“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)





19 October 2018


Happy marriage in Barossa Ranges: geology and serious heritage wins

Thorn-Clarke came about when respected geologist David Clarke married Barossa Ranges lass Cheryl Thorn. Her family had been upland grapeprowers there since the 1850s - those ancient inherited vineyards were gradually extended with David's input. He planted various old rock geologies along those rangetops from Mount Crawford to St Kitts, along with a large slab of the recent clays north of Rockford on the Barossa floor. 

Under son Sam Clarke, this family business is now one of the region's biggest grape-growers. They have always been major sellers, but have gradually built up their own winery brand to gather its own provenance and reach new heights of respect. Here are their two top examples: 

Thorn-Clarke William Randell Barossa Shiraz 2016 
($60; 15% alcohol; cork) 

Classic old style silk-and-velvet Barossa Shiraz of such high order has been a bit of a rarity on this desk: it's great to be reminded of just how solidly accomplished and matter-of-factly seductive they can be when fed a proper range of fruits from such a range of sites. Single site wine growing is one thing, and it's become very popular indeed. But the capacity to blend across various sites almost always offers a more consistent, reliable and impressive drink, especially when the vineyards are in such geographical proximity. 

All the regular business went into this wine: small open fermenters, pump-overs by hand, best parcels into American oak barrels (40% new) and then only the most exemplary barrels are chosen for the assemblage. 

So? All those lovely silky prunes and plums, the mulberries and blackberries, the gentle fleshy mushroom you'd expect of the best of the big valley are in this wondrous thing. With that edge of Quercus alba sap that I called right wing when it stuck its head out of a Penfolds extravagance with an extra zero on it a few weeks back. In fact, if you smarted at those new Penfolds prices, this is a brand you could quite honorably retreat to and emerge with dignity and the satisfaction of saving a great deal of money. 

This would make hearty celebratory drinking with beef or cheddar at Christmas, or be a very safe bet left mellowing for a decade in the dungeon. 

Thorn-Clarke William Randell Eden Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 
($60; 14.5% alcohol; cork) 

It's perfumed perfection, this level of high country Cabernet. All those demure but alluring whiffs of violets, a lavendar dash and fresh meadow blooms with hedgerow berries and their blossoms ... bergamot mint ... add the marshmallow flesh and inky silk of an elegant crème de cassis and you're getting close. 

It's a gorgeous bouquet, made all the better with French rather than American oak, but again, about 40% of it new. It's altogether a more lissom and sinuous drink: an elegance that calls for a finer level of cuisine than that great haunch of brontosaurus you dribbled through with the Shiraz. This would be grand with goose, maybe turkey, but if you can get your hands on some Guinea Fowl, with that contrasting pale and dark flesh, there'd be a great Christmas, right there. 

It'll cellar, too. If that cork works, expect shimmering brilliance. 

Thorn-Clarke has several ranges of less expensive premium red wine making up a full product pyramid beneath this pinnacle. The Riesling, Chardonnay and cult Pinot gris are also rock solid high country modestly=priced drinks.

18 October 2018


From pink to Eclipse: new Noontide dreaming in tricky Creek and Vale 

High Noon Rosé 2018 
($17; 14.2% alcohol; screw cap) 

Bleached meadows and the dust of ancient piedmont rocks prickled my nostrils with delight when I opened this. It's from the old Grenache on Drew and Rae Noon's vineyard beside their McLaren Vale winery near the foot of the Willunga Scarp. Rifle Range Road. 

I put the bottle aside, then came back to it to find the damn thing nearly empty. It didn't stand a chance. Now I'm squeezing the last couple of glasses through real slow. Maraschino cherries. A light-cooked marmalade of blood orange and ginger with rosebuds. Redcurrant. 

By Bacchus it's good. 

Drink. That beautiful gentle viscosity Drew gets stirring these ferments in his big oak vat. Long, drawing acidity and ultra-fine tannin to reflect that alluring bouquet. There's nothing forced or dim about it: it just goes straight down the line of what rosé should be. Savoury; hunger-making. Stunning. Grenache. 

Noon Twelve Bells 2017
($12; 15.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

This grainy old emulsional film noir has the same summer meadow topnote as the rosé in a way: that slightly acrid summer reek. It prickles. 

