“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)





17 April 2015


Oak Table Wines The First Born Single Vineyard Clare Valley Grenache 2013 
$25; 15% alcohol; Diam compound cork; 92++ points 

I'd love to see some science pointed at my suspicion that the natural phenolics - particularly the skin pore tannins - of Grenache are particularly reactive to changes in background humidity. To over-simplify my evidence, start at the coast, on Gulf St Vincent, patron of viticulturers. The Murray estuary is just over the range on the other side. Constant maritime humidity. McLaren Vale Grenache is all cherries of both morello and maraschino types with soft tannins. Barossa - lower humidity - is more austere with old harness and often anise and licorice hints with its slightly sharper tannins, but it still has that lovely savoire of pickled morello cherry. Go further north into the high dry of Clare, even further from the Gulf, and the traces of primary fruit - cherries - seem usually replaced by non-fruity kalamata olive juice. Most of the good ones seem to have licorice and anise, which fit in there well.

Clare Grenache is neither common nor often stacked with cherries. Which I suspect makes it very difficult if you think your winemaking task is to make Clare Grenache resemble the more prolific Grenache wines of Barossa and McLaren Vale. It's getting hard to nudge into their shelfspace.

Tom Hagger, an assistant winemaker at Yangarra, where I choose to live, made this First Born after work. The vines are in the scraggly country behind the Clare caravan park. His wine shows an uncommon respect and fascination for this much misunderstood variety. Without replacing or hiding  the savoury edge of Clare Grenache with sheer alcohol, he's made a delicious red that seems to lob right in the middle of those three styles. It rocks.

It's got lovely cherry syrup.

Fifteen's a number of alcohols that sharpens my focus in the sceptical direction but that's no trouble here. The rest of the wine has sufficient complexity and urge to play the music with its ethanol as an equal up the front with the fruitcake and pannacotta. Nutmeg. Clarinets.

This wine has taught me not to generalise about Clare Grenache. It's a beautifully smooth silky wonder. It's alive.

For orders e-mail info@oaktablewines.com.au 

Freeman Secco Rondinella Corvina 2010 
$35; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93+++ points 
Along with Mark Day of Koltz wines at Blewett Springs, McLaren Vale, Dr Brian Freeman is the Australian boss of Italian-style dried fruit wines. His vineyard's at 560 metres altitude in the granite and ferruginous æolian sands at Prunevale in the Hilltops region around Young, between Cowra and Cootamundra, north-east of Canberra.

A former professor of wine science at Charles Sturt University, Brian propagated Australia's only vineyards of these Veneto amarone varieties from just six cuttings of each type.

A wet 2009 winter had filled the dry ground with moisture, then followed a warm dry spring that set the canopies just schmick. Right on cue, early summer rain gave the vineyard a flush of life that saw this crop ripening well into the dry autumn.

Brian let the Rondinella and Corvina grapes hang three months longer than his other varieties, and picked in May. Some of the fruit was dehydrated in a neighbour's solar-powered prune drier, then added to the fresh-picked remainder for ferment.

Two years in old oak began to knock the edges off the severe tannins thus extracted; two years storage at 14⁰C in bottle finished the job.

This is ravishing wine. It hasn't got much of what I'd call overt raisin, because while that moody amarone complexity is there glowering in the dark, the wine has such finesse and acidity and structure that what we get is pure harmony.

Brian says dried cherries; my first reaction was a memory flash of Cherry Heering liqueur, but without that alcohol and sugar. The cherries aside, it's largely a textural thing. The wine has that steeped grainy attitude that's nothing like the tannins we see in ordinary wine.

The results are a drink which I think is the best I've seen from Freeman, which is saying something. Brian reckon's 2015's gonna be even better, so start saving up.

In the meantime, I'm putting some pigeons in the pot with speck, a gallon of baby red, juniper berries and late in the piece, baby beetroot. Spuds in the oven. Butter.

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