“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)





02 November 2017


The Big Rock Candy Mountain 

In 1928 Larry "HaywireMac" McLintock recorded his unforgettable hobo's dream, The Big Rock Candy Mountain. It's unfair to slice out a bit of it, but try this: 

" ... Where the boxcars all are empty 
And the sun shines every day 
And the birds and the bees 
And the cigarette trees 
The lemonade springs 
Where the bluebird sings 
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains. 

"In the Big Rock Candy Mountains 
All the cops have wooden legs 
And the bulldogs all have rubber teeth 
And the hens lay soft-boiled eggs ... " 

You don't have to be a hobo to appreciate how the new Greenock Creek wines make me feel like that. Like you're about eight or nine years old and you just woke up locked inside your favourite lollyshop in the middle of the night. Eight hours of free candy. 

Tasting the 2015 Greenock Creek reds is like that. The Big Rock Candy Mountain. There's a great deal of confection in the 'fifteens. 

On first opening, 2015 seemed a year when the particular individualism of these vineyards was overwhelmed more than usual by the vintage conditions. They reminded me of a ripe year like somewhere in the late 'nineties. I was initially concerned they were too much alike. 

While it's always an olfactory delight, it is nerve-wracking tasting and evaluating wines so young and fresh and cowed from the humiliation of bottling, however gently that was done. It's like "Hey Mama, I don't wanna go down the thing. I wanna stay here in my barrel." 

But things began to change. After a few days of tasting a glass from each after their bottling in July, then recorking the bottles, the wines all seemed to walk away from each other, shrug off some of their puppy flesh and I dunno. What? Go looking for their first tweed coats? Prove their independence? 

2015 is a ripe and hearty year: fairly alcoholic wines not for extreme-term cellaring, but wines which must not be overlooked as simply boozy. They are boozy and beautiful, and as individually determined and outspoken as usual. They are wines which will grow up a bit faster than most Greenock Creeks. 

I suspect the one I'll love most in a decade is the one with the lowest alcohol. That Roennfeldt's Cabernet truly is sumpin else. But I reckon we'll be all right with the rest once that one's gone.  

Greenock Creek Vineyards & Cellars Mataro 2015 
($25; 14% alcohol; cork) 

Beneath its gunmetal and juniper this is a shy, but alluring, creamy Mataro, much after a cool roast-fennel-and-garlic mayonnaise served in a warm roasted and peeled capsicum shell. It has a comforting whiff of the old woodfire stove, almost coal-tar soap, then that soothing, creamy-green thing. These disparate counterpoints will harmonise, then be singing in unison in a few years. 

That's all aroma stuff: it's a fascinating set of whiffs. 

The drinking bit is perhaps even more polarised: the juniper's ripe and settling into a jellied conserve with the bell pepper and beetroot cubes and what was fennel is creeping towards soft fresh licorice. I'm reaching for the mayo and a few slices of toasted rye. Smoked salmon. Capers .

This wine takes me to the alluvial slopes of Vacqueyras on the banks of the Ouvèze in the south of France. Which is a damned fine way of getting there, in anybody's language. You'd be very popular if you shared this with some of the new generation Mourvèdre makers there. Same grape. Take a case. 

Now, four days open, the bottle makes me determined to stay home and finish it alone. (Retreats to rear of cave.) 

Greenock Creek Vineyards & Cellars Cornerstone Grenache 2016 
($29; 16% alcohol; cork) 

My Grenache obsession is no secret: I've been a missionary for the stuff for most of my bibulent life. I've had a lot of Grenache. But I've never had anything like this. Nothing. It's nothing like McLaren Vale Grenache, Adelaide Plains Grenache or Clare Grenache. It's not like much Barossa Grenache either, come to think of it. Or French or Spanish Grenache, or Italian. 

Overwhelmingly opulent yet slick from go-to-whoa this baby. Mocha dusted on coffee and a deadly well of sinister swirling fruits on the side: a summer prickle on top; all that devilry going on below. 

Reminds me of Syd Long's beautiful Australian art nouveau masterpiece in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, simply called Pan. It shows the celebrated cloven-hooved flautist entertaining a few naked sylphs who are dancing by a pool. This wine's the depth of that purple pool 'neath the trees. 

So slick and jujube happy then the dusty tannin blows in and you have to start dancing again so it doesn't get you. What a delightful luxurious game! 