Add the plums and the Morello cherries. Jam it in real deep and you hit sweet old dressed harness leather. And there's a waft of something old from the shops around the Madelaine ... Guerlain's 1912 masterpiece, L'Heure Bleue. You can still buy this transporting fragrance. A waft of the end of La Belle Époque, defiant but melancholic before all hell broke out and my grandfather had to "go and fight the King's cousin the mud". 

Oops! This is neither melancholic nor violent, but it's terribly evocative. 

Licoricey tannins and heaps of slick, blackbean and berries and briar ... it's dense, but jumping and lively and lithe. It strings one out. Then it wipes you down with velvet tannin. 

Shiraz, Grenache, Cabernet and Graciano. 

And it's twelve little tiny dollars. Ring-a-ding. There are whole towers of fancy bell-ringing winemakers who might pause to take note of this. 

Drew says it's barbecue wine. Serve it cool.  

Noon Eclipse 2017 
($29; 15.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

Grenache 90%, Shiraz 6% and Graciano 4% make up this whispering silky monolith. 

It seems so big and secure to sniff you might think you'd have to poke it with a stick but it's still gracious. It gives. 

Obviously a strong plummy year for the Noon Grenache block: its bouquet is all slick satsuma, prune and blueberry along with the trademark Morello cherry. Maybe a slice of dried fig. Smoky, coffee oak with a drip of nutmeg oil ... then the palate is surprisingly lithe and poised: it's not at all gloopy, and doesn't feel as strong as the numbers say, but just long and elegant and velvety. 

It's another very convincing step in the grand march of contemporary McLaren Vale Grenache: masterly. 

It'll be delicious now with aromatic mushrooms, but you'd be silly not to hide a few bottles away for a decade or so. 

Noon Reserve Shiraz 2017 
($29; 15.9% alcohol; screw cap) 

The estuarine location of Langhorne Creek - where Noons also take fruit - leads it to flood occasionally. This happened in 2017: so convincingly the Cabernet began to deteriorate before the water went down. So no Reserve Cab to catch from '17 - not even a port. Ouch! 

This gorgeous Shiraz, from BJ Borrett's Main Road Block survived, and admirably. As Drew says, it's a wine he considers "uniquely Australian." 

It's thick with the earthy Larncrk soulfulness that led to the young Wolf Blass hauling three Jimmy Watson Trophies out of the region in consecutive years; and Peter Lehmann oozing great Metalas in those same 'seventies. Somehow Langhorne Creek seemed to get lost for awhile after that: maybe the oak fashion choked its distinction. 

There's nothing lost about this. But you can get lost in it: Mississippi mudcake and then all that treacly toffee and what Drew calls molasses ... dusty black tannins in that silk-and-velvet syrup ... and yet once again, it's a lot more alluring and svelte than threatening. 

Another one for the cellar. 

As Noons quite justly sell out very quickly each year, get yourself in line for a cellar visit. They open for tasting and sales this year on Saturday 10th of November, to trade through three weekends, 10am-5pm. And that'll be it til next year ... photos Philip White

12 October 2018


Looking east from Johnston's Pirramimma gate along Johnston's Road, McLaren Vale. Developers want to extend the town boundary to this road, and replace those vineyards and the barley field with housing, all the way down to the Salopian Inn.

Pitchforks sharpened as developers move on McLaren Vale vineyards

It was a sea of dignified silver hair at Leon Bignell's meeting last night. 

The local MP had called the citizens together to explain the situation where developers plan to have the McLaren Vale township boundaries extended so they can spread some nice lucrative villa rash into the vineyards on its south side. 

Like right from Johnston's Pirramimma along to the Salopian Inn. 

Next time there's a big rock show at Richard Hamilton's, there'll be houses next door, not vineyards. And a giant Karidis Corporation old folks' home. Maybe Leonard Cohen coulda made a joke about that when he played there, chortling straight into his setting sun.

Day on the green.

Further along, just past the Salopian Inn, Richard Hamilton plans a huge luxury resort on his famous Hut Block Cabernet Vineyard, which is also zoned agricultural

In the question section, a schoolteacher politely suggested that as most of us present would obviously be dead soon, it would be good to be involving the young in these important discussions of their region's future, as they'd be the recipients of whatever such gatherings could decide and achieve. 

There was a heavy sense of moment. Uniform sage nods. 

