“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 May 2015


Yalumba Galway Vintage Barossa Valley Shiraz 2013 
$19; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 80 points 

You could call this very modern, or equally claim it's a bit like the Galway was before the extreme high alcohol boom of the 'nineties: mercifully, it's of modest strength, and sports enough dusty tannin to make me hungry.

It has that rusty old Barossa shed about it, but in a wallow of Shiraz that's neither too deep nor shallow: it's certainly not deep enough to become bogged. Your axles stay well above the surface here. It has all the right blackberries (with the nightshade smell of their tough leafy vine) and maybe just a touch of dried fig, which one of the characters I often associate with the old rock Shiraz in the Barossa's north-western ranges, the Nain Hills.

But they also have pannacotta, which is beyond this. This is like totally racy and taut and fit for the bistros with the bigly spectacled and frequently bearded.

Who looks after those guys? Like the ironing?

I don't know what Hungry Dan will charge for this if he ever gets any, but I notice he has the 2005 on at $13 with no stars and no reviews. Just makes me wonder how long that fair $19 retail price will hold.

As for those points? Mean? Nah. That's 8/10. (I can fill a wheelie bin trying to get a wine over 90.)

In the meantime: cook a big wild chook in a closed container - terra cotta's best - in the oven with 1/3 ordinary sweetish cider and the rest Sauvignon blanc, which usually has the appropriate acid; lots of small white onions, whole bruised cloves of garlic, coarse-ground black pepper, some capers and a fistful of fresh tarragon. At the end, rinse a tin's worth of cannelini beans under the tap and add them for the thirty minutes before serving. You can soak your own if you're posh. Roast spuds, carrots and parsnip; tails properly caramelised.


Tom's Drop Premium Riverland Shiraz 2012 
 $20; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 91+ points 

Michael O'Donohoe is the first Australian of Irish descent who I've heard claim that his ancestors made their money distilling water. Water. Lord only knows what they used the still for in the dark hours, but he's adamant that his great grandfather Tom O'Donohoe and his lads made fresh water from salty borewater in the bright goldfields daylight and sold it to miners.

There's a photo of the whole mob on the label. With the still. In my short experience, not many Irish families pose for photographs beside their still. Unless they have a very good cover. Like water.

Even better cover: the future Queen of England, Princess Elizabeth, hanging out at a poteen still in Ireland ... a touch of the old totemic polemic ... photo obviously not by Snowden

A bird never flew on the one wing.

Anyway, Michael's modernised his label since last time I saw him, which was back in the Cambrian.

This is not water, by the way. Unlike far too much Riverland wine, it's had hardly any water: Tom always keeps his irrigation minimal and crops below the magic two tonnes per acre. In the Murray Mallee, that's a lot lower than modest. Sorry, he's Michael. Michael's Berri vineyard's been certified Level A Organic since 1991.

This one shows all the tenderness he applies to his block. Michael's a bugs and birdies kind of a dude. Like he's been known to pay people to comb through the grass and remove all the sleepy lizards before he'll drive his tractor in the vines. Afterwards, they put the lizards back. It's where they live. Sleepy lizards eat Portuguese millipedes and earwigs. Enemies in the vineyard. No need to spray for them when you don't squash your sleepies.

Guess what? It's beautiful wine. It opens with that red dust reek of the edge of the desert. Tomichael happily claims to being right out there on his labels. Not many Murray-Darling wines ever admit to coming from the edge of the desert. Or can lay claim to wild yeast ferment.

Then, in perfect balance, comes the old bretty harness and the fresh berry pie. Cooked short of jam but close to the conserve stage, where intact berries survive.

The drinking offers quite a lot more vibrant jumping fruit than that bouquet first indicates. It's lush. It swells up and envelopes you and then leaves you with its long, lingering tannins. And eventually, a lick of caramel.

At which point I should reveal that Michael is a vicious underground confectioner. His chocolates are sick.

