“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)





13 December 2018


Sunset tonight over the Yangarra High Sands Grenache, across my back fence ... after that dead-dry spring, it's been a wild and sinister few days of weather, restive and unpredictable ... laundry all over the lawn ... the dam is still way down and there's been bad frost in some of the lower blocks ... 

These young hares, meanwhile, have finally ceased boxing the living shit out of each other. The jack spent the morning whacking a male adversary then this jill he thought he'd won - she's bigger - bashed the hell out of him for dessert before commencing the formal peace ritual. Read bonking: working on raising a leverett or two ... photos Philip White


Retweet: Damon Baker @ bottlehands "Tried to liberate one @whiteswine" ... never, ever, ever give up DB! 

To keep this crazy voyage fully coloured, I'm well-and-truly back on the prayer lists of the righteous brethren, who send me daily thoughts like this "your best hope" one from Geoff Ives:



"You seem a long way off, Walter," I told my mate Clappis on the blower. 

This was W. W. W. Clappis, the biodynamicist behind McLaren Vale's opulent Hedonist wine on Strout Road.  

While these Clappisses share a refined enlightenment at the trencherboard and jug, Walter is not to be confused with his cousin, Andy Clappis, the chef up the Range above Willunga. 

"Matter of fact I'm in China," W. W. W. said. 

"You're not in Shanghai are you?" 

"Yep. I'm here right now." 

"You're not in the Old City by any chance?"  

"Yep. Just came into the square." 

 "Bullshit! See that tea shop on your right? Can you duck in there and get me 500 grams of Ku-ding Cha?" 

This is the sort of thing that happens when one commits to hunting the freshest, sweetest, most efficacious Ku-ding. It's usually found in China, but in Vietnam is known as Trà đắng. 

It's a tea-like infusion, not made from the regular Camelia sinsensis leaf which is commonly fermented to blacken, but rolled straight and green from the leaves of the Chinese holly, Ilex kaushue, which is also known as Ilex kudingcha. It's a not necessarily a bush. It has shiny labial leaves like the sinsenis shrub but it'll grow like a tree. 

Regardless of its loftier height and shape, it ranks with the Mediterranean wormwood (Artemus absinthium); the tropical groundcover Gynara procumbens; hot chillies; raw ginger and garlic at the pointy end of my bottle-scarred herbal, foraged or cultivated. I live on this stuff. Now the cancer's suddenly rampant in my ramparts, and I find myself surrounded and advised by the best medical scientists and surgeons I've encountered, I feel I gotta sharpen my focus on every level. 

Maybe Radio Free China RT'd the InDaily news of the Australian Wine Business Monthly's piece - no idea how he found out - but Walter called again from China the other day when he heard that with the tumour farm I seem to suddenly be running in my dark gizzards I'd probably be in need of a fresh Ku-ding shipment any minute soon: two days later it was steaming on my desk. 

I've had the whole system set on RINSE since. Astute man that Walter. 

I'm sure the Degarelix helps, and some intensive photon radiation, but for whatever cause,  various torrid odemas have since shrunk, which is not a surprise. I have long used Ku-ding cha to keep my plates o' meat trim enough to fit my favourite Spanish boots.

Ku-ding is extremely bitter. Like the wormwood and the gall in the cranky old Protestant hymn so hard right it grieved founding Methodists John and Charles Wesley, it's about as bitter as bitter can get short of death.   

If it's stale or cheap Ku-ding's just too far out for most humans. But get magic fresh stuff like W. W. W. somehow tracked to an organic trader somewhere there in the little matter of the Orient and let them leaves unroll in your bowl and you somehow have one of the most refreshing and restorative anti-oxidant brewages known on Earth. I heard it fixed Merrill's gout. 

Top-sheIf Ku-ding finishes very gently sweet. One can enhance this: Keeping them intact, split and slice a few of the new season cherries from Lisa and Mark McCarthy's vineyard and orchard down here on Sand Road, and put them in the bowl with the leaves. 

McCarthy's are picking the perfectly luscious Sam cherries (pictured) again this week. 

Do the same with a couple of the semi-dried Jujubes (Ziziphus jujuba), add the crackling hot rain and watch the leaves unroll. 