Those seniors began arriving an hour before starting time. To a public meeting. Younger folks listened politely from outside, where they mingled with about as many as the elders crammed within. 

Don't trust me, but I reckon what, about 450 souls? 

As far as veterans go McLaren Vale is ahead of most of Australian vignobles in its ability to get angry, organised and fight to save its own blessed beauty. 

Its true worth. 

In practical conservation, McLaren Vale has form. 

Alex and Mary Johnston, Joe Petrucci, d'Arry Osborn and Colin Kay were prominent earlybirds from the local noblesse to settle at the front. Then came many growers and great grizzled vineyard experts among other townsfolk. There was a noticeable scarcity of the more narcissistic rockstarry winemakers, and those who simply wish they could flog some vineyards for houses and build themselves glittering glass and steel palaces on the escarpment, which I believe would be better put to investigating the best potential vineyard land in the district. 

As the climate warms, those cooler uplands will provide invaluable farming, but principally premium vineyard land, while the black cracking clay lowlands will become increasingly difficult. If it wants to retain its fine winemaking image, McLaren Vale will have to start thinking on that higher level

Bignell - everyone calls him Biggles - ran the show. He took us through the history of the McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley Preservation Acts 2012 and how long and hard and persistent had been the  battle to get those legislations pushed through. He talked about the intensive community discussions that went into it - lots of butcher's paper planning in one town after another - and how proud and protective of it the citizens should be. 

This lot didn't need to be told. The rage and determination of the gathering was immediately palpable. There was a concentration of very smart people in that room, and strong. You wouldn't want that mob coming over your ramparts with their pikes. And books. Their great gathered knowledge. Their tractors. Everybody's got tractors.

To ensure fledgeling errors in the Preservation Acts could be fixed should they emerge, the laws from the start included a safeguard review after five years, after public input, suggestion and complaint. This first review is now complete and was tabled by the new Liberal government some weeks back. 

Against all odds and pundit calls, Bignell, a heavy-hitting cabinet minister in the previous Labor government, held his seat.

"During this review there were a couple of proponents who asked whether the town boundary here could be changed to accomodate their projects," he explained, "and knowing as well as I do the local community, the first thing I did was to go and see the new planning minister, Stephan Knoll, who comes from the Barossa, which is good, because he knows what wine country's all about and I explained these things then wrote to him and said 'We don't want any more reviews, ever'." 

Bignell said that if Colonel Light had planned the parklands of Adelaide with reviews every five years that precious green belt would have been "gone a hundred years ago." 

He reminded us that these legislations are brave achievements, "the best in Australia; legislations that can only be changed with the agreement of both Houses of Parliament. So we came up with those safeguards. We thought we'd locked it in. But we left a key there. And now we must convince this [new] government to throw that key away." 

The floor erupted in applause and cheers. Fierce suggestions of more overt public protest. An energetic whoosh of anger and outrage that repeated in waves as the evening went quickly by. 

It wasn't all anti-development. There was a whiff of "well I have a vineyard and I grow food but you can't stop growth and all these people have gotta have somewhere to live" sort-of thing, regarded with derisive sighs and groans. 

And then the local conservative Family First bloke, Robert Brokenshire (above), who lost his parliamentary seat at the last election, made a bit of a sermon about his, well, I dunno really, which Bignell skilfully amputated after a few rambling minutes. 

A session of bright two-and-fro of question and answer, suggestion and theorising followed, during which Bignell committed to a series of town-to-town meetings like those that went into the Preservation Acts, to give citizens a chance to begin a serious constructive discussion about how they now want their townships to evolve within their legislated boundaries. Their look, style and feel. Their amenity.

Black Poles ... this is the current gubmt notion of the most appropriate entry to the main street of McLaren Vale. The wreck theme intensifies as you go up the hill.

There's a lot of pressure on. Bignell suggested the Karidis Corporation should buy some of the land currently on sale within the township boundary. 

As the planning laws are an arcane web that traverses various layers of government and more of bureaucracy, the idea is to wait til the new Onkaparinga Council and mayor is elected and installed in November, then proceed with some dead serious interface. Local, state, Liberal, Labor, Green and obviously lots of sage silver hair. 

"Doesn't matter" was the word, "it's time to work together." More honest talk, big work, and nail it. Democracy is never easy or cheap. Get on with running the joint with some intelligence, a new sensitivity, and some seriously measured urgency. 

