“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)





30 August 2017


Yolande Coent Margerit of Ch Pommard just posted this photograph of the 2017 harvest beginning in Les Folatières in Puligny-Montrachet


Fairyland: reflections in the window at Penfolds Magill; the Grange cottage in the vineyard ... with the Federal government's new cash splash, anybody'd think all cellars can now have a free view like this ... and the sort of profits Penfolds earns ... photo Philip White

Taxpayers fork out $50 free million for Oz vino-industrial complex

This week two people who are ministerially responsible for managing the water in the notoriously mismanaged Murray-Darling Basin, Australia's biggest wine region, came to Adelaide to give $50 million of our money to the liquor industry. 

One of them, Country Party leader, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, the Hon. Barnaby Joyce, is a Queenslander with New Zealand citizenship. 

While he seems to prefer beer, New Zealand supplies Australia's biggest-selling bottled white wine, Sauvignon blanc. 

Many great legal brains suggest the Deputy Prime Minister's dual citizenship made him ineligible to run for parliament, but here he was, giving quite a lot of our money away. 

He is a stalwart supporter of the coal industry, which many very fine responsible farmers, like those on the Liverpool Plains, or indeed the winemakers of the Hunter Valley, regard as a direct threat to their livelihoods, water resources and precious country.  

With him was his off-sider, the Liberal Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Senator Anne Ruston. The Senator was previously Senior Policy Advisor to the South Australian Minister for Industrial Affairs, Tourism, Recreation, Sport and Racing, Graham Ingerson, who eventually resigned that ministry over his handling of the racing business, and later resigned also from his position as Cabinet Secretary over his handling of the Hindmarsh Soccer Stadium. 

Speaking of stadia and grandstands, the National Wine Centre (above) looks a bit like one without a playing ground. Ms. Ruston became chief executive of this financially-disastrous folly, which was eventually passed to the University of Adelaide in a long-term peppercorn rental deal and is now sub-let and used as offices by the wine industry councils and operates as a glorified wedding shack in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens. 

Ms. Ruston was eventually appointed to fill the Senate position vacated by Mary Jo Fisher who resigned after twice being charged for shoplifting. 

With the Deputy Prime Minister, Ms. Ruston appeared not at the National Wine Centre, but Penfolds winery at Magill, where they announced the $50 million handover. 

Tim Whetstone, South Australian conservative parliamentarian representing the irrigated  Riverland, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Senator Anne Ruston  

Under the tireless stewardship of chief winemaker Peter Gago AOC, Penfolds is singularly responsible for a great proportion of Australia's most profitable wine export bracket, expensive bottled wine, which is worth nearly $500 million per annum in total, in dollar value almost a quarter of the $2.2 billion of Australian wine exported but only a tiny fraction of its total volume. 

Having left Australia at the weekend, off on another of his endless international tasting and sales tours, Mr Gago AOC was not at the winery for the announcement. He's busy earning money for the shareholders.

The $50 million "Export and Regional Wine Support Package" is designed to "transform the Australian grape and wine sector by driving demand for Australia's wine exports and showcasing the nation's wine tourism offering." 

Some of the money will go to the cider industry, which competes for shelf space in the ready-to-drink canned kiddylikker category. 

"Australian Vignerons, the Winemakers' Federation of Australia and Wine Australia have worked in close consultation with the Australian grape and wine sector to develop the business plan for the package, which will be delivered over three years," Wine Australia's statement reads. These bodies "will jointly sign off on the developed plans and campaigns to ensure all Australian wine exporters are supported through the proposed activities." 

The Deputy Prime Minister said the money would be invested "to further expand the market globally for wine. The target now is to go from $2.2 billion worth of wine to $3.5 billion by 2021." 

So everybody, from Yellowtail to Kingston Estate, will suddenly follow Penfolds into the halls of irrefutable excellence and provenance? Not even free money can do that, unfortunately. 

Some of the money will be made available by grants to approved cellar-door operators, to improve their facilities. 

"With the cellar-door process," The Deputy Prime Minister said, "we have made sure that it's $350,000 with a possible extra $100,000. Now I know that's not gonna make much difference to Penfolds, because they're such a global brand and so exemplary, but with other small wineries, if they're growing the grapes, if they're actually producing the wine and they're selling it at their cellar-door, that is a big advantage." 

At a time when Australia produces so much poor irrigated wine that the $3 Murray-Darling bottle is now a standard expectation for many drinkers, this export handout is hoped to make producers of such liquor more profitable, principally in the Chinese and USA markets. Neither of which is stupid; both of which have very long memories. 

If this exercise succeeds, Coles, Woolworths and Aldi, who - until Amazon takes over - between them control two-thirds of internal Australian wine sales will be pressured to import more wine at lower prices. 

China, meanwhile, is rapidly expanding its vineyards. Now second in the world for total winegrape plantings, it is already exporting cheap bottled wine into markets Australia has long regarded as its own, like the United Kingdom. 

The Deputy Prime Minister stressed producers in the irrigated arid land vineyards, like the Riverland, stood to significantly improve their lot. 

