“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)





28 April 2018


Osmar White in 1942

Here's one you didn't know about: the White who wrote of wine and war
from PHILIP WHITE, in awe and respect of, and mainly by OSMAR WHITE

One of my most treasured wine books, and precisely-reliable historical reference works, is Osmar White's A Guide and Directory to Australian Wines. 

This remarkable man had many lives

With the passage of ANZAC day, a time when Australia and New Zealand solemnly contemplate the green young warriors we helped storm off to wars at the other ends of the Earth, I've thought a lot about Osmar, and marveled with admiration and horror re-reading his Green Armour, a riveting account of Australia's own war against the Japanese invaders in the jungle of New Guinea.

This book reveals an acutely observant brain carried in a tough, compact, dogged body. The detail with which he records the geology, geography, fauna and flora of that formidable land matches the frank horrors of his war reportage. 

Diggers in the jungle: Commandos of 2-5 Company  ... photo Osmar White 

Here's a typical passage: 

"It did not take me long to realize that carrying a 50-pound load up and down razorbacks demanded quadruple the energy expended in straight, unburdened climbing. We made Uberi after three hours’ scramble over a stiff ridge. The forest was comparatively open and the trail in fair condition. No rain had fallen for nearly a week. The main body of troops had gone through four or five days before. Since then there had been just enough traffic on the drying ground to settle the clay.

"The engineers had done considerable work on the old native path already. Before that, traveling had been almost impossible. 

"On one clay slope elements of the 39th Battalion were reported to have taken 17 hours to travel 600 yards. They had to cut their way up the chute as mountaineers would cut a traverse on a snowfield.

"In spite of the improved route the second stage was a long , extremely hard day. After leaving Uberi the route lay along the river flats for awhile. Then it slanted up a razorback into which more than 1,000 steps had been cut. In three or four miles it rose 2,000 feet. From the crest was a magnificent prospect of ranges sweeping down into the valley of the Brown River.

"The formation of the trail had psychological drawbacks. The more or less regular steps seemed to make the going more difficult than an unimproved native trail, where stepping from root to root broke the monotony even if it slowed progress. At the foot of Uberi ridge a severe rainstorm caught us in the early afternoon. Parer started worrying about his film again, but I found the rain refreshing, the violent claps of thunder stimulating.

"Eoribaiwa village stood on top of a 2,500-foot ridge. The engineers had let in 4,000 steps on the approach. That night I saw what the country could do to raw troops. A detachment of engineers came in behind us in full marching order. Most of them were big men and fit by normal standards. They made the last few 100 feet climb out of the valley in 5- or 10-yard bursts. Half of them dropped where they stood when they reached the plateau. Their faces were bluish gray with strain, their eyes starting out. They were long beyond mere breathlessness. The air pumped in and out of them in great, sticky sobs; and they had 100 miles of such traveling ahead.

"The spilled loads of heaven"  ... bearers on the Bulldog Track ... photo Osmar White 

"Parer again distinguished himself for guts. Clipped by a sharp dose of fever – his first acute attack – pale, streaming profusely with sweat, and at the same time shivering violently, he refused stubbornly to stop. In the morning, almost forcibly, I made him split his pack between us. He would stop every hour or so, reeling on his feet, and protest that he was capable of carrying his own gear.

"The ‘beef’ was vanishing from chubby Wilmot before our eyes. His technique of travel was amusing. Downhill he took terrific, two-yard strides that would have broken my ankles. He went like a whirlwind, outstripping the rest of us by miles. But when we struck the next hill, we drew even. Halfway up we would pass him hoisting one leg after the other with agonized slowness. Three hundred yards away his grunts, groans, whistlings and profane cries were audible. He clawed his way to the crest and fell flat on his face. If he had not been as strong as an ox he would have scrambled his guts. He was the wrong build for this sort of work – but the right temperament. He was still grunting, cursing and whistling at the end of the day – and still traveling.
"There was rain every afternoon. The nights were getting chillier as we climbed, and the staging camps were yet inadequate. I could hardly believe that 2,000 troops, raw to such conditions, had passed that way and left so few stragglers. They were men of great heart."

Jungle camp on Kokoda, above ... below: happier days in the Australian bush before the war: Osmar with his mum, Mary Grace White, dog Puck, an unkown boy and Jim Starkey

After all that, and numerous other battles and books and a life in newspapers, it must have been a breeze to get the corkscrew out, sit back and bash out a wine book.