Not to mention some hard work on getting the kids involved. Or the Kaurna people, whose land it is. That'd be a change. 

It's eight years since hundreds of locals washed and polished their tractors, got on their Sunday best farmer kit and blocked the main southern roads for a few midday hours in protest at the housing development proposed on the best malting barley block in the south: a rise of precious rare siltstone like that Morphett Vale outcrop whose bush vine Shiraz Max Schubert chose to blend 50-50 with Magill fruit when planning his radical Penfolds Granges. 

All of that geology is now under torrid eave-to-eave dormitoria; including that special siltstone hill on the gateway to McLaren Vale. 

That was the last bit. 

As it angrily lost that battle, McLaren Vale seemed to be expected by John Rau, then Attorney General and Planning Minister, to regard it as some kind of downpayment for the Protection Act, which we would have to trust to stop any more of it.

Every time one of those tractor folks gets in their car or ute to drive out of the Vale toward Adelaide or the coast, they have a good five minutes to grit and grind their teeth while they pass that hill, with its ill-planned, intensely sub-urbane malignancy now called Seaford Heights. 

In letting that suburb invade the open country on McLaren Vale's gateway, both political parties worked with the Onkaparinga Council to erect a vivid and permanent example of the craft of contemporary developers and planners. You can't miss it.

Seaford Heights, which state and local governments promised would be an exemplary development, is built on a precious rise of siltstone. With due respect of its residents, they all got nice heritagy siltstone-coloured roofs, see, just to meld in to the environment. 

Guinness prized the malting barley which grew here. It was considered the best in the state.

When architecture and civic planning is an assault on the landscape, you've lost. I wouldn't want to be the first to try another one of those on. Not down this way.

The Tractor Action photographs are by Leo Davis and James Hook. All others by Philip White. Except the Clydesdales.

11 October 2018


Grange: the Chiron of pyramids; plus other mighty reds at mighty prices

Penfolds Grange 2014 
($900; 14.5% alcohol; cork)

Okay, folks, here's the annual pyramid of Australian wine. Just sitting there on the luxury goods landscape. Omnipresent. Ex cathedra

Apart from being a very impressive pyramid indeed, I reckon this Grange does two things very well. First, it's another step away from the overtly sappy American oaks Penfolds used most prominently through the '75-'95 era. Second, it's riveted to the very long-term Penfolds Grange style. Tricky act that two-way canal: takes a hardy hand on the winemaking tiller. 

How so? This seems a more acid-based wine than one built around oak sap. And by acid, I mean grape acids, in this case rich with the traditional formic Grange whiff. And yep, a waft of straightforward volatile acetic acidity too, along the lines of great aged balsamic: both cornerstones of the style since Max Schubert's day. 

Max Schubert photographed by Milton Wordley in 1983

Then the methodical forensics of fruit sourcing stacks an entire Central Market of aromas onto your gastronomic pyramid, from the Burmese and Persian spice girls through the mushroom tunnel to the Chinese grocery full of raw pork and soy and black bean sauces, past the smoky Barossa smallgoods, headlong through the fruiterers and confectioners and past the loose-leaf tea vendor to the coffee shop ... double-shot flat white and a slice of panforte, please. 


Barossa, McLaren Vale, Wrattonbully, Coonawarra, Clare and Magill Shiraz parcels were selected for this blend of 98% Shiraz and 2% Cabernet. As always, the barrels were 100% new American, but another year along the track on which Peter Gago and his winemakers constantly refine and evolve their interchange of intelligence with their Barossa master cooper, A. P. John. 

Coopers' hands at A. P. John ... DRAGAN photo

Which is all a bit technical, but hey, you're buying the drinker's equivalent of a Bugatti Chiron here. You'll want to know how big and how quick long before you need to ask how much. So how big? Very big. It's a pyramid. And how fast? This'll be hitting true Bugatti exhilaration in about ten years. Not too bad for a pyramid. 

From there it'll continue accelerating into oblivion, which it'll hit in about 20.  Years.

After that, who cares? 

Only the obsessive collectors of pyramids and Bugattis, methinks. The gastronomes with the cunning or wherewithal will have drunk all theirs by then.  