I often let it cool; it's fine with fizzed water on the rocks and makes a handy mixer. Even the addition of honey barely touches that bitterness. 

In his determination to introduce foods which require less irrigation in the dying Murray-Darling, Mark's father David brought this most efficacious date-like fruit to Australia. He also introduced the pistachio through his enlightened research farm near Mildura. 

"They thought he was mad," Lisa chirps, "replacing thirsty citrus, almonds and grapes with these foods." 

Lisa and Mark in the old vines at their McCarthy's Orchard, opposite Goodieson's Brewery on Sand Road, McLaren Flat. These clever folks even grow mangoes down here. This one, and photos above by Philip White

But using Ku-ding with citrus juices, Bickfords Lime, and maybe a squirt of Cointreau or Strega one can get soda-close to the bitter scaffolding of, say, the Seville Orange rind in Campari. 

I like bitter flavours. I play with them. Juggle their bright aromatic hues. Add vodka when required - it's like a photographic fixer in the developing tray. If the Jujubes are still there in the cooling liquor of your cha, squeeze the juice from them through the slits you've cut.  Watch the stain spread.


For flavour direction, think Green Chartreuse: towards the terpenes you find in cannabis and Rosemary. Otherwise, while that idea's better kept for the winter I'll have three or four pots of hot water refill over the same leaves. 

I'm keen to see somebody rip into the scientific research of Ku-ding as thoroughly as they've excavated Gynara procumbens, which will drop dead in a normal Kangarilla chill: being jungle headland cover in the tropics, the poor thing needs to come inside with lights and heat to survive winter down here on the Great Southern Ocean. 

But it's summer now and the pots are blooming: I love this stuff in a roll or wrap with fish and sprouts and fetta. It's like a crunchy carrot-flavoured watercress, and goes just tricksy with Ku-ding made with cooling honeywater and an ooze of lemon. 

I'd also like to see the pot researchers teach the Ku-ding/Gynara growers their brilliant display wheels to interpret terpene flavours which compare their sources and various medical efficacies. Spin me with science baby. 

Our three-or-four thousand years of the Cannabis revolution is only the beginning of such great unveilings. Peel open the millenia of forgotten natural efficacies and you realise these enlightenments are never learned early nor won cheap. In the criminal case of pot prohibition, we've permitted a century of big pharma's active stifling and denial of the science surrounding this miracle plant. 

Increasingly, marketers fall shy and  retreat from ancient and famous claims of many restorative foods as medications while the the patent attourneys shred the entire pharmacopoeia in their race to own and exploit it. In the meantime, we're left with unscientific fluff like this: 

"With a reputation as being a longevity and sliming [sic] tea the medicinal properties are vast. Chinese Medicine doctors prescribe it for coughs and the common cold, itchy eyes and headaches. It is also used for fever and bad diarrhea. Any memory issues can benefit helping raise ones [sic] spirit. More contemporary western medicine acknowledges Ku Ding as a tea that can help with blood circulation and blood pressure along with lowering blood lipids like cholesterol." 

Organic Coonawarra winegrowers from Highbank Dennis (left) and the late Morgan Vice with the author at an early visit to that miracle tea shop ... and below, discussing possible tea and wine investment projects with the Major of Yangzhou in 2007 ... not many Australian wine folk had dared make their way into China those few short years ago

Between you and me, and you can do bitter, and track the stuff down, Ku-ding Cha's the duck's guts. 

Focusing tighter, ku means bitter and ding is nail so let's launch the new marketing with something about nailing death to a tumour with Ku-ding then winding up them photons in the nuke ward to vaporise the whole rotten mob. 

Speaking of unscientific fluff and my propensity to quote it, especially at this time of our saviour's blessed birthday, here's that goddam Methodist hymn about bitter. 

Check the buzzwords: even "prostrate" seems perversely  evocative whilst one tunes the lyre, and we're seeing stars with the floating balls and old Jesse's rod before we even get close to the bitter end! 

I prefer to sing it to the tune of Alex Chilton's The Letter.

All hail the power of Jesu’s name! 
Let Angels prostrate fall; 
Bring forth the royal diadem, 
To crown Him Lord of All. 

