“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)





31 July 2018


"people who live in grass houses shouldn't get stoned" or whatever it is they say is on a level with instructing colourblind people to sort chillies, especially if you just surprised them with off-season hotties outa the greenhouse like these wee protonuclear dainties leftover from breakfast ... anyway, in my experience, fighter jocks breaking the sound barrier in jet aircraft, because they "couldn't help it" or "didn't know we were going that fast" meaning "no idea we had nearly so much sizzle on" have caused a lot more damage to the green houses of the Adelaide Plains than stone-throwers ever did


I should have warned you it was time I took a break. Won't be snoozin long ... keeping a close check on the pulse ... James Halliday is alleged to have taken this photograph with my camera at Houghton Winery in 1985.

18 July 2018


Xmas Hill, Tynan Road, Kuitpo, The Range and Duane Coates: go visit!

Sandy and Heidi Craig live on their picturebook Xmas Hill Vineyard on Tynan Road, on The Range, midway between McLaren Flat and Paris Creek. 

Duane Coates makes their wines in his new winery overlooking the vines. 

Tynan Road Kuitpo Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($25; 13% alcohol; screw cap) is a more grown-up wine than most of the grassy-green versions of this grape: it's had some time in good French oak. This contributes some perfectly-appropriate seasoning and extra texture, adding a tantalising aroma like slightly smoky, pale charcuterie meats. 

To a comfy degree, this plumps the cushions of the wine's bright ripe gooseberry/tomato coulis/passionfruit spectrum. For the best appreciation of this, it should not be served chilled - out of the box and fifteen minutes in the ice bucket should lob it at a more suitable "cellar" temperature. 

On one hand, it's smooth, easy, lip-smacking refreshment for that dappled veranda or patio with conversation, crudités and pale crumbly cheeses. 

But put some linen on the table and try it with barely-grilled garfish or whiting with prawn mousseline and it'll be more luxuriated oohs and aahs over the quiet clink of cutlery. Ring the bells.

looking south-west over the Blewett Springs gullies and the Willunga Fault and Escarpment toward The Range

Tynan Road Kuitpo Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2016 ($30; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap) sees that oak turned up a notch toward fresh ginger and those pale cured meats surrender to a more cashews-grilled-in-Paris Creek butter sort of affair. 

In tidy, clipped counterpoint, the wood also adds some piquant, prickly topnotes, giving the form of a cheeky young Burgundy. Which, mind you, would be taking at least double this money from your cache. 

After the Savvy-b, this is a more serious adventure. It calls for a cool Provence style pork and bean stew, or big slabs of seared pink salmon or tuna with capers, fennel and a gentle mustard cream. It's proper cool region Chardonnay made with great sensitivity at a bargain price. 

The Range from the top of Yangarra's High Sands, vintage 2018

While we're Burgundy dreaming, the Tynan Road Kuitpo Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir 2016 ($25; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap) is a little more Austral, more Côtes de Coates than Côtes de Nuits ... more vibrantly fruity than, say, the Dujac Gevrey 2011 I happened to taste at lunch yesterday ... maybe even more complex than your average year there on the Côtes. Which is not fair to Coates ...

At which point we can forget France and get on with Tynan Road. Its jolly, cheeky, berry fruit reminds me somewhat of my usual Adelaide Hills favourite, Ashton Hills Pinot, which is a bunch even more complex and from the real Adelaide Adelaide Hills much further to the north. But I love the little spicy hint in here, with all that pink bubby Aussie flesh. Cheeky, brash, audacious, early ... the acid's is still a tad lemony - it needs another year or two to be ideal, if that's what you want. 

Right now, I'd be entirely happy using it as a handy bridge between those fish steaks and a proper roadhouse cassoulet

The Range from McLaren Flat

Which leads neatly to the variety I regard as the Pinot from the other side of the Alps: Tynan Road Kuitpo Adelaide Hills Nebbiolo 2016 ($30; 14% alcohol; screw cap). This has even more audacious fruity flesh: bright meaty blueberry and jellied red currant with cream, wandering off toward cranberry, even salmonberry. It's a gorgeous, wholesome, dessert-like bouquet. 

Duane has been particularly judicious with the oak: this fruit would very easily be overwhelmed by the sap and spice of too many new barrels. As she stands, there's just enough to prickle and tease the gaping olfactories. 

