“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)





31 July 2017


Three stubbornly creative men I've known for centuries have quietly shared a Cancerian birthday lunch together for forty years or sumpin impossible in that direction.

Secretly. Or at least privately.

This year, for the first time, they invited guests. 

Milton Wordley, centre left, John Nowland, front right, and Neville Sloss, extreme right, were the party boys.

We a had real long slow graze at the long table at Paul Petagna's Sellick's Hill Wines. Jeez it was good. The Pomodora Madonna of the high order slow family lunch, Annika Berlinghieri, the St Annika and Satanika of the woodfire and polenta all over the table heavens with tomatoes does this every weekend with the deadly Bec.. You gotta go.

I was too busy telling lies and eating to squeak foodporn snaps but I did get this cuteness of the Robyn Mick Milton Anne Marie gang ... the Wordley brothers are the ones in the shirts

... always a bit frontier scary taking photographs of great photographers but here's Milton at his back door by me ... skinniest house in Adelaide ... happy 21st Milt!

28 July 2017


Blue Poles Margaret River Reserve Cabernet Franc 2015
 ($40; 13.1% alcohol; screw cap) 

Aha! At last! Cabernet franc! Man it smells good! To this colourblind synæsthete it smells blue. Blue as juniper; blue as in blues joint; blue as the sinister gunmetal in a John Lee Hooker slide; blue as an Em7 on rusty Black Diamond strings; blue as serge de Nîmes; blue as the Indigofera tinctoria they use to colour those tough trousers from Gênes; blue as Jimmy's Indigo Children; blue nearing the violet edging of a lightning strike; Blue as Joni singing 'songs are like tattoos;' blue as that last shred of Earthly atmosphere you whiff as you leave for Alpha Centauri ... the acrid reek of black space in the transfer pod ... okay, okay: blueberries if you need a food thing. 

And I'm singing only of the top note. 

Below that there's the meat most can't see in blueberry, like that charred blue steak.

Blueberries are not like blackcurrants. 

There are tweaks of aniseed balls, Choo Choo Bars and salty Dutch licorice and the smell of fresh-ploughed mushroomy Strezlecki potato dirt at Childers or Thorpdale. And their muddy burlap sacks. That pretty much deals with the bouquet. 

Tip a bit on the singing glands. Velvet and dust. Hints of Carmenere. The shiny topness seems to dissolve in matte ground: the texture is as happy, healthy and satisfying as your first mouthful of lovely mud. 

Australia has never done much good with the Bordelaise Cabernet franc. For a couple of years Tim Knappstein made one in Clare called Perfectly Franc, which I seem to recall being wrapped too tight in American Quercus alba. Decades back Packo overgrew it in McLaren Vale for Seppelt's Great Western where they'd bleach it to make something they called "Sparkling Brut" - I think Australia's biggest-selling "champagne" at that point. 

At about the same time, inspired after working a few vintages in Bordeaux, the Cullam-Smiths got into it at their amazing Frankland Estate at Great Southern on Australia's south-westernmost corner. That's where I saw the first electric blue one in Oz, in barrel before it went into the brilliant Olmo's Reward. Sparks. Ozone. 

And now the rock-doctoring Bluepers - seriously: they're both geologists - have this one at Margaret River. It'll go a decade before it hits the major lift, but I'd risk wishing this bottle were that much older if I didn't also have to be: tricky territory given my bearings. I could well be en route to Alpha Centauri by then. Gravity-free. 

Whatever happens, I'll send you a post card with some snaps, looking back. In the meantime, drink it with blue steak dribbling with creamy black peppercorn sauce, field mushrooms and sliced spuds in cheese while you listen to Boz Scaggs and Duane the Skydog peel Loan Me A Dime. Over and over. 

This is one considerable glorious elegant bastard of a wine. Get its ink under your skin. Back to Blue.  

Blue Poles Margaret River Reserve Merlot 2015  
($40; 13.3% alcohol; screw cap) 

It's great fun to drink up the binary stars of austral Merlot while they work on each other's gravity: this and the Ruckus Wrattonbully Mérite groove in a deep waltz. I like to watch as much as guzzle. I'd love to drink a row of both. 

