“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)





06 August 2015


O'Leary Walker Watervale Riesling 2015 
$25; 12% alcohol; screw cap; 93+++ points 

Having reviewed the Polish Hill River twin of this wine back in May, I've not had the pleasure to taste it again since, but recall it with sufficient joy to suggest the gap between these two wines has rarely been wider. Where that had all the gentle, comforting tropical fruits the very old rocks of Polish Valley offer in the best years, this dude, from the calcrete and terra rosa of Watervale, is pure unblemished austerity. It's all Granny smith and Nashi pear juice and crunch, with a lineal acid structure that takes no prisoners. In the very long term - like fifteen years - it'll become an elegant and winsome thing for the hardcore Riesling aficionado. Right now, it's a testy bridge too far for the serious clarified cider perve who's intending to find their way into a new level of gastronomic intelligence. But cross that bridge happily, and you're a goner: a Riesling obsessive for life. Elegant, tight, crunchy, unforgiving and bracing. The wine I mean. But watch yourself! Fresh Coffin Bay oysters please. 

The famous calcrete slope at Watervale, Clare ... source of some of Australia's longest-living Rieslings ... Philip White photo taken from O'Leary Walker tasting room, looking east
O'Leary Walker Clare Valley Shiraz 2013 
$25; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 88+++ points 

Dry tones of coffee and mocha from seasoned and smoked oak add spicy mood and sultry sass to the ooze of blackberry fruit and pickled kalamata juice that starts this wine. Like the above Riesling, it's an austere schlück without compromise, and without the softening McLaren Vale component that often comes in O'L-W Shiraz. So we have an example of the best Clare Shiraz showing the olivine austerity the variety displays there in good years.

After a couple of days open, I realise its similarity to tight Coonawarra Shiraz. Same structure but no olive in Coonawarra.

Right now, this wine is a cool bistro/brasserie slurper for the drinker more than the thinker. The latter mob will have their pleasure with it when it blooms over the next decade.

O'Leary Walker Clare Valley Cabernet Malbec 2013 
$25; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 91+++ points 

Traditional Australian claret in the classic sense, this blend, like both the above, is pristine, ruggedly individualistic Clare at its extreme. It is of similar style and provenance to other famous Clare models of this same blend, like the great old Leasinghams of Mick Knappstein.

Very vaguely, it goes like this: if you want soft black cherries, pickled to varying degrees, go McLaren Vale. You want red cherries with some blackberry and leather and a dollop of jam? Go Barossa. Want less of that jam and cherry, and more of the tighter, more savoury and adult kalamata pickle, go Clare.

In another sense, I feel a reassuring confirmation of wine science and clarity here, in the face of the declining wash of unstable hippy wines some bits of Australia for some reason still award a passing tolerance.

In that sense, the hippies among you might best regard this as a Penfolds style of red, made unabashedly in the best of that form, but coming from the hard old rocks of Clare, perhaps even further down that brittle style line than Penfolds are usually game to go. So, unless you're buying it for your Dad, stay away, even though this price beats Penfolds.

Everyone else? Send it down. Five years without parole. Or give it one helluva sploosh into a jug and drink it from big balloon glasses with a dribbly roast. Those with patience will be the big winners here. 

O'Leary Walker Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 
$25; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 94++ points 

Ew Lordy. Here's a Cabernet of the lonely classic style, as solitary and as distinctively hewn from pure stone as the glory of Venus de Milo. The sensual bit ends here.

Over that dark well of intense blacksmithed essence of Kalamata, Morello and juniper dance tantalising shards of wintergreen, lemon verbena and bergamot. There is no cushy comfort for the couch potato here. This Cabernet's provocative, not reassuring. It is bone dry claret of the highest order.

Slender, angular, certainly more Euclid than Sappho, it challenges the critic to envisage its most avid fan. The male model would be rather crisp and dull company for this hillbilly hetero. The female? A test. I could share the bottle without spilling a drop, keeping the linen sharp and crisp while we discussed the magic number e or the best algorhythms yet written in Switzerland, dead certain that there will be no lipstick on the stemware at bottle's end.

Which would serve only to bolster one's confidence in the direction of a contrasting blowsy burgundy and a certain dishevelment before choosing bed as the best location to move on to the eroticism of astrophysics as applied to the composition of your actual human.  

Regarding the difference between Watervale and Polish Valley: Johnny Ruciak was the last Pole to live in the Polish Valley area, south-east of Clare toward the famous slate-mining town of Mintaro.  I took this photograph of him and his dog leaning against the wall of his house in about 1985.  He had hard mud floors and no electricity, and was a beautiful peaceful and helpful person who never understood what idle meant.  Johnny kept a perfect copperplate diary of  the weather and the garden (vineyard) activities every day of his long and happy, but very hard, life.  He always enjoyed taking me in there  for a cup of tea - after lighting a fire to boil the water - while he explained the details of every change in climate and weather over seventy years, always pulling another precious volume of his fastidious writings from the seaman's trunk his grandparents had brought with them from Silesia.  He recorded forensically accurate details of everything, from the way the sky looked to the flavour of the tomatoes and the moisture in the soil, every day of his life.  I never heard him complain.  Those stones are what gives the  Polish Valley wines their special flavours.  Johnny was a real good man. 

The Watervale slope, meanwhile, is terra rosa, like Coonawarra, with patchy calcrete, which looks like a layer of limestone, instead of your actual limestone. It provides flavour structures more akin to Coonawarra in its reds. The Watervale Riesling, however, is something else. Another giant step up the gastronomy ladder. It's a brilliant freak.

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