Let high-born Seraphs tune the lyre, 
And, as they tune it, 
fall Before His face who tunes their choir, 
And crown Him Lord of All. 

Crown Him, ye morning stars of light, 
Who fix’d this floating ball; 
Now hail the strength of Israel’s might, 
And crown Him Lord of All. 

Crown him, ye martyrs of your God, 
Who from His altar call; 
Extol the stem of Jesse’s rod, 
And crown Him Lord of All. 

Ye seed of Israel’s chosen race, 
Ye ransom’d of the fall, 
Hail Him who saves you by His grace, 
And crown Him Lord of All. 

Hail Him, ye heirs of David’s line, 
Whom David Lord did call; 
The God incarnate, man Divine; 
And crown Him Lord of All. 

Sinners! whose love can ne’er forget
The wormwood and the gall, 
Go—spread your trophies at His feet, 
And crown Him Lord of All. 

Let every tribe, and every tongue, 
That bound creation’s call, 
Now shout in universal song, 
The crowned Lord of All! 

I'm thinking about becoming a self-hating Gentile. 

Merry Exmess from the nuclear ward.

10 December 2018


From my Year 10 geography notepad: the earliest work I can find that hints at my life writing about it dares make no mention of the tanglejuice.

09 December 2018


The following letter was delivered to my landlord and friend, Peter Fraser. It came with this sealed envelope:

which contained one of the most relished letters I have ever received, by hand or post:

The letter's writer and his reader photographed by Milton Wordley at Wendouree last year ... click for Tony Brady interview by Milton Wordley


03 December 2018


Mick Wordley snuck up in the Callington boot hill and caught me gazing
 on my Dad's box when everybody'd gone apart from the bloke standing 
back with a long-handled shovel and a Bobcat; I took the one of these 
women dancing to Jay Hoad years ago at Settlement; the poem's four 
or five laps of the Sun back ...

08 November 2018


McLaren Vale turns right to Bordeaux: after all that, it's not only Rhônesome

Forget all this stuff about the Vales being like the south of France. Two local hotshots are going Bordeaux, one via Clare; one via Coonawarra.

Steve Pannell winning his fourth Bushing throne was one thing. 

In his astonishing career, he's won lots of things. Great awards well made. From bargain Nottage Hills to a spectacular Jimmy Watson-winning Eileen Hardy (first of two Jims), Pannell hasn't made much bad wine. 

Winning the Bushing for best wine in the McLaren Vale district with a Clare blend is another thing. 

Like it's not Clare at all of course, other than through that secret sinew that runs from A. P. Birks' Wendouree Cellars in Clare, into Pannell's vinous heart. In my book, Wendouree's the international high temple of that Cabernet Malbec blend, which is actually along the lines of the reds the old timers pinched from Bordeaux. 

Fourth Bushing crown for Stephen Pannell and wife Fiona Lindquist ... photo Milton Wordley

Where the Wendouree version is often tight with Zen rigour behind its delightful fragrance, staying warrior-slim, aloof and austere for decades, the same varieties grown in the constant maritime humidity of the Vales are immediately a bit more hairy. 

Velvet is the better word. From first slurp, the S. C. Pannell McLaren Vale Cabernet Malbec 2016 (14% alcohol; screw cap) is a plush velvet glove more than a shiny steel gauntlet. 

It has plenty of rigour and steely resolve, of course, at least as much poke, but delivers this with a lot more of a smooch and a grin. It's more generous, and its unfolding is more immediate. Its tannins are louder. 

Now, after a whole night's air, it's more forthright in its comforting pudge. It has let wafts of shellacky laquer and Marveer ooze out to match the initial violet and rosewood florals, adding a certain oriental parlour allure to this McLaren Vale version of a distinctive style of red made after an old Bordelaide model in Clare, South Mount Lofty Ranges, Australia. 

If you're quick, you can procure three bottles of this gorgeousness along with the previous Bushing monarch, the S. C. Pannell Touriga Cabernet Mataro 2015, in a six-pack for $300. 