After a day or two some of the more regionally typical aromas emerge: old harness comes out of the dust. And that flavour whips around the sensories like that jar of brandy you kept  the figs and quinces in. So in this its infancy the wine is a sort of gender-bender, phasing between a dessert red and a savoury one. 

Third morning, its fruit is like cranberry and redcurrant. If you're quick enough to get some, it's going to last a long time, this Grenache. Unlike my bottle ... it was the first one empty! 

Greenock Creek Vineyards & Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 
($38; 15% alcohol; cork) 

This disgustingly vibrant, eager-to-get-on-with-it, perfumed and polished Cabernet seems like the best of Clare at first. It's slick and sinuous. Deadly. Very shiny shiny in the dark: a shockingly honest raven oil beauty. 

The hand of blacksmith Harry Hennig, who beat out many metres of iron like this to make the beautiful wrought gates for Michael's private cellar. 

Next day it's not so completely Clare - it reminds me too of the exemplary Cabernet John Glaetzer found in a couple of Langhorne Creek vineyards for Wolf Blass' paramount reds thirty and forty years ago, but without so much of their minty eucalyptus. That's been replaced with another few coats of shiny black lacquer and a flavour that could be more of a feeling, like the feeling of fresh vanilla bean. It's like a dream where all you get is a fragrance, a flavour, and a feeling, and the figure is just starting to form and you're suddenly awake and feeling cheated and very thirsty. 

There's only one solution: more of this gorgeous, willowy, classical Cabernet. It'll be like totally deadly in about six years. 

Greenock Creek founder Michael Waugh at the tasting room at Marananga with the author and Vern Schuppan ... photo Leo Davis

Greenock Creek Vineyards & Cellars Casey's Block Shiraz 2015 
($26; 17.5% alcohol; cork) 

It has always been an education to watch new Greenock Creek vineyards manage their first few crops. No two have ever produced the same baby flavour, but their manner - their inherited routine - has much in common. The new vines seem to grow with an inbuilt battery of almost too much energy. It's obviously to get them through the few first vintages whatever the weather throws at them. Their first fruits are enthusiastic and extravagent peacock displays before they settle down exhausted to face the routine they expect to continue for what? 150 years? 

And Casey's? What a show-off! Provocative, bright and fresh this dandy ... it's alarmingly cheeky and vivacious. This is the banana lollies, sherbert and fruit tingles section ... ripe raspberry and redcurrant gels ... a piquant hint of the old empty pepper tin ... oak that hasn't quite settled yet, but shall ... then a texture like a fluff of marscapone or meringue and a sweet delicate simple palate that tapers off ever-so-slowly ... like a pudgy young dancer awkwardly reluctant to leave the stage ... when it does, after all that wickedly heady booze, it leaves a neat acid finish wrapped in a Medlar Shiraz gel with soft, ripe juniper berry in the middle. Peace offering. 

Greeock Creek Vineyards & Cellars Alice's Shiraz 2015
($35; 17% alcohol; cork) 

Wow. Licorice rings and mudstone. Framboise and crème de cassis. Country dust and sun on the stubble. This Alice's is a sunday school trifle some wicked backsliding aunt has smuggled her personal blend of sherry and cherry brandy into. Then extra nutmeg too I reckon, to hide the whiff of alcohol. Fail. I seem to recall that she once raided the party with the same trick at the Apricot Block. I can smell Nanna Sarah's doughy scones here, with her amazing raspberry and fig jam. They're beside the trademark panforte with its nuts and dates and figs and marshmallow sugar dusting. 

After awhile you can feel half the congregation would really prefer to be dancing in that old hall rather than eating dessert at a dry show for somebody's anthracite wedding anniversary. So they get the old slap bass happening and a squeezebox and start bouncin each other off the walls my goodness all those rope petticoats. Flagons of old muscat out the back. 

Oh yes, it smells like chocolate crème caramel, too; maybe more crème brulèe. These wowsers have no hope. This Alice's really is Devil's Brew. I'm with him. But it'll be the drinker's death on day six: advise finishing day four. While you're in front. Put him down. Have a snooze. 

Greenock Creek Vineyards & Cellars Apricot Block Shiraz 2015 
($40; 16% alcohol; cork) 

Perhaps since it's had its usual trifle and even its crumbly/crunchy/doughy apricot strueselküchen  suddenly pinched by Alice's, the Apricot Block just had to hunker down and say "Well here I am: your most accomplished and together member of the Greenock Creek family on the table this year." [Michael glowers.] 

"Oh sorry most accomplished and together in the row, so far." [Michael looks away.] 