A Guide and Directory to Australian Wine (Landsdowne Press, 1972) pretty much set the pace and style of many other Australian wine guides to come, few of them done with such crisp journalese or reliable research. For the Oz wine historian, it is the essential work on the state of the business a decade before the amazing boom which continues to this day.

Here's Osmar's summary of Penfolds, 46 years back:

What is it with these White wine writing men? Not to be confused, sundry others: the author with Tim at A. P. John Cooperage: not a war between them ... photo John Kruger

27 April 2018


ANZAC day dawning, with the first frost of the year on Ironheart Vineyard, and fog on Eyer's Flat. Other than that very chilly morn, the weather here is breaking heat records, and there's been bugger-all rain ... photos Philip White

Global warming? Go ask the birds: pondering the implications of 2018

It's always amusing - sometimes infernally irritating - observing and learning the changing signs of the seasons: making their measure. 

Since the usual autumn frosts and fogs are returning to this neck of the woods, bringing some reassuring regularity, the lack of accompanying rain seems more obvious and unsettling. 

Nowadays, I know the last of the major ferments are being pressed off their skins when I see the Yangarra fence man come past, tightening the wires before the ewes are brought back to eat the weeds and grasses. They keep things neat during their winter pregnancies and the vines' dormancy. They will have delivered their crop of lambs before the first raw shoots of the 2019 grape crop begin to poke through. 

Selling fat lambs raised on biodynamic vineyard pasture sure beats writing that fat annual cheque to the local Roundup peddler. And it saves me writing about the sinister influence the old-style petrochem regime has on environment, climate and health. 

Why this obvious step back to the future took viticulturists so long to grasp still confounds me. Humans! 

Brash rote fashion and the vignerons' reluctance to fence vineyards seem to be the main roots of their recalcitrance. 

Given the new awareness of biosecurity and the ease with which threatening vineyard pests spread now makes the initial cost of fencing seem an irritating essential. It's a bit like netting the vines to beat the gourmand birdies: when that rather obvious solution finally began to appear just a few years back vignerons everywhere shook their heads at the thought of the extra work and expenditure. It seemed/seems that the old twelve-guage would continue to do the trick keeping the yields up thanks very much. What's a few feathers between friends? 

To say the least, the 2018 avian behaviour has been quirky. Once the netting was rolled up and packed away for this harvest great swarms of lorikeets - many more than usual -  arrived to forage for leftovers. The falcons who tend to go elsewhere to feed while their usual prey vacates because the netting's up gradually reappear to move those noisy flocks along. 

Even the wedge-tailed eagles are back for a snack.

There has been more pack behaviour in birdland this year. It seems the ungiving dry has forced them into bigger, hungrier swarms that move across the country to survive. They're starving. Refugees. Like the roos: the mobs are twice the size of the usual. While the nets were up the regular field magpies, lapwings and plovers ruled the roost. Crowds of ravens came and went. Apart from the odd rosella looking for holes in the netting - to get in, then get out with a gutsful - the middle-sized and smaller birds went elsewhere. Since harvest, these have returned, but seem to do so in bigger, more itinerant and panicky flocks. The population profile changes every day. There is much reshuffling of, well, pecking order; more than usual. More desperation. 

The kookaburra are back, and the furtive currawongs, studiously dining on earwigs hiding in the vine bark. Maybe the corvids - currawongs, ravens, magpies - are the least upset, although the mobs of ravens also seem to be bigger and more restless. One day there'll be mynahs everywhere, trying to take over; then rufous wattle birds. Even the water fowl on the big dam seem restive and disturbed. 

I've not seen the usual Siberian sandpipers fattening there before their big fly home but there've been a few dotterels on the banks. The usual coots, water hens, ibis and herons have been visited by more scarce and unusual wanderers, even pelicans calling in exhausted on their way from the shrivelling northern waters to the Murray estuary. And the odd black swan. One lonesome grebe. Overnighters. I can tell the night-diners - bats and owls - are busy because there are no orb spiders; no twangy webs in the mornings.

Enough of the skyfolk. One of my regular indicators of vine health is the time the leaves hang on after harvest. Leaves yellowing and falling before harvest indicate tired, stressed vines. This year, even the more conventional, industrially-run broadacre vineyards seem to be holding their leaf longer than usual, around these southern vales at least. Photosynthesis continued well after picking. Happy vineyards! 