Like Pannell, Tim Geddes (above) is another of those enlightened winemakers who pushes McLaren Vale's capacity to make the types of maritime blends you'd find along the north-west Mediterranean coast of France and Spain, but is just as likely to pull a Bordeaux rabbit from the same damn hat. 

He's just done this with his Geddes Seldom Inn McLaren Vale Petit Verdot 2017 ($25; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap)

Petit verdot ("little green", like the Joni Mitchell song) is a late-ripening red which became very scarce in Bordeaux as the early-ripening mellow Merlot rose to favour. Now the whole joint's so much hotter there's pressure there to reverse the trend. 

Tim has form with this variety: when he worked with Wayne Thomas they won their first Bushing Crown with an absolute cracker in 2004. That was grown on pre-Cambrian Kurrajong rubble on the Willunga piedmont; this new baby's from Darrell Hunt's sandy red stuff on the young calcrete and limestone at Maslin Beach. The profile there is freakishly like Coonawarra in some spots. 

Checking Darryl Hunt's lovely vineyard at Maslin Beach with him, Cowboy and Tim

Nothing green about this red, however. In a freaky way, its form is about halfway between those Wendouree and Pannell wines: it has the lacquer and the rose petals but in a more martial form than the Pannell. 

Some prune, dried fig, cruched blackcurrant leaves and skins coming from a cassis destemmer ... then less of the Pannell wine's fur and a whipsnake more of Wendouree's steely acid rigour. One on the table right away; six in the dungeon for a few years' growth. Frigging remarkable. 

I would love to know of other folks' reaction to these wines. The Geddes is not at all spendy for its class, so that's not trouble. Get some mates and share that six-pack from Pannell before they're all gone. Compare. Drop me a line. It'll take your mind off the vagaries of the Grenache results at this year's Bushing Show. Last year, they wanted everybody to make their Grenache like Pinot. This year, they seem to think it should be like cheap Californian Merlot. Keep your eyes on the horizon and your boots on your feet.

The Geddes family delivers the Petit Vedot in their '29 Chrysler: Tim, Lillian, Amanda and Isaac ... photos by Philip White

07 November 2018


image from DRINKSTER's star advisor on such matters: Plutonium and Gravy (Martin Pfeiffer)@NuclearAnthro

04 November 2018


Leon Bignell, the state parliamentarian for the McLaren Vale, Fleurieu Peninsula and Kangaroo Island region, worked for a while as a journalist at The Advertiser in his previous life. Usually known as Biggles, he collected the Drinkster and Bill Guy and drove us to the Big Smoke to a pub reunion of journalists who worked at The Tiser. 

Lots from the '70s. Probly too mean to die, most of us.

Bill was commonly regarded around Australia as the ace foreign desk editor. He came out of retirement to select six from from hundreds of cadetship applicants each year, and stay as their mentor. 

We both worked briefly on The Herald when Rupert bought that last of Australia's afternoon broadsheets in Melbourne. Man we can chat. We did the history of Australian newspapers from 1965 to now in that hour-long cruise. 

Biggles, who preferred the tabloid and sporting tv reportage life, suggested Bill is one of the last fluent speakers of Broadsheet: every sentence uttered had a few commas, a semi-colon; maybe a dash or two. Perfectly placed. Perfectly researched, with footnotes and a breakout. 

"Which I shall address shortly," Bill would say, finishing first his elegant feature. 

Who dare sub that? I wish we'd recorded that drive.

Late photographic despatch from Biggles: guess where we went for a rest? 

Looks like I'm still there ...


Awoke yesterday to the hum of chatter in the baby bush vine Grenache. The experts were in, plucking excess shoots from these tiny ten-year-old strugglers; giving them a cuddle and a clean: some encouragement in the face of a very dry year.  They are in sparse clay and sand over slab terrazzo ironstone. Every one grows a bunch or two: last vintage they were picked early for the Yangarra rosé. These will be the old vines of the future. Here's a dormant bubby last year, and another doing its best for vintage.

I kid you not about terrazzo: in some places, under just a few centimetres of sandy clay it's like this:

31 October 2018


Doctors cut my heart out: O'Leary Walker saves with Riesling transplant

It must have been a very complex sociological mess in the North Mount Lofty Ranges through the early years of white colonisation. 