This year, it's cocoa powder. It's more. Yep, it's dark bitter ValRhona cooking chocolate around a cherry gel. An Adults Only Cherry Ripe. Not such a complex business as some years, but maybe the easiest one for that wicked sesh you've been postponing. 

Hang on. There's roast dry chillies, too. Like that Mexican chilli and chocolate sauce. And the rind of Curaçao oranges. Bring it on. 

Interestingly, this Apricot Block lost interest in me after four days, indicating it's probably best consumed within a decade. Not too much to ask, surely? 

Greenock Creek Vineyards & Cellars Seven Acre Shiraz 2015 
($48; 16.5% alcohol; cork) 

I have no idea whether licorice rings were puffed out like smoke rings from the oldest rocks around Greenock Creek in 2015, but I must say that the licorice rings emergent in the fruit of the Tapleys Hill Formation siltstones (about 700 million years old) under Alice's are magnified in the fruit of the even older schists of the Upper Burra Group that begin to emerge beneath Seven Acre. 

So there's your lollyshop colliding with the geology division down the crossroads. With help from the Panforte Shop next door, Lollyshop wins. I mean real soft licorice gel rings dipped in sugar crystals.  

Other than that, this is another Shiraz quite obviously of the geologically-diverse but house-driven 2015 vintage at Greenock Creek. As much as ever it reeks of that classic panforte hallmark of the cellar, but perhaps made by a Nonna this time in a village with a bit more afternoon sunshine, so the cake has a softer, riper touch. 

Day five, and everything's different. The Wild Seven has settled. Even the panforte has slid into the trifle liquor with the blackberries. Just in time for me to hear a footy coach on the wireless, sagely  advise carousing young players: "nothing good ever happened in a bath after midnight." 

Greenock Creek Vineyards & Cellars Roennfeldt Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 
($195; magnum in display case $595; 13.5% alcohol; cork) 

In this its infancy, this is a two-level piece of architecture, probably on wheels. If you're on the street level and you're on the paleo diet you'll think the nightshades are contentious or verboten so you can steer away from this smug baby from the start: it's full of bits of tomato, eggplant, plumcake tobacco and peppers. In here they're toasty and roasted with some very racy French oak. But not for paleo people. Aren't they still making their waddies from Yew? 

Out the back of that freshly-painted, baked-and-peeled capsicum family of aromas it's acrid and sharp, like hemp. Burlap sacks in summer. 

Take a good schlück and all that is given flesh of the most delicate yet intense crème de cassis form. 

This is an amazing rarity, a Cabernet of this lissom build with such compressed intensity. It will take years to convince some that this is indeed a wine of royal elegance as much as provenance. By which time it will be well beyond their reach. They can wait at the bus stop with the paleos. Bye-bye! 

Looking grim, but having the time of his life taking the V12 E for a fang: Michael being unfaithful to his vineyards
Oh yes. Forgot to take you upstairs. The top floor is open to the sky and it's all prickly summer backroad, from everlasting flowers through lavendar to wormwood, and then the sorts of tiny, beautifully aromatic shavings of nature somebody like Guerlain would work into a perfume. Violets. Ylang ylang. Black lilies. Perfection. 

Greenock Creek Vineyards & Cellars Roennfeldt Road Shiraz 2012 
($195; magnum in display case $595; 15.5% alcohol; cork) 

Another very frank lesson in fashion: The resinous Quercus alba wood is not so sharply sappy this year as in some Roennfeldt Shiraz but it's still very bourbon in style. Which makes this the sort of full-bore '80s and '90s fashion top-price Barossa Shiraz that came from a certain company then under the winemaking husbandry of the great Misters Ditter and Duval. 

It's a bit like Gerard Depardieu's mad pirouetting swordfighting Cyrano de Bergerac crossed with the 120 kg boy with freckles and bib overalls who lives down there in the swamp and when his mighty paw crushes yours in a handshake he leans down and murmers "The name's Bubba" right in your ear and you smell fresh bourbon and feel suddenly safe. 

Drinking it is a much less confronting adventure: it's slick and snaky in a luxurious velvet-then-silk manner and could well eventually pour comfortably with what? Say the best Shiraz of the great comet vintage, 1986? Perhaps the best Roennfeldt's Shiraz yet? 

We may know in 20 years. In the meantime, you couldn't get much more of a contrast than the faultline between the tectonic  plates of 2012 and 2015.

German settler's stock trough hewn from a Red Gum trunk at Greenock Creek ... photos by Philip White 

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