“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)





30 January 2017


image courtesy of Only In Russia

28 January 2017


photo©Philip White 

Slightly smoky, like prosciutto or gently-smoked bacon fat. Slightly acrid, like burlap, cordite, and the Mintaro slate quarry after they've split a big slab off in the summer sun. And then it's pungent with that smug aroma of grandma's lime-and-ginger marmalade on buttered white toast. I'm sniffing the Sevenhill Clare Valley Riesling 2006, which won the J. B. MacMahon Trophy for best white wine under $20 at the Royal Adelaide Wine Show of that year.

Take a schlück. My goodness. It's a rich and generous feeling with a flavour like a miracle smoothie that somehow combines all those aromas into a burnished mellow brilliance with the glow of brass like you hear in Van Dyke Parks' Cannon in D. The aftertaste, with its persistent, but polite wedge of firm acidity seems to turn a spotlight on the whole shiny performance.

This experience is very much like one can derive from a mild mature Burgundian Chardonnay. That smoke emulates the toasted oak such wines involve. The cordite is like the nose-prickling mixture of sulphur and yeast that you'll find most prominently in a younger Burgundy. Add a few slices of stewed white peach to your marmalade on toast and you have a flavour uncannily similar to good Chardonnay.

The biggest difference? The flavour of this beautiful calm Riesling shows no oak. Apart from that semblance of toasted oak in the fragrance, there's none in the palate, which only serves to make that part of it vaguely resemble an aged Chardonnay from Chablis, that satellite sub-region of Burgundy heading north towards Champagne, where it's cooler and they don't use much wood. But while the wines there are grown in Kimmeridgian chalk and clay rich in marine fossils, they can sure smell and taste slaty.

My point being? Good Burgundy usually starts at $120, not $20. While the newest Sevenhill model of this Riesling may have crept upwards a dollar or two, there's still a $100-plus gap before you hit much Burgundy worth your trouble.

Considering this is what happens if you can afford to cellar $20 Riesling for a decade, it's important to see what happens if you have the twenty but not the time. So let's peel the finest rizza from Elizabeth Heindenreich, who makes the wine there with Brother John May S.J. for the Jesuits of Sevenhill. 

Sevenhill St. Francis Xavier Clare Valley Single Vineyard Riesling 2016 
$35; 11% alcohol; screw cap) 

Yeah, I know, I know: this one's $35. That's because, unlike the standard $22 jobbie, this is from the best tiny patch of Riesling on the monastery: it's their top Riesling.

Which, knowing the acuity of its makers, suggests to me it'll do an even better job than the less spendy model.

And yes, I did attempt a review of this wine in August, when it was so young it couldn't talk. Now, half a year older, it really deserves a second look: it's putting on flesh. It shows even more promise.

Lime pith, sliced fresh ginger root, all manner of citrus blossom, and not so much slate or chalk but hard red dirt in the summer, just slightly prickly. Stubble. Rustling everlasting flowers on the headlands. That'll be your bouquet.

Schlück. Elegance. Intensity. Lime and lemon juice. Dust. It's all locked in and tight as a drum. Adult. Austere. Grainy. Slaty, as if you were licking the lichen from an old Sevenhill tombstone. It's sufficiently majestic and removed to barely notice you.

Which all sounds a bit droll. If your palate is not attuned to very fine young Rieslings, and you need more instant gratification, go for the $22 one. But if you're even halfway to full-bore Riesling pervitude this will play your brass for you.

The major difference being? I reckon that while this grand wine will take a lot longer to burnish and soften, it will remain more classically Riesling-like; it'll grow toasty and marmalady for many years before it makes me think of the expensive Chardonnays of Burgundy.

If indeed it ever does. Maybe the Burgundy richistanis should stick to cheaper Rizza. Maybe that's where most of Burgundy resides: down there, well below the ranks of truly magnificent Rieslings like this.

There. I've said that, too. Better said than dead, eh?

One final point. These Rieslings don't smell of the kero/flytox/petroleum stuff many British wine critics seem to expect of good Australian Rieslings. An honest winemaker will tell you that aroma is a fault brought on by lazy vineyard management: it's often the smell of berries burnt too much by the hot summer sun. Keep those grapes safe and fresh in mottled leafy shade, and you get no kero.

You get serious grown-up bliss.