Think of the Clare hills. While the Ngadjeri people were ravaged by the disease the invaders brought, you had Austrian Jesuits building their church retreat, school, and pub at Sevenhill, Mexican muleteers carting Burra copper south, from one wine shanty to another, Irish farmworkers clearing country for forage and stock, posh British landowners building themselves grand homestead estates, and then an influx of Polish settlers who made their home at the head of the Hill River. 

John Ruciak - the last Pole to live in the Polish Valley: John kept fastidious copperplate diaries, recording the weather and the constant daily changes in vineyards and gardens. I photographed him in the early 'eighties, here at his cottage without electricity or reticulated water. He was born in this house, and kept his diaries in the sea trunks his parents used to bring their possessions to Australia.

The British government's Letters Patent attachment to its Act establishing its new privateers' colony officially rendered the original owners to suddenly be British subjects. 

It stated, however, that this country was the property of these ancient civilisations and ruled in their protection, declaring that the whites should do nothing to "affect the rights of any Aboriginal natives of the said province to the actual occupation and enjoyment in their own persons or in the persons of their descendants of any land therein now actually occupied or enjoyed by such natives"

The occupiers ignored this; the Ngadjeri who somehow survived the booze and disease and relentless clearances ended up virtually derelict around Riverton and Willochra. 

The first official cartouche of the colony of South Australia: Britannia discussing her spear with a Kaurna man at Rapid Bay

Once Jeffrey Grosset set up his brave new winery at Auburn, he began purchasing fruit from a 1970 planting of Riesling near the little Roman Catholic chapel the Polish settlers had built on a hillock at the source of the Hill River. This place was colloquially known as Polish Valley. Grosset called his wine Polish Hill Riesling. It was an instant hit. 

In reality, this "river" is more an occasional stream flowing after good rain from the hills near Mintaro, to disperse on what must have been rich peppermint gum forest on the flats to the north and east. This flat alluvial ground has gradually gone saline since clearance, but at the stream's source on the ancient geologies of the hills very fine wine grapes can be grown. 

For some years, the fruit of this old vineyard, managed organically on sandstone and slate, and owned by a couple of visionary heart surgeons, has gone instead to O'Leary Walker Winemakers at Watervale. It's the heart of their outstanding Polish Hill River Riesling. In exceptional years (like two of them - 2013 and now 2017) its best selection makes Drs' Cut, made vaguely after the Alsace style with wild yeast, slow ferment and 6 months on yeast lees. 

O'Leary Walker Winemakers Drs' Cut Polish Hill River Riesling 2017 ($40; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap) is possibly the best Clare Riesling I've encountered. It replaces the '13, which was perhaps the previous best, but that's finally sold out, dammit. 

The wine is immediately smooth, harmonised, rich and highly complex. All manner of florals and fruits, tropical and citrus ooze around the glass with wisps of honey and lime marmalade. It is a bigger, more luxurious bouquet than most Chablisienne Chardonnay, but never seems awkward or corpulent. I don't mean to corral it unfairly - it'll saunter off wherever and whenever it likes, anyway - but that bouquet alone has me suggesting it's a Riesling for hardcore Burgundy fetishists. Think of a rocking firm acid Mersault without overt oak. 

The form of the palate, its weight and texture, is more refined, tight and poised than that bouquet teases you to expect. It's rich and rewarding without being cloying or syrupy. It's utterly calm, polished and silky, with the tiniest dusting of tannin embracing the acids in its langorous taper. 

Its flavours have barely stirred yet - while they're complex, full and polished, they've hardly started. 

While I enjoy the edgy steel and acrid cordite and slate of the 2013, this has all that, but it's more fleshy, more heady, more idyllic wine. It will accompany the oilier bottom-feeding fish - scallops, crustaceans, flathead - brilliantly, offering more harmony than the crunchy contrast of the '13. 

I can't wait til I find the right lightly-smoked wurst to make a proper choucroute, the Alsace version of sauerkraut. Spicy roast spuds, a stack of wine-cooked pickled cabbage, those snags, a touch of crunchy smoked bacon  and a big whack of creamy mustard stirred with cognac ... a bottle of Drs' Cut swelling in the decanter ... cut my mustard, baby ... grrrrr! 

