“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)





19 May 2016


Just one angle on the slippery WET and its rebate vs excise: 
this thing's got a long way to go 

While I don't usually even consider putting explanatory flashes like this at the top, I'm entering the territory where the shockjock introduces me by saying "We've got this wine bloke on the line from Adelaide, like a wine writer, probly gets all his wine for free, who wants everybody to start paying a lot more for their glass of wine by the telly with their tea ... " Please let me know if I've got this line of observation wrong. I'd like to see good wine get cheaper!

WET? WET? Lotsa clucking and fretting about the Wine Equalisation Tax (WET) this last week, and climbing.

From its conception, the WET was negotiated with more than a levy in mind. It was also a levee bank to ease the movement of a giant wine lake from the Murray Darling Basin. In an age of obscene management by testosterone, the wine industry councils and some politicians oversaw such feverish vineyard expansion they flooded the old inland sea with a swillion olympic swimming pools of highly-irrigated plonk which somebody would have to drink.

The 2000 introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) saw a 41% wholesale sales tax on wine eventually chopped to 29% upon which the new 10% GST would be added at retail. Winemakers were irate: they thought the GST would bring the total elimination of this sales tax, but ended up paying the 29% anyway.

Government's cheek in breaking its promise and insisting on this impost, then calling it an Equalisation Tax is to this day a perfect indicator of the derision politicians generally show wine industry councils.

The tax wasn't equalising anything at all.

Always the prima donna of the ethanol peddlers, Australian winemakers had insisted on paying tax differently to other boozemongers. Beer and spirits makers, and all the premixed kiddylikkers and gins and Jacks and Jims and Bundy's and whatnot pay excise, which is a flat tax upon the amount of pure ethanol in your drink.

Stronger your drink, more excise you pay. GST goes on top.

Pretty sensible way of taxing a dangerous depressant, you'd think.

But not our winemakers. Having somehow convinced the powers that be that their ethanol is morally superior to other ethanol, the winemakers pay no excise. Instead, they have their WET, which even at 29% ensures that cheap refinery plonk of dismal quality is taxed at a lower rate than good clean premium wine, regardless of its alcoholic strength.

Cheaper the plonk, lower the tax rate.

You wanta be taxed at a higher rate? Add value to your product. Give it true worth. Do it responsibly. Pay properly for your grapes. Look after the country and do things really carefully with no detrimental cost to the ecology or the waterways or public health. Right from the start, aim to make a nice clean profit, true blue, as soon as you can. Employ a few people in the vineyard and winery. Train them.

Sell your ethanol dissolved in a more wholesome, gastronomically intelligent, healthy natural matrix called premium wine. More beautiful, more luxurious;  not so goddam cheap and nasty.

Therefore more expensive. For your trouble, the WET system will ensure you are taxed at a higher rate, ensuring your wine costs even more. Bung the GST on the top and the gap between your price and goonbag juice just grows and grows.

Regardless of whether any of the growers make a cent the politicians along all those big rivers can keep their seats by keeping right on swapping more irrigation water we don't have for cheaper and cheaper wine for the poor and the elderly and the differently-abled and the differently-coloured and everybody can guzzle on at will or whim and she'll be right mate.

But she wasn't. By 2004 it was apparent that too many smaller producers were in deep trouble, so a scheme was introduced wherein the winemaker can claim a rebate of 29% of the wholesale tax paid on domestic sales. This capped out at $290,000 upon introduction, but within a couple of years winemakers had convinced the treasurer to wind it up to $500,000 maximum per financial year.

In the recent budget, Prime Minister Turnbull's conservative coalition announced it would be chopping this to $350,000 by July 1, 2017, and further to $290,000 in 2018.

You can imagine the regular recipients of these moneys feeling hurt by Turnbull's parsimony, but that's not all they're whingeing about. What's really got 'em whining is the plan to tighten up the general rules of the system to eliminate some of the obscenely overt rorting which some of us have complained about for decades.

The regulations are also tightening to eliminate the New Zealanders, who through free trade agreements can claim the rebate if they sell wine in Australia, and local sharks who neither own nor lease vineyards nor wineries yet live off the rebate through nefarious bulk, unbranded wheelings and dealings.