In that vein, this is the sort of red that would hurl screaming meanies at the producers of the Languedoc and the Midi, in Mediterranean France ... a wilder wine, more reflective of its terroir than, say, the brilliant and radical 1973 Berri Cabernet that won Brian Barry the Jimmy Watson Trophy in 1974. That was a technical, almost forensic parfumier's wine. This is a wine of its brilliant clean desert dirt, made dirty carefully.

Michael says Tom's Drop has been very popular in some posh restaurants in Ireland, but he's thinking of putting a bit more of it into Adelaide. Good thinking. He says it's in the best licensed organic stores or you can e-mail the man at tomsdrop@gmail.com for direct purchases.

Welcome back, O'Donohoes Tom and Mick. Thanks for this joyful lipsmacker. Juicy cutlets puleeeze. Or T-Chow shiitake with chiuk sung, bok choy and heaps of ginger.

Maybe a flounder on the side.
When you're distilling water, if they're half decent the Garda will rinse your stills


Kings of Napa Cabernet who regularly make wine in McLaren Vale: Jayson Woodbridge, left, with Chris Carpenter at Port Willunga, vintage 2015.

Milton Wordley has posted a cool interview with Chris on his new blog of winemaker profiles. I'm skiting but honoured to be so regarded by a man I respect very deeply. You can read Chris's story here.

That's Chris below with our dear departed mate, the wine critic Jeremy Pringle, at Hickinbotham Vineyard, Clarendon, last year ... photos Philip White


Mick Wordley photos Philip White

Hymn For Michael Wordley 

beyond the fence trees fizz
the close trees,
hitch-hikers from the North,
are giant rustling grasses:
the silent eucalypts admit them

they bounce and pop with birdies
dancing a bonnie bagatelle
while their silverbacks do politics

if it had different colour
- not all green like this -
it would explain the Chinese invention of fireworks

above me the hands of man have made a patio of oregon
with American vines strangling American wood, clockwise,
while beneath this poem a jarrah bench swells

welling against the tracks of the planing machine
it wants its old shape back

behind surges a mighty house in which a family happened
smitten with timber and sound it survived the Jesus thing

smug as mud

and lets herbs and fowls through the door to make more

there is no emptyness

but much where nothing is

Philip White

Mick'n'Robyn, above, Mick with Charlie Owen and The Large Number Twelves in his living room, below

26 May 2015


Masked wine and vintner gender:
the pits of anthropomorphism,
presumption and paranoia

Pay a moment to a geniune winetaster's dilemma.

We have a lot of discussion about the ethics of tasting wines unmasked and whether such products can be professionally and fairly appraised by a taster who knows their identity.

Those who insist all wine should be evaluated blind seem to expect that even a wine judge worth their salt can get right down to describing the size of the tannin in the tail of a drink without once suspecting what it was or who made it. That's like taking all the badges off, say, a new Jaguar before delivering it to the motoring writer who's then expected to drive it around for a week and appraise it without once suspecting it's a Jaguar.

Lack of badging does nothing to obscure a very strong brand: obviously Kombi

But as if to test my theory to the limit, here I have a bottle of red wine with no identifying feature at all. Inside the bottle or out. Which is making me reconsider the templates folks like me apply when we analyse and describe.

Like where do you start?

First, I find myself wondering what sort of car he drives. I'm being gender specific, because I'm confident that this wine was made by a male person. It's about the way their blend of hormones and their environment influence their very own aroma and flavour receptors and what they're gonna pay the workers ... all things which inevitably have their influence over what ends up in the bottle.

Then they wallow awhile in the shiny gastroporn of their industry and the confidence gene goes up a bit higher and suddenly they've perished but we're all expected to pay $179.99-$403:99 a bottle.

Or, you know. Something reasonable above $450 but you fully appreciate the effort we go to Philip.
Like these are wines of place.

There are lot of these wines out there. Dial up the oak; pay. Dial up the fruit: try not to pay until just after you're dead; dial up the designer. Dial up the designer. Dial up the designer.