The palate's the real playground: after those cheeky fleshy fruits the tannin settles in like a cloud (a nebbia on the Italian Piedmont, the source of Nebbiolo). While from below in the stones, the firm grape acid rises. 

Until these fringes wash back into the mainstream and settle, gimme the Piedmontese insalata di carne cruda, which is about as close as Italy gets to the minced steak tartar

Tungsten chef Rebecca Stubbs and her partner Duane Coates hosting a very special lunch on Tynan Road; Heidi and Sandy Craig lower right ... this photo Milton Wordley ... apart from eagles and satellite shots, all other photos by Philip White

Tynan Road Kuitpo Adelaide Hills Shiraz 2016 ($30; 14% alcohol; screw cap) is lovely spicy upland Shiraz right in line with the rest of this bonnie range, but bigger. 

Heady sweet perfume and flesh are once again the hallmarks, seasoned a little more by the appropriate oaks. You'd be hard-pressed to find a Shiraz as cool and fine as this on the McLaren Vale flats: it's a polar opposite to all that powerful hearty gloop from the past. 

It's more suited to the fungi textures and flavours than, say, your standard steak. Portabello, boletus and shiitake mushrooms with wokked spinach greens and reconstituted Si gua luo, the dried Chinese luffa gourd, (called something like "chiuk sung" when they have it in T-Chow) all in black bean and garlic sauce, would be a very happy marriage. 

Keep your nose on the wines coming from this fine new establishment: now he has a permanent home, Coates joins a new wave of top-level southern winemakers, who, in the consolidating years of their middle age, are finally leading the Vales in a bright new gloop-free direction. Think Pannell, Fraser, Geddes, and the bold new Grenache brigade who are finally learning to pick early. Rock'n'roll. 

A short note on appellation boundaries

Kuitpo is an unofficial appellation within the official  boundaries of the Adelaide Hills

I'm a neighbor - I live over the range to the north, near Kangarilla, in the McLaren Vale region. Which is a bit strange. I know where I live, but I no longer believe McLaren Vale knows where it is.

The site of your actual Kuitpo seems vague, but for all my life it seemed geographically and geomorphologically to be the wide, flat, crescent-shaped valley floor that starts at the road junction west of Meadows and extends toward the old Kuitpo Colony alcoholics' rehab retreat in the south. 

This complex was most infamously the last holdout of the Agape Ministries doomsday cult. To assist with counterpoint, the Meadows Technicolour Fair was a total alcostone rockout for those who survived it at the northern end of Kuitpo in north Meadows in 1972.

I remember crisply Bowie buddy Tony Visconti removing his beautiful old cello from the hail of ice thrown by a thousand drunken fiends [screaming "we want Forpie"] to guide his string quartet from the stage leaving new wife Mary Hopkin there in a presbyterian mini-dress singing "Those were the days" with a nylon-string guitar. 

Whatever Kuitpo now is has something to do with the western boundary of what early white settlers, including 1840s Macclesfield grapegrower Robert Davenport rather vaguely called Battunga, which they thought meant "country of big trees". Whether they meant stringy-bark or red gum remains to be clarified.

More significantly, that remaining government-farmed forest country - all Pinus radiata and Corymbia variegata now - was the border land between the Kaurna and Peramangk original peoples. It seems that as the white colonists moved north up the Fleurieu Peninsula, replacing the Kaurna and methodically destroying them along with their habitat, the southern Ramindjeri followed the English routes north as far as the Onkaparinga, confusing the original language boundaries.

Never use what you think is an appropriate aboriginal word as a region or brandname without checking it out with those whose tongue it is. 

Whiteman: If there were consistent logic in South Australia's Geographical Indication boundaries for wine regions, these hills called The Range and now "Adelaide Hills" would be part of the McLaren Vale GI, just as the Barossa appellation extends to include the Barossa Ranges and Eden Valley to its east.

The Kuitpo forest country is known for its astonishing range of fungi. To read of one scientific excursion, click here.

In the meantime, take a tour to Tynan Road, and see whether you agree that the wines are are as good as the remarkable view. Wine never tastes better than it does where it grew.

Kuitpo proper? Fungi scientists in the contemporary Kuitpo Forest on the eastern side of The Range, with introduced Pinus radiata on the left and introduced northern spotted gum - Corymbia variegata - on the right ... below is Leon Bignell's photograph of a pair of wedge-tailed eagles hunting on the western side of the range, with the Gulf St Vincent - patron of viticulturers and winemakers - on the horizon. This is the southern part of the McLaren Vale vignoble. All this embayment was originally covered with big river red gums - Eucalyptus cameldulensis ...