 These 'virtual wineries' are direct threats and rivals to the small premium producers they told us the WET rebate was set up to assist.

In The Wine Front blog on 13 May, the highly-respected wine editor and author Campbell Mattinson echoed the alarm of many when he wrote "More alarmingly – and tellingly – the proposed changes include an 'eligibility clause which states that to qualify for the WET rebate you need to have a physical winery or a substantial lease of a winery.' The general view is that the latter change shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the way the Australian wine industry works."

Perhaps not. Perhaps it indicates a forensic understanding of how indeed it does work.

Mattinson then goes on to quote Master of Wine Andrew Caillard at some length.

"The idea of owning or leasing a winery to access the rebate, is anti competition, anti small business, anti entrepreneurship, anti new entrants, pro protectionism, and pro industry stagnation," the expat Brit says.

"By imposing this proposed change it will stop or hinder grass roots innovation and visions. I think it is an appalling and unnecessary change. It is counterintuitive, passionless and utterly obtuse. There is no sense of history or ambition."

Last time I looked, Caillard worked for Woolworths. In fact he has worked for them since selling them Langton's, the powerful price-setting premium wine auctioneer.  Woolworths also owns Dorrien Estate, one of the Barossa's biggest wineries and home to Cellarmasters, amongst a myriad other brands.

This big refinery is crawling with winemakers who rent its facilities to make their own "small" brands, using the WET rebate to pay their bills.

It is also full of the sorts of wines, all looking like small family businesses, that fill the main central discount floorspace of its own joints like Dan Murphy's. These wines too are made by Woolworths at Dorrien. While Woolworths sets up dozens of these 'independent' boutique-looking firms to sell through its own liquor chains, one would hope that in its shareholders' interests it claims the WET rebate on every brand that fits the government's legal prerequisites.

This ain't over yet.

13 May 2016


photo Satanika

previously known to agencies as Snake Oil White



Charles Melton Rose of Virginia 2015 ($24; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap) is the latest in a long line of beautifully rosey rosés that established Charlie as clear leader in the dry pink genre, well, decades back. It's all turkish delight/rosewater/musky confectioner's sugar in the perfume division, and then rose hip jelly on white bread toast when it hits the laughing gear, which will instantly switch on a dirty grin if not your actual full-bore guffaw. As far as a glass of drink goes, it's rare to find one that brings laughter and glee like this.

Which is not to say it ain't a dead-serious dining wine: smoked salmon, fennell, chives, capers and goat curd ... closing in on toast again ... rye bread this time. Tea-smoked duck would do it beautifully, too, or a big Thai feast on a summer's day. It's gorgeous.

One thing worth remembering about rosé is that the good ones emerge during the autumn, which, with winter, is more of a time for fuller-bodied tinctures. So the maturing wino slowly learns that now is the time to buy a case of this or that for drinking in the forthcoming spring or summer. Just do it. And during the rainy days now on us? Turn your phone map off. Follow this route:

Having named the rosé after his missus, not the place, Charlie now adds a wine named after his mother-in-law: Charles Melton La Belle Mère Barossa Valley GSRM 2013 ($24; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap). 

So what's the R stand for? Roussanne?

A dozen years ago at the international Shiraz conference at Yalumba, I moderated at a huge masterclass where winemakers from all over the world investigated a dodgy new fad - for Australia - called Shiraz Viognier. Charlie Melton sat at the front with me. The four hundred winemakers really liked his Shiraz. To me, it seemed about the best structured wine in that long line.

When it was his turn to address us, Charlie said that Viognier was like beetroot, which he hates. But while he said that being a food plant, beetroot's not a bad thing in itself, like, take it or leave it, but nobody'd want it on a hamburger.

So what was in his gorgeous Voices of Angels Shiraz?


Here and there amongst the Shiraz in the old bush vine vineyard were Riesling vines. He simply picked them together. Some of that's in this pretty blend of Grenache, Shiraz, Riesling and Mataro.

It's like a modern south-of-France blend with more overt oak than you generally find there, so it's a bit more butch and spicy, somewhere along the lines of nutmeg and mace; maybe even the curry tree, Murraya koenigii. It helps with my theory that as you go north from seaside McLaren Vale up the ranges through the Barossa to continental Clare, the relative humidity decreases and with this dimunition of atmospheric moisture the granular dryness of the skin tannins increases.