It's cold outside on this ironstone shoulder but at least I live in a place I revere. I get ironstorms. Go design an ironstorm. Kerrannngkt-shooooosh! There are wines made in this. And then there are wines made like this. Without any this.

Wines like this make me think of men who drive Rolls Royces with bald tyres. Porsches with Volksy engines. Porsches with their own pet men.

It has sophistry, which means its vendors are polishing their rocket. Or their Bentley, or whatever it is. Motorsport. All that frockin' up.

There are a lot of these wines out there.

Then the guilts spill in and I start wondering if it was made by a female person. I'm not a reliable mathematical model but I reckon about half the people out there fit this template and quite a lot of 'em make wine.

At the watershed of the 'seventies and 'eighties, when women began to graduate from Roseworthy with winemaking tickets, editors would send the young White out to interview them as if the flavours would be different. They also liked the photographs of the young lady winemaker on the gantry, or halfway up the ladder.

Like when you photograph a male winemaker you make him stand there holding a glass at the end of his arm's reach and stare at it, transfixed like a zombie. But female winemakers need to pose like Betty Grable on the aluminium ladder or lean deep and low over a bunghole.

Maybe the person who made this tragic compromise of a drink is indeed a female but one who did it to the orders of a male boss. I try to keep up with my industrial psychology papers and I've been chewing up every morsel published about Imposter's Syndrome for forty years and I reckon that amongst the winemakers this disease is much more intensively spread through the males who pump out wines like this.

So this wine could have been made like this by a person without a penis and no particular interest in having one but a firmly vested interest in pleasing a person who pretty obviously has one but deserves no special attention at all for fitting that appellation. And thus quite deservedly suffers Imposter's Syndrome.

Sometimes during the last five glasses - big ones; one left - I thought this might have been made in or from Langhorne Creek. It has that typical Langhorne Creek Wolf Blass Bilyara Nuriootpa regionality about it. Don't ask me what it is: it could be Cabernet. It could be Shiraz. It could be a blend of the two. It might have some Merlot in it. How could anybody tell?

Go back Philip. You'd better write some descriptors. But the damn bottle has no label.

Now let's think about this a minute. On the one hand, you got a bloke worrying about whether this ordinary booze was made by a male or a female. Something he doesn't usually think about.

Old shibboleths. Fading phantoms. Legals.

Then he's worried about how many decades of expediture and heartbreak it took to get the thing into bottle like this.

And then they send it to the very bloke they're hoping will lift their poor arse somehow and get  them through all this with a bit of a write-up and they don't put a label on the bottle. No trade mark; nothing. Not even a scrawl of white texta.

I get these a lot. Like not every day but two or three a month. And somehow the Stalinist blank of the unbranded bottle seems more powerful than most wines of similar quality which have been blessed with that other equally restrictive luxury of labels.

Which leads us the quality of the drink. Can we talk?

Why do so many of these unlabelled tasting samples taste the same. Like same maker. Same publisher. Similar quality. Same amount of product in the sales manager's hair. And there you are, wondering that if you review it harshly you might be sexist.

Or worse, you have a crush on the maker who's not permitted to fraternise lest her afterhours racket is exposed and you go round to her joint unannounced to clear the air and you discover her girlfriend calls her Brad.

I dunno. They probly got a Fiano, people like that.

And now I'm the one with the Imposter's Syndrome.

25 May 2015


Château Pierre-Bise Savennières Roches aux Moines 2011
$51; 14.5% alcohol; cork; 93 points

Château Pierre-Bise Savennières Roches aux Moines is hardly the name on everyone's lips. It's a small Chenin blanc vineyard in schisty stones on the north bank of the Loire in Atlantic France. I'm not reviewing this to tease you with such a rarity, but to make a point about Chenin.