From the ferments I've seen, the aromas and flavours of 2018 are very good. I expect some true delights. The yields seem to have been down a tad - the bunches were healthy but more open - and winemakers are talking of a lower juice-to-weight ratio than usual, which means less wine but more pulp, colour, natural preservative and flavour. 

Since winemakers are now permitted to add water to over-ripe juice, bringing the alcohols down toward 13.5 per cent, cynical vendageurs claim that the more brutal vino-industrial operatives are abusing the spirit of the law, which I suspect is on the money in many cases. 

Leaving grapes to hang longer than usual in the expectation that later admixtures of water and flavour sophisticators will smooth things over and keep eventual volumes up might make sense to some, but I know which wine I'd rather drink. 

It will be fascinating to see how these legally-diluted products eventually look in the glass. Lower than regular alcohols will be an improvement across the board, but, as usual, intelligently, sensitively-managed and harvested crops and tanks with fewer additives will be the first to lure this little black duck. 

So? Expect the best vignerons to market some utter pearlers from this year, and perhaps better-balanced, less gloopy and threatening jam bombs across the rest of the business. It will be fascinating to see. 

However the doubter in me worries that this vintage, if indeed it's generally of better gastronomic quality than average, will serve perversely to convince the climate change sceptics that there's nothing to worry about after all. There are still many key figures in charge of this business who adore the reassurance of their guru, Dr John Gladstones, who wrote in his Wine, Terroir and Climate Change (Wakefield Press, Adelaide, 2011): 

"How much warming, then, can justly be attributed to anthropogenic greenhouse gases? Taking all evidence into account, the proven amount is: none ... from a viticultural viewpoint we can conclude that any anthropogenic changes to mean temperatures will be small and, for some decades to come, unlikely to have major effects beyond those of natural climate variability." 


Natural? Maybe we should go ask those desperate, panicky birds for their opinion. 

They were here first.

Wedge-tailed eagle - Aquila audax - photo by Pat Sprague  


I always thought their McCarthy's Orchard quinces were inspirational, and their glorious old-vine sandhill-grown reds the most lubricious accompaniment, but I've just shared with the marvellous Lisa and Mark the first mango grown in McLaren Vale. Which is hardly the place to attempt growing tropical fruit.

But given their determined approach to growing the most delicious fruits, wines, cider and perry, this remarkable couple don't know "no". These two live to grow the most delicious matters of healthy sustenance. "Tropical? I reckon I can grow that here ... "

Having never written tasting notes for mangoes, please forgive me for saying the damn thing was more intensely-flavoured than the higher-yielding, faster-growing tropical versions. Simply delicious. 

As were the slurpy prickly pears Lisa served as an accompaniment. With their bright, appetising rosé, their persimmons and cheese. They have donkeys, chickens, a grumpy Sheltie pony, and a new tasting room under construction, but no cheese factory. Yet.

You can easily while away an afternoon there on Sand Road: visit the exemplary Goodieson's Brewery on one side of the track, then call in at McCarthy's opposite. They have a bounteous cool room there stacked with their produce. Don't forget to slide your money into the honour box. You wouldna want wee Mark chasing you ...

20 April 2018


Martin Mull coined the term "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture".  Nigel Dobson-Keeffe and Steve Davis, The Adelaide Show podcasters, came by for a long slow chat and a glass or two of Mitchell's. I dunno whether we've proven that talking about writing about drinking wine is like dancing about architecture, but we do cover the building blocks of wine in a deconstructionist sort of way ... pull a bung and have a listen!

15 April 2018


The stuff that comes outa George Grainger Aldridge's phone usually indicates immediately when he's Darwin dreaming again, like this big fucker hopped off the skywaves yesterday,  miraculously coincident with our first sniff of anything like a southern winter. 

Like the first wet night of the year down here and he's having Cane Toad nightmares.

Nevertheless, there's never much doubt that George takes deeper pleasure in the risk of Territory wetness.

When he goes, he sends good photographs, too, like this pipe organ of tuned exhausts on a working boat on Stokes Wharf [trojanpencil@gmail.com]


Don't know exactly how much we've had yet, but it looks like they've just had 26ml of rain over the scarp at Kuitpo. Need a lot more, but nobody's complaining. I love it when you can't see the Range.

