“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)





20 June 2015


TENDER TO LET: black helicopter wanted w full staff; five passengers; 24 hr call; no charge ... as you see, this gold chip client gives good tweed and top promo ... photo DRAGAN


Terrible conditions in the Vales tonight ... the bleak moor invaded the very linen of the bed ... so with the help of the nursing sisters at The Salopian Inn, some of us surrendered to these wandering spirits  ... vikin Weise finally retired with a family of discrete Koskenkorva Finnish vodkas with a dash of Iceland Flóki on one small piece of ice each tip ... sharpen up the axes ... or lie around and conjure a saga by the fire ... learn to knit ... write something ... build a beautiful fiddle ... drink ... photo Philip Weise ... drink image for better res

18 June 2015


Oakridge Willowlake Vineyard Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2013 
$36; 13.1% alcohol; screw cap; 92 points 

Given its 'traditional' winemaking recipe, with whole berries fermented in open vessels and left on skins for three weeks, it's remarkable that this lovely drink tastes so overwhelmingly of fresh grapes. Fresh, ideally ripe Pinot grapes, however, like these from a good vineyard are another thing again: another step into the mystic. 

These sensual beauties are sodden with the fleshy blueberry and cherry opulence we once thought were the sole property of the Burgundians. While the wine is pale enough to see your fingers through the glass, it certainly has no shortage of that swoony, cuddly, motherly flesh.

It's almost devoid of tannin; its comforting acid almost milky. It's as close as I've got to breast feeding for some time. It even smells like that.

The wine loves air: decant it and drink it from big Rubens balloon glasses. Roast duck or glazed pork belly with shiitake mushrooms will magnify all the above wonder. 

Torzi Matthews Frost Dodger Single Vineyard Eden Valley Shiraz 2013 
$40; screw cap; 14.5% alcohol; 93++ points 

On first opening, this was remarkable for being the first Torzi Matthews I can recall that showed the cedary, gingery tones of fresh oak. It was intense with coffee and mocha, aromas not often associated with Dominic Torzi's earthy regime of older, seasoned, less intrusive barrels.

Let's call it a more modernist offering than the usual.

In the five days I've kept the bottle close, making a regular nudge de rigeur, the pure essence of that upland Shiraz has climbed all over those spicy hints of oak, making a heady, sensual slide of a drink.

A bit like the Pinot above, it has little overt tannin, letting that intense - much darker - flesh do all the work.

While it's a bigger wine, it has similar creamy form, being silky and smooth and comforting, with just the right insinuation of milky acid.

I can think of nothing more pleasurable than taking the main squeeze and a bottle of each of these to Park Lok, T-Chow or Wah Hing, to accompany their various dribbly pork and duck dishes.

Use the decanter in both cases; drink the Pinot first; don't blame me.

Here's a good Park Lok table: lunch well had by experts between Howard Twelftree's funeral and his wake later at the Duke Of Brunswick ... the Howard Twelftree Award 2015  selection has commenced ... and there's Big Bob McLean ... photo Milton Wordley


Caduceus Arizona winemaker Maynard James Keenan meets Dr Ray Beckwith's famous pH meter at Penfolds Magill Estate ... for a man renown for screaming for his supper, Maynard does a damn fine wine presentation: click here for the perfect example ... photo Philip White

17 June 2015


Recalling Toyne of the Outback
a bloke who changed his country
and another who's doing his best

So Phillip Toyne has died of cancer. He was only 67.

Thinking about his considerable life, one can't help marvelling at the actual changes this astonishing man made to Australia.

The swathes of wild Tasmania Toyne the quiet campaigner helped the early Greens secure with world heritage listing; the preservation of the Daintree and Kakadu; the conversion of Peter Garrett from rock star to green activist to cabinet minister; the handover of Uluru to its original owners; his transforming days at the head of the Australian Conservation Foundation; his gradual development of what became known as Landcare; his negotiation of the Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Act; his hand at the wheel of Bush Heritage Australia ...

I can think of no single person who has had such a powerful and transforming infuence on how this country looks. Not only can Toyne take some direct credit for the planting of millions of trees in the rural landscape since the days of the Hawke government, but his long association with the late Rick Farley, head of the National Farmers' Federation, quite simply changed the way Australian farmers faced their ground.

In a grab, Toyne put the black and green back into country. To make gold.

So what's this got to do with wine?