So, typically, we have a truly great and rare wine whose complexity and grandeur can't help but invoke in me contemplations of all those collisions of human history and the lands where they were committed. 

It makes the whole marvel more profound, unlikely and cruel.

30 October 2018


Yalumba The Y Series Barossa Riesling 2018 
($15; 11.5% alcohol, screw cap)

Meadow-fresh and limy at the top; honeydew flesh in the middle; deep leafy greens and petiols in the basement: if this is any measure of Australia's $15 Riesling we have little to worry about. It has better unction than most of the water-and-acid cheapies available further down the discount shelf: it's really pleasantly viscous, a texture that brings comfort and reassurance, and dare I say, makes the glass more of drink than a think. Which is never to say it can't be pondered. Good wine for $15. 

Yalumba The Y Series South Australia Sauvignon Blanc 2018 
($15; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

As far as aromas go, this is pretty much like the Riesling but devoid of everything but the grass. They've worked hard at this wine's texture, too: they've had the pillow-fluffers in. 

Which seems a bit out-of-context: if there was a variety one reached for where one didn't expect a fluffy middle, surely it would be the blonde Savvy? 

Forget think; this is more of a wink than a drink. Savvy-b does not work up the River. This is barely-dressed ethanol. 

Yalumba The Y Series South Australia Pinot Grigio 2018 
($15; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

There's a great deal of grey Pinot: grigio, gris around the traps, most of which serves simply to prove to me that anywhere one wouldn't attempt to grow Pinot noir will be no good for its paler sports. 

Pinot noir, same bunch, with Pinot blanc and one berry that can't decide, but strangely, no intermediate gris/grigio/grey ... Rathfinny Estate, Sussex, UK

Pinot grows best in Burgundy, where winter snow is not unusual. I've not seen much snow in the Mallee lately, but I'm sure Pastor Morrison will do something about that with his direct link to the king of heaven at today's big drought summit. They'll probably heal the River. 

In the meantime, this is a melony, fleshy thing to smell: a bit like warm-area Chardonnay. Like the Savvy, it's all about unction. It's thin on the flavour, but thick in the flesh. 

Yalumba The Y Series South Australia Chardonnay 2018 
($15; 13% alcohol; screw cap) 

While Chardonnay is a Burgundian child, like Pinot, this baby's more of a Chardonnay than the Grigio is, which would seem to make some sense. Warm area Chardonnay: insinuations of canned/poached peach and pear with their satisfying syrup, but little of the racy, bracing natural acidity the grape makes when grown properly cool. 

Not a noticeable splinter of focussing oak, either. 

This is one for the ham and pineapple pizza, or maybe some Colonel Sadness chook. 

You don't get snow in the vast Mallee/desert section of the Murray Darling River Basin, but patchy summer hail is not rare ... photo Steve Nitschke
Yalumba The Y Series South Australia Viognier 2018
($15; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

Viognier? This smells a bit like Chardonnay, with that Chinese bean custard/curdy flesh that sometimes comes through secondary fermentation and lots of stirring in of the dead yeast lees. 

The flavour is better balanced than the Savvy-B or the Pinot-G, and seems to have a little more of the acid I wanted in the Chardonnay. It has none of the disctinctive grainy tannin I expect in good cool region Viognier, but then we wouldn't go surprising the punters with a tad of natural tannin in the tail of their palest tincture, would we? Admittedly, the label does say "silky". 

So, whatter we got with these Y's? First and foremost, $15. And maybe less in the Hungry Dans of this world. 

The Murray at Yalumba's Oxford Landing vineyard ... photo Yalumba

Second, lots of River. These European varieties from cool continental sources simply don't adapt well to the Australian desert, regardless of how much water we afford them. 

Third, not a lot of challenge, which is not what the sub $15 market segment is expected to expect. 

It is no surprise that the one wine that claims a region slightly more focused than "South Australia", that Riesling from the Barossa, is by far the best drink of the suite and the one which most closely resembles the more spendy Old World snow country examples our pioneers dutifully attempted to copy.

photo Milton Wordley