“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)





08 July 2017


Now here's a thing. After all the talk about Grenache being the Pinot of McLaren Vale, here's a Pinot I first thought may have been made like a Grenache! This is a richer, more conservey Pinot than I know the Ashton Hills Vineyard can produce. Which means it would probably have begun to lose acidity as those ripenesses grew so bounteous and maybe has lost a few of them acidities. Yep. 

When I read the back label where the bottom line of the fine print says 'five clones included in the blend' I shed a bit of an organo/oracular gush thinking that Stephen George had tried 22 clones in that vineyard in our adult lifetimes before he sold it. To finally settle on these five. 

You know anybody who's done anything like that? Like selected and located the clone, grown it, matured it, made wine from it, waited for the wine to mature and then said 'Nup?' 

Over and over and over again? 


The Ashton Hills Piccadilly Valley Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir 2016 ($35; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) is the first full-bore Pinot offering since Wirra Wirra's purchase of this business, with the vendor's complicity and ongoing input. It's a real juicy ripe sort of drink, like the cherry fortified I used to buy from a moonshine potter bloke in Corkscrew Gully. Not that strong, of course. Not nearly that strong. I don't mean porty. But plenty of easy L-O-L-A Lola type cherry cola without being dumb about it. No phosphoric acid like Coke. 

Then I realise it's the fruit of that vintage, which was early high rich and ripe. It includes fruit from a couple of neighbours. This is a maraschino Pinot: a shuffle with bubblegum and a cocktail umbrella and smudged mascara. Not enough shoulders left tonight to hold that wisp of crimson silk up. But the freckles are pulsating. 

While I perjure myself putting these two in such a derby, I find happiness wondring whether their vibrant juicy jujubity and slurp is in fact old, or new-fashioned. 

I could accept it joining the neo-Mennonite bearded classware. 

Which, like The Band's second album, was, and still is, both.

After the ease of the Pinot Wirra Wirra Original Blend McLaren Vale Grenache Shiraz 2016 ($25; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) has more of a prickle about it. This has a precisely refined, sharpened aroma, like those hand-beaten folds of carbon and steel in a Damascus blade. And their greasy strop. But ew jeez it's still a gooey thing. 

This is a resurrection of Wirra Wirra conductor Greg Trott's original blend. Oh it says that, doesn't it. Sorry this is very emotional. I was sort of pervertedly hoping it would be more Pinot than the Ashton Hills but nah that was silly. It's all ripe raspberry and sugared aniseed rings as well as shockin easy juicy bouncy business like pomegranate and some sort of ripe red citrus like blood orange. Viscous and easy. 

And now, after all that air while I took its portrait to the light of Marie-Louise Marechal's TV set the day man landed on the moon, it's sharpening like sherbert. Like its acid. That's naughty. Tart. Layers, see. It was puckering. Goodness me. 

I dunno just what the Good Lord thought he was doing when he drew in the weather and the rocks and the hordes of suicidal yeasts to do these things but there you are. My old man used to tell him - like tell God the Father - that he had the wind in his fists, which I always felt he must have taken as good advice from a crazy hillbilly earthling who was full-bore sucking up to him just in case. Like if you were God the Father, and you created wind when you were bored, and now oh no everything's caught fire look at that would you this'll make 'em swarm around in panic like would you need another cowardly flea-like creation from Kanmantoo telling you you had the wind in your fists? 

And then Trott had three archbishops at his funeral. Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane from memory. In the name of the father, the name of the son, and into the hole he goes ... 

Forget the old men now. 

Get your glass around these sweet little 'sixteens!

The author and Wirra Wirra founder Greg Trott carrying the ashes of our mate Stephen Tracey to the vineyard for fertiliser in the year of Trott's death ... photo Leo Davis  

Must not overlook this one but ssssshhhhhh! 
It's a secret: 

Ashton Hills Clare Valley Sparkling Shiraz 2010 ($45; 13.5% alcohol; cork) 

When truly great splurgundies were more common thirty or forty years ago, we swanky plonk hacks wore out all the lines about the rose in the fisted glove and the steel fist in the velvet glove and whatnot trying to portray the intricacies of those venerable vinous glories to the reader.

As Martin Mull or whoever it was who first said that "writing about music is like dancing about architecture" we usually missed the point. 

Let me say with some authority however that were this wine to appear in those days it would be pre-emiment among them, not just for all that macho steel and velvet and flaming bloody roses and whatnot, which it has a-plenty, but because it has been made with more care and cold chill focus than most of those, and from a very famous vineyard that was their aged envy even then.

Which is not to avoid mentioning the gunmetal purple haze it casts across one's vision: it's as if the whole visor has been sandblasted with powdered tungsten and ground-up botryoidal haematite. Like re-entry burns, and because you got them coming down this first time you know you're gonna have them until the next ship from Earth which is years away if ever anybody else attempts the mission and remembers to bring you a new visor.

It's the visual equal of Hendrix's purple chord, the E7(#9) that gave Purple Haze its distinctive hue. You may have to look through it for the rest of your days.

Two of the last drinks I shared with my mentor David Wynn were made by Hurtle and Norm Walker at Wynns Romalo, opposite Penfolds Grange. One was an amazing Semillon 'Sauternes' from the Modbury Vineyard in 1968.

Also of nearly thirty years of age was a Romalo Sparkling Burgundy that seemed younger than this wine does now. 

It was still your classic knuckle sandwich dribbling gooey truffle essence in a dusting of star anise. And its rose was all droopy with hot chocolate sauce.

This 2010 model is a more refined wine from the same troopers at Wendouree. Half of them are from 1919.

As always, Ashton Hills winemaker Stephen George was granted a healthy slice of this precious Clare fruitcake of a vineyard.

Last vintages of Romalo: David Wynn with Hurtle and Norm Walker

But back when David bought his fruit, it was always one dray of currants for every four or five drays of Shiraz. Once the ferments were fizzing, the Romalo crew would simply shovel the currants on top of the caps of Shiraz skins. That'd be one way of blasting that splurgundy straight through the visor into your brains.

So while this rare exquisity might not etch your being quite so deeply as that mighty wonder, trust me that it's as close as I can imagine you getting to those more risky but wonderful days. This is much safer. And for $45? You gotta be joking.

He's round this side of the counter now: Stephen George left, with Wirra Wirra managing director Andrew Kay and winemaker Paul Smith at Ashton Hills. Steve still lives there and looks after the vineyard ... photo Philip White  

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