In the early 'eighties I fell in love with the astonishing Chenins blanc of Moulin-Touchais, another Loire producer. These were very high acid botrytised wines that were fermented to the point of dryness, but not quite. They'd live for amazing lengths of time, corks willing. As did the Chenins from Marc Bredif.

While this wine is almost dry, I suspect its fruit has had a lick of the noble rot, too.

Then, unusual for the region, this one's had a perfectly natural malo-lactic ferment, when bacteria convert the harsh metallic malic acid of the grape to lactic, the softer acid of milk. This secondary ferment has nothing to do with yeast or alcohol, but it has a profound effect on flavour and texture. Atop the glycerol that botrytis produces, the 'malo' has made this wine softer and much more approachable than the austere Moulin-Touchais, or most Australian Chenin blanc.

I doubt whether it gets much botrytis, but the old Tintookie Chenin blanc vineyard of Drew Dowie and Lulu Lunn in Blewett Springs sometimes goes into a deluxe wood-fermented wild yeast Dowie Doole wine named after the vineyard. It's exquisite wine: the 2008's on the shelves now at $35. If you go to the winery and you're very good, you might get some 2006. I'll review those a week or two.

Meanwhile, the glass in hand: Windfall pears and gilt leaves burnishing in the wet autumn grass. Leatherwood honey. Candied lemons. Cinder toffee. All things ripening and mellow and lush. Lots of the vanilloids of decay. Perfect for this time of the year - don't chill it hard: ten minutes in the ice bucket should do it.

It has a quaint fluffy texture, with a tidying burlap prickle in the tail. It feels like it might be sweeter, but that's delusion. All those aromas meld beautifully into the same flavours, making one imagine a sweet clear jelly made from all the above, with a clove and maybe a juniper berry. The wine has perfect balance, with acidity that appears more gentle than it probably is on paper: all that flesh cuddles it up and hides it. 

But it's not sweet. Well, not very.

It reminds me a little of the Ribbon Series 'spätlese' Rieslings Orlando made in the 'seventies and 'eighties from the vineyards up in the high gully beside Trial Hill Road. These dried off with bottle age and were always perfect with a cup of milk tea and a slab of yeasty apple or apricot streuselkuchen. At eleven sharp.

You can buy this wine at The Edinburgh: East End should stock it too, or get some in. Approach it like a Burgundy and save $100! 

The Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky Aged 12 Years 
$115;  43% alcohol; cork; 96 points 

An unlikely coupling, putting this up against a Chenin from the Loire?


Call me nuts, but these two drinks share a great deal of aroma and flavour. While this one has three times the burnies and more obvious oak and comes from a pure malt scotch recipe as made in Japan, it shares many of those autumnal tones of the Loire wine.

While that softening malo-lactic fermentation took the sharpest edges off the Loire, this prime whisky's alcohol and brisk oak have the opposite effect. But while we have these extremes of edge, the aromas ring many of the same old bells. Like this is sharp and appropriately hot; the wine's the opposite. But the flavours are very close.

Test me: after you've finished the last of a glass of this with a little water, rinse the glass with the Chenin and savour it. The transition is as smooth as.

This is the extreme pointy end of the whisky business. Crisp. Almost digital. Imagine Sony making a malt. It's be as precise and technical as this brilliant tincture, but with all that matter-of-fact Sony helpfulness. They make great cameras. I wish they'd make a car. I reckon I'd get my license back, just to bung on some music and take the Sony for drive. And Sony twelve year old single malt? Bring it on. That's why I don't drive.

Like the best malts of Tasmania (Lark; Hellyer's Road), this is the current pinnacle of whisky.

The pears, the autumnal jelly ... hit it with some rain, and it gets even closer to the Chenin. But forget the streuselkuchen. When you finally tumble outa the royal cot, gird your plaid, toast some dark rye and spread some of last night's cold haggis on it. I'm sure you'll find the odd overlooked scrap somewhere on the table. Check the middle, where the wolfhounds can't reach. You might be lucky.