As South Australia produces about 60 per cent of Australia's wine, the $50 million seems likely to prop up, or at least calm down, many of this state's struggling producers, who are concerned that changes to the inequitable Wine Equalisation Tax (WET) rebate will make their financial lives impossible. 

Equalisation, of course, is the wrong word here: wine is currently taxed so cheap plonk is unfairly hit at a lower rate than more expensive premium. 

There will be a state election in South Australia in March 2018. On July 1 the WET rebate will be cut from $500,000 to $350,000. Many New Zealand producers of wine sent to Australia will still have access to the rebate. 

While the package is wrapped to please many small winemakers, sceptics are quietly suggesting, however, that the majority of the money will go to assist the biggest marginal refinery-style wineries, who enjoy the camouflage provided by the tiny nuts-and-berries ivy-covered cellars. 

The expenditure of the $50 million will be overseen by Wine Australia, Australian Vignerons and the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia. A board of marketing experts from Accolade Wines, Fullglass, Kingston Estate, Leeuwin Estate, Pernod Ricard, Taylors, Treasury, Yalumba, and Yellowtail will look after that side of the cash. 

Just what does $50 million buy? That's roughly what the National Wine Centre cost the taxpayer all those years ago. The outfits which will supervise this expenditure still enjoy offices there. $50 million is also roughly what Treasury's insurers will pay its shareholders to settle a class action after it wrote down $160 million of cheap USA stock acquired in some ill-advised purchasing there, to be accused of misleading the market and breaching continuous disclosure obligations. 

But $50 mill is still a lot of money. It can buy a lot of parties. There will be a campaign of huge tastings and wine promotions in many of Australia's export markets. Just how the cellar-door grants are spent will depend on who gets them. One presumes the money will be more artfully spent than providing the desperate, unprofitableMurray-Darling irrigators with a string of deconstructed Rubik's Cubes. 

The winegrowers of Australia, meanwhile, could use some viticulture research money pronto if they're going to fulfil the Deputy Prime Minister's promise of increased profitability through better quality products. 

The incurable phylloxera vine-killing bug (above) is on the march in Victoria, the newly-imported Pinot gris vine virus - which kills other varieties as well - is little understood and threatening to spread, die-back or dead-arm is spreading in vineyards everywhere, dramatically reducing vine health and yields and global warming is quickly rendering our warmest winegrape regions very tricky to manage. 

The deputy Prime Minister is famously on the record for saying the climate change reality is "an indulgent and irrelevant debate because, even if [it] turns out to exist one day, we will have absolutely no impact on it whatsoever."

28 August 2017


Is this the world's best Chardonnay? Olivier Krug has sent these images of the start of harvest at the Clos du Mesnil. 

The good folk of Champagne sure understand the idea of the walled township. The people of Mesnil erected their fortification around the cutest little Chardonnay vineyard, then built their village around the outside of it.

To minimise the possibility of any damage to the fruit, there's a dedicated press house in the corner of the clos, so the grapes travel no more than a hundred metres. The must is then carried to the winery in Reims.

When my dear mate Francois Henri was chairman of the company in the 'eighties, he wanted to bring the Krug delivery truck to Adelaide to take it for a fang around the Formula One circuit, which followed city streets. In those days, however, the race sponsorshop was all sewn up by Louis Vuitton Möet Hennessey, who supplied the magnum of Möet for the winner to squirt. Möet was owner of Dom Perignon, the arch rival of Krug, and wouldn't abide the notion of being upstaged, so the truck stayed home. 

Krug has since become the jewel in the crown of LVMH, so it's a pity we can't wind back the clock and get that old Roller smokin!

"Harvest started this Friday morning for the ripest part of Clos du Mesnil," Olivier reported on the weekend. "So far, promising ... This unusual decision not to wait for the official opening harvest dates was taken under the principles of individuality set by Joseph Krug. After several tastings (always blind) of all our plots. A part of Clos du Mesnil was identified as ready. The decision was easy to take."

Monica Jansons, now at Wirra Wirra, tasting with Olivier's father, the master blender Henri Krug. It was always an astonishing thing to stand at that humble bench, and witness the magic that the gentle Henri (since deceased) could conjure when composing the non-vintage Krug Grande Cuvée.

The fabulous Chardonnay of  Clos du Mesnil, however, is kept discrete for its own vintage bottling. This is one thing you can do with it:

25 August 2017


By Jingo Gilbert Grillo Single Vineyard 2015 ($30; 13% alcohol; screw cap

This is an historic wine. 

First, it's seriously fucking gorgeous.

Then, it's the first real Grillo to be made in Australia: John Gilbert imported the variety from west Sicily, where it had impressed him mightily during his formative winemaking times there. 

In spite of some argy-bargy over the cuttings somebody was selling as Grillo - it wasn't the true G-spot - here's the real thing. I understand the other stuff has been destroyed. My people are looking into it. John even made a pretty good wine from that imposter and couldn't quite work out why it seemed awry. I liked it. Even reviewed it. 

But this beauty's the duck's guts: it'll heal trypophobia

It won't take much of a sorso to convince you: there'll be no gulping in your second approach to the glass. It's big enough to slow you right off; pull the handbrake on; wind the windows down and  take a real big breath of it. Put the top down. Vibe right out. 

tired: the winemaker resting at the end of vintage 2014

After John's impassioned winemaking technique, which involves a supernatural gastronomic sensitivity married to a hybrid type of refined procrastination by default, the wine's had a good spell in old French barrels and an appropriate rest in bottle. 

It's goddam glorious.

It smells rich and creamy. It's got fresh slices of white clingstone peach. It's got guava jelly. It's got pavlova and marscapone; vanilla bean and marzipan; nougat and dried apple. It has the rinds of various citrus, from bergamot to blood orange. It's everything that old rogue Len Evans promised us Chardonnay would be, fulfilling triple the promise and none of the bullshit and sales sophistry it took for some poor sucker to drink the bat goozie that flooded Australia as a result of that missionary's preaching. 

In contrast, this Grillo smells hearty and fresh and comforting. And it's made only from grapes in an old wood container. By a master with an uncanny knack of standing back and marvelling at nature's sweet ways. 

In the sorso reparto - sorso's Italian for schlück - this wine is syrupy of texture, against a wall of all the above plus caramel. But somehow it's fine and never cloying, like half Riesling. I've been drinking it with the two majestic Clare Rieslings a couple of stories down this scroll, and there's a lot about it in some mystical way that points me at that incredible Polish Hill. 

It has really good natural acid, after all John's oxidative, softening approach. 

Maybe it's more along the lines of the 2013 O'Leary Walker Drs Cut Riesling, which is about the best mature-ish Riesling I've had from Australia. Of course Grillo's not Riesling, but you get my drift. 

Add all that up, and then consider the site of this vineyard. It's way up in the arid sunbaked flats of the Murray-Darling Basin, where neither Riesling nor Chardonnay ever seem to work. 

Fans of the By Jingo Grüner Veltliner 2014, of which I was foremost, will smooch this lovely unction. John says he might let Larry Jacobs, the Hahndorf Hill wizard who introduced it, keep the title of Grandfather of Grüner while he gets used to the fit of the Godfather of Grillo crown.

This is an historic achievement you can drink. 

Get some quick. But keep some cash in the bucket for the reds this remarkable man will bottle when he gets around to it, there's a dear.

photos by Philip White


Vines dying as phylloxera spreads in Victoria's Goulbun Valley

Vinehealth police losing to phylloxera

Australia's main viticulture council, the struggling Vinehealth Australia, is losing its battle against Phylloxera.  

Phylloxera is the dreaded root louse which killed well over two-thirds of the vineyards of Europe, principally France, in a few fast decades in the late 1800s. 

Rife in Victoria's Yarra Valley, the northern side of the Victorian Alps and the flat country around Geelong where Neuchâtel Swiss colonists introduced it in the earliest days of the white invasion, the deadly bug continues to spread. 

Vinehealth Australia this morning announced the seventh extension to the Maroondah Phylloxera zone in the Yarra Valley. 

The killer bug was first found in this area in 2006. 

The quarantine zone now spreads from Castella in the north to Warrandyte in the suburban south-west, from Panton Hill in the west to Healesville in the east.
From the weird bug family Phylloxeridae, from the order Hemiptera, this incurable scourge is variously known as Daktulosphaira vitifoliae, Phylloxera vastatrix, Daktulosphaira vitifoliae and Phylloxera vitifoliae. 

There is no way of removing the bug from infected ground. If owners of dead vineyards want to continue in the business, they must plant vinifera grape varieties grafted to non-bearing glory vine rootstock from North America. 

This changes the nature of the vine dramatically. 

The flavours change forever. 

While South Australia has not yet discovered a phylloxera incursion, its great international wealth in vineyards lies in its old pre-phylloxera vines which still grow on their own roots, like they no longer do anywhere on Earth. It seems likely the world's oldest Shiraz, Grenache, Cabernet and Riesling vines still growing viable crops are all in South Australia. These will be lost should the bug cross the border.

completely vulnerable: productive 1843 Shiraz in the Lindner family's Langmeil Wines' Freedom Vineyard at Tanunda in South Australia's Barossa Valley

There was much contention in 2012 when the old Phylloxera Board, which had done a brilliant job beforehand, was convinced by big vine nurserymen and the biggest winemakers to relax quarantine measures. 

As vendors of grafted rootstock, or owners of vineyards already grafted, these people stood to make many millions should phylloxera cross the border. 

The replacement organisation, Vinehealth Australia, seems transfixed in its management of another new killer bug known as Pinot gris disease. 

Little is understood about this new arrival. It's butchering vineyards of all varieties right around the world.  

"Measures have been taken to ensure that no spread will occur from the vines in which the virus has been detected in Australia," Vinehealth said in a press release. 

"To determine the extent of GPGV in Australia, targeted surveillance for the virus by relevant state government biosecurity departments will take place this spring when symptoms are most evident." 

In today's phylloxera advice, Vinehealth Australia CEO Inca Pearce said "A lack of available chemical or biological control for phylloxera means there is no treatment for a phylloxera-infested vineyard. The only option is to pull out the vineyard and replant with new vines that have been grafted onto phylloxera tolerant or resistant rootstock. Pulling out vines and replanting comes at an approximate cost of $60,000 per hectare, including vine removal, new grafted vine material and new block infrastructure, notwithstanding loss of production while new plantings mature. 

“We know phylloxera doesn’t respect state borders. It’s time for vineyard owners to get serious about farm-gate hygiene to prevent an incursion of phylloxera.” 

Farm gate? I have driven from one end to the other of the phylloxera-infested King Valley twice in the last five years. Keen to observe the protocol advice there for travellers, I was shocked to find none. 

Not one sign mentioned it.

You cannot trust growers to police this scourge at their farm gates. This evil needs to be policed by a bunch of heavily-armed and armoured Border Patrol savages in very scary uniforms.

Viable phylloxera has been found in the sumps of Melbourne carwashes and in windsocks towed by aircraft at 30,000' over Europe. 

I cannot believe viable phylloxera wasn't washing down the Yarra through Melbourne in last year's floods. 

To read the prescribed protocol click here.



Old rocks roll young chalk in royal 17s

There is much fascination in the way good Grenache varies in reflection of its particular site: the nature of the variety's aromatic and flavour structure, even its texture, can vary more widely than most other varieties. 

But every year there's another handy release that begs comparison. This is the annual springtime emergence of the two king-hell Rieslings made by the Clare masters, David O'Leary and Nick Walker. 

These two wines always provide an informative tutorial, principally in how different geologies can grow wines of such individual distinction in the same region. 

After that shocking weather that led to the harvest of 2017, I couldn't wait to peel those new models when I found them at my door yesterday. 

They're babies, but these wines could be the best Clare Rieslings I've consumed.

O'Leary Walker Watervale Clare Valley Riesling 2017 ($18.50; 12% alcohol; screw cap) grows in the chalky calcrete of Watervale, on the wondrous slope - which I mischievously call the Côtes des Blancs - opposite their winery.  The lime pith typical of the best Clare Riesling is immediately evident, here combined with a more fleshy aroma, like the crushed petals of the same fruit's little flowers, and maybe a faint insinuation of lightly-smoked ham. 

It's intense and tight in this its infancy: royal and composed while exuding commanding authority. 

Watervale's Côtes des Blancs from the veranda at O'Leary Walker: young calcrete, not limestone, but similarly chalky

A few kilometres to the north-east across the range is the headland of the erratic stream rather glamourously called the Polish Hill River. After a huge freak rain, I once saw it actually flow, from the vicinity of the little Polish Church down onto the plain to the north, where it simply fizzles out into the salty alluvium toward Burra. 

But here, in the much older schists and slatey mudstones of that miserable dribble's headland, lies the famous Polish Hill River vineyard. The O'Leary Walker Polish Hill River Clare Valley Riesling 2017 ($25; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap) has that same citrus hallmark and authority. But here the petals seem fatter, like the lush creamy flesh of the magnolia blossom. Past vintages show this is a difference that simply magnifies as the wines mature. 

Sometimes this one seems to be a bee's dick closer to tangello than lime; in some years that citrus also has a tropical ly-chee/rambutan insinuation.

Schists and slatey siltstones in the Kurrajong formation on the Willunga Escarpment in McLaren Vale: the very old base geologies of Polish Hill are of similar type and age (around 700 million years) 

It is the next layer down where the geologies really speak. Being a rock-licker from way back, I admit to having an expectation of this point of difference, but with this strange year of storms and tempests the gap is even more marked than usual. I'm sure that even those organoleptically disenfranchised souls who've never licked chalk or siltstone will see this difference. It's not magic. 

While the Watervale wine to me smells like damp blackboard chalk beneath its primary fruit, the Polish Hill River is more like the bouquet of a bluestone cottage wall, rainwet and steaming after a sudden summer thunderstorm. It's more acrid and somehow senior, and provides a more substantial support for those fleshy citrus wafts. 

Texturally, the contrast grows. The Watervale chalk is austere and as dry as ground bone china, and as the bouquet suggests is very tight and taut. It stalks, walking as tall and solitary as Prince Philip on a solo gig.

The Polish Hill River wine, while more sensual, seems a little more grainy and even muddy in texture. It makes me wonder whether Petticoat Tail could make a Scottish shortbread flavoured with tangello juice. While equally regal, the wine has a touch more rambunction. 

To push this male anthropomorphing royalty thing, this tricky year made it more Harry than Wills. 

Both will be kings. 

I have never quite grasped how these bony old hills on the edge of one the flattest, most arid, sunburnt places on Earth can grow this variety from the northernmost extreme of viable viticulture on the snowy slopes of Germany. It's confounding. But yesterday, when reading that Alsace is pretty much the sunniest bit of continental France, it began to make sense after forty years of wonderment. While "ze border goes back and forth like a madwoman's accordion" this Germanic corner of France grows magnificent Riesling on geologies as varied as Clare's. Sure, it snows in Alsace, but they have chalks and schisty siltstones in similar proximity, and wines as regal and dignified, as similar but contrasting as these two majesties. 

It will be a great education, watching these two get past this, their awkward gawky youth, and gradually lean into their royal traces. It would be a grand adventure to sit down to a bottle of each every spring for the next twenty years. 

I've never made shortbread, but I'm tempted to try my tangello dreaming for the Polish Hill River. Right now, little would better accompany the Watervale version than a stack of Coffin Bay oysters so fresh they wince when you hit 'em with the lemon.

Nick Walker, left, and David O'Leary in the Balhanna Pinot and Chardonnay vineyard owned by David's sister Sue and her husband David Cherry. The O'Learys are old-time Balhanna/Oakbankers: David's dad was accountant at the Johnston's Brewery there, which David and Nick have recently purchased.

This cool Adelaide Hills site provides Nick with the fruit for his scrumptious O'Leary Walker Hurtle, perhaps the best value premium aged fizz in Australia. Nick's father Norm and his grandfather Hurtle were sparkling wine masters at David and Sam Wynn's Romalo Cellars opposite Penfold's Grange at Magill in Adelaide.

Hurtle was trained by the master Frenchman Edmund Mazure, whose Kanmantoo Claret won the best red wine in the world gold medal at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1889. This six-month international expo was held to celebrate the centenary of the storming of the Bastille. The Eiffel Tower was opened and illuminated as part of the celebrations.

Here's the O'Leary Walker tasting and sales rooms at their winery in the Clare hills. This photo by Matt Walker; all others by Philip White

24 August 2017


Singer/songwriter/guitarist/winemaker Rhys Howlett is forgiven for forgetting to wave samples of his most recent Small Change wines at me ... check what he's done with my old remedy for the winter sniffles, dribbles and grumps! 

To read reviews of some of his more vinous creations check here and then here ... and if you need more you can even click here

PS: Just heard the man himself: the only reason he gave me a miss was he knew how ill I was earlier in the year and decided against loading me up with more wine to appraise, for which I am utterly grateful: reviews coming soon!


Big reports conflict: drinking in Australia: vendors vs. surgeons

Bacchus only knows how much Australia's alcohol-consumption patterns and habits have changed in fifty years. As a Kanmantoo kid who worked days in the mines and drank most nights in The British, driving the forty miles home along the half-built, abandoned freeway each night after a solid five-hour sesh on the spurruts, the writer personally can vouchsafe such news. 

But as for the last ten years? 

There was a frisson around the media earlier this week at the release of a report, Australian Drinking Habits - 2007 vs 2017, based on information gathered by market research outfit GALKAL for the alcohol group, DrinkWise. 

The campaign goals of DrinkWise are to "promote a generational change in the way Australians consume alcohol," and "increase the age that young Australians are introduced to alcohol, as evidence has shown that alcohol can impact the development of the adolescent brain."  

DrinkWise Australia gets its cash from government and its members, which include giant transnational alcohol manufacturers Bacardi-Martini, Beam Suntory, Diageo, Lion, Moet-Hennessey and Pernod Ricard. Aldi and Coles are  in there, Coca Cola, Carlton United, Coopers, and big winemakers Treasury and Accolade. 

The bloke-heavy board reflects this membership but includes several impressive community leaders from backgrounds in law, science and maths under the chairmanship of former Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police Neil Comrie. 

There are two women, Prof Niki Ellis representing the occupational health world, and the ABC broadcasting identity and erstwhile Liberal Immigration Minister and Senator, Amanda Vanstone. 

Prominent Adelaide publican, Peter Hurley represents the Australian Hotels Association. Peter has ABC links, too, as a former board member there. The former Wudinna publican has built a mighty arsenal of big suburban pubs and has been a tireless lobbyist for the hotels and gambling industries. His jewel is the Arkaba, a name which I foolishly presumed had Islamic/Arabic roots, where it indicates strength and might, as on horseback, but turns out to be a contraction of arkabatura, a term used by the Adnyamathanha people of the Flinders for 'rich country.' 

See how easy one can get lost in the world of liquor research? 

The key message of the DrinkWise report seems to be encouraging for those who think Australians drink too much. The number of total abstainers has doubled and most folks are drinking more modestly. 

"We are now a society more defined by moderation than excess," it reassures. "For the most part Australians have a positive relationship with alcohol. Having a drink to unwind, enjoy a meal or to socialise with family and friends remains part of how we see ourselves ... 

"For those drinking more, almost a fifth attribute added life stressors for increased consumption," it suggests, but "alcohol abuse is not a significant personal concern for most Australians. For the most part having a drink remains an enjoyable part of a sociable lifestyle – that complements a meal and allows people to socialise and relax."  

The report stresses that personally we are principally concerned with obesity, fitness and an excess of sugar, while "the issue of drinking too much alcohol doesn't bother over three quarters of Australians – most are either 'taking care of how they drink' or don't feel they need to do anything about their drinking." 

Unsurprisingly, housing affordablity, unemployment, domestic violence, illegal drug abuse and other health care issues appear to concern twice as many of us as alcohol abuse. 

Considering the composition and raison d'être of DrinkWise, this triumphant 'she's right cobber' mood seems aimed directly at sating the criticism of the highly-organised anti-liquor lobby. 

While underage drinking is declining - 59 per cent of 16-17 year-olds are abstainers - it indicates, however, that 31 per cent of 18-24 year-olds are still sinking more than five standard drinks in a session. This is called "a cohort of concern." 45-54 year-olds are the next group of bother. 

Relative to pubs, it's fascinating, but again perhaps unsurprising, that 63 per cent of us now do most of our drinking at home, with pub and club drinking down to 9 per cent of the sector, and restaurant and café drinking at 8 per cent. 55 per cent of drinkers imbibe while watching television, 51 per cent during meals, and 45 per cent whilst relaxing and socialising. 

What we consume is changing. A little. Bottled wine and full strength beer drinking are both up one per cent; bottled spirits, liqueurs, bladder pack wine and alcoholic pre-mixed cans are down a tad. 

So what does all this mean? First, it appears that the manufacturers and vendors of ethanol are highly efficient at researching their markets. There is much detail that is presented, I suspect, more vaguely in this document than the forensic detail such thorough and expensive research might have revealed. 

 In its scathing 2016 report Alcohol-related Harm, The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) reported that "alcohol misuse substantially contributes to social disruption, injury and death ... In Australia about half the reported cases of interpersonal violence, domestic violence and sexual assault are related to excessive alcohol consumption ... Alcohol-fuelled incidents are also a factor in up to two thirds of police callouts and around half of homicides." 

The DrinkWise paper does not venture into this territory.  

Each week, the RACS found, on average, more than 100 Australians die and at least 3,000 are hospitalised as a result of excessive alcohol consumption. 

"Annually, over 70,000 Australians are the victims of alcohol-related assaults, of which 24,000 are victims of domestic violence. In addition, almost 20,000 children across Australia experience substantiated alcohol-related child abuse." 

While there are many contradictory estimates of exactly what this costs the Australian taxpayer in dollars, this RACS report says the "total cost to society of alcohol-related problems in 2010 was estimated to be $14.352 billion," while the "estimated cost of alcohol’s negative impacts on others was estimated at $6.807 billion."

"The same year, the Australian Government received an estimated $7.075 billion in total alcohol tax revenue." 

As for the havoc alcohol wreaks in indigenous communities? It's still an  arkabatura for the ethanol merchants. The RACS document says the "rate of alcohol-attributable death among Indigenous Australians is about twice that of the non-Indigenous population, with a particularly strong association apparent between alcohol use and suicide ... From 2000-2006, 87 per cent of intimate partner homicides among Indigenous populations were alcohol-related." 

DrinkWise doesn't go there. Maybe these two august bodies could get together for a sociable drink. Pull up a couch, watch a cooking show, and chat about working together on the next report, no?

PS: For another report on my lot hitting the booze and the bong click here.

23 August 2017


Wrap your ears around some of this beautifully warped work by another Philip White ... Art Blakey, Coltrane, Lucifer and the great fusion play true poetry without words.


21 August 2017


I took this photograph this afternoon on Sand Road, McLaren Flat. She's on, folks! Just look at that little lovely! Click to look closer into 2018.

19 August 2017


Oh Whitey! All of the beautiful baguettes here are served fresh cut and rubbed with raw, fresh tomato and drizzled with delicious olive oil! You know how I feel about this, don't you??



18 August 2017


Nothing semi about this Semillon

This is personal. After my preceding hissy about common or garden/grassy Sauvignon blanc being a tad too mindlessly garden/grassy and offering very straightforward ethanol whilst lacking wine-like character and enjoyable gastronomic comfort, I found an antidote right under my nose. 

In that whinge I'd reflected on a couple of Sauvignons I really like because they were principally the Semillon variety, and were blended after the dry white recipe of Bordeaux. Trouble is, since the 'seventies, the Adelaide trade has always said it can't sell Semillon, sometimes because they regard it as a Hunter Valley variety but usually because "nobody knows how to pronounce it." 

Funny how we all learned to pronounce Pinot noir and Viognier. And typical that Australia thirstily regarded Semillon as a gastronomic treat when it was sold as Riesling, Graves, Chablis, Burgundy or Sauternes, which it was, all at once, in the Hunter. I think even Mark Cashmore's White Bordeaux may have contained some.

For whatever reason, there's very little Semillon grown here now, which is silly as it was a key variety from the beginning of the colony. It's nearly all gone. 

The late Neville Falkenberg was a great champion of Semillon. When his role was to develop 'The White Grange' at Penfolds, his first trials were with fabulous Semillons. The powers that were, however, insisted it had to be Chardonnay, so Yattarna Chardonnay  became the business. Neville was summarily fired under the direction of Philip Shaw after Bob Oatley's contentious 'White Knight' reverse takeover of Southcorp

Charlotte Dalton Wines are the work of Charlotte Dalton Hardy, of Basket Range. 

She sent two versions made from 30-year-old vines at The Deanery Vineyard at Balhannah, one called Love You Love Me, which was so drop-dead lovely that Charlotte's quickly sold it all. There's some left in a couple of the better shops, and 'on pour' in a few wine bars and of course Fino, but if you don't have the urge or ability to hunt, there's an even better one available to hold you over until the 2017 LYLM release, which is about to hit the bottles. 

Charlotte Dalton Wines Ǣrkeengel Adelaide Hills Semillon 2016 ($42; 12.6% alcohol; screw cap), like the Love You Love Me, is barrel-aged and lees-stirred, but with more yeast lees and a lot longer in the barrels. 

Which is not to say it's oaky. Rather it has all the slender stylish poise of the Bordeaux types. But it's also very Australian: as fit and fast as Sally Pearson: not one wasted gram of fat or flab. 

So it has the basic frame of a lot of Savvy-b but it's a vast step above: it has better form; it's more determined to stand out for its rare finesse. It's tighter. It clips no timber in the hurdles and barely touches the grass which is far too dominant in those Savvies that I can't hack. It flies straight, looking neither to left nor right til the job's done and the medal's won. 

Bouquet? While it has just the perfect degree of that grassy methoxypyrazine, the natural insect and predator deterrent the Sauvignon skins produce until the seed is ready to germinate, in this instance the stuff is oxidised until it's like that dusty whiff of burlap or hemp phosphate sacks. It gives the wine a subtle country zephyr, a summery edge. 

Then comes a lovely assemblage of carambola, cherimoya and Bosc pear, all dryish and fine but maintaining that perfect athletic poise. And it's very gently buttery, like my current favourite, the French Elle and Vere. Yes, I'm being unfaithful to Paris Creek. 

Combined with the pear influence that buttery bit reminds me of loquat, a character much beloved by the great Neville Falkenberg. 

The texture is the first part of the drinking to impress: it's firm and very slightly granular, like that Bosc pear. This immediately sets the juices a-flow, stirring the hunger so a whole flick-pack of food images whirrs through the mind, stalling on the odd dry white cheese and a fresh sliced Bosc, or the even more granular Passe-Crassane, my favourite among pears. 

This wine leaves the tongue twitching for more in a most thought-provoking manner, but is sufficiently complex and impressive that it's also quite satisfying. 

Above all that, it has amazing staying power. Under this screw cap, it'll last longer than me. 

So. A great wine of significant gastronomic intelligence, made by such a person for grown-ups. Take a bow, Charlotte Dalton Hardy.

PS: There's also a very racy, intense young punk of a Shiraz, but that's another story ... 

Not The Deanery vineyard, but this is  Balhanna: mature Pinot noir and Chardonnay [for O'Leary-Walker The Hurtle] in the Adelaide Hills, looking north across the broad Onkaparinga Valley to the Lenswood ridge on the horizon - photos Philip White

17 August 2017


Hills Sauvignon of the blanc rank 

One of my favourite Adelaide Hills Sauvignon blanc wines was made by Tim Knappstein about thirty years ago. It was mainly Semillon. 

I suspected at the time that wine was the result of the friendly rivalry extant in Clare between Tim and Michel Dietrich, the Alsatian French winemaker Remy Martin had put in charge of their Quelltaler Estate. That outfit started when Francis Treloar planted a vineyard in 1853. The old winery, later owned by Buring and Sobels, is mothballed at Watervale, which is English for Qelltaler. 

Michel made a cracker wine. He picked the Semillon early to get flinty chalky greenness usually expected of the Sauvignon blanc and let the Sauvignon ripen til it had lost its simple green methoxypyrazine edge then softened it even more in subtle oak before marrying the two wines. It was more like like the serene dry whites of Bordeaux than the woody fumé blanc Sauvignons of the Loire Valley. 

Isobel and Michel Dietrich at Watervale in 1984 ... photo Philip White

Michel had reversed the roles of the varieties in pursuit of elegant complexity rather than grassy simplicity or fashionably overt oak. 

Pure 100% cool region Savvy-b is another thing. I was about to write 'another kettle of fish' but there are rarely any fish in it: too often it's just the old smashed windscreen acid and lawn clippings soaking in cold water. Maybe nettles. Unripe gooseberry. Soursob. Rhubarb. Weeds. Sheep food. And ethanol. 
Australians love it. Sauvignon blanc is our biggest-selling white. Drink enough of it and I reckon you'd start to smell like mutton. New Zealanders grow it. We drink around $350 million worth of their Sauvignon each year. But then about a quarter of us still drink Coke at least once a week, and I notice the Golden Arches and Colonel Sadness are still prolific intrusions along our roadsides. 

The jaundice my jowls show in reaction to the paler Savvies seems to be my physiology turning up the yellow to show the wines an example of proper colour. The Adelaide Hills have become as adept as New Zealand at growing such wine. There are pale ones made with lovely musky florals and rose-and-jasmine scents like the exemplary elegant favourite from Paracombe, but too much of the rest is the sort that brings on my yellow jaundice and the fear of smelling like cold Kiwi mutton fat. 

So it was with certain wariness I opened a box from Matthew Hill Smith. The bottles within had survived the long trip from Brisbane without as much as a cardboard divider: I could hear them clinking against each other. Never a source of confidence, the cardboard box full of loose bottles of Adelaide Hills wine from Queensland. 

Sho nuff, there was the Savvy-b, in one of those frosty-looking bottles designed to give the wine even more of that green water appearance. Mark's Vineyard Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($25; 12% alcohol; screw cap) treads the wire. It is pristine, like a mountain brook fed by a sward of nettles and soursobs. It has a little more texture than actual flavour, which affords it a shard of comfort. It's slightly sweet. 

This is straight-down-the-line lower-priced Kiwi juice in style. It could be top drinking chilled in the tropics, a bit like the juice of the starfruit, Averrhoa carambola. Or in fact the juice of the Kiwi fruit, which is really the Chinese gooseberry, Actinidea chinensis. I can imagine it being cooling and refreshing in the Brisvegas humidity, a perfect partner for your salt'n'pepper squid or a ham-and-pineapple pizza with a little chilli. 

It is what the trade called a grease-cutter back when I was a boy. 

While the Mark's Vineyard Adelaide Hills Pinot Gris 2017 ($25; 13% alcohol; screw cap) is one alcohol bigger I think it's more along the lines of the Italianate grey Pinot - they call it Pinot grigio. It's not much like the more characterful grau/gris ones from Alsace. 

Other than that, it's pretty much of the Savvy-b school, without the grassy bits. There's not much along the lines of your actual Pinot tribe marching through this glass.

To feel a little like I was somewhere on the equator, I used a big tip of the first wine in the hot fish curry I have just cooked, and drank this second wine with it. Not too bad really. No challenges. Clean. Sauvignon blanc, by the way, is my favourite cooking wine in stir fries and asian stews. Its acid works perfectly. 

Mark's Vineyard C3 Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2016 ($35; 12.9% alcohol; screw cap) smells like a blood orange marmalade with plenty of rind and a little minced ginger. It also has insinuations of honey and butterscotch. The flavours are a smooth segue of the same, and the wine has more texture than the other two. It's still very safe and sound, neat and tidy and unsurprising. The extra tenner buys you a suggestion of oak. Those mobsters in Melbourne shoulda had this with their lobster and kept the Grange for the quiet privacy of the shooting range. 

I made a blend of this Chardonnay with one third Sauvignon and ended up with a Sauvignon blanc I could like ... somewhere toward the lines of those Knappstein/Dietrich blends from a previous life.

A previous life: Tim and Annie Knappstein in the Clare valleys in the late '80s. That's Tim's Boeing Stearman, which was a tidy aerobatics performer

Mark's Vineyard Adelaide Hills Point Eight Shiraz 2016 ($35; 14.9% alcohol; screw cap) is peppery, as rocket and cress can be quite peppery. Behind that piquancy there's a fathom of fresh soft licorice, mulberry and cassis. 

It's quite soft to drink, too: almost fluffy until that pepper reappears in the tail, with timber and the hot miasma you'd expect of a light-bodied wine with this ethanol. There isn't much tannin. 

So there. Four top varieties of the Adelaide Hills. 

To explain a bit of this patriarchal Hill Smith stuff, Wyndham Hill Smith had two sons, Robert and Samuel. Wyndy's brother Mark had Michael and Matthew. When Rob and Sam bought Michael and Matthew and 25 other family members out of the business in a cleverly-planned surprise coup, Michael started Shaw and Smith at Oakbank with Martin Shaw, the son of his mum's twin sister. 

With some of his share of the buyout millions, urged by his sons, Mark planted this vineyard at Woodside. It's actually called Marko's - the company is Marko's Vineyard Pty Ltd. Both Wyndham and Mark are long deceased. 

After some sort of family difference in 2015 Matthew bought Marko's from his mum and brother and now has the wine made somewhere by contract. Matthew no longer drinks alcohol and boasts of being a farmer who doesn't own a tractor. He has sold his Brisbane restaurants. Now he has wine to sell. 

Knappstein sold all his Lenswood and Clare vineyards and winery and now runs the Ripost brand. 

Remy sold Quelltaler to Wolf Blass who changed its name to Eaglehawk. It became Black Opal and then Annie's Lane. 

Karl Sobels' ancient dry-grown Semillon vines in the chalky Quelltaler Karlsfield overlooking Watervale were bulldozed by Vic Patrick when Fosters bought that historic heart of large-scale Clare winemaking and shut it down when they absorbed Mildara-Blass. 

Typical of a Coonawarra bloke, Vic replaced that Semillon, which I thought was the best in Australia, with a forgettable clone of Merlot. 

Michel Dietrich has lived in Bordeaux for thirty years, where he makes lovely inexpensive blends of Semillon and Sauvingon blanc at his 80 hectare Château Haut-Rian winery and vineyards on the Premières Côtes de Bordeaux and Entre-Deux-Mers at Cadillac. He surprised me with a visit a couple of years back. Both he and Isobel were in fine fettle. They love driving across vast extremes of desert. Nowdays, for leisure, they usually drive around north Africa, but hey, it's safer to cruise a renter from Darwin to Adelaide. By Bacchus and Pan it was good to see them!