“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)





01 September 2015


Incredible drinks at Kaesler:
the very best of everything and 
a wee dram or two before bideys

One of the pinnacles of Gonzo vainglory appeared in CREEM  in October 1975. Some bright spark at the punk fanzine hired the poet Charles Bukowski to review a Rolling Stones concert.

Bukowski first took himself to the horse races. The track was opposite The Forum, where the concert was to be. He cased the joint. He wrote of the fear and anxiety and the amount of leg on show; the hollerin drunks and cigar smokers, the banks, the cost of eggs. He covers tax and bullfights and Hemingway and the difference between good money and sucker money, borrowed money, stolen money and desperate stinking diminishing money.

Then he goes home for a hot bath, a few joints, a bottle of Blue Nun and seven or eight bottles of Heineken and "wondered about the best way to approach a subject that was holy to a lot of people, the still young people anyhow."

He explains driving back to the Forum so late the carpark's full and how far he had to drive to find a spot. He writes of the funeral homes and the iron bars on people's doorways and the comforting bar he finds at a golf course. He mentions he has a girl with him half his age and what she drinks and the size of the pours in the golf course bar. They make a deal to stay there and get drunk instead of going to the Stones but whenever a woman agrees with him he does the opposite thing so he pays up and they walk on down the long track to the show.

He writes of the amount of pot the kids are smoking, what they're drinking in the car park, the hydrogen bomb and public health. He writes about how far apart their seats are and the fair prices at the bar, stolen wallets and vomit and the joy of a cigarette before he mentions "Mick was down there in some kind of pajamas with little strings tied around his ankles."

About as close as the wine business gets to a Rolling Stones concert is the show a big international wine outfit called Ficofi puts on every four or five years at Kaesler Wines in the Barossa. I mention this because every time I attend one I think of Bukowski's outing and just how I can possibly cover this subject that's outright holy to a lot of people.

One or two hundred invited guests and some highly notable break-ins rock up to the Kaesler barrel cellar where one or two hundred bottles of the world's most expensive wines are lined up, open. Many of them are what winos call "large format" bottles, by which they mean double magnums, methuselahs, imperials and whatnot. Bottles that hold a whole case of wine. Thinking person's stubbies.

While Bukowski did eventually manage to devote some space to what was happening onstage, he concentrated on what Mick was trying to do with the seventy-foot inflatable phallus that rose up. As I'd been invited to arrive an hour early to get the gist of the show I was in a good position to observe the stroking of the vinous phallus of the night, the magnum of 1999 Petrus.

The people who looked overtly rich were the first to rush the Petrus. I got the feeling they'd come early to get it. The really rich people were much harder to spot and didn't rush anywhere. They came later, after the buses full of bright hipster wine waiters and serious old merchants. 

That Petrus took the early thrashing. A lot of people were photographed caressing it; teasing the sommelier to give them more; mentioning their favourite years.

If it was Right Bank Bordeaux they really liked, these early birds could have considered the double magnums of Angelus '95, Figeac '03, the l'Evangile '89 or the '86 Conseillante or Certan.

They could have nudged the opposite table for Left Bank Bordeaux, with its row of giant Mouton Rothschild, Pichon Longueville, Ducru, Margaux, Haut-brion and whatnot. They could have tackled the red Burgundy bar, or the white one. They could have drunk the best of the Rhône, Germany or Italy. Or they could have hit the row of venerables up the end: the string of Pichon-Longeville ('37, '59, '88); all those 'seventies glories; the 1919 Beaune "Les Avaux" Premier Cru Burgundy, or the '70 Blandy's Madiera. 1870, that was.

The best thing about this Ficofi Le Palais des Grands Crus event is the organiser usually makes it clear that this more your actual drinking than a tasting. There are no spittoons; transport is carefully arranged so there's no excuse to drive.  There are always far too many incredible wines for anybody to properly report or even drink before the giant flagons expire: I feel sorry for the young scribes who heroically start out scribbling notes at the beginning of that long march.

Better, thinks the older hack, to plunge in for awhile, find a glass of something exceptional and take it outside for slow examination with a smoke. If you get it right, you can come away with a sort of impressionistic glow on the inside, driven by the power of all that stuff you could never possibly afford to drink. This time, the full moon washed her silver down on the outside. It was a beaut night.

The Ficofi people fly in master sommeliers from Hong Kong and Singapore to manage this show. As my arrangement was to get in early, take some photographs before the whole mob arrived and have an exploratory sniff of this or that, I left the Petrus worshippers to themselves and wandered off for a dribble of the oldies up the end.

"Er, excuse me," the sommelier said, carefully taking a bottle from me. "Tasting has not commenced yet. Very sorry. Very sorry. We must have some control."

"I'm not gonna cause much trouble," I growled in my best basso gurgle, taking my glass outside. To the peace and quiet.

Apart from the sheer glow of bathing in such generosity - and it is generous in the extreme - I brought one important message away with me. Since the first of these tastings, years ago, the gap between those magnificent wines poured and the best Australia has to offer has narrowed markedly.

We have yet to make a Pinot noir that will last like that incredible 1919, but we are learning to make those Bordeaux blends and Rhône blends at a very competitive level, and our oaked whites have edged closer to the Chardonnays of Burgundy. It's a very close race now: we're down to measuring by noses and hairs.

Once that Madiera had settled into my sensories, glugging them up with syrupy awe, there was little point in returning to the lighter wines. So I was delighted when a big friendly Scot invited me out for a dram of the excellent malt whisky he'd just brought back from the Highlands.

As we supped and aaahed away there neath the moon, beside somebody's new Rolls Royce, we compared notes on our favourite whisky distilleries and stillmasters. Highland Park; Jim McEwin at Bruichladdich ... we were on a roll. My new friend had worked in the whisky business for many years: he knew his way around a bottle.

"But you know," he purred in wonder, "the Tasmanians are giving us a real run for our money. Lark; Hellyer's Road ... they're beautiful whiskies!"

Back in my hotel, over a few cans of cold Asahi, I took out my tattered copy of Bukowski's CREEM piece, Juggernaut - Wild Horse on a Plastic Phallus.

"I drove north on Crenshaw," he concluded, "looking for a nice place where you could get a drink and where there wasn't any music of any kind. It was O.K. if the waitress was crazy as long as she didn't whistle."

 Charles Bukowski image photographer unknown ... all other photos by Philip White


Col said...

Only you could get away with Whitey!

Wriggles said...

If you mean "get away with that Whitey" I'm concurring.

Anonymous said...

you prefer to be an outsider you grumpy old prick