The Flinders Granges by George Grainger Aldridge now hangs in the premises of a Grange fanatic in Singapore

Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 
($600; 14.5% alcohol; cork) 

Coonawarra, McLaren Vale, Barossa and Adelaide Hills fruit jostled its way through the intricate Penfolds tasting regimes which gradually isolate the very best parcels, and then the best individual barrels for 707. 

Traditionally bound tight with bright new American Quercus alba oak, Bin 707, like Grange in its way, has long been an individualist Penfolds style more than a conventionally-templated varietal. Having watched generations of suits sluice through it with their beef, I always regarded it as Australia's most right wing wine. To me, it usually seems brash. But this year, I reckon I see that incredible fruit climbing all over the oak: it's time the left took a turn. 

Which is not to suggest any change of heart: the damn thing is still most determinedly 707, and it needs years. It's just harmonised more in tune with my personal preference, as the Gago team gradually got closer to the slow, steady heart of South Australia's 2016 Cabernet. 

So close, in fact that Gago's pithy tasting notes make a haemoglobin joke: this glorious gastronomic artefact is sufficiently intense and enveloping to invoke the blood of martyrs and saints, if it doesn't actually spill any. We wouldn't want any spillage, would we? Not with this sultry black thoroughbred. And I almost said Black Caviar. 

Just feel the throb. 

Penfolds RWT Bin 798 Barossa Valley Shiraz 2016 
($200; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

While the Red Winemaking Trial [RWT] was from its 1995 conception intended to showcase top-flight Barossa Shiraz in the finest French - not American - oak, this release sees even that fine, spicy timber surrendering to a rise of pure, intense fruit. So sweet little 'sixteen grew the pizazz and sass required to dominate both American and French forests. 

I mean there's plenty of that gingery, cardamon/cumin/citrus rind French oak here, but like the 707, it's in the grip of whipsnake elegant fruit that's as intense and impenetrable as lithe. 

While they're chalk-and-cheese in variety, philosophy and style, both 798 and 707 are this year distinguished by their lovely staunch acidity and persistent  tannins. And this is brilliant, energetic Barossa Shiraz that's quite the opposite of the lumberjacked jammy gloop that far too much Shiraz lazily became over the last twenty years. 

This red winemaking trial looks like it worked. 

I'd be tempted to call it the Red Winemaking Correction. 

All boxes ticked. 

Penfolds Magill Estate Shiraz 2016 
($150; 14.5% alcohol; cork) 

It amuses me that the fruit of this vineyard, the surviving heart of Dr and Mary Penfold's Grange, is perhaps the most conventionally-styled of these front row Penfolds reds. It's pretty and perfumed - musk sticks - at the more frivolous end of its aromatic spectrum, with the classic Magill tones of black tea leaf and star anise decorating buckets of mulberries and blackberries down the deep soul end. 

In common with the other 2016s, the wine is marked by its lissom acidity and long fine slaty tannins. 

Without getting the sophistry many other Penfolds premiums are awarded in the cellar, this more demure wine actually reaches further into the Penfolds past than the more ostentatious and elaborate post-war extremes. It's a tidy, well-kept glass of the history of winegrowing on the Adelaide Plain and its rubbley piedmont. 

Too easily overlooked now, this is the one I'd be reaching for in seven or eight years. By then it'll be very much like something dainty you'd find - at a similar price - on the alluvial rubbles at the mouth of the Rhône Gorge. 

Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2015 
($135; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

Once again, this is a fruitcake collection of the best little berries the Gago gang could wrangle and extract from right across the state. 

Done and dealt. 

But here it all goes into big old oak tanks to chill out and mellow with none of the taut anxiety stiff new tight-grained barrels offer, whether from France or Missouri. 

Musky confectioners' sugar dusts the topnote here; below that there's the usual deep well of orange-to-black Medlar gels. I've seen the label, of course, so I know what it is, and of course I'm far too aware of the size of the spend, but by this stage of the sniff, I'm a goner. This is the bargain of the bunch. 

Winemaking costs a lot less if you don't overoak everything with posh designer barrels. 

Which leaves me to mention, dammit, these goddam prices. If you're not already brow-beaten and bashed down and humiliated by the abject immoral ordure of the age and its evil, the annual Penfolds price hikes will knock out what's left of your teeth, if not your spirit. 

Obviously, enough people are capable of, and cool with spends of this level. They keep the coffers of Treasury Wine Estates flooded with the incoming Penfolds squirt, thankyou Mr Gago. 