Fox Gordon Sassy Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2016 
$19; 13.9% alcohol; screw cap 

Not Sancerre, but why should it be? A small improvement on most of the thin, battery-water Sauvignons the Adelaide Hills seem content to produce, this lean meany has all the essentials necessary for taking the lipstick off one's teeth before the battered salt'n'pepper cephalopod arrives. It's closer to the Savvys-B of Marlborough, but has a prettier, more floral waft than most of those, especially the ones that hit the handbag before you reach $20. Which makes it pretty good value if you like that sort of thing. Probly goes very well with a menthol cigarette, pre skinny decaf latté. Or, of course, without. 

It's fitting wine for the footpath tables up the top of Unley Road, where the rich dine. Woulda been good on Norwood Parade, but those tables seem to have have moved on a bit.

Fox Gordon Princess Adelaide Hills Fiano 2016
$23; 13.9% alcoholo; screw cap 

Here's a good clean fresh wine with a bouquet that reminds me of the aromatics that would exude from the Watkins and Rawleigh's travelling salesmens' leather display cases when they'd come in their Wolseleys knocking on our lonesome country door to flirt with my beautiful Mum when the Old Man was off preaching in Dixie or Ulster or somewhere. It reminds me of their Brilliantine hair dressing or something: it smells a touch Vaselinish. 

Come to think of it, I can also recall preachers who smelt like this. They were probably chasing Mum, too. They'd come in all perfumed and quiffed right up, KJ Bible under the arm; peppermint chewies on their breath.

None of em took too kindly to me, her eldest, when I'd park myself protectively beside her at the kitchen table, if indeed they got in that far.

It also has a disarming human fleshiness about it which reminds me of my Presbyterian Sunday school teacher when she'd lean over me to ensure my Bible was open at the right page. Jesus, I loved that chance of a glimpse down her shirt. Praise the Lord!

Funny that I can't recall what any of these people smelt like in winter.

So maybe it's all about the mystery and risk of failed seductions in the bush in a prickly summer. Something about that persistence. Urgency.

Drink. Not as oily as that fragrance led me to believe. Not a great challenge. It's fairly amorphous, sound dry white until a rise of  metallic acidity lifts its finish. It's long and lingering schlücking without any actual schnabeling. Which is what young Barassadeutchers did on the back seats of their cars in the parking bay on Trial Hill Road or way up in the witchcraft country on Kaiser Stuhl already.

I dunno what sort of a testimony that is for Fiano. But I suspect, given the hearty rustic nature of that Italian grape, and its tendency to go big and oily and viscous when grown at at a modest yield and let get very ripe, all this indicates the variety is more flexible and forgiving than many of the fad varieties that end in O. Easily the best of this trinity.

Fox Gordon Charlotte's Web Adelaide Hills Pinot Grigio 2016 
$23; 14% alcohol; screw cap 

Like the wines above, this sort of alcohol level is high for a gris/grigio/grey white so shy of challenge, gastonomic provocation or flesh. Which makes me wonder about how high these tonnes were per hectare. I trust Fox Gordon didn't pay obscene prices, as it has all the hallmarks of fruit grown by a vigneron not scared of irrigation. Same acid as the Fiano. Same feeling as the Sauvignon.

Post Script

I made a desktop blend of equal parts of these three wines, with another equal proportion of a sound but tired 2008 Barossa Chardonnay made without wood. The result has the alluring, husky, summer dust-and-stubble edge the Fox Gordon drinks offered - but I didn't notice til now - with a great deal more complexity and true vinosity, without reaching anything like gooey. My blend's a medium-to-light-bodied amorphous dry white which I much prefer to any of its components. It has some reassuring body, it'll still peel those lipstick flecks off your teeth and it'll go real good with the more carefully and intelligently-constructed sort of salt'n'pepper squid that you'll find on the footpath table at Wah Hing in Chinatown.


I dunno, really. Maybe I missed something. But when I read the beautifully-produced Lookbook Edition One that came with these three wines, I can only imagine they've been made to allure people the like of which are portrayed therein.

Whom I'm sure will believe its appraisals a lot quicker than they'll read mine. I hope they all go out and read these books the makers recommend. And the Italian Eko is a fairly resilient beginner's guitar. Like you can fall on one and ski it across the floor and it'll usually handle that well. My first 12-string was an Eko, back when they were called Eston. Laurie Treadrea, the pawnbroker, relieved me of it for half a song in 1971 when I needed the money to run away from home.

I suppose that's a good metaphor for these wines. Tough. Resilient.

