first cellar sales and tasting facility at Bremerton Wines. Owner Craig Willson had just sold his set of country newspapers to spill a lot of money down the Creek, and seemed so concerned about what mere reporters were likely to do or say that after the ribbon was sliced, the Premier was invited over to the big house for the very special drinks, but not this hack who'd bothered to get all the way out there to make the speech. I wonder if they discussed irrigation permits.

Since then, the Willson daughters Rebecca (left) and Lucy have successfully marketed the business with a quaint Daisy Mae feminism, almost as if it's a shock that a lass can make wine and sell it. Good for them. The photo's from their website.

Willson was clever, buying land upstream of the major vineyards of that time. The vineyards lived off the erratic summer floodwater of the Bremer, which they managed with levees and sluices. Those upstream got first soak, letting what they didn't need roll onto the neighbours' once their vines had had a good slurp.

That muddy soulfulness that was the hallmark of the original black alluvium Larncrk vineyards was always best expressed in the Shiraz grape. So replacing those recollections with the excellence of the 2012 year and the little matter of $56 foremost in mind, I approach this wine expecting something special, and a silky contrast to the velvet austerity of Janet and Virginia's prime Cabernet reviewed above.

It sure smells soulful and yep, muddy, in a nice murky manner. Like milk chocolate; like salty Dutch licorice. But rather than reek of the traditional redgum eucalypts whose juice infests that original true blue mud, the wood here smells like brand new Quercus alba oak from America. This has added its sappy tannin to the flavours of the wine. As Wolf Blass's Langhorne Creek guru, John Glaetzer would say after winning three consecutive Jimmy Watson Trophies with such oak, "No wood, no good; no medals no jobs."

Glaetzer's Wolf Blass Black and Grey Labels went on to collect at least eleven Montgomery Trophies. I lost count, and I reckon John did, too. That was the top gong for red in the Royal Adelaide Wine Show. I think it's called the Max Schubert Trophy now.

Glaetzer's 'seventies wines also had eucalypt. Many now regard eucalypt as a fault more than a reflection of terroir, as Glaetzer did. The lack of eucalypt in this wine hints to me that maybe the wine's not from the mudflats, but the higher broadacre ground developed in the years after Premier Brown's visit. Thanks to his loosening up the water restrictions, those higher grapeyards are watered from the naturally briny Lake Alexandrina, not the freshwater Bremer floods.

All that aside, we have a wine that should please lovers of the diminishing number of Penfolds premium reds that depend upon American oak, like Bin 707. A lot of nostalgic Wolf Blass freaks will probably love it too. In which case, you'll be getting between $50 and $300 per bottle off by sticking to Old Adam. Steak, medium. Ta.

What a dab of Jicky can do: the fop, Wolf and Johnny "Ferret" Glaetzer at Doug Lehmann's wake ... not a woman in sight ... wise lasses


Anonymous said...

O yeah those shielas squirt wine all over each other every day dont they. Wheres occupational health and safely?

Winemaker Without A Penis said...

You've been far too kind Mr White. But only to one of those wines. The other deserves all the praise you can stack on it.