“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)





02 February 2017


This new tasting and sales bar is just part of the rockin Harry's Café complex: a tasteful and funky rebuild of the front of the Wirra Wirra winery in McLaren Vale. It's named after Greg Trott's old mate Harry, who did all the amazing woodwork and joinery there from the '70s through the '90s ... there's a cool new outdoor dinery, under shade, and a new special functions room ...  photo supplied by Wirra Wirra

Hanging out at Harry's bar

Because he would not exaggerate the number of jobs the project would create, Wirra Wirra Managing Director Andrew Kay did not get government assistance in building the handsome new Harry's Café at Wirra Wirra. But he went ahead and built it anyway, and a bonnie rambling deliciousity it is if you're in McLaren Vale and you need a casual lunchtime repast, a tasting, and a long slow chatter in the shade.

Harry's is quickly becoming a popular hangout for both the local and wandering peckish and adds to the gastronomic adventures of the region. It's always busy and features such famed local produce as the crunchy bread of Andy Clappis from the Willunga hills and special coffee blends by Dawn Patrol. Many local viands are available from specialist Vales suppliers - you can see the menu on the Wirra Wirra website. 

I can feel Greg Trott's presence when I sit there: he'd love this sympathetic and creative reconstruction of the front of what we used to call his magnificent ironstone erection.

Anton Groffen, Paul Smith and Andrew Kay: kicking barrels ... photo©Philip White 

With the assistance of viticulture manager Anton Groffen, winemaker Paul Smith is always combing local vineyards of exception, including Wirra's own suite of unique blocks. There are several very good wines on the bench which are made only for the cellar sales and tastings. I spent a couple of days there this week, one kicking barrels with Andrew and Paul, then another partaking in the mind-blowing McLaren Vale Shiraz Geologies tasting, which I will report once I have digested its vast complexities and implications.

Annual McLaren Vale Geologies tasting at Wirra Wirra: about twenty of us scoured one-year-old Shiraz from old neutral barrels and dozens of vineyards, all day, according to their geological sources ... no other Australian region does this, or can do it with such methodical rigour, based on the science of its geology map ... photo©Philip White
Wirra Wirra Esperanza McLaren Vale Tempranillo 2015 
$30; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap 

Smelling immediately lean and alluring, whilst intense and appetising, this Spanish variety seems unlikely for those who understand that it seems to produce the best wines in the high deserts of Spain, where there's hardly a grain of relative humidity and there's a mad diurnal daily temperature range during ripening, baking in 40C-plus in the summer sun, yet plunging to freezing each night. Neither of these conditions occur in McLaren Vale, whose proximity to the tempering gulf named after Vincent of Saragossa, the patron saint of winemakers and viticulturers, give it a constantly high relative humidity, compared say to Barossa and Clare or regions further into the hinterland. In the Vales, there's not much variation in temperature from day to night.

So, after that dark earthy and slightly leathery bouquet, with all its twists of polished harness and insinuations of black satin and bolero-cut tuxedos, the wine is sinuous and lithe like a tango dancer, and finishes lingering and tantalising, just perfect with the casual cuisine available. This is one for the charcuterie meats on Harry's Platter.

Take your time, shut your eyes, sit back and you're in the Vales had it been settled by the Spaniards. Pretty cool.

photo©Philip White 

Wirra Wirra McLaren Vale Esperanza Touriga 2015 
$30; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap 

The Portugese Touriga loves the maritime nature of the Southern Fleurieu Peninsula, whether it's grown on the western seaside or the estuarine eastern boundary on the freshwater lakes near the Murray mouth and the Coorong.

This swarthy beauty seems both more rustic and meaty to sniff, again triggering yearnings for charcuterie/dark cured ham dainties or piquant cheeses with Andy's bread.

It's also got a pleasing whiff of dark bitter chocolate in with all that freshly dressed leather. Think of the piquant air of a gang of gaúchos fronting the taberna in their Sunday best, doused big in their on-the-hair spices. Bay rum.