So once I've actually had a goodly guzzle, in reflection it seems a little more dry air upland continental Spanish than sultry seaside Provence or the humid Rhône delta. So. Warm black olives; chorizos and Jamón ibérico, or an even better form of that black Spanish ham, Jamón serrano. Yum O.

So we leave sweet Virginia to cross the mother-in-law bridge going where? Charles Melton The Father In Law Shiraz 2012 ($24; 14.8% alcohol; screw cap) is where. And real good Barossa-style Shiraz it is, at about half the price of many wines of similar quality. It has just the right amount of bitter black cherry amongst all those currants and dried black figs, so it opens the floodgates in the juice-squirting glands of the kisser and makes the brain go food food food.

Go visit Charlie before the blizzard sets in. He'll warm your ride.

11 May 2016


Haybales, vineyards, olives. almonds  and across the Willunga Faultline, the Front Hills ... photo by Christo Reid for McLaren Vale - Trott's View (Wakefield Press, 2007)

Slow stroll round Aldinga in a gritty sea breeze to a mob of cool lovelies, all on a fruitful pursuit

Aldinga has its shiny new petrol-and-sugar shop in the fields on the road to the end of the Fleurieu. Behind it, like a block in, before you hit the serious villa rash, you'll find the remnants of the old village: a church, the wonderful bakery and one of Australia's best fish'n'chipperies.

I took a real slow stroll around there on Saturday, whilst attending the Tasting Australia fixture called The Fruitful Pursuit at Fall From Grace.

It was dusty Oz rural there round that crossroads with its bleak roundabout where Old Coach Road meets Port Road and it seemed every human had brought two cars. There were a few drinking coffee on the veranda of Rosey's Cafe, and crowds at the other eateries. Most of them clutched snacks or drinks while their phones rested. Everybody seemed oblivious to the storm warning. The fruitaveg stall was fresh and colourful there in all that drizzly roadside grey.

Each dinery seemed to have enough customers but the pub looked quiet, so I went across to buy myself a beer. Stood there at the bar by the gambling den cashier's. Nobody there. Plenty of ding ding in the gloom room next door but nobody at the taps. Eventually a little lass as ernest as Shelley Duvall's Olive Oyl in Bob Altman's Popeye came through behind the bar and stood there about four metres off staring at me like I was a giant cockroach. I stayed quiet with my fifty in my mit.

"Is anybody looking after you?" she blurted.


There was a real long pause and then she said can she help me and I said yes please I'd really like a schooner of West End Draught which she poured and I asked her if there was a beer garden where I could have a smoke and she said go round there through that door so I did.

Man, that's a bleak old beer garden at the back of the Dinga Sip'n'Save. Neat, clean concrete with the furniture all cemented in and tins with sand at every corner for the butts.

Somebody was vomiting loudly in the Men's by the exit and a lady in a check flannel stood by the drinks window hollering about how hard it was to get a drink until she went away.

My beer was good.

I went out the side lane and stood there looking.

photo from McLaren Vale - Trott's View (Trott, White, Reid, Wordley, Campbell, Algra, Brice, Brooks, Viergever; Wakefield Press 2007)
Aldinga is next to Port Willunga, that weekend hive of developers and their hangers-on; for well-to-do winemakers and those who aspire; for the types I watched gentrify the East End of Adelaide 'til the last locals, like those desperados gambling in the pub, could no longer afford to remain.

While the crossroads there are a bit Tailem Bendy it's still a perfect slice of old Australia hiding behind a bloody great shiny petrol-and-sugar shop. I know of few such opportunities for a great piece of ultra-sensitive civic design to recycle and protect what's left. Given the look of other streets in the district and the Onkaparinga Council's heritage record, good luck with that.

Other than the fuel prices, nothing's changed much ... up the track at Seaford ... photo taken in 1999 for McLaren Vale - Trott's View (Wakefield Press 2007)
But the status quo has its advantages. It's real.

