“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)





16 December 2016


O'Leary-Walker Hurtle Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir Chardonnay 2011 
($28; 12% alcohol; cork) 

A hallmark of the types of fizz that generally delight me most is a smell much like the waft of a field of ripening wheat about five minutes after a light sunshower. 

I know it's verboten to mention rain while a record grain crop is still in the ground, but that gentle country bouquet sure is a pretty and memorable thing, especially if you're not a wheat farmer. 

To add to that sweet fragrance, the 75% Pinot noir in this cuvée reeks of fresh-sliced strawberries, and I don't mean tasteless supermarket shit. I mean the ones my grandfather got down on his ancient knees and grew in compost that contained his own shit. 

It's almost as if there are some of those ripe fifties modestly-sized, flavour-packed strawberries in the glass. There's also a hint of fresh lemon, and the whiff of crunchy almond biscotti from Mrs Bagnara over the Leongatha Road.

Which all stacks up to a bouquet as close as dammit to the $100 sparkling wines from that part of France they call Champagne.

That C-word, banned from our use by international law, pretty much means broad open country; paddock: in Italy they call it Campania: a good place for a successful military campaign when it was all horse, hand and footwork. I note the Champenoise have not threatened the six million people that live in Campania, Italy, with a suit in the international courts. Or invasion, for that matter.

The calcereous champagne/campania/champs/fields of Watervale from the O'Leary Walker winery veranda in the Clare part of the North Mount Lofty Ranges, South Australia: this precious slope makes no fizz, but grows some of the best dry Riesling on Earth ... photo by Philip White

As far as Champagne/Campania goes, I like to remind the French that the Nullarbor plain is 200,000 square kilometres of flat open country and could arguably deserve the same name. To which they retort, "Ah but Champagne is priceless and unique because of its calcereous Kimmeridgian limestone; all fossilised marine skeletons." 

It's always worth noting that the Nullarbor is the biggest piece of limestone on the planet, is composed of marine fossils, and that when Baudin's offsider Freycinet took his first look at the Spencer Gulf end of it in 1802 he named the slopes where Boston Bay Wines now stands the Côtes de Champagne. They named that water we now know as Spencer Gulf the Golfe Bonaparte.

Boston Bay vineyard on the slope the revolutionary French scientific explorers named the Côtes de Champagne ... looking north into the Golfe Bonaparte ...this fruit is picked into refrigerated trucks to be moved overnight to O'Leary Walker in Clare for vinification ... photo by Jesus

I know. It's on their map. Fordy's got a copy on the wall at Boston Bay; last I heard the original was in the Bibliothèque just across the Rue des Petits Champs from Willy's Wine Bar in Paris. It bears the signature and approval of Napoleon himself.

So it was a close thing, that naming. 

This lovely wine, of course, was not grown on the Nullarbor. It's from vineyards David O'Leary and his sister Sue Cherry planted on a champs at Oakbank in 1990. Calcereous ground, naturally, and a lot damn cooler than the Nullarbor.

Edmund Mazure (right) with Edward Emile Bernier in the maturation cellars at Romalo

Add Nick Walker's pedigree as a third generation fizz maker and we're rockin. Nick's grandfather Hurtle was trained in the crafty art by the great French pioneer winemaker, Edmund Mazure, at Sam Wynn's Romalo, opposite Penfolds Grange. Hurtle picked his first vintage there at Auldana as a ten-year-old in 1900. He died in 1975.

Nick's dad, the giant, gentle Norm, with whom I was pleasured to lunch recently, took over and made Wynn's sparklers for Sam's son David from 1951 to 1985. Apart from the Wynns' own brands, Norm made fizz for 57 other Australian companies there at Romalo, Magill.

David Wynn (left) in the Romalo cellars with Hurtle Walker and his son Norm

Amongst other achievements, Nick Walker really began to make his mark at Yellowglen, back when that was a highly-reputed brand, before he and O'Leary joined forces in Clare, both smarting from being burned by the types of giant corporate raiders that sentenced the once top line Yellowglen to the discount bins forever and began turning David's beloved Chateau Reynella into a yuppie ghetto.

This Hurtle incorporates a portion of oaked base wine, a luxury most Champenoise do not afford. After all those years riddling on yeast lees in bottle, it was disgorged freshly for summer.

So it's a gentle, slightly toasty champers to drink, in its extremes both fuller and finer than most. Its acid is gentle but persistent, its bead more of a delightful tongue massager than a sharp tartaric shard that files throats so effectively your guests are all grabbing for their antacid.

If you must eat, crudités and hors d'ouvres like paté will be very cool with it, although I can't wait to take a tumbler of it to the veranda with a bowl of fresh strawberries sliced and soused in lemon juice and kirsch; a plate of almond biscotti on the side.

Add all those years, all that fine and tricky work, all the ingenuity, vision and investment, and consider this wine is released one year older than even the new Grange, and at this remarkable price, and this part of the world feels a lot damn better than any of Old Yurp's champagnes and campanias.


Always playing the odd couple:Nick Walker (left) and David O'Leary in the Pinot and Chardonnay vineyard in the calcereous champs at Oakbank in the Adelaide Hills portion of the South Mount Lofty Ranges ... photo by Philip White 

Off the track, but as well as employing great wine visionaries like the Walkers, David Wynn was a vital mentor to me: a very wise teacher. This early 'nineties picture below is my last photograph with him. He died in his veggie patch at Mountadam, after lunch with some friends, a year or so later ... we are with Howard Twelftree, the great gastronomy critic and cryptic wit, but typically, David's checking to see where that camera's pointing ... he was always scouring the field, forensically. 

The O'Leary Walker endeavour reminds me of his far vision, persistence and patience. But then, patience was a virtue he used sparingly.


1 comment:

Matthew Ford said...

Thanks for the reviews and such beautiful writing! "ripening wheat about five minutes after a light sunshower." I love it!