13 April 2018


The view from Basket Range winery ... photos Philip White

À la recherche du ham sandwich perdu - a thoughtful day on the Range

It was the size of the Pears Cyclopædia, or maybe Gray's Anatomy. Two perfectly square-built storeys of white vienna bread stacked up there with cold ham, tomato, heaps of black pepper and butter. 

I had no idea they made white vienna loaves so big: The mass of the thing in all its whiteness made the thin crusts even less noticeable. With a strong flat white to double the effect, jeez it was good. 

The writer was sitting on the site of what was Tree and Leaf, the first fair dinkum hippy cafe in the Hills. Macka and Margie ran it in the early '70s. I reckon the first sourdough rye to rise outside of Hahndorf grew there. 

Breaksband would bust loud thrashy gigs in the hall next door in the days when Gulpilil was known to sit in on didj. We'd be lost in some interminable Neil Young-ish-Allmans-Dead distortion when Gulps would peal in with Hey Jude and all the dingo howls and Kakadu bird calls he could squeeze out of that hollow tree. Shivers. Shoulda been more of it. 

Sitting there at the Crafers Gourmet Deli last Saturday, gazing across at Ed Peters' Crafers Hotel, lots of this stuff came swirling back. That was the pub where I dined with Richie Haywood, the Little Feat drummer, after their last gig in a three month world tour in '79. End of the band. Sick of greasy road food he asked the incredulous patron, Spencer Binns, for a carrot, indicating with his gnarly drummer's fingers something about the size of a shoe box. From that high temple of the mixed grill, one fresh foot-long carrot quickly came on a posh oval serving-plate. Condiment set. Knife and fork. Napkin. 

I'm sure you could get a good carrot there now, but it'd probably come decked with gorgeous bone marrow glaze and a Burgundy worth more than the roadie van we bought from The Keystone Angels that blew up on the first bit of freeway completed right there outside the back door. 

I was en route this time to The Festival at Basket Range, a guest of pioneer Basket Range vigneron, Phillip Broderick

Home on the Ranges: Phillip and Mary Broderick

A few other hostelries have morphed: I noticed that the Aristologist had re-emerged in a different shop on a different Summertown corner only about 35 years after Michael Symonds and Jennifer Hillier staged the first Adelaide Hills Wine Show in their original Uraidla Aristologist down past what is now the freshly re-Petered pub. I adjudged Broderick's Basket Range blend to be after the St Emilion Bordeaux style on the day. 

The First World Crisis was wondering which of the squeamish hosts would scone the live trout with the Sabatier handle before giving the poor beast the heat. Lots of wincing in the service of fresh. 

Just as this bonnie sunful Saturday brought winces mindful of those '70s: corners not quite taken; helmets full of gravel; biffo not avoided; too much everything; funeral after bloody funeral; interminable visits to Intensive Care and the Coma Ward. Which is not to even mention Ash Wednesday. Faaaaaarrrrrk. In place of the sly deceptive acronym with the post and disorder buzzwords hiding in it, I'd just as rather call it shell shock and get on with trying to outlive it.

One who didn't outlive it ... Breaksband singer and dear brother Micky Eckert

The Basket Range Oval is on the top of a hill, on donated levelled land. You could feel like flying free there if there is no fire. That basket of ranges is well-stocked with shiny raptors on the wing. But if there was hot fire, imagine sitting on a 400 metre chimney. 

Saturday was just perfect. Sunny, still, balmy. No giant bats or manta rays. No smoke. But my paranoia would preclude me from living there. 

The euphoric Basket tribes gathered much as we did at the Myponga and Meadows Pop Festivals a lifetime before, without the overt illicit hooch, liquid, smoked, shot or dropped. This was polite. Cool.  All the people were real healthy and happy. Eager. Curious. Spending good money on local wine.

And the sound system was much better. 

There were no Hills vineyards in the 'seventies, but there'd be kegs of beer, bottled cider, and smuggled spirits at the big outdoor drink-ups of the day. Like the Schutzenfest on the Hahndorf Oval, a faux Austrian vinylhosen love-in which happily combined the consumption of lakes of beer in the sun with oom-pah brass and the incessant firing of high-powered rifles. 