Maybe tango's the better dance. But nah, this is less dramatic and more easily understood as a real slow Girl From Ipanema bossa nova. Creamy, slick and syrupy to sniff, the first thought here is about how this variety dances so well blended with Cabernet franc. This is the camembert cream to franc's dry chalk. 

While its mouth form is silky-slick, it still has some grainy, dusty velvet in its tannin, but the similarity finishes there. This is a more fine, slim, tender wine. It's willowy and lithe. Solo, it's a different dance again. 

The mystery of Merlot lies in its deep earthy mossiness, which seems an unlikely key to such supple elegance. It's something about the fungi of healthy soils, and how the shroomish protein structure is much closer to the animal world than to any plants. That flesh. Like that little hollow of soft scented neck ideally placed for nuzzling right below the human ear. Mmmmmm. Lick. Dribble. Whisper.

But there is always tannin to match the shimmer in the best of the Merlots. Nothing like the big franc's funkier, croaky blues holler, but more that Astrid Gilberto silk with the appropriate hesitance to hit the beat or the note precisely, which is what these brilliant dances revolve around. 

I'd love to drink this with the big fish Cheong once cooked when we were guest chefs at World's End. I made dessert: a disgusting bread-and-butter pudding spread with extravagance and drowned in holy spurruts, while he presented his fish covered in a Mexican chocolate-and-chilli sauce. Damn we had fun! 

Still drooooooling. 

Another thing. Considering the decades of research, drilling holes, planning and effort that's gone into this duo, and then their sublime quality, $40 is piffle.


McPherson Wine Co. Laneway Series Central Victoria Chardonnay 2016 ($19; 14% alcohol; screw cap)  

Unpacking this, I thought jeez Whitey wine labels these days are starting to look like laneway walls. Which, given a magnifying glass, I discovered this is. Hosier Lane, in fact, in Melbourne's CBD. 

I can't understand why people bother to put written details on wine labels in typeface so friggin tiny it looks like a printer's smudge, nor why if you did take the risk of using a face so miniscule - it's about 1ml high and a micron thick - you'd put it sideways so the reader tips the bottle over to study the friggin text, forgets the lid's off and pours the wine cold on the wedding tackle, which does the old snail eye trick. 

Before the drink gets there, it's supposed to have been properly warmed by one's inner filters. 

While the glass I did manage to tip inside of me is warming safely within I am delighted to report a really cool Goulburn Valley Chardonnay with an aroma of more style and allure than I'd expect at such a similarly cool spend. 

It's all pear and persimmon, even juicy loquat, and nothing like the sort of bland watered peach one usually encounters below $20. It also has the sort of subtle oak - like only one or two planks in the tank - that one rarely sees in this price bracket. Which led me to check more readable details on the cobweb, where it says " A rich and textual wine displaying lovely aromas of tropical fruits with a hint of apple and spice." 

Textual, see. Them flyspots up the edge of the wall spray is text: all part of some brilliant graphic artist's design plan. 

I check the winery details while I'm in digiland and find relief to learn that winemaker Jo Nash is married to another winemaker and they have four kids who make wine at home with their little tiny feet. Which could be another indicator that the winery dog lover generation has grown up and procreated so we may start seeing photos and books of winemakers' tishy sprogs soon, where once were hounds. 

Times change, old boy, times change. 

The flavours are really cool, too: gentle and fruitsalady, wrapped in an unctuous viscosity that brings the texture of pear juice to mind. Ah! They musta meant textural. Tch, tch. Never mind. We all make mistakes at the keyboard. We'll park that fluff too in the graphic artist's lap. 

Just between you and me, saying a wine is textural is roughly equal to calling it wet. 

On the other hand, Jo hasn't made any fluffs making this lovely. She's managed to almost keep the usual white grape petiol aroma of the region under control. Petiols are leaf stalks: harvesting machines pick them. She reports the 'sixteen year turned the heat up fast and vintage was rushed as the sugars erupted but it seems to have worked out neat and lush and lovely. 

It's not saying much, but this is probably the best value Chardonnay I've encountered so far this year. 