Nothing. And that's my point. If indeed the Australian wine industry is an industry, like a single working entity in pursuit of a common goal, this industry sure could use a visionary of Toyne's calibre.

Never has it needed such a character so badly.

There is no doubt that the industry's environmental understanding has come a long way in the last twenty years, influenced indirectly by the greening influence Toyne quietly wielded over all the other sorts of farming.

But let's stand back and have a think. All those years of fixing the river, for example. It's a long time since Prime Minister John Howard convinced us to let him sell Telstra so he could splash a couple of billion at the dying river system - it never had much of a splash of its own.

And the one obvious business which has never put its hand up and admitted that its abuse of precious freshwater to produce ridiculously cheap alcohol could use a touch of close examination? Not the wine industry, surely.

Just sayin'.

Which leads me to a key aspect of Toyne, and precisely why the wine business probably doesn't deserve such a visionary influence.

The wine industry always acts as if the conservatives hold government.

Now of course there are times when the conservatives do hold power: the current Federal situation is example enough. The few notable cap-in-handers currently influencing the wine industry seem to find Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce pliable, if only with the help of Senator Sean Edwards, vigneron of Clare.

But there are long swathes of time when the opposite is the fact. Bob Hawke and Paul Keating come to mind. South Australia comes to mind. Regardless of its bull-headed rightness, the South Australian wine industry exists under a deep-seated Labor regime. Quite often, by the behaviour of significant wine industry players, you wouldn't think so.

Surely it's time you got it, guys?

Toyne's strength was his capacity to realise who the key players were, and how he could use them, regardless of their politics. He had no qualms about dealing in the halls of power. He could talk to, beguile and befriend his enemy.

Bob Brown still marvels at how Toyne convinced him that he'd have to deal with Senator Graham Richardson to influence Prime Minister Bob Hawke to get those protective listings placed over Tasmania. Richo was hardly a friend of the Greens.

Pat Dodson still marvels at how Toyne, the lawyer-cum-schoolteacher-of remote blackfella camps, would convince him to climb into his tiny, frail aircraft, and wobble off across the vast desert to make deals with the enemy.

Noel Pearson will long marvel at the negotiating skills he learnt from Toyne.

And as for that totally unlikely marriage of the Australian Conservation Foundation and the National Farmers' Federation? There are many still gasping in disbelief, after all those years, at just how that happened. It was Toyne's capacity to recognise and isolate the key players - whatever their hue - then go and sit with them and work shit out.

Having seen only the first episode of The Killing Season, with its dark pall of treachery and mistrust, I felt there was only one person in the whole damn thing who came through it with class and some unblemished dignity: former Treasury boss Ken Henry (below).

Henry's visionary suggestions for revamping the way wine is taxed are now nearly seven years old. In their way, these recommendations could have the single biggest positive influence over the future life of Australia's biggest river system, talking green.

In a country with no water, you can't maintain a basin of this importance by using 1200 litres of its water to make a litre of drink that's three times the strength of your average beer but is sold for the price of bottled water.

This huge socio-environmental scam exists only because the bladder pack plonk made there is taxed at a rate lower than better quality, more profitable and more environmentally-responsible wine.

Now we see huge premium wine companies like Treasury and Pernod-Ricard's Jacob's Creek calling for a rethink on the calm sense in Henry's recommendations. They agree that the unfair and corrupted WET Rebate system should be replaced with an across-the-board excise like all other alcohol incurs.

Not only is this more profitable for them, but this is classic left-meets-right creative thinking. We finally see the big guys - traditionally regarded as the enemy of the small high quality wine producer - jumping the fence. They no longer seek to be regarded primarily as producers of cheap bladder pack plonk, with all its dubious implications.

They've left the confounding web of wine industry councils and committees out on their own, looking very silly indeed.

Who do these bodies look after? They look after the subsidised bladder pack business that stretches the viability of our river. 

Toyne would love these politics.

So the mischief in me uses the death of this great man to suggest that right now, Ken Henry is the Phillip Toyne the wine business needs.

But you know what? Unlike the Farmers Federation, who saw the green light, the wine industry can't grasp just how its perceived enemy could be its long-term saviour.

Which convinces me it's not really a single industry at all. There are two businesses and they have very little in common. The water-abusing bladder packers have hidden behind the veil of the premium quality, more profitable, environmentally-responsible gastronomic artists for far too long.

