“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)





13 January 2017


Matt, Ali, Neil and Alison Paulett ... photo supplied

Pauletts Polish Hill River Clare Valley Riesling 2016 
$23; 12.8% alcohol; screw cap 

I shall never forget visiting Alison and Neil Paulett in the Polish Valley with Stephen Hickinbotham soon after the disastrous Ash Wednesday bushfires and floods of 1983. The poor folks had fled the horror of losing an infant in a playground accident where Neil had worked at the very early Rosemount in the Upper Hunter. He'd first gone up there to work at Penfolds' Dalwood.

But that all went wrong. No sooner had they driven half-way across Australia to start a new life in Clare and got their shoes off in their little renovated cottage than the vineyard caught fire and a mudslide came down the hill and went straight through their new abode. It was pure Grapes of Wrath. But when Hickie and I arrived, they'd already taken another big punt and bought the incredible hilltop where their winemaking, tastings, sales and café now stand, and their grandchildren hover.

I mention my best mate Stephen because he too had lived a little wolvish, a very wise risk-taking winemaking scientist who spent a fair bit of time baying at the ramparts. He was my weathervane: he could see a shard of brilliance if there was one anywhere, and he left the Pauletts that day chattering as if he'd just spent a day on a mirror ball.

From that Paulett eyrie, you look east across the Polish Valley, the head of the Polish Hill "River" and some minor hillocks to the vast flats of the Australian Mallee  where the sun rises. If the world was all flat you could wave to the folks on the veranda of the Hydro Majestic Hotel in the Blue Mountains at Sydney. That's the next hill across. 1,200 kilometres away.

Johnny Ruciak, the last Pole in the Polish Valley, photographed at his home by Philip White in the early 1980s. Perhaps more joiner than mason, he lived elegantly with his trunks of astonishing copperplate diaries, his dog, and no electricity, phone or plumbing

Here's a powerful example of the Riesling distinctive to that old Polish settlement. It's unflinching and staunch. It has its chin out. It's clean and pristine, with all that fleshy pith of citrus blossom and its fruit decorating a straightup squeeze of the sort of tiny limes we used to pick on Dum In Mirree Island, somewhere near where the terrifying Dundee Forest hits the Timor Sea up The Territory.

It has plenty of that lychee and rambutan flesh that sets Polish Valley Rieslings apart from those of the calcrete of Watervale a few kays to the west, facing the sunset. But it's that full-bore citrus that rules 16 Pauletts, leavened with a whiff of the local slate beneath the summer sun.

While we're talking ridiculous distances and dramatic geography, you might just as well take a bottle to the shucking shed at the Coffin Bay Oyster Farm, with crunchy white bread, butter, some lemons, Tabasco and a pepper grinder. Right as the live oysters wince when you hit 'em with the lemon and chilli, that's when you slurp into this. Bread and butter.

Otherwise, drink the local Boston Bay Riesling with your oysters and put this one in the dungeon with a ten-year alarm. 

Pauletts Helsmford Watervale Semillon 2016 
$23; 13.1% alcohol; screw cap 

In those early 'eighties, there was an excited buzz about Semillon in Clare, especially if grown on the calcrete slopes of Watervale, or Quelltaler, where the Alsace radical Michelle Dietrich was relishing the fruit from the ancient bush vines of Buring & Sobels, from which he made beautiful wines fermented in new French barrels, just as he'd made Chardonnay in Burgundy.

Isabelle and Michel Dietrich at Watervale in 1984 ... photo Philip White ... and here they are at Casa Blanca in 2013 ... apart from running their Château Haut-Rian in the Premières Côtes de Bordeaux, they still love driving around deserts in Africa and Australia

Unless you go and visit and sit and look and studiously taste, it's hard to grasp the way the Clare  flavours change from the old rocks facing the sunrise across the Polish Valley, to the intermediate upland north-south valley holding Sevenhill and Wendouree, and then, further to the west, the sunset-facing youthful calcrete of the Watervale Côte Blanche which is an appellation I just made up.

This is the second release of Paulett Watervale Semillon. It has none of the gingery oak toast of those old Quelltalers but has more soft chalk to sniff than the Riesling's austere slate, with gooseberry and snow peas, which may sound unlikely but stacks up to a racy but more approachable luncher than the whiprod Rizza.

Then, when you drink it, the gentle butyric nature of Semillon - that lovely lemon-butter custard - just soothes everything down and parts your hair with a lick of spit and a kiss and puts you safe on the bus.

A couple grams more residual sugar - like just enough to be detected - softens it a bit more.

If you want it more crunchy, chill it a touch harder. Easy.

When Iain Hewitson and Siggy Jorgensen opened the radical Clichy in Melbourne back in those days, Hewie'd make a warm salad of peeled steamed hazelnuts fried in butter with garlic and whole snow peas. Bring me those and a slab of pink salmon with this bonnie dram please.

Oh, and yes. Some crunchy-crust white bread and butter.

Dammit, if the chopper was handy Sunday morning I'd put all this together for brekky and deliver it to all them Pauletts before they even get out of bed.

The calcrete slope - the Côte Blanche - of Watervale looking east toward it from O'Leary-Walker ... photo Philip White ... and here's my first print reportage of the horrors of 1983:

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