But the music? Iggy'll do me thanks. He's been with me since the day I walked out, put my thumb up, and hit the road with my Eston.


The Girl On The Couch - Pang Xungin 1930

26 January 2017


Wine businessmen of category: not many of them running  publicly-listed wine companies
On 23rd August 2003, Prime Minister John Howard officially opened the O'Leary Walker winery at Watervale in Clare. In a typically yin-yang move, David O'Leary and Nick Walker had asked whether I would formally introduce him to the big assembly of VIPs, friends and neighbours. Realising it wasn't too often you saw a Prime Minister open a winery, and in awe of Nick and David's achievement and endeavour, I agreed.

The PM had been encouraging Australians to stop gambling. Not long before the opening, he'd repeated this mantra one day and on the next announced that he wanted us as a nation to invest in stocks and shares, which seemed to me a pretty big gamble in itself.

"I want Australians to be the biggest owners of stocks and shares in the world," he'd said.

Determined to make an introduction more conservative than the speech he was likely to deliver, I spoke of how the most significant Australian wine companies were often the long-term works of great families, who over generations worked determinedly to build businesses of substance.

Families being what they are, many of these falter after two or three generations, and one heir or another eventually decides to grab the money - often through a public float on the stock exchange - and run.  

I thence suggested the short-term boom-and-bust nature of the stock market was inappropriate in the wine business, which needed people of great patience and vision to weather the very long-term cycles of finding and buying land, planting vines, waiting for them to produce a proper crop, building wineries, making wine, and then waiting for it to mature for market and the chance at some income.

By their nature, modern publicly-listed companies could never plan and endure such patient, visionary ten and twenty-year cycles of planning, major investment and gradual brand establishment before profits could be expected.

I quoted the Melbourne wine critic Walter James, who'd written in the Wynn Winegrowers Diary, 1970:

"When you choose to direct your life to the task of making money you may be sure that your success will arouse the admiration, and the envy, of a vast army of men who have had similar aims. Should you set out not to make money but to make something really worthwhile in itself, your success will with equal certainty be rewarded with the admiration, and the goodwill, of men who really matter - men of category ...

"In some fields of productive endeavour, of course, you cannot achieve much without substantial means; it is only a little sad that so many men of ability as they reach for success and meet it are beguiled into allowing the means to submerge the aim and in the end are content to do, adequately enough, no more than a hundred others around them are doing equally well. Their obituaries describe these people as successful businessmen and they pass promptly into oblivion."

To bounce off this, I cited the Walker family. Nick's grandfather Hurtle had learned his winemaking from the Frenchman Edmund Mazure at Romalo Cellars, where Hurtle's son and Nick's father, Norm, spent his life making wine for many other Australian companies. Samuel Wynn had bought Romalo, which his son David took over.
David Wynn tasting at Romalo, Magill, with Hurtle and Norm Walker

To fund his determined pioneering push into high country cool-climate winemaking at Mountadam in the South Mount Lofty Ranges, David floated Wynn Winegrowers, which eventually became part of the giant publicly-listed Fosters/Treasury empire, various rape-and-pillage managers of which butchered and stripped grand companies they purchased, forcing revered winemaker/employees like Nick and David to flee and make their own business.

1960s Wynn's wine box. Check that list of major wine businesses ... one of the Yellowtail Casella boys turned the Yenda winery into an ammo factory ... photos©Philip White
They were, I argued, men of category, building something long-term, something really worthwhile in itself which would also eventually make good profits. These men would not pass promptly into oblivion.

This took me a few minutes to say. I invited the PM to the lecturn. On his way, he folded the speech he'd prepared and put it back in his pocket. He then delivered an off-the-cuff talk about how his government's excellent tax regime had made things like O'Leary Walker possible.

Ha! Whitey aced Honest John!

It was a good day. And after those thirteen years O'Leary Walker still goes from strength to strength, making proper money processing fruit for the same brutal companies that forced them out: a cash flow which helps them steadily continue growing, buying and establishing fine vineyards, and making their own delicious products.

The Prime Ministry, meanwhile, has resembled the dog-eat-dog nature of the Stock Exchange in those same thirteen years. The players in the subsequent Howard-Rudd-Gillard-Rudd-Abbott-Turnbull fiasco may be remembered, but only because most of what they think they achieved has already passed into the grey muck of oblivion.