I recall a show somewhere in the blazing sun where the Seppelts people were selling dixie cups of Great Western Brut Champagne sorbet right beside the Cooper's Stout tent, where they poured their black stuff into plastic schooners. Thus was invented the Black Velvet Spider. One scoop of sorbet per stout. Bitter mocha. By Bacchus, that worked. 

We also bought fortified cherry moonshine in Corkscrew Gully when we were lucky. It was a clean, filtered product, or at least properly cold-settled cherry wine stopped dead on its lively feet by a good dose of ethanol distillate and sold in the half-gallon flagon. 

And there was always Cobbley's Blue Moose to consider. A sideline to their mad lumpy scrumpy, this was a filtered ærated cider containing a skyful of blue dye in a fizz bottle with a plastic fizz stopper wired well down with a blue moose on the front. I presumed the blue was there to hide the brown polka dots or whatever the fake mousse naturally had in it at the time. 

Howard Twelftree photographed by Milton Wordley

That great gastronome and critic, JohnMcGrath/Howard Twelftree, central Hills dweller, taught us to have Blue Moose in big Burgundy balloons on ice with a good shot of Cointreau and a smacked mint leaf, but you wouldna wanted to get caught drinking that in the open, for fear of sexual deviancy or communniss allegations. 

At least Howard was officially nuts. And he seemed somehow, impossibly, genetically endowed to handle fluently that spaghetti mess of crazy roads and goat tracks pissed in a Mini with no brakes. 

Anyway there we went, sober as judges, Broderick and White, to the top of the hill, where it seemed one's entire intelligence and sensibility was suddenly being squashed through a dodgy neurovalve switchwork into a serious full-bore Code White. Phillip was cool but I had a screw loose. Phillip looked really worried. I felt scared and confused. Without one wine, I'd managed too much disco. Spinout. 

While Phillip found a kind doctor and a chair in the shade and I stood swaying on a guy rope certain that everyone thought I was overdosing or something I noticed a venerable bloke standing some metres back, leaning on a fine shooting stick, looking at me with what I first saw as impertinence. Chairs came. He sat down. It was Richard Farmer

Just trust me when I say we have met in some very strange places since he was a big Farmer Brothers wine merchant, Canberra guru, and press advisor to Prime Minister Bob Hawke while I lived in the convicts' quarters out the back of Peter Doyle's old Harbourmaster's House at Watson's Bay. 

Richard understood how I felt. I tried to explain my white drug-free breakfast but gave up when I realised I had a glass of Charlotte Hardy's Semillon in my hand because it smelled so good. It wasn't a prop or a drink. It was my organoleptic jumper leads. 

This Basket Rangers movement has become a buzzy "natural" wine triumph. Market forces. 

While I was too ill for ethanol, grrrrr, I noticed that the numerous vendors offered many unmade wines, but there amongst all the Old Order Amish and Neo-Mennonites remain the likes of Henschke. 

And there was ginger beer, great coffee and many tasty morsels. Rick Burge, taking the piss, but helping me. A coupla stray scientists sniffing about. Mates from the US, Japan and McLaren Vale. Damn! Fine mobs. 

Which demands a word about mobs. In those Vietnam demo days, there were many hippies. Often, but never always, these gentle folks had wealthier parents and lived at the ends of ivy-hung lanes. 

My lot were hillbillies, which were different. We came in Fords full of Bibles and shotguns. We graduated outa that. 

So what'll be next in cult wine fashion? Punk? Disco? Hi-tech? 

Before Rick and Phillip cryovacked me off that happy, peaceful ridgetop I couldn't help muttering to somebody that there were no obese people at the Basket Rangers festival. This is not Yellowtail. 

Hallelujah! Peace in the valley.

Broderick: pioneering vigneron at home on another day ... I apologise to all the other Basket Rangers for not taking photographs on the oval but I was stonkered.

11 April 2018


Tom Belford and Casama have a new splinter group Rising from the Sticks

Rising Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2017 
($30; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 500 cases made) 

Rising Wines is a new Yarra Valley outfit Sticks winemaker Tom Bedford seems to have split off as a sort of premium small batch showcase of wilder beauties. 

How new? The website's not up yet, or I'd tell you more. So much for planning ahead for marketing in the day of direct internet sales ... How wild? The first Rising quartet makes up for the lack of digital advice, starting with a beautiful creamy Chardonnay. 