Gill Gordon-Smith's Fall From Grace is now in its third quirky location in six years, and probably the one which feels most homely. There's some cool outdoor space there in the back yard, sheltered by a good old-fashioned veranda, a patio, trees, succulents and a bloody good woodfire pizza oven.

Entrance to the courtyard, between the kitchen and the stables at Fall From Grace on Old Coach Road ... note the sign from Barossa's the only one there ... photo Philip White

Over two days, 24 tiny wineries plied their wares. There were wines from Clare right down the range through the Barossa and Adelaide Hills to the Vales.

Thinking of regions and image, I pondered on the differences between the Barossa and McLaren Vale.

Much to the chagrin and envy of the Valers, the young Barossa nailed itself an identity with its Nick Cave ad. With a good stylist, it can mount this, or a sort of film set of it, with all those images of food, wine, human flesh and good clean dirt, nearly anywhere it likes.

Gill Gordon Smith in Fall From Grace Mk I ... photo Kate Elmes
Aldinga's still a bit more pre- than post-gentrification Tortilla Flats, but I couldn't help thinking that there in the Fall from Grace courtyard, sheltered from the gritty sea breeze, was a shit hot example of what the Barossa ad's art directors aimed at: about a hundred mainly young folks, eating, drinking, chatting away and excitedly comparing the photographs they just took of each other. Phone snappers aside, I reckon I counted five working photographers feeding the social media.

Some of the tasters and vinyl freaks in the stables at Fall From Grace ... the lack of signage made the whole deal more human, and folks had to actually concentrate on the wines, not the sales graphics ... photo Philip White

"Meet South Australia’s next generation of renegade winemakers, who are gaining attention and acclaim for their expressive styles and ‘hands-off’ methods," the Tasting Australia blurb declared.

"The Fruitful Pursuit brings this new crop of artisans together for a tasting event like no other—a two-day ‘wine playground’ staged at Fall From Grace. Experience small-batch, organic, biodynamic, natural and minimal intervention wines, and speak to the makers responsible for crafting these exciting directions in Australian winemaking."

photo Philip White

Nobody actually rolled in the dirt or hung in trees like they do in the Cave thing, and nobody set fire to anything much, but you'd be hard-pressed to pick which of these renegade hands-off expressive stylists and crafters of exciting minimal intervention directions there in the wine playground were Barossa folks looking the way they do or simply everyday millennials down for the small batch experience. When they made the Barossa ad three years back, the Mennonite beard thing was still bumfluff. Now the beard is manly and full and there's a bun on top.

The wines tended to be tad murky for me with a blocked hooter and a ratty brain, but the stylists and crafters I spoke to said that while the tasting customers were brisk and seriously interested and actual sales, well, not too bad: there were key folks from the restaurant and entertainment world who are usually a lot more difficult to reach. Orders would be forthcoming.

photo Philip White

The flooding rains forecast all morning did not rain or flood. The gale warning produced not much more than that sea breeze. All the tickets had been sold in advance; the throng was steady and exceptionally well-behaved: nobody fell from grace. There was laughter and the craic was good,  without one mournful Nick Cave groan.

Peace in the valley.

 photo by Philip White




Bremerton Mollie & Merle Langhorne Creek Verdelho 2015 ($17; 13% alcohol; screw cap) is like most good Langhorne Creek Verdelho: overlooked by many who should know better. Which is silly. It has a very pleasing honeydew melon/starfruit aroma which manages at once to comfort and refresh, without too much of one over the other. Its texture backs this dainty see-saw of sensation, perhaps changing the gears a little closer to refreshment: the Sauvignon blanc bits of that tropical starfruit sector take over, giving a smooth white texturally, but with a pleasing grassy/verbena edge that would chew into your salt'n'pepper squid, or really slay you if you had it with a serve of Coorong mullett, or the salt'n'pepper egg plant at Wah Hing. Verdelho like this should be regarded as the thinking person's Sauvignon blanc: it offers a slice more richness, flesh and pleasure than your standard Marlborough, but still has enough cutty acid to peel the lipstick off your teeth. Notice: cutty, not catty, see? No battery acid. And a bargain!