To read of Mazure and David Unaipon, the first aboriginal winemaker (below), my Australian of the Year for 2015, click here

David O'Leary (below) addresses the dinner gathering to celebrate the 2011 opening of the new O'Leary Walker tasting rooms ... Matt Walker took these two photographs ... to see more of that grand Tony Bilson dinner, click here.

25 January 2017


The late Henri Krug was the greatest blender/wine parfumier the DRINKSTER has ever encountered ... here he is in his tiny lab with Monica Jansons ... photo©Philip White
If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck is it a duck, a pig, a princess ... or a blended wine? 

Take a glass of water. Add a shot of, say, blackcurrant cordial. It's no longer water. It's a glass of blackcurrant cordial. Pretty simple.

Australian wine labeling law permits the inclusion of up to fifteen per cent of any variety or varieties in a bottle without the vendor naming that extra dollop of whatever it is on the label.

In one sense, if it were wine, according to our law, I could still sell that glass of cordial as a glass of water.

If I made a Riesling and added fifteen per cent Shiraz I could still legally brand the wine as Riesling.

This is an unlikely blend, but I use the example as evidence of just how much room-to-move this law permits.

It exists to give winemakers blending space: wine can be improved by such a tweak, or changed radically from what it purports to be.

If I added more than fifteen per cent of that second variety, or any others, I would be obliged to list them on the label. Or I could simply not mention any varieties at all and instead call it Voombochoof.

This room-to-move also assists the producer to dispose of small parcels of this or that; the odds and ends that always build up through vintage. It provides an escape route to hide mistakes and experiments which are sometimes an enhancement to the final wine, sometimes not; the winemaker takes a gamble that we won't notice.

This is what I call an accountant's blend.

Castagna, in the Australian Alps at Beechworth,  is one cooler-region Shiraz that benefits from a tiny inclusion of Viognier ... photo©Philip White 

Viognier's a prime example. When many people planted this quirky white in the 'noughties, there was a brief fashion of adding some to Shiraz and correctly labelling it Shiraz Viognier. Unfortunately, a lot of that Viognier left quite a bit to be desired. As with many 'new' varieties the experimentation unfortunately fitted the template of my sceptical mantra: wrong variety; wrong location; wrong winemaker, wrong reason, as in no real research before making the decision to plant Viognier.

The punter is not a mug. The last thing a big porty Shiraz needs is a gloop of Viognier that's so ripe it tastes like apricot jam. So there was soon a stubborn market resistance to anything labeled Shiraz Viognier.

What did the winemakers do? They took the word Viognier off the label but used their Shiraz to hide this extra variety that had cost them so much time and money to grow or procure. So the punters were drinking what they thought was Shiraz and couldn't quite work out what was odd about it.

This of course influences the way the unwitting buyer then regards Shiraz.

The winemakers involved risk damaging the image of Shiraz, which we have oceans of, by using it to dispose of something they trialled without sufficient research or thought.

Of course, in cooler sites, where the Shiraz is not gloopy but bright and lithe and sometimes even a touch under-ripe, an admixture of Viognier, with its chalky tannin, creamy texture and low acidity makes a better wine. This is why the French tend to do it in the cooler reaches of northern Rhone gorge; the place where we found the idea.

There, usually only a few percent of Viognier is enough. But you don't need fifteen per cent Viognier in big ripe Shiraz - if your Shiraz is ripe, odds are your Viognier's over-ripe.

In comparison to this act of sheer convenience for the opportunistic winemaker, away off at the more creative end, on the bench of the master blender, the œnological parfumier, there's not much evidence of intelligently constructive activity.

One bright example of unusual gastronomic intelligence being shown on the blending bench is the wine of Stephen Pannell, the McLaren Vale Bushing King. His cellar-door customers can't get enough of his S. C. Pannell Aromatico, a slurpy white blend of Adelaide Hills Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Gris.

Steve Pannell with some of his big new oak ... photo©Philip White

Typical of his enquiring, travelling nature, Steve bothered to track down the most likely source of Gewürztraminer in the Alto Adige in Northern Italy, where there's a town called Tramin. The Traminers call their local variety Aromatico, so that's the name he chose for his bottle.

"Gewürztraminer has the best pungent, alluring aroma." Steve says. "Orange blossom, lychee and roses ... but it's low in acid so I blended it with Riesling and Pinot Gris to take advantage of their higher natural acidity, and left some mouth-filling sweetness in the finish. It's like my Moscato for grown ups." 

This recipe may seem pretty simple and obvious when you read of it like this, but such basic intelligence and planning is unfortunately rare in Australia.

