“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)





10 July 2017


There's an aroma like dry burlap or hessian, like the memory of the old hemp superphosphate sacks stacked in the tractor shed. It's an acrid, sharp aroma that prickles the nostrils. I don't know its biochemistry but I imagine it's somewhere in those geraniol/methoxypyrazine terpenes spectra of the nightshade leaves and usually when I find it in white wine it indicates one I'll really like. 

Like this Domaine Olivier Pithon Cuvée Laïs Blanc Côtes Catalanes 2015 ($25; 12.5% alcohol; cork) which was made in the schist rock bit of the Languedoc-Roussillon region of Mediterranean France, from where the early white settlers of Australia found many cuttings likely to suit their new colony in the south. 

Just coincidentally, this wine's made from three of those key varieties that never really made it to Oz, or survived to any degree if indeed they were brought here: Maccabeu (or Macabeo), and the Grenaches, gris and blanc. 

I go on a lot about mentors, but that's what they're for. One I miss painfully is Gerard Jaboulet, the Hermitage wineman who first taught me the wines of the south. He was bemused at our obsession with Marsanne and much preferred the pale forms of Grenache in his blends. So here you have that hessian edge, over a bowl of gooseberry and cucumber. There's a hint of citrus rind and fresh ginger, all savoury accoutrements most unlike the pomes, citrus and stone fruit characters we have expected of Austral whites.   

Here's where that hessian binds with the smell of the Canteloupe skin, which leads to the melons: Casaba, Honeydew, Persian and Musk. In the mouth department we find hints of the drier pears, but that's about as close as we get to any of the normally-expected bits of your major Ockers blanc. The texture is only modestly viscous, but gentle, with neat firm acidity. 

So, food? I think I might just take this down the beach. It'd be rock'n'roll with any of the required seafood ingredients in your proper bouillabaisse, grilled or souped. Don't hold the saffron. 

Add a crayfish, some bugs, and you have the makings of a Sydney Town bouillabaisse here: John William Lewin's Fish Catch and Dawes Point, from the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia ... this is thought to be the first oil painting made in Australia
Oakridge 864 Single Block Yarra Valley Pinot Noir Block 1 Hazeldene 2015 ($78; 14% alcohol; screw cap) has a dusting of that same hessian-in-the-shed edge, but here it's soused in a syrup of the juice of many rich deep red fruits and berries, half of which haven't even evolved yet. Also beetroot, its juice and leaves as garnish, as in borscht. It seems to yearn for that twist of yoghurt or sour cream. 

It is, like many of the wines of David Bicknell, a beautiful thing, and indeed one of the finest Pinots to cross this desk this year. 

What I really love about it, after all that, is its array of very fine, savoury tannins and the way they wash up those flavours and the wine's lovely fresh acidity like the waves shoosh up a beach. There's something deeply reassuring and permanent about it. 

I once dined with a negociant bloke in Beaune. For main course he ordered big white plate covered in tiny wild forest strawberries, all standing up like blood-red conifers, dusted like snow with confectioner's sugar. It seemed like a surreal Yuletide post card: five hectares of them in their world. He ground black pepper over the top of them and ate them noisily with a spoon and a Drouhin Burgundy that was a little like this masterly Pinot, but not as good. 

I've never seen strawberries like those in Australia. They grow in the bush from Burgundy to the forêt de la montagne de Reims. I want to try that trick again, on location there, with this wine.

In the meantime, since our hardly-Prime Minister has been over playing in the Élysée Palace garden with young French President Emmanuel Macron, I hope like hope is all that he took my advice and told young MacronDot to wheel out Charles de Gaulle's unused DS21 custom Citroen limo for a squirt up the Champs then back around to the Australian Embassy for a bit of circle work and a few of these ... I've never really seen a Pinot like this in France.

While this beautiful one-off hand-built Citroen was infamous for the tiny space it offered the driver - all the rooms were in the back - it was said the driver would still get home with the Citroen front-wheel drive pawing the cobbles even if everything behind his seat was blown away. I fantasised about this car with Henri Paul in Willi's. We couldn't find it.

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