Just as Tom Hagger gets more soul and cheeky flesh than most do from the austere Grenache of Clare, so he manages to let the smoochiest bit of this Riesling ooze through: it has the sort of toast-and-marmalade we used to find really alluring in the Clare Rieslings of the Olden Days, before the chill stainless steel stormtroopers took over. His Oak Table Wine Clare Valley Riesling 2015 ($22; 12.6% alcohol; screw cap) has all the lemony acid we expect of good Riesling, but comes wrapped in some of the mellow autumnal tones of orange blossom honey, or lime and ginger marmalade on sourdough toast with too much proper butter, as one prefers it. There's that lovely reliable layer of natural acid in the basement, and then the usual layers of citrus pith and all the lime juice Clare can lay on, and then this lovely adornment of brekky toast on the top. Not too much, just a hint. If you're the type that likes a glass of something a bit golden with your Sunday brekky, this wine will ease you perfectly from kippered herrings on toast with lemon and pepper through to Rose's marmalade on toast to a nice cup of white tea, one sugar please, and a butter shortbread. Watch this quiet, inexpensive after-hours brand. 

Tim Adams Clare Valley Reserve Riesling 2010 ($29; 11% alcohol; screw cap), just for comparison, is an aged version of the very steely, hyper-fresh modern school of the variety. So while it started with none of the toasted breakfast of the Oak Table, it's beginning to grow some, but in a very different manner: this is all the butter and marmalade, but there's no toast. It's pristine, still, limy and rindy, and it's grown cool, almost coincidental flesh on its sinews and that citrus looks like it's just beginning to caramelise in the pan, but your actual toast is not so strong. Flavour-wise, it's an aged rizza for the gluten-intolerant (joke only) or one who prefers their fair entertainment, regardless of its age, to arrive freshly-scrubbed in very fast machinery made from fine German steel. 

I should note that I've tasted these wines over four days. Every one of them was a more comforting proposal at least a day after I'd first snapped their seals. So drink some with your dinner on Saturday, and keep a glass or two in the fridge for breakfast.



Orson Welles as Sir John Falstaff and Jeanne Moreau in Chimes at Midnight 1966

Big gastronomic risk, the Shiraz-whisky cocktail, so why would Jacob's Creek try it in the barrel?

A drunken professor of English literature once visited my apartment in the company of the Falstaffian John 'Lord' Twining, who seemed considerably drunker but nevertheless supported a tiny lass, a ballet dancer who besotted him and on this occasion, outsotted him too. After an initial surge, she rested quietly beneath the dining table until morning. 

I offered the gentlemen refreshment from the assorted bottles open there before them. They chose to drink Shiraz with Lagavulin 16 Years Old Single Malt Whisky, about half-and-half. They insisted on whisky glasses, which was anthropologically fascinating. And they tried various types of Shiraz in their Lagavulin.

We discussed the flavour of their drinks, English literature and particle physics until I dribbled the professor downstairs into an unwitting cab and climbed back to my attic in time to see Lord Twining mistake the candle for his glass. Perhaps guided by its friendly light, he lifted that flaming pot to drink it, setting fire to his full white beard.

Through his grimy spectacles, his eyes looked puzzled more than alarmed as he gazed across the conflagration.

I could smell the beard in the morning. It was in the tea towel. But one single stink rose ghoulish above even the cindered whiskers: the smell of the dregs of those bloody cocktails.

That evening flickered across the old eyelid cinema when I read this week that Pernod and Ricard, those ancient absinthe and pastis families of France, were using their Jacobs Creek brand to trial red wines aged in used whisky barrels.

Writing from the Ivy League corner of the USA, Wine Press blogger Ken Ross reported this reversal of the travesty I saw committed at my very table. Ross thought the Jacobs Creek Double Barrel Non-vintage Shiraz aged for a while in used scotch whisky barrels had a "richer, fuller, slightly long aftertaste," but he preferred the Double Barrel Cabernet which had been finished in Irish whiskey barrels.

"As a longtime fan of whiskey and bourbon, I was hoping for slightly more whiskey flavors in both wines," Ross concluded.

Let's get this into focus. When I ran into malt whisky in the 'seventies it was mostly made in old sherry barrels. Given the Scots' appreciation of a sporrun full of coinage, paying for new oak barrels to mature their whisky was not a consideration. Scotland bought barrels nobody else wanted.