As for graphics? Looks like a really cool Melbourne laneway, no doubt about it. I do like a label that tells me the sort of details I eventually found on the internet for those two lines up the top of this review. Like the wine's name, region, variety and vintage. I don't want to turn my eyes to any damn telephone thing when I'm sharing a bottle of wine; nor should I need to.  While I may have to accustom myself to carrying a pair of dry strides when I'm drinking, I draw the line at carrying a mini camera/computer you can make phone calls on and/or a magnifying glass. 

Mussel soup, please, lotsa crusty Aldinga bread and Paris Creek butter. 

McPherson Wine Co. Laneway Series Central Victoria Shiraz 2015 ($19; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

"Every moment of your life is a picture you've never seen," the sideways flyspecks advise. 

I'd been wondering about that. 

The sort of Shiraz-without-barrels Stephen Hickinbotham explored in the Goulburn in the 'eighties is alive and well here: the smithy has mulberries plopping onto its hot galvo roof, adding that lovely black jam to the dense, dark acridity of the coke glowing on its forge and the blackberries growing round the well. 

It's like a really hearty hot year Beaujolais in a way: deep and sharp but deadly easy to tip. There's not much tannin: the curt bits of the finish are more due to acid, without it overwhelming. It doesn't taste hot, but simply so ripe and clean and bone dry you could have it happily with soda on ice and a slice. Try that, and add a splash of cold black espresso while your beard grows. 

Interested to see what the graphic artist has to tell us about food accompaniments I went home again to check the cobweb where the section headed "Food Recommendations" advised "This wine is made with food in mind. Served in forward trending bars and cafes, this is a versatile, medium bodied wine that is perfect with modern street food, rich rustic pasta, ribs and burgers." 

I like the ribs bit. Pork ribs in a Dixie Coca Cola sauce blackened on the flames of the oak staves out of this tank would do it just ewie. 

Knowing the make cost of a wine like this, however, I reckon the graphic people's invoice musta been so high they've had to charge a bit more for the actual drink. Which I quite like. Given the amount of Shiraz South Australia often can't be bothered picking, I wonder why winemakers here don't try a bit more stuff like this. I'm sure we could do it for a few bucks less. Maybe it all gets lost in the bags. 

Pictures we've never seen, see?

drinking without phones: John Percival 1948: Christ Dining In Young & Jackson's

27 July 2017


Some comments on a tin cher

Irish? Bullshit. French for thirty years, Jameson. 

Part of the Pernod-Ricard mob. 

Not above the odd Jammo's and soda, I saw this tinny on the shelf at the local  Woolworths' BWS. 

With dry and lime? Why not? I coulda used some refreshment with a tinct. Er. Cher.

Big error for little Whitey.

Why in the names of St Patrick and St Joan you'd bother to triple distill a spirit, somehow get a few lumberjack whittlins into it and then do this to it beggars belief.

Smooth. If a triple-distilled whiskey's not smooth what's the point?

Dry? Surely that insinuates dry ginger ale. No hint of ginger in this tin. None.

Dry? Surely that means NO SUGAR. This fizzy masquerade has so much sugar there's no hint of the Jameson's I know. This is the opposite of dry.

My spleen winced.

Lime? A limey was a British sailor in New York wharf slang. There's no real indication of either the sailor nor the actual citrus here for me.

Alcohol? 6.3%? Let's just say there's ethanol in it, but that's hidden in sweet syrup.

So. To summarise. To this whisky/whiskey lover, the stuff in this tin is nothing like Jameson's. It fails to remind me of whiskey or whisky. It is the opposite of dry. It has no ginger. The lime is not like any lime I've squeezed. I can hardly detect the ethanol through the deadly sweet syrup.

I mean deadly as in current Oz patois: absolutely attractive and alluring.

Looking at the stuff they put on the tin for people who can't read, at least they appear to be warning us that if you have dark skin you should never let your malnutrition distend your abdomen while you're drinking this stuff. That appears deadly in the pine overcoat sense, like properly hitting the shellgrit.

One remaining question. If this is what the owners of Jacob's Creek think of their biggest-selling whiskey, the fourth-biggest selling on the planet, and an indicator of how they should best market and package it, how should one regard whatever they claim on a Jacob's Creek label?