Not many wineries make a goddam pyramid every year, or a smug feline sphynx like that St Henri. How I wish more of us could afford to contribute!

Fermenting Grange ... photo Milton Wordley, from our multi award-winning book A year in the life of Grange

Pardon my skiting, but here we are with our New York Book Show medals ... Milton was the instigator, photographer and publisher; to keep a promise to Max, I wrote it. We did it without any Penfolds editorial involvement. And not one free bottle of Grange.


Organic, preservative-free, carbon-neutral and vegan friendly? Yep.

Temple Bruer Wines Eden Valley Langhorne Creek Pure White Cuvée NV 
($22; 12% alcohol; cork) 

Chenin blanc, Viognier and Riesling? Why not? The three dance in smooth style in this creamy, slightly toasty/brioche-perfumed prettiness. 

Without getting too serious, it brings me soft almond biscotti, with poached pear and zabaglione. In other words, proper fizz at an almost improperly low price. The wine has more comforting viscosity than nearly all the sub-$30 suds: it's truly smooth and settling, leaving that gentle stream of very fine bubbles to look after the celebrating. 

Intelligent, inventive blending like this casts a shadow over Australia's insistence on making its low-cost sparklers from Pinot and Chardonnay: you just can't get Champagne-quality versions of these from our warm regions. We can grow it in the premium cooler spots, but that's more likely to cost you $50-plus per pop. That the Bruers have done this organically, with minimal preservative, in a carbon-neutral manner is very clever. This quality at this price is extremely clever. If its "vegan-friendly" claim permits no live yeast, that's impossibly clever. 

If I were a little yeast beast, I'd like to have the choice of whether I gallantly lay down my life fermenting sugars in the gizzards of a vegan, an ordinary vegetarian or a deadly gourmand genius like that master omnivore chef, Cheong Liew. 

The author smooches Cheong ... photo Milton Wordley

Temple Bruer Wines Langhorne Creek Riverland Cinsault Grenache Rosé 2017 
($22; 12% alcohol; screw cap) 

Tangelo, blood orange, pink grapefruit, watermelon and loquat are some of the things I smell here. Maybe pistachio; pecan ... it's a complex bouquet for a pink, much the better for that Cinsault, most of which was destroyed in the vine-pull of the mid-'eighties. 

We lost far too much old bush vine Cinsault in that taxpayer-funded disaster. Good to see somebody's gone to the trouble of tracking some remnants down. 

Given that aromatic complexity, the palate is a simple breeze; a bagatelle. It gets less complex, and I believe less rewarding, the colder you serve it. Chill it too hard, and it tastes more like an amorphous Riverland white. But serve it after ten or fifteen minutes in the ice bucket and you're rockin'. 

As it warms, you start to see naughty maraschino flavours and the rinds of those citrus fruits in a lemony Cinsault curd, which point me toward scallops or salt'n'pepper Coorong mullet with a sprinkle of dried hot chilli. 

Temple Bruer Wines Langhorne Creek Eden Valley Grenache Shiraz 2017 
($22; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

Here's a red that shows how readily Shiraz can overwhelm Grenache. 

As if this wasn't so, the label encourages you to taste a regular Grenache signal, raspberry. Without saying who "they" are,  it says "They'll steal your heart with flavours of raspberry ... ", which is one of the things I wouldn't suggest to be prominent in this case. 

Which is unfortunate, because, as a 100% organic, preservative-free, carbon neutral, "vegan friendly" wine it's a pretty good drink at this price. 

When I get awkward about being so critical, I look in deeper, and yes, maybe there is a hint of raspberry. Think of raspberry jam on toast and you're close, but I still think it's more along the lines of mulberry and blackberry, which are usually Shiraz indicators, and appreciating its carbon neutral status, dare I suggest there's some sooty black carbon on the toast. 

If there is a strong Grenache hint, it's the savoury juice of pickled bitter cherries, but then there's so much about this wine that is unconventional, all these characters could well have been smudged by the typical Temple Bruer obstinance I first encountered when Kevin Bruer taught at the Roseworthy winemaking college in the '80s. 

The label also describes the contents as "oh so smooth" which probably indicates the winemaker's desire to help you overlook the prominent velvety tannins which howl for cheese. 