Either that, or it's widespread and the buyer has no idea, probably because the wine is forgettable.

Steve's 2016 Bushing Trophy winner is a blend of Touriga nacional, Cabernet sauvignon and Mataro. While he'd been dreaming of a blend along these lines for some time, the opportunity to actually do it came when these varieties, all in one McLaren Vale vineyard, ripened together and he felt that serendipitous mix was the best possible reflection of his site and its terroir.

So, different reason, but similar result: a distinctive and lovely drink that obviously suited the prejudices of the many judges at the McLaren Vale Wine Show.

It sure seems to please the punters as much as the Aromatico. And he's put those varieties up big on the front.

The author with Wolf Blass and John Glaetzer ... photo Johnny 'Guitar' Preece
Perhaps the most significant multi-variety blending team I've watched in Australia was the brilliant duo of Wolf Blass and John Glaetzer. When the ebullient Len Evans and Brian Croser were insisting that everyone suddenly plant Chardonnay, Wolfie was adamant he and Glaetzer could do a better job of that style by blending varieties already available.

While Evans (above) preached his gospel of Chardonnay becoming "the vanilla of the Australian wine industry" the Blass duo was blending Riesling, Crouchen, Semillon, Colombard and I reckon sometimes some Muscadelle or Frontignac to make what they called Classic Dry White. Beneath that bold brand, Wolf always listed the ingredient varieties in descending order of their proportion.

Wolf was adamant that the Chardonnay experiment was too big and misplaced, but within a couple of years the Chardonnay word had caught on. People could pronounce it. It rhymed with Cabernet. It was new. It sounded posh. All the wine writers raved about it.

Given the incredibly confusing range of quality they threw at us in the 'eighties and well through the 'nineties, the only thing I could see that was selling Chardonnay as a type was its name. I'm pretty sure that if Wolfie'd called his blend Chardonnay he would have prevailed. At least his wine was consistent: Wolf and Johnny 'The Ferret' could alter their composition according to vintage variations in their suite of components. It was good low-priced premium wine; certainly an improvement on much of the real Chardonnay.

There's a PhD here for somebody who researches the causes, but by the end of the 'nineties the industrial belief was simple: you couldn't sell blends. The punters didn't understand it. They never would. Blending was out. Especially if you admitted to it on the label.

I always felt this blockage had mainly to do with the vast gap of knowledge and honesty that yawned between the winemakers, their sales teams and the grocers who would eventually hand the bottles to the customers and take their money. There wasn't a lot of effort going into anything other than brand or single variety promotion; the actual business of wine education was left to the wine writers, who were paid by newspaper and magazine proprietors, not winemakers. As we now see, that couldn't go on forever. Major metropolitan newspaper wine columns, as they were, are pretty much gone.

This marketplace failure of wine blends mysteriously coincided with Australia discovering the sparkling wines made in that part of France they call Champagne. These, of course, were principally blends of Chardonnay, Pinot noir and sometimes, as in the case of the mighty Krug, Pinot meunier.

Rather than drive the consumer away, these blends soon triggered the rise of a more knowing consumer. Discerning enthusiasts learned to discuss their favourites, however simply, but many gradually gained confidence in their nascent knowledge of their fizzy favourites, and whether they were dominant in Chardonnay, Pinot noir, or even the meunier.

This was good for Champagne, and stands to this day as a perfect example of how the punter, knowingly or not, will happily buy blends, often very expensive, if they're good drinks.

Sparkling wine masters like the Croser maker, Andrew Hardy at Petaluma and Ed Carr at Accolade's Arras have enjoyed great prosperity making fine Australian wines which follow this healthy trend.

The author with Andrew Hardy, who was half-way through moving into the new Petaluma winery when we visited ... photo Milton Wordley

While the wine business obstresses over a flood of very confusing new varieties, which is a good thing if there's some science and method in it, this writer can't help thinking there's a lot of very good wine waiting to be made from what we already - often traditionally - grow. If only we can train a generation of winemakers and marketers who can handle the liberating notion of that cordial I mentioned up the top, and go on to learn a little of the basics of, well, gastronomic parfumerie.

There's plenty of room in our law for highly creative blends, just as there's room on the shelves, provided the prejudices of the vendors and customers can be assuaged by drinks of better quality.

That's not such a big ask, surely?

Master blenders: the brothers Henri and Remi Krug in the early 1990s