On the other hand, it seems a little more frivolous to drink than the austere Temperanillo, whilst sharing its Iberian source. It's a tad more generous of flesh in the middle, yet finishes more slender and tapered. Again, almost in contradiction its tannins are quite grainy, yet soft. It's built for black olives and slightly salty Portugese sardines, and those too tired to tango. I like to watch. 

Wirra Wirra Biodynamic Vineyards Amator Shiraz 2015 
$30; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap 

Biodynamic vineyard management really seems to suit the Shiraz of the Vales, somehow maintaining a natural vibrancy yet softening its chocolatey earthiness to comfort and reassure the tippler rather than offering the challenging linear tighness of more industrial models. It's a lot more velvet than their refined, polished and filtered humdrum.

More focussed and less complex than the Iberian reds, this wine is once again the perfect partner to just about anything on Harry's menu. Compare it to one of the more conventionally-grown and made Shiraz offerings available if you're curious about the influence of Bio-D. Discuss. 

Wirra Wirra The Absconder McLaren Vale Grenache 2015 
$70; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap 

There's a great deal of bullshit being spread about Grenache as its popularity grows apace and a conga line of winemakers say they saved the variety from oblivion: we're lucky it wasn't all uprooted and lost in the mad misunderstandings of the 'nineties and 'noughties ... most of the dipsticks and pull-throughs suddenly laying claim to the Grenache revival weren't even on deck when the second battle to save it began barely a dozen years back. Or even during that cursed Vine Pull Scheme of thirty years ago, when most of South Australia's ancient pre-phylloxera bushvines were bulldozed and burnt. I know who really fought the war, and who the enemies were, but that's another story.

I got a terrible shock recently. Having long lauded the Vales Grenache - and the Vales easily does Australia's best job of it - for the savoury sweet-and-sour pickled morello cherry character its best examples exude, I bought a jar of said cherries to confirm and check my theory. Land sakes they were bleached, bland and forgettable. They were barely cherries. I suddenly doubted that readers have ever got my drift. Time for the local providores to begin importing some proper quality brands of Amarina from Italy's Marche, no? Or grow and pickle them locally. There's a challenge.

Greg Trott, typically waiting to be convinced. mid 'eighties ... photo©Philip White 

The Absconder - named after Wirra founder Greg Trott's infuriating tendency to disappear from sight at all the wrong times - has quickly risen to the rare atmosphere at the very top of the new Grenache wave. It's gorgeous: offering a moody deep in a polished silky sheen. It's long and alluring and luxurious and makes a much more accessible drink than most of the local Shiraz, which is grown more for its resilience and ease than for any real gastronomic reason. It seems that McLaren Vale, like the other famous Shiraz regions, simply forgot what it was doing other than making easy, lazy money.

Not all winemakers are gastronomes; even fewer grape farmers. Pity. 

Wirra Wirra Chook Block Single Vineyard McLaren Vale Shiraz 2014 
$130; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap 

In the 'sixties and 'seventies many of the more famous McLaren Vale vignerons were also chicken  farmers, Trott included. Chook Block is an eccentric, tiny Shiraz garden adjacent to one of his big old chook houses: it still seems to thrive on the remnants of the manure they donated to that sparse, bony terroir.

Regarded by many as the pinnacle of Wirra winemaking, this is almost Grenache-like in its bouquet, but a touch darker and deeper. It's similarly silky initially, but its distinctive lemon-and-bergamot flavoured acidity rises quickly, drawing its finish out to a very long appetising taper. It'd be  ravishing with juicy tea-smoked or Peking duck. (Writer dribbles into keyboard.)

Ideally, it's one for twenty years in the dungeon. Right now, it's a savoury prize for the connoisseur seeking to explore the wildly-varied, distant backwaters of the variety: if Shiraz is the Amazon, this is from one of its tiny tributaries away up on the Andes snowline.  It is utterly unique, memorable and madly collectible. Just don't forget it's a drink, and a beauty.

The Chook Block is tiny - it produced only 90 dozen in 2014 - it's of such rare character that I reckon it'd sell out even more quickly if they doubled or trebled its price. 

Which they must be tempted to do. Its sheer brilliance and unique demeanour put it well beyond Hill of Grace territory.

photo©Philip White

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