“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)





04 December 2015


Ballandean Estate Wines Granite Belt Messing About Fiano 2015 
$30; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap 

Most Australian wine regions are suddenly planting Fiano, the oily, fairly coarse grape of Sicily and Campania. They seem to think it might help replace the Kiwi Savvy-B that smites them with deep paranoia and jealousy; or the horrid clumsy hot-to-warm climate ocker Chardonnay they poured on us for decades.

Fiano has whipped up a feverish evangelical mob around McLaren Vale, which is bemusing were it not so risky: too few winemakers have any idea how to make a fine wine from it. Like the most overt members of the vast inbred Muscat family, it carries an array of monoterpenes which give it an oily bouquet and feel, which can quickly grow a stale petroleum ugliness if it's not planted in a cool enough spot or picked earlier than the majority of South Australians are game to pick.

Grown away up in the cool at around 900 metres altitude in the Granite Belt, this Queenslander comes from a winery first set up in a tin shed by Salvatore Cardillo in 1932. It caught my nose because it's more elegant than most of the presumptuous and fatuous southerners: beneath that acrid, nose-tickling edge of smashed granite there's a little of that oil, but not too much. Let's say there's just enough to comfort one.

It has a mild reek of rosehip jelly and some of the nuttiness of good nougat. After twenty minutes in the ice bucket it reaches that point where the acid and tannin dance daintily with that modest viscosity.

It's really damned hard to match a wine with the vinegar and oil of a dressed salad. I can think of no better one than this: rocket and lettuces and your favourite greens with some little cubes of fetta and dark olives ... it'll even handle those bitter tannins of whitloof with some walnuts, walnut oil and balsamic. Given its provenance, I should also say a proper full-bore Caesar salad would work very well. 

Small Change White 2015 
$18 per bottle by the dozen; 12.3% alcohol; screw cap 

Australia's Verdelho cuttings came largely from the Atlantic isle of Madiera, where it was used for a sweetish, high-acid, long-living fortified until the vineyards were killed by the dreaded  phylloxera. On the Iberian Peninsula it's largely used for bucket-grade sweet white. At Langhorne Creek, it can make a rather spritely elegant dry white a little after the style of Chenin blanc, if not quite so steely in the acid division.

The Small Change crew wisely adds a tiny dollop of Adelaide Hills Gewürztraminer to the Langhorne  Verdelho to give it that measured dash of homely oiliness and viscosity. A little of the rose and musk of Gewürz adds interest and comfort to the peppery cress-and-chicory verdancy of the Verdelho: the wine is wisely modest in alcohol anyway.

This is a bright, cleverly-planned wine built for that ice bucket in the sun, stack of salt'n'pepper squid right beside it. It's been made for our climate and our seafood. In a sense, it's a better Fiano than most of our Fiano: more clever, and quite a lot less spendy.

On the other hand, because it's not nearly so green-grassy as the abovementioned Kiwi Savvy-B's, I think it's a much more satisfying schlück than the vast majority of those catty buggers. Especially with that squid. 

Small Change Red 2015 
$18 per bottle by the dozen; 14% alcohol; screw cap 

Another of the new wave - I like to think it's a wave more than a ripple - of reds made from the Bordeaux varieties, this is a Clare Valley/Langhorne Creek assemblage of Merlot, Cabernet franc and Malbec.

From the start, it's obviously been planned and designed like the Small Change White: intelligently built to a specific purpose: early, inexpensive drinking without the duh factor. Moreover, the makers have achieved that and more. There's no wavering from the clever template.

While its alcohol carries its prune and cherry with just the right amount of viscosity, the pretty Cabernet franc brings an insinuation of musky florals to the moody, mossy earth of the Merlot. Malbec brings its serious finishing tannins and that hint of macho gunblue.

What we have is a lovely blend that's neither too junior nor too condescending and serious. It's not gloopy but elegant and edgy in the savoury sense. It'll handle your ordinary snacky mousetrap cheddar as well as the Sunday roast, and makes a highly satisfying companion to pizza or pasta. In fact, if you're thinking Italian, I could list many imports three and four times this price which would do no more than a similar job.

This duo is the third release from Small Change. Both wines rock. All six of their wines rock.

And if you're not in the mood for Italian, you can always take 'em all to Wah Hing ... 

 photos Philip White

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