26 July 2017


Dr Robert de Bellevue MD, Grange lover and collector, with partner Julie, entertains some friends at his regular Grange dinner in New Orleans. That's the late Allen Toussaint, another dedicated Granger, at the left ... photo©Milton Wordley - from our multi-award-winning book, A Year In The Life Of Grange

The gap between great and beloved

Last summer I visited a winery tasting and sales room with a mate from New Orleans. Dr Robert de Bellevue is a music fiend as much as a top-flight wino and obsessive bird-watcher; he's been to Australia over thirty times pursuing such delights. 

We were under deep cover: plain clothes. It was fascinating to watch the staff trying to discover the level of our vinous expertise: especially that of the tall unassuming dude with the gentle Louisiana accent. 

"What do you usually drink at home?" the vendor sensibly enquired. 

Dr Bob answered, in all honesty: "Grange."

Dr Bob's favourite Grange, the 1953 ... photo©Milton Wordley

Once the staff realised he was fair dinkum - he's one of the biggest collectors in the USA - everything changed. We got what we'd come for: a leap-frog to the top shelf. 

Dr Bob's story of discovering Grange by accident at a Queensland medical conference in 1978 is a lesson in how such passionate addictions can occur. The big door prize was a bottle of Grange. He didn't win it, but he heard it was Australia's greatest wine. So on his way home he called in at Len Evans' Bulletin Place wine shop in Sydney and bought a dozen mixed vintages from the 'fifties and 'sixties for $6 a bottle. 

The lads on duty that day obviously had no more idea of their value - or price - than the Doc, who knows all too well that price is what you pay but value, good or bad, is what you get. 

Once home, he went to a restaurant with a wine merchant mate, and opened his first, the 1965. Value? He couldn't believe his luck. He was a goner. Gone for all money. 

Dr Bob came to Adelaide and took a big mob of friends to the Old Lion to celebrate his 70th birthday before he set out on the road to buy wine ... here with  Adelaide singer and former winemaker Kelly Menhennett  ... photo©Milton Wordley

Just as political journalists get free politics to grease the gears of their knowledge, the wine critic is exposed to great volumes of wine. One becomes very aware of the value and price gaps between top and bottom shelves and remains confounded by the discrepancies in both measures. These kidneys have processed wines of prices so far up the scale one daren't usually admit to drinking them, much less gratuitously boast of it. One could never possibly afford to buy them. Very few can. 

The kidney is a great leveler. Maybe that's why we have two of them. For balance.

Probably just as well in many instances: I've had very famous and exotic wines at ridiculous prices that given a glass, many of our winemakers would never get to within thousands of the wine's true price if asked to make an estimate. Similarly, I've wallowed in legendary bottles whose brands, regions, or even varieties would rarely be recognised by the same crew if presented blind. 

Nevertheless most who have never had the readies to risk in those nether regions above, say, the price of current Grange, have favourites they treasure and fondly recall that might cost one or two per cent of such enormous spends. What obsesses me is the mystery of how different folk measure these fluffy calibrations of true quality and fair charge. 

There was a fascinating discussion around the cobweb last week when Peter Martin, the brilliant economics editor at Fairfax, reviewed and considered The Memory of Music, a new book by composer Andrew Ford, who hosts the excellent cognescenti Radio National program, The Music Show. Andy has written about how a mighty Beethoven symphony can invite the listener into its confounding, mysterious world, while a simple formularised pop song moves instead into us.

Andrew Ford ... photo©Jim Rolon

"It is small wonder, then, that we associate pop songs with the time and place in which we most vividly encountered them, the girlfriend we had at the time, the summer holiday we were on, the college we were at," Andy writes. 

Which triggered me to write this. Consider, say, the new Domaine de la Romanee-Conti La Tâche 2011, whose 6 hectares of Pinot noir in Burgundy produced 18,196 bottles which sell around the world at between $3000 - $4,500 each.

photo©Philip White
This disinterested, remote and easily misunderstood piece of wine royalty could just invite you in like Beethoven if you're very very lucky. 

And you listen. 