In the bright spirit of Phillip Toyne, Ken Henry knew this eight years ago.


Duncan Welgemoed (centre, with Milton Wordley and Cheong Liew) gave a brilliant dinner last night at his Africola restaurant in The Botanic Hotel. The selection committee for the annual Howard Twelftree Award met to begin the deliberations for this year's award. Duncan was the inaugural winner in 2014. 

With the support of The Adelaide Review, this award recognises people who make an outstanding contribution to South Australian food. It honours the great restaurant critic and food writer, Howard Twelftree, who died in 2013 ... photos Philip White

photo by Milton Wordley

11 June 2015


Cradle Of Hills Wild Child Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2014 
$25; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93++ points 

While the line between the Adelaide Hills and the eastern ridges of McLaren Vale makes little crisp logical sense the further east one goes, this fruit's from Hahndorf, which is quite obviously in the Adelaide sector. Dangle your nose into this glass, however, and you'd think you're in the French bit, which is quite a bit further off. The wine has that comforting grilled cashew, prosciutto and canteloupe bouquet that you'll find in many junior whites from the Côtes of Burgundy. It's a lovely smell, and one which I have never seen in such extent in any Chardonnay from the Vales proper. It's simply not cool enough there. But this is cool in many ways: its wild yeast and lees stirring has rendered a texture slender yet creamy; the finish has little phenolic tannin; the wine has a lovely sensual demeanour and weight. It's not a big Chardonnay, but an elegant, cheeky, lightly-oaked lovely made with a deal more sensitivity to the purpose than is shown in too many posh, presumptuous, and/or overpriced Hills models. Or Burgundies, for that matter. If Burgundy stretches your credulity, let's just say that this seems more like the Chardonnay from the eastern or western shores of Port Phillip Bay; maybe the slopes of Mt Macedon, but it's even cheaper than most of those. Have it with flathead pan-grilled in butter with a sprig of fennel and spread on a lightly-toasted slice of sourdough with a squirt of lemon and a good sprinkle of salt and pepper. Happy days! 

Cradle of Hills Gi Gi McLaren Vale Grenache Rosé 2014 
$20; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93 points 

You won't find Grenache like this in Burgundy, the Adelaide Hills, or anywhere near Port Phillip Bay: this is the best of McLaren Vale, which increasingly looks like it's capable of making the best Grenache in the world. While this variety can make the simplest sweet bubblegum pinks if cropped too high and made too dumb, this Gi Gi's nothing like those, either. It has the slightest reek of raspberry fruit gels or jujubes, and some crunchy maraschino cocktail cherries, but that teasing naughtiness slides in below the acrid reek of summer dust at the top end, and at the other end, the basement, the creamy complexity of a languid ferment in appropriate French oak with some lees and a dab of that comforting yet elegant texture the Chardonnay shows.  It's more a white wine than a red one. It has a delightfully sensual creaminess, very little tannin, and a firm but unobtrusive acid spine. This is the best rosé I've seen from the Vales in years, and one of the better Grenache wines of any type. Which makes that price look very small indeed. Use the rest of that sourdough, but smothered in smoked salmon with capers and a light horseradish cream; the lemon sliced, not squeezed. Stunning.                

10 June 2015


Morgan poll: marketing stuff
ripe for the kicking: what the 
team supporters prefer to drink

Having completely missed the last Australian Football League Grand Final, I promised myself a revisit to a Roy Morgan research poll once the footy started again. 

The drinking habits of AFL supporters was published in September. The footy seems to have recommenced. So here we go.

First, a disclaimer. I never played Aussie Rules as a kid. I mean, like every kid I had a few dobs of the old pill after school, or at recess time. But being a rebel from the start, I insisted on playing the round ball game, which was sheer insolence at Mount Barker High School in the 'sixties.

The enlightened Mr MacMillan saw there was a dissolute mob of European migrant kids who didn't fit the standard ocker country footy template. Then there were the mainly British inmates of the dreaded Salvos "Boy's Home", who were abused and whipped until any glimmer of competitive skill, other than vicious bullying and further abuse amongst some, was erased completely from their capacities. Mr MacMillan helped us start a soccer team.

Thanks, Macca.

We were rough as guts. Our first game away was at Noarlunga. They beat us something like 23-1. But we persisted. I think we beat Oakbank Area School once.