Until all the traumatised post-war English had drunk themselves to quiet Anglican deaths on sherry, that Jerez business boomed and used barrels were dirt cheap, just across the Channel.

The powerful cask-strength Scotch spirit, basically barley vodka distilled to 60-70 per cent alcohol in copper pot stills, would tear into the insides of those barrels, sucking caramel and a rainbow of flavours of sugar, old wine and sap from the oak into the liquor, flavouring and colouring it.

As the sherry drinkers died and the barrels ran out, Scotland leant increasingly on the north American whiskey makers for used barrels. For Bourbon, Kentucky whiskey, rye and whatnot, the general rule is that the spirit must be aged for three years minimum in American oak barrels which must then be discarded. To protect the character and quality of the whiskey, only new barrels can be used.

Barossa cooper's hand by DRAGAN

This suits the Scots. They snap 'em up. Get another dozen years out of them. But what nobody ever mentioned was the fact that just quietly, the distilleries of Scotland gradually changed the flavour of the whisky we drank, from sherry-flavoured barley spirit to Bourbon-flavoured, often tinted and sweetened with caramel.

By the mid-eighties visiting Scotsmen had begun to talk about trying other types of barrel. Brian Morrisson, of Bowmore Distillery on Islay tested us on the infamous Black Bowmore, a midnight sin of a drink made by ageing the spirit in oloroso sherry barrels instead of those used for dry pale sherries. That black, sticky dessert sherry sure made a a deadly incendiary gadget of the barrel-strength malt. But it took another decade before we saw official bottles on the shelves, at some ridiculous cost. Unsure of its potential in the traditional Old World malt markets, Morrison had been selling it to the Australian Gillies' Club, at full strength, by the barrel, for home bottling.

Then David Grant, the Highland distiller, came to test me on some trial batches of malt whisky aged for various durations in brand new American and French oak. He was so delighted by my curiosity that he bothered to sort the excise and sent me further cask-strength samples: full litre bottles, thankyou Sir.

This was truly enlightening. For the first time I realised how closely the raw pot-stilled malted barley spirit resembled slightly smoky vodka, while the pure grain spirit, unmalted, was very good vodka indeed. After a few years in the new barrels it took on a distinct citrus aroma and flavour, a little like curaçao. I never saw this on the market; I suspect it was hidden away in what became known as The Balvenie, another expensive luxury malt in a very posh bottle.

Barossa coopers' hands at Langmeil ... photo by DRAGAN

As the years wound by we saw numerous whisky distillers trial whatever used barrels they could get their hands on: the cellars of Sauternes, Burgundy and even Bordeaux were leant on for old wood. There were pink whiskies, burnished botrytis-tinged whiskies: all sorts, sold at a premium as special numbered bins or batches. This desperate fad seems to be subsiding, at least as a marketing tool. Overall, the punter, unimpressed, will not continue to pay.

Especially in China.

Meanwhile, the huge engine of the Scotch business gurgled on, using whatever cheap timber it could get. For the time.

Like its rival transnationals at the huge end of town, Pernod Ricard owns many scotch distilleries and brands, including the distinguished Chivas Brothers.

So it was a wry smile I wore reading the news of the continuing double-digit decline in Chivas Brothers' whisky sales in China. Pernod Ricard's rival Diageo, maker of Johnny Walker, also reports a 42 per cent slump there.

This is big trouble for these monoliths.

Being deeply concerned with their shareholders' interests, I suspect these giant spurruts companies will be scrambling to work out what to do with all those old whisky barrels they've accumulated during the boom. There'll be cooperage accountants beavering away in the back rooms, pestering winemakers to make use of them anyway they can.

Especially at Pernod Ricard Australia, whose recent numbers aren't too hot.

This is all very mischievous, but I can't help wondering whether that wild moist night in my apartment was a spooky voodoo warning of highly unlikely flavours to come. 

The ghosts of those departed guests hover here in the light of the burning beard, reminding me that whisky, Shiraz and blazing whiskers do not go very well together.

But all is not lost. I believe the best malt whiskies on Earth are being made in Japan and Tasmania. For that top-shelf tipple you keep secret in the back corner of your desk, go Yamazaki or Hellyer's Road 10 Year Old Tasmanian single malt.

