“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)





03 July 2015


A highlight of the 125th anniversary of Château Tanunda back in February was the amazing range of Semillon wines which the owner John Geber presented. 

I have finally got my nose more forensically into this selection as another installation in this casual but ongoing series about Semillon, a misunderstood and much overlooked variety.

There are three ranks in the Château Tanunda collection. The Old Vine Semillon is $24; the 100 year old vines $49; and the very rare 150 year old vines $100.

To get the gist of the whole glorious direction these wines are headed, I blended equal proportions of Old Vine 2009 to 2014 vintages; 100 yo 2012-13 and 150 yo 2014.

Starting at the top, this most unofficial of drinks has an edge of dusty, acrid hessian, and dare I suggest, a whiff of the sun on the stubble.

Below that, you hit the dairy products: the comforting butter and cream. This butter varies from the smell of a pat left melting in the sun at a picnic, through fresh butter whipped with sugar and lemon, to other sorts of buttery confection like butterscotch and maybe even cinder toffee.

Another step in you may hit a gentle vegetal waft, sometimes like celery, sometimes like petiols, the stems of the grape leaves, sometimes a tiny bit like fresh, uncooked asparagus. It's a fresh verdant fragrance.

All these inflections of aroma are reflected with more precision in the flavour. They form up as appropriately modest upholsteries around a very shiny and rigid racing chassis of steely acid.

To do a really silly thing, I'll take a stab and say the result is somewhere between Burgundian Chardonnay and Clare or Eden Riesling. 

It is a splendid thing indeed, partly distinguished, I believe, by the winemakers' preference for the old clone the locals call 'red semi' - the skins are pinkish.

Local historian Don Ross, speaker of Barossadeutscher, explaining the history of the area on the cricket ground at Ch Tanunda ... these Semillons come from vineyards on the alluvial piedmont of the Barossa Ranges, just across those flats in the gap  ... photos Philip White

Château Tanunda Old Vine Semillon 2014 
$24; 12% alcohol; screw cap; 93+++ points 

Immediately alluring, this lovely Bethany-grown wine reminds me of the smell of a fresh-washed bubby. Beneath some heady lilac blooms it's all pudgy, milky flesh. To put that closer to food, think fresh unsalted Paris Creek butter whipped with sugar so it's still just minutely crunchy. Garnish with very thinly-sliced lemon. Then add a whiff of the leaves of the vine, and the faintest whiff of oak, as if the wine had been merely stirred with a new wooden spoon.

The result is a wine that's very light on its feet, but still very forceful in its bone dry swirl. Any hint of chubby infancy disappears as this athlete hits the stage with a spring.

So in this its youth, the wine is a tease of soft then taut. With time, and this'll cellar beautifully for well over a decade, you'll see the butter and lemon burnish and mingle, and that sprinter's muscle relax into a golden honeyed glory.

If you flame-grill a snapper til its skin begins to caramelise and crunch up, and serve it with a sprig of fennell and a thinly-sliced dill pickle, slices of spud pan-fried with butter and parsley and sliced lemon, you'll be on this one's money, honey. 

Château Tanunda 100 Year Old Vines Semillon 2013 
$49; 11.5% alcohol; screw cap; 94++ points 

Recall all the abovementioned nuances and add a pinch of fine white pepper to that prickly burlap topnote. Also, these much older vines, from Vine Vale, are giving less butter but more of that petiol aroma ... somewhere along the lines of the white root vegetables, just dug and washed.

Rather than rich yellow butter, the fatty aromatic bits here are more curds-and-whey, leesey-and-cheesey stuff. In that sense, it's a whiter wine.

The flavours take me to Soave country, in the hills around Verona. Delicate and breezy, and full of those fresh upland meadows, green and lush. We'll call this The Sound Of Music Semillon.

You know that smell of freshly-ironed cornflower blue seersucker?

This one needs lighter, more delicate fish, like pan-grilled garfish or whiting. 

Château Tanunda 150 Year Old Vines Barossa Semillon 2014 
$100; 11.5% alcohol; screw cap; 94+++ points 

From the Cirillo single vineyard at Vine Vale, from vines planted 25 years before the Château was built, this is a very rare treasure.

Atop varying measures of all the above, it has a more glowering, even sinister whiff of cordite about it, like a bluestone quarry right after a blast. Below that, the usual burlap and lemonbutter is all slightly burnt and toasty.

The flavours are fluffy and ethereal at first, then that staunch acidity kicks in and the wine changes gear, leading out to a long, tapering, grainy lemon pith  dryness that triggers dangerous hunger.

Damn thing makes me yearn for the salt-and-pepper eggplant at Wah Hing, bowl of chilli oil glowering on the side.

Owner John Geber at the front of Ch Tanunda durig its 125th vintage

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