Apart from watching the Grand Final on the odd year, the writer has spent a life bemused at the communal time and money this game absorbs. Now, finally, Roy Morgan has given us remarkable details of the booze absorbed by the supporters of the various teams.

Just personally, this is much more fascinating that your actual footy.

It may offer little surprise that fans of the Brisbane Lions are "a hefty one-and-a-half times more likely that the average Aussie to drink rum in an average four weeks." Or even that they're 45% more likely to drink non-premium imported beer in the same period. What raised my eyebrow - just one of the two - was the thought that these northern folks are 31% more likely to drink premium imported beer.

Lions fans, overall, drink more beer than any other lot.

This must be of deep irritation to Carlton Draught, the club's sponsor. I suppose they're a huge importer of foreign beer, and make fake foreign beer under license, so they cover their arse. Even then, the figure must still make them worry about their own brands.

Also prominent amongst the spirit drinkers are the supporters of the local Port Power. This mob drinks whisky. Their allegiance to scotch is second only to the intensity of thirst the Queenslanders show their locally-produced rum. This would indicate to me a good reason for governments to make whisky distillation easier, as we just happen to grow vast amounts of barley, the essential ingredient.

Apart from drinking amost as much beer as the Lions, supporters of the Sydney Swans drink gin (also made from grain). Given Sydney's sub-tropical tendencies, this makes some sense. But compare the even more tropical climate of Brisbane and you might wonder why the Lions mob drinks rum, reliable fighting oil in the coldest of climes. Therein, I suppose, lies the answer: the Deep North likes its fighting oil, even in that sweltering heat. No, especially in that sweltering heat. It's locally-made fighting oil.

Sydney Swans supporters also drink more liqueurs than any other tribe. As my access to this Morgan research is limited to ordinary citizen level, I have no breakdown of exactly which liqueurs the Swans mob guzzles, but I suspect it would be more Baileys than Green Chartreuse. This of course favours the dairy farmers of Ireland, who sell 270 million litres of milk annually to Diageo, manufacturer of Bailey's.

Which must encourage the dairy farming co-op in northern Tasmania, who've patiently developed their Hellyer's Road whisky business over many years, hoping eventually to develop their own version of a cream liqueur. Dairy cream liqueurs are powered with neutral whisky, or whiskey, also made from barley.

Take note, Mr Bignell, local Minister for Agriculture. And Sport. Think whisky with no E. Or, dammit, put an E in if you wish. But let's get on with it.

The North Melbourne Kangaroos drink bourbon whiskey. South Australia should regard these enthusiasts as a likely market for its premium whisky once we get that happening on a scale equal to our output in the 'fifties and 'sixties, when Hamiltons and Milnes were serious local producers.

This was before successive - or excessive, really - Federal governments taxed Australia's whisky and brandy industries into oblivion. Thanks Gough and Malcolm. Sort it out, you two.

The Mighty Bombers' fans, the Essendon gang, drink kiddylikker: the sweet canned muck the trade calls RTDs, or ready-to-drink drinks. I gotta be careful: my mischievous slydexia usually sees me type STDs here: that seems as crazy a notion as a drink that's ready to drink. 

I suppose great vintages of Grange might be not quite ready to drink in their infancy, but it'll take a little more general community prosperity before Mr Bignell can lever those Power supporters into the Grange league.

At least whisky is ready to drink.

The Wine State might also take note that the only AFL team with followers who drink mainly wine is the Melbourne Demons. So much for South Australian footy fiends supporting local industry. Make more whisky, Mr Minister.

As far as supporting local farmers goes, vodka can also be made from barley and wheat, more easily in fact, and more cheaply, than any form of the whiskies. Which leads us to the Western Bulldogs, who are vodka nuts. Mixed with soda or OJ, this suits their sunny clime. Smart Doggies.

Oops. Almost forgot: Since their inception, the Adelaide Crows were ridiculed by everyone else as 'Chardonnays.' I can find no poll which suggests that this derogatory moniker reflected any particular drink preference, but the fact is that this crew now prefers cider.

Cider. Dangerously close to kiddylikker. In fact, those sweet flavoured ciders perfectly fit the RTD mode.

Most of our cider is made from frozen apple juice concentrate imported from China. Which leaves a grand opportunity for local growers and makers of true cider, like Warren Billings' delicious Lobo in the Hills.

Call this a footy-based agriculture incentive, eh?  It'd be good for both primary and secondary production. 

But the Crows? Cider. Holy hell. Go Power.