For inexpensive blended Scotch, Teacher's Highland Cream will do the trick.

Add Shiraz to your liking.

 photo©Philip White



Dudley Brown scares me with Viognier. I saw him crushing some years ago. I'm colourblind, but I reckon it was blue like whitebait. Moulds after moisture. He usually makes a pretty good Viognier. Then he comes out, or at least round, with this 2015 one that he tells pirate stories about while his partner, Dr Irina Santiago Brown, presented her famous 27 bottle batch of murky orange hippy wine out of a bucket of the 2016. I liked that bucket wine. It stayed fresh and staunch for months in the fridge.

Everybody in the know knows how I give orange wines hell. The Doc's was a bewdy.

The bridal Waltz: the marriage of Dudley and Irina ... photos©Philip White

I still think the best Viognier I had came from the last little bit the French got down to in the 'seventies, when there was something like 30 ha of it left in Condrieau. Which was all there was on Earth. It was no big deal. A curio they wished they could sell. It always had good acid, but more importantly, the phenolic tannins of a red. In fact its tannins were strong enough to fix and darken the hue of unripe north Rhône Shiraz.

As a neat varietal, which was rare, the wines were stiff with fresh ginger and horse radish root and a threatening layer of something that seemed too close to the cyanic acid you get in apricot kernels. That's where we get nerve gas and blue food colouring. When I was a kid, Italian men used to chew these kernels when they "gotta the cance."

I was never certain which of these threats eventually did them in.   

Anyway, as far as the Viognier politics go round at Casa Brun, I reckon a wine that's somewhere between these two will do the best business. In the meantime, this Inkwell Blonde on Blonde McLaren Vale Viognier 2015 ($30; 12.9% alcohol; screw cap; 1596 bottles) has all the above in very polite missionary measures. And it's got the right sort of alcohol for Viognier. Thirteen should be max.

It's not russet or rusty or orange or anything: it's clear and bright. It's not like stone fruits, which they say Viognier should resemble. It's more like honeydew melon. It's perfectly, elegantly slimy. It has some butter and honey and then the sort of tannin that's so fine it's like a crushed-up mortar and pestle.

There's a warm south-of-France bean stew with pork belly and artichoke hearts that would set a dangerous tectonic wave going if like fifty people ate it with this wine all at once.

Inkwell Reckoner McLaren Vale Cabernet Shiraz 2013 ($30 ; 13.7% alcohol; screw cap; 1200 bottles) is from the loam on the Pirramimma Sandstone in this bold vineyard down there a few kays from the beach on California Road. Fig, black briar berries, juniper, Deadly Nightshade - many of those gunblue peppery aspects of cress and basil - are all here in an acid shell lacquer, an essence. With musk and crème de groseille, the raspberry version of crème de cassis. 

This wine has a lovely determined logic about it. It shows firstly what you can grow and make if you think first and then it begins to show how stupid it's been mechanically making McLaren Vale reds at 15 to 17% alcohol, year in, year out.

Sass, silk'n'velvet, slickness and sin. 

Doing the Rorschach test at the wedding ... photos©Philip White

Inkwell I & I McLaren Vale Shiraz 2013 ($30 ; 13.7% alcohol; screw cap; 1596 bottles) Is more complex and sinister. Martial. There's a lot of highly polished, very soft black dress leather. These are all black horses in here Ma'am. That one's got his tail braided. They musta done his hooves with coal tar.

This has all those blacksmithed essences and lacquer of the Reckoner, but with more currants, carbon and licorice/anise. To think Dudley and Doc skwoze all that intensity into this little glass at such a happy alcohol is a wonderful thing to see. We don't need all that alcohol. Not with flavour like this.

This is a really glamorous and vibrant strap of a wine. Blue steak in a creamy black peppercorn sauce. Dammit, you could even put some ripe Roqueforte in that cream. And more fresh pepper please.

No need to cut yourself short of turpenes.

These wines are about understanding the rocks beneath one's feet and the flavour of the breeze in one's teeth before even setting forth in winemaking. They are very cool. And that I & I Shiraz, that's really out there. That's a very fine wine indeed.

Getting the breeze in their teeth: wedding guests ... photos©Philip White