If I'd not read the stylish brochures, and paid no attention to the label text, I would have written a less complex, more brazen appraisal, and called it a furry, dry, fairly rustic south-of-France style of red for fun in dappled afternoon sun. It's a nuts-and-cheese slurp for the veranda, and a life-saving step above many of the murky, unstable, wildly "natural" wines that sit, pious and  sanctimonious, waiting for vegans up their end of the shelf

03 October 2018


Pikes Traditionale Clare Valley Riesling 2018 
($28; 11.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

It's hard to believe it's 34 years since this proud label first appeared on a Clare Riesling. When I lived in Peter Doyle's convict quarters on Sydney's South Head he'd buy this by the pallet for his highly absorbent Watson's Bay fish restaurant. Where'd those years go? 

Neil Pike blends fruit from the family's home vineyards in the Polish Hill River valley with selections from Watervale, Penwortham and Sevenhill for this Clare classic. Clare, just to be clear, is not a single valley. It's a web of upland valleys, gullies and depressions in the North Mount Lofty Ranges. Which somehow grows remarkable Riesling. 

Beneath this one's typical regional waft of dry summer meadow lies a basket of fresh lemons. How simple and honest is that? The bouquet's as straight down the line as gingham, freckles and a dimple. If it don't giggle I shall. 

Similarly typical of the region is the palate: it's much more austere than that open-faced fragrance: linear, clean and polished like chrome. It's as if it suddenly feels a rush of embarrassment at how truthful it first appears, and then withdraws a little. 

But garfish or whiting please on a slab of crunchy, crusty bread with real butter will sort it out true blue if you haven't got a decade to wait for it to grow some toast. Damn thing makes me feel like a picnic on some sunny springtime sward. 

Pikes The Merle Clare Valley Riesling 2018 
($47; 12% alcohol; screw cap) 

From pure Polish Hill River fruit, this wine is immediately more complex and a little more threatening than disarmingly open-hearted. Without getting too overt, it has more tropical fruits and pears with its citrus pith, and there's a sense of muscle and sinew beneath its smooth, clean flesh. Pretty clear from the start: this one demands polished linen brocade more than picnic gingham. 

But that extra might and complexity also brings some soul and comfort to the flavours: this is altogether a more calming and luxurious night out. I see fleeting insinuations of starfruit, cherimoya, tamarillo and persimmon sliding by with the buttery pears in the lime syrup ... this one calls for scallops on the half-shell, grilled with mandarin peel and dressed with fresh spring onion shreds ... a bit of candlelight would suit. Brahms. 

Gaelic Cemetery Vineyard Clare Valley Riesling 2018 
($25; 11% alcohol; screw cap) 

Neil Pike makes these two Gaelic Cemetery Rieslings from Grant Arnold's Celtic Farm, north of Clare at White Hut. No relation. This opener is a cheeky, frivolous titillation. Regard it a little like a dry moscato d'Asti: it's the picnic wine you have when there's no bread, butter or gingham - maybe not even a glass. It's the sort of drink I kept in a wet footy sock in my panniers in the old touring motorbike days ... pull over on the hilltop above Cape Jarvis and take a schluck as your eyes fill with the sight of the ocean and the island and your nose adds that bracing vista of aroma to these pretty Riesling exhalations. Ramones in the cans. 

Or dammit, take it to a restaurant. T-Chow chicken. 

Gaelic Cemetery Vineyard Clare Valley Premium Riesling 2018 
($38; 11.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

Something about the aromatic of this wine reminded me immediately of my old Shetland gran, Sarah, cooking smoked kippers. Butter the opened side, and put that face down in the pan so the skin keeps the aroma in ... but then as a kid I asked her once whether she spoke gaelic and she gave me a warning grandmotherly whack around the ear as she thought gaelic was a Roman Catholic tongue ... a love pat she repeated only when she caught me playing The flowers of the forest on my twelve-string, inside the house. You can tune a twellie so it has lots of drone notes, like bagpipes. But being a dirge to dead men and boy warriors, a lament of such weight could only be played outside, preferably over the graves, where the women never venture. Not to be morbid nor introduce grandma-vi. Let's just say this summer dust-and-citrus rizza pulls my strings. 

If I were formal enough to line this Clare quartet up logically, I'd go Gaelic Cemetery (standard), Pike's Traditionale, Gaelic Cemetery (premium) and then The Merle. Take the trip.