“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)





12 January 2018


A brilliant sensory show:  Caravaggio's Velvet Underground Syrah epiphany 

It's over twenty years since biodynamic pioneers Julian and Carolann Castagna began work on their wine estate on the north side of the Victorian Alps near Beechworth. Granite country. Their first Shiraz, the 1999, promptly cleaned up my 2001 Top 100, emerging as clear winner out of the thousands of bottles opened for that exercise at The Advertiser

Castagna repeated the victory for the next few years, even winning once with a radical Shiraz rosé. In the years since, with input from their son Adam, the Castagnas have gradually worked away at building a suite of deliberately characterful wines of all hues, from the brace of vermouths I reviewed here in December, through a set of hearty pales - they're not really whites as we knew them - through the La Chiave, which is usually about as good as Australia gets with Sangiovese; the crossover Un Segreto Sangiovese-Shiraz blend; the always ravishing Genesis Syrah, and now, as if the court needed another monarch, a right royal Nebbiolo. 

Julian Castagna in the kitchen; Carolann on the veranda

Tasting this collection is more like taking a stroll through a religious art exhibition than your usual cellar-door slog: while hardly a job of your actual work it is an annual experience as overwhelming as it is anticipated. Few wine makers fire the old Whitey's olfactories with such a tremor of reverence. 

Castagna held back his Nebbiolo for all those decades. It wasn't the way he wanted it, so rather than awarding it the full-blown Castagna label he hid the wine in blends in their secondary Adam's Rib line. Now, finally, in such limited volume it was all gone before I even got to it, we have this rather spiritual experience he's called Castagna Barbarossa, a cheeky reflection of barbary rouge more than a piss-take of our big Lutheran valley. 

This wine is what gave me the exhibition metaphor: the damn thing is as much a smudge of blood-stained ecstacy as a drink. As with the finest Italianate takes on this ancient, wild variety, there's a gentle wash of something approaching raspberry and redcurrant, rose petals and floral musk, which seems to coincidentally bring with it a cloud, an insinuative wisp of tannin that occupies the heavens rather than the wine's animal earth. 

It's the best Italianate rapture in my holy book. 

Which leaves me looking the Shiraz square in the frame. The Castagna Genesis Beechworth Syrah 2015 ($75; 13.5% alcohol; DIAM compound cork) justifies anything you can round up in the reverence and trepidation sector. Every sensory innuendo already tickled turned up to choir size, but with the volume held deliciously back. No need to yell when your message is this confident and rich, so steeped in gastronomic lore and atmosphere. 

The light is coming down through the goddam stained glass, I tell you. The hall is full of perfume. The whiffs of starched linen, lavendar, court shoes polished to within an inch of their lives. Vases aloft, busting with flowers like fireworks. Sunday morning, the Velvet Underground version. 

And flavour? Eh? Form? Nah. If you can't afford the force of this Caravaggio epiphany, don't ask. Leave it to the starving atheists who love the thrill of spiritual risk. 

Food? This holy blood don't need no biscuits. 

Best, finest Shiraz I've had a in a loooong time.

cheese platter at Castagna ... photos Philip White

1 comment:

Richard Warland said...

Jeez Whitey!

I have never read something that just drives me to go out and find a bottle - and I was a wine copy writer...