I've just escaped the supermarket which is a scarce enough misadventure for a hermit and attempted salving some of this freak heat with a couple Asahi 3.5s, whose hoppy tannin burrs the tongue and sets it looking for fats so maybe I'm over-reacting to this calming Chardonnay unction action. 

Umami. Mother's milk. Fatty: the first acids to hit the newborn tongue. Those fatty acids you find around isolvaleric aromas, which are often presignallers for calming human pheromones which then don't come. You need a real human mother to get real pheromones. 

But the very anticipation of them often leaves a frisson if not your actual fru-fru - you get these subliminal precursor signals sometimes as sidelines of secondary, or malo-lactic ferment, when bacteria, not yeast, convert the metallic natural grape acid, malic, to lactic, the softer acid of milk. 

All that - with oak-smoked bacon or cashews or something in the pan - wraps the aroma around me, by which time the acid of the end of the lovely thing starts to build. Which it does smooth and slow, drawing real fine chalky tannin with it. 

This is one fine reassuring wine. 

Rising Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2017 
($30; 12.5% alcohol; scew cap; 500 cases made) 

This baby's real deep and dry after a good airing: I prefer it with these ravens in its dark piny boughs. 

That'll be some of the colour of its smell. It gets a wee bit sooty, which is also cool. Because below those prickly crarky topnotes come dark juniper and blackcurrant, even that whiff of tiny grape currants. Real deep framboise and crème de cassis pressings. Yum. 

The palate's sinuous and juicy. The velvety tannins here are more active than the acids, until way back in the very end when they rise like a rapier. 

This is no royalty among Burgundies: it's more of a country type with birds in its hair. At least it's had a look around the court to see what all the princes are wearing. 

Rising Yarra Valley Gamay 2017 
($30; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap; 250 cases made) 

Here's a rare Australian go at the juicy indigo Gamay of Beaujolais. The Mornington Peninsula's Eldridge has had some success with the same tricky, but rewarding, if frivolous beast. 

Ripe heady raspberry and dark strawberry well away, cheeky and unabashed. It's a swoony, swirling experience seasoned with dark gunbarrel anthocyanins from the skins: it's like juniper with its scented hint at tannins to follow. 

This is dead honest wine of no obvious sophistry: a comforting drink with no pretention but a really lush and luxurious bed of squishy flavour. 

Eventually those neat little tannins creep in, tidying up your baby dribbles with its corrective pucker. 

I want an aged crumbly Blue Wensleydale - with all its natural acid - on an oatcake, please.  

Rising Yarra Valley Shiraz 2017 
($30; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap; 250 cases made)  

Here's a rare thing loose in South Australia: a soupy rich Shiraz syrup without gloop. Goodness me. 

Somehow, it's not all berries, but somewhere near a bortsch made with ripe sweet beets with a swirl of good fresh yoghurt or sour cream. The best one I had was on a Russian ferry that got loose in these austral waters: somebody in Vladivostok had welded her bow doors shut and filled the cargo hold with stifling cabins. The officers' beets had been downstairs even further in some great fridge, ripening slowly since the revolution. Because we had no blazers, we could not not sit at the Captain's table, but we were afforded his top vittles. I wish I had a bottle of this to send across in return. 

Got off the track ... coming back to it, I reckon I can smell pomegranate ... that soft long velvety tannin ... yep, bortsch, a smoked strout on the side with a worried cornucopia of sprouts and capers; sourdough rye ... 


It felt strangely reminiscent of the 2013 launch of some Hungry Dan's specials  when I realised these entertaining, if slightly mysterious wines came from the same Abbottsford office and address as a couple of finer wines from Catalina Sounds in New Zealand. Posted together, same sort of covering letter, same handwriting in the signatures, one purporting to come from "tom", or Tom Belford, the other from "Pete". That'll be Peter Jackson of Catalina Sounds. Turns out these Yarra and Kiwi offerings are from the Casama Group.

09 April 2018


Beloved local singer-songwriter duo The Yearlings, Rob Chalken and Chris Parkinson were married in a little reserve at Maslins' Beach on Saturday. They sang to each other. 

DRINKSTER wishes you all the best and deepest things, you sweethearts. 

Thanks to you both for your generous ongoing contribution to the McLaren Vale community. Happy days!  

