“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)





07 March 2017


Vigna Cantina Barossa Valley Trebbiano 2016 
($25; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

Trebbiano. First time I knowingly encountered it was at Rémy Martin's Blue Pyrenees Estate, a big vineyard those brave French built in Victoria's chill Pyrenees in the 'sixties to make better brandy than the blistering Murray Darling Basin generally did. 

To the big wine families there, the brandy still tended to be the slops bucket. Real treasures like Angoves Seven Star were a very small part of the whole scene.

As the Martins did at home in Cognac, they called the variety Ugni blanc in Victoria.

In those days, such notions of cool climate viticulture were simply alien. The French exercise was like a Mars colony in the upland bush. 

But thanks to Gough Whitlam and then Malcolm Fraser, extreme tax and general political madness buggered the brandy biz, so the Trebbiano they'd planted very well was gradually replaced with reds like Shiraz and Cabernet. And then Merlot. And Chardonnay.


When you hang your hooter over this glass you can see why Trebbi was chosen for brandy production. Even at this modest alcohol, the wine smells a bit like cognac. It's the sort of ferny/mossy/sweaty/gamy/linalool reek my grandfather exuded when he'd come in wearing his woollen grandpa's undershirt after clearing forest bracken in the Strezlecki Ranges summer. Like while the sweat in the wool was still fresh, before anything went rancid.

Not to be too gender-specific, sometimes my grandmother smelled like this, too.

Being of high natural acidity, which this wine has, sure and persistent, and quite spongy/fluffy texture, which is a contrast right there, all this may well drown the reader in confusion. But I doubt this will happen so thoroughly to the drinker, who will quickly realise that of all the newly-imported white varieties that end in O, this is pretty much the most distinctive.

While winemakers were queuing up waiting for all those imports to edge through quarantine, which takes years, this stubborn baby was here all along. James Busby introduced it in Sydney Town 1832, when it was called White hermitage.

To this day, it produces about a third of all Italy's white, perhaps emerging in its finest form in Soave, where it's blended with Garganega, which seems to be its grandfather if DNA is not fake news.

In this Torzi-Matthews Vigna Cantina form, it's best to think Italian. Antipasto is obvious, but I'd also be thinking of a mighty mussel broth with real crunchy bread and whackings of Paris Creek butter, then a pecorino pepato to finish the bottle.

Wolf Blass used Trebbiano to great effect in his Classic Dry White, his determined effort to prove that Chardonnay was largely bullshit. When I tasted all Wolf's whites released to date with him in September 1982, he announced "What is happening with Chardonnay in this country is paralleled only by the stupidity of the red wine manufacturing in the late 'sixties.

"I think the Chardonnay belongs in Champagne," he continued. 

"There's very few companies who can make good Chardonnay. Those should specialise. But at the moment every company, in every region and in every state, is trying to bring a Chardonnay out ... in a couple of years Chardonnay is just a joke ... "

And then, to twist his dagger in the gizzards of the worst wine wankers of the day, he finished "If Chardonnay of sufficient quantity and quality becomes available, we may replace the Tokay in the Classic Dry White with it."

The Classic Dry White blending varied from year-to-year, depending on the available fruit and the paramount assemblage skills of Wolfie and his genius off-sider, John "The Ferret" Glaetzer. From its launch in 1974, it variously contained Sauvignon blanc, Riesling, Tokay (Muscadelle), Crouchen, Colombard and Sylvaner. Every release from that to the '82 won gold medals. But on that day, of the older wines, like pre-'81, the 1975 model was easily the best, for what I called "its fresh, youthful fruit and remarkable balance."

That one was unique because it was not a blend. It was 100% Trebbiano.

And I suspect it came from the same 100+ year-old vineyard as this wine, in the æolian sands at the north of Koonunga. Which is not too far from that vast glittering refinery now called Wolf Blass Bilyara.

Trying in vain to retire: me with the 80-year-old Wolfie and The Ferret at Doug Lehmann's wake in 2014 ... photo©Johnny 'Guitar' Preece

No comments: