“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)





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 Ē¢rkeengel 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

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