“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)





14 December 2016


Treading the gooey edge between rotten and sanitary: a few new old wave drinks with 'texture'

So that's pink salmon berries and guava jelly that shockin live flesh texture in the Oakridge Over The Shoulder Yarra Valley Rosé 2016 which I thought was brutal theft at $78 'til I turned it round the right way and it's really $23. 

It reminds me of the Dominic Portet Yarra pinks from up the road: dry slender beauties made with respectful sensuality. They have the flesh of perfect salmon. I drank this one with ciabatta toast spread with proto-nuclear chilli to enhance the rosé vanillinoids and melted Puhoi Valley Aged Cheddar on top and I just sat here crankin and cool and cryin happily because well Xmas, Exmess, execera, et cetera, and, you know, I rubbed chilli in my eyes. 

Yesterday I opened the Oakridge Hazeldene Vineyard Yarra Valley Pinot Gris 2016 ($28) a few microseconds before I noticed it was empty and that brought tears, too. Because it just vanished. First proper gulp of it had me twitching for my old Wheatstraw Suite album by The Dillards, the first seriously good bluegrass group to understand electricity. Without reaching for vinyl I found it on Youtube - whole 27 minutes, 57 seconds of it - and I only got to glimpse about two and a half shades of gris before they fled the room and that lovely happy music was just starting to fill the air with bubbles and colour when the 27 minutes 57 seconds ran out and the damn bottle was empty. 

This running out business is a problem which may not go away on many other levels, since the dreaded phylloxera is moving on what I believe to be a major scale in the Yarra. Which it will, if the lobbyists with the most power and vested interest continue to organise the relaxation and dilution of our century-old phylloxera restrictions. I'll report more on this in the New Year, if we ever get there.

Speaking bright and zappy white drinks, I found some enjoyment a few days previous with two vintages ('15 and '16) from Bremerton. I opened them together, and really enjoyed their simple, open-hearted freshness. I thought somebody may have been doing something bright with a Verdelho-based blend, maybe with a dob of something more oily, like Fiano, but they were both Bremerton Betty & Lu Langhorne Creek Sauvignon Blanc and the new one's only 11.5% alcohol but nowhere near as catty and grassy as many Kiwi ones. It's real easy, slightly creamy drinking at a recommended $17 but I reckon you could probly get it cheaper if you don't mind spending the money you saved to drive somewhere else for it.

It's now four years since Currency Creek had its only wine show ... here are judges Nick Ryan and Zar Brooks with Patricia Piccinini's Big Mama in the wondrous Signal Point gallery at Goolwa ... top spot to judge wine ... photo Philip White
For feeling, humidity, aroma and aspect, the lakeside vignobles of Langhorne and Currency Creeks always remind me of parts of estuarine Bordeaux and sometimes the Loire. I wish our Lakesters would permit themselves some inspiration in some of the most elegant dry whites made there from Sauvignon blanc and Semillon ... even the Loire's pretty and perfumed Cabernet franc rosés ... 

Heaven forbid: I'm not saying copy them. Your region's probably not cool enough. But I am suggesting if you're an estuarine grower, permit yourself to be exposed to these riverine French wines rather than be reassured by anything grown upstream from you on our troubled rivers in the desert.

At the risk of stretching one's skill set, I tried a few skronky hippy wines the colour of the president-elect's hair, just to stay in tune. With those, the matter of why - like why make this goo? - quickly becomes when, as in when will it degrade to bongwater? I tried them over days: warm, cold, freezing, ordinary, but nah.

Short of that determined rush to a pre-sanitary past, there are those who push the winemaking envelopes just far enough toward natural  - without crossing the line into totally rotten - to make good stable wines of complexity and interest with encouraged oxidation, wild yeasts and older barrels. Two impressive vegetarian and vegan-suitable examples, a Roussanne and a Viognier, both 2015 and $24, come in Yalumba's Samuel's Garden Eden Valley Collection. 

The brusque gingery breath of the Viognier's a good lead-in to the mix of stone and citrus fruits which follow; the Roussanne has a similar citrussy streak but wraps that in meadow flowers and nuts: it's delicious wine at a real tasty price.

At which point I realise that all these wines share a more unctuous, oily texture than you'd expect to find in the aforementioned New Zealand Sauvignons blanc or a lemony Eden Valley Riesling. There's a movement to what the marketers strangely call "wines of texture" which I presume these are.

Even acid water has texture.

I think they're a bit freaked by the term 'slimy' which I first heard uttered as wine descriptor by Kath Quealy when she began making her distinctive Pinots gris on Morningtom in the early 'nineties. 

Like, take Grüner veltliner. On one hand, you have the crunchy-crisp Riesling-like texture the masters at Hahndorf Hill achieve, and they are the importers of the variety, so I'd expect them to be deliberately going for that slightly austere - Austerian? - finesse. Then you have the wilder, more russet-coloured version John Gilbert makes with wild yeast in old oak at By Jingo, and it's hard to believe they're the same grape. 

I love both versions, but that slimier style is reflective of the new whites where I suspect many makers, perhaps having planted a variety they didn't fully research, then try to make up for absence of flavour by working this extra texture into the drink. You can do this by stirring your dead yeast every day with a nine-iron.

Which I'm sure is not how John made his Grüner: he went out and bought the grapes to make a style of wine he'd dreamed of and then quite deliberately pursued. He's never one to push or hurry things that'll eventually happen anyway without his intervention.

Another example of a wine that shows all the signs of having been blended in pursuit of a specific texture a little more fulsome than usual is the Paracombe Adelaide Hills Grüner V5 2016 ($20), a pleasing, autumn-scented blend of Grüner veltliner, Pinot gris, Pinot blanc, Riesling and Gewurztraminer. Rather than displaying any of the individual aromatic or flavour facets of its components, this seems blended in pursuit of a more comforting, reassuring feeling than the masses seem to enjoy in their Kiwi Savvies-B. 

So here we see a school of thicker-textured, slimier wines developing, presumably to offer counterpoint to the smashed-windscreen crunch of most popular Sauvignon blanc and even a few dry Rieslings. 

Industrial psychology fascinates me. Like how did this whole vast industry decide to start this new wave of 'texture'? Was it researched or rehearsed? I very much doubt it. But it seems to me that if they'd grown and made that ocean of Chardonnay of the last thirty years with more respect of its Burgundian source we wouldn't be suddenly reaching for more texture and unction to escape those sharp marauding Kiwis who invaded our Chardonnay shelves with Sauvignon blanc and still line up for our stupid Wine Equalisation Tax rebate.

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