Milton Wordley photograph

07 April 2018


it was not empty 
    it was open and dark 
    there were no kangaroos 
    on the road you thought 
    there were too many 
    there are too many 
    but it was not empty 

it was open and dark

philip white

06 April 2018


Gurgling with glee over three new beauties made by Jason Barrette
Hemera Estate Single Vineyard Barossa Valley Grenache Rosé 2017
($25; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

Jason Barrette, who makes wine all over the world since leaving Penfolds' Grange at Magill, made this wine at Hemera Estate (formerly Ross Estate) in the Barossa. Century-old Grenache vines were picked earlier than normal to make an austere, adult rosé. Most of the fruit was crushed, left on skins for a meagre two hours to get the right hue and phenolics and then fermented cool in steel. 

The balance went through a wild yeast ferment in old oak and was left there on yeast lees for four months before assemblage. 

The result is summer-dusty-dry, a nose-tickling tantaliser with just the right amount of gentle, fleshy  rosebud Grenache welling below. It's as lean as a good pink Champagne to sniff. Complex with dry summer meadow, it's appetising and devoid of the dumbarse raspberry that has marked too many of the inferior lollypop rosés that got Grenache demoted from its rightful place as a source of sublime dry pinks like this. 

Given that introduction, the wine is more fleshy than you'd expect. Its authority and form is nevertheless firm and staunch and its capacity to linger longer than the glass lasts is very impressive, and as I say, adult. 

Straight to the top of the rosé tree, this baby. It looks neither to left or right, stalks with a certain arrogance through the sensories, and leaves you hanging out for pink salmon or barely-seared tuna and salad. 

Rock and roll. 

Hemera Estate Single Vineyard Barossa Valley Old Vine Grenache 2017 
($35; 13.8% alcohol; screw cap) 

More from the same 1912 planting near Lyndoch, this triumph also benefits from having been picked earlier than most are game to try. It's rich and smooth and deep and immediately seductive, and needs no more alcohols or simple gloopy sweetness. 

Jason "bled" off some of the free run juice to leave this essence. The pale free run went into that remarkable rosé. 

As the mighty Peter Lehmann would say, "Wilful waste makes makes woeful want and I may live to say 'Oh how I wish I had that crust which once I threw away'." 

That early master of whole-berry ferments, Peter Lehmann has a schluck from his latest trophy. I think it was the Stoddard, mid '70s ... photo Milton Wordley

This bit was made with destemmed whole berries in the ferment. 

I love the oak here: it's sultry and spicy and utterly supportive of that wondrous fruit. It reminds me somewhat of the wood that helped make such a delight of the Bouchard Grand Vin de Beaune Grèves Vigne de l'Enfant Jésus 2009 Burgundy I could once afford in magnum. Yum. 

Grenache is not really like Pinot, but if you make it with the respect a great Burgundy house shows its fruit, you can achieve lovely gastronomic pinnacles like this: elegant yet complex and totally disarming. And, well, yes, closer to ripe Burgundy than Shiraz can ever get. No need to go on, eh? 

But go, buy, and enjoy saving the couple of prayer mats or grey nurses  - or whatever those that have them now call the hundred dollar bill - involved in that major Baby Jesus spend. 

The wine's really complex and alluring: perhaps the best Barossa Grenache of recent times.  In my book.

Hemera Estate Single Vineyard Barossa GSM 2017 
($35; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

Similar in form, but bolstered by post-maturation admixtures of 32% Shiraz and 18% Mataro, this is bigger and more typically Barossa, getting there without venturing into the gloop one can't avoid above 15% alcohol. 

It's a gorgeous blend, sultry and moody in the fruit division. Then, once again, Jason has the oak just right: it's older and seasoned, its spice sitting in there like it too grew on those priceless old vines: properly married and assimilated, it's ready to enhance the fruit for a decade or more. 

The G bit's still cool and approaching Burgundy, while the S&M addition lives up to its wicked insinuation, offering a little more dark adventure. It stops just short of sinister, leaving the drinker wondering about the "what ifs" but never quite stretching to the "if only". 

While it has the hint of well-dressed leather, this wine is utterly satisfying without getting any whips out. 

Dribbling pink steak or a great steaming stack of field mushrooms would settle it down all tidy and neat, thankyou very much. It's good to see some Penfolds Magill/Grange know-how and sensitivity escaping from the mysterious Treasury.

Jason introducing Maynard to Dr Ray Beckwith's ph meter at Magill