On the other end of the scale, most wine drinkers have one or two easy chart-toppers they recall as fondly as a favourite ehrwurm

"Songs are like elevators between floors of our lives," Peter wrote. "They transport us to where we were when we first heard them: the faces, the places, even the smells ... We share our love of special songs with others who grew up loving them, but not necessarily because they are objectively special. Mostly it's because they've been made special ... They are precious, but not necessarily because they are good." 

And so it goes with much wine. Unless you're feeling exceptionally carefree and bearish, it might pay to forget the Beethoven/La Tâche/Grange world and pursue more bottles of that affordable, unforgettable hit single you had with a lover at the beach, on the grave of a brother, by the campfire in the desert ... learn your old favourites; their sources; their makers. 

Here's a winemaker who can't help mixing music with wine: avid Grange collector Maynard James Keenan, lead singer in Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer at his Caduceus Cellars winery on a mountaintop at Jerome, Arizona

Then comes the tricky bit. In a recent white paper on the future of retail, Milton Pedraza, CEO of the New York-based consultancy, the Luxury Institute,  wrote "Today, consumers are at their best. They are educated, informed, and they have a mindset that is light years ahead of retailers. Retail will have to reinvent itself in order to become flexible and constantly adapt to keep up with the consumer." 

While he referred of course to the buyers of Louis Vuitton, Ferrari, Dior and the like, this observation can be applied to retail liquor outlets: there are some wine sales people who know their field inside-out, but most are part-timer Shoppies working to pay for shoes for their kids or their own education and rent, who have bugger-all knowledge of the products they pump. 

At which point it's pertinent to go back to Peter Martin explaining that a lot of hit singles become so only when the record company pays to get songs played on the radio, citing CBS routinely paying $10 million a year to radio stations in the 1980s. This happens too in wine retailing. The maker of that pallet of discount stuff inside the front door has often payed handsome rent for the floorspace. That'll be what the staff are pumping hardest. 

So you have to quite literally shop about until you find somebody you can trust, who knows what you like, and can reliably recommend other wines of the type and price of that favourite that's stuck in your brain like that catchy ehrwurm. Once you find such a vendor, be they in a shop or a cellar-door, culture them. Nurture them. Teach them about you as they teach you. 

Regardless of your budget, you can save a great deal of money and have a helluva lot more fun. I'll do my best with fairly-priced recommendations.  And, of course, the occasional supercar.

As for the luxury goods shopper, or the aspirant, try the analogy I made reading the shiny magazine for collectible car perves, Octane: "I had no interest in something fashionable," wrote Winston Goodfellow, who was looking for a collectible supercar on a limited budget, "I wanted a car with desirable characteristics at a price less than those same attributes would cost elsewhere. Landmark design, history, performance, rarity, potential capital preservation/appreciation ... [providing] a memorable, lingering experience that couldn't be found anywhere else ... Like stepping onto the dance floor with the most perfect partner."

Enjoying a cup of tea and sandwich at lunch with Lita and Tony Brady at Wendouree in the Clare valleys ... The Doc made the journey hoping to get on the Wendouree mailing list. An utterly hospitable host, Tony simply said "We don't export." He didn't offer wine to taste or buy but took a guided walk through the vineyard and said "We've sold out, " showing us an empty store room ... photo©Milton Wordley

As Dr Bob discovered, sometimes, if you're diligent and determined, you can find that most perfect partner for $6. So maybe there is something to be said for the wine retailer with such scant knowledge they don't even know what Grange is, much less recognise a new wine likely to achieve similar glory. 

If you have such luck, proceed realising this love affair is likely to end up costing you a lot more than $6 per bottle. In which case you'll need more than ever that retailer who does know their business and you know you can trust. Nurture them. As the robots march in and internet shopping takes over and outlets become self-serve caverns full of muck, such caring professionals are precious indeed.

... tasting with Peter Fraser at Yangarra ... that's a prototype fermenter with dimpled sleeves on the outside through which those cute little pipes pump brine at the temperature desired, so Pete can put the brakes on the ferment within  (organic - no additives) by chilling it, or crank it with warmth ... photo©Milton Wordley