Here's what The Range looks like from the north, looking south at it over the shoulders of master high country Grenache growers, Bernard Smart and son, Wayne, in their 1926 model vines in the hills above Clarendon ... I promise soon to post some photographs looking down from Craigs' Xmas Hill and Duane Coates on Tynan Road:

17 July 2018


Today we have freezing, abrasive blasts of air from the Bight and the Great Southern Ocean. As clean and chill as a whistle, but no rain in it yet more than a bit of a spit. We need a few days of rain. The creeks are dry. It is winter ... photo Philip White

15 July 2018


Take a pointer from White, who'd rather be rounding sheep than Monsanto sharks

The ultimate killing machine is a flock of sheep that turns weeds to fertiliser

Australia's liquor industry should be keeping a close eye on the proceedings before U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco. The Federal judge has found sufficient evidence exists for a jury to hear the cases of hundreds who claim that exposure to the popular weed-killer, Roundup, has caused them to fall to the blood cell cancer, non-Hodgkinson's Lymphoma. 

Roundup is not only the world's favourite herbicide, but it's preferred by most of Australia's barley and grape-growers. 

Monsanto, which infamously also made Agent Orange and DDT, has manufactured and sold Roundup since the mid-seventies. After long financial mechinations the company recently became a subsidiary of Bayer AG, which promises to bless its new baby with a nice clean new name to match after spending some A$82  billion buying it. 

Monsanto has always insisted its weed killer is safe if used according to the instructions on the container. 

The USA Environmental Protection Agency seemed supportive of this claim as recently as September, when it ruled that glyphosate, the key active ingredient in Roundup, was "probably unlikely" to cause cancer in humans. 

The Australian government's Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority [APVMA] is insistent that "the use of glyphosate in Australia does not pose a cancer risk to humans.

On the other hand, two years ago the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a subsidiary of the World Health Organisation, determined that the chemical was "probably carcinogenic to humans." 

It's easy to spot vineyards where Roundup is used. Unless there's mulch stacked there to supply nutrient and revive the ground while stifling weed growth, rows of vines with an unnaturally bare stripe of earth beneath them are reliable indicators of glyphosate use. 

In November 2016 the APVMA ruled that barley growers could legally spray one application of Roundup at least a week before harvest.* 

Barley growers are concerned that rye grass intrusion in their grain could spread the ergot mould, the critical precursor of the illegal hallucinogen lysergic acid diethylamide, which destroys the barley's value. Puts a new tint on the Latin "Cogito, ergo sum" ... 

In his ruling, Judge Chhabria threw the evidence of two anti-Roundup scientists out of court, but agreed that three others presented evidence upon which a "reasonable" jury could rule Roundup to be carcinogenic in humans. Across the USA, Monsanto faces some 5000 lawsuits alleging Roundup causes cancer. Most of these are in state courts which are not bound by Fed rulings but they're all watching Chhabria very closely indeed. Lawyers for over 400 farmers have consolidated their claims before him, and will now select specific cases from their number to prove in test trials that their cancer was caused by Roundup. 

Monsanto insists there is "absolutely no connection between glyphosate and cancer" and cites over 800 scientific papers and studies which it claims support its stance. 

Dennis and Bonnie Vice, at Highbank in Coonawarra, were the first South Australian vignerons I encountered who openly abandoned glyphosate in the late 'eighties. Their industrial monoculture neighbours gave them hell, blaming them for incubating all the weeds in the South East, which was nonsense. Their vineyard was as clean and tidy as vineyards get. Gradually, rather than weeds, their radical pre-poison theory and technique has spread. 

Closer to home, David Paxton was the first local to openly abandon Roundup when he began adapting his McLaren Vale vineyards to biodynamic management in 2006. As a well-regarded conventional vineyard manager he seemed an unlikely convert. He'd attended the first big international biodynamics conference the Victorian winemaker Julian Castagna organised the year before and came home convinced. 

Pioneers of biodynamic production of super premium wines near Beechworth, on the north face of the Australian Alps, the Castagna family: Carol Ann, Alexi, Adam and Julian, with relative hounds ... photo Philip White 

"It’s not rocket science," Packo told me when he first showed me his good work. "Viticulture is all common sense ... but of course I was sceptical." 

Just as I was led to admire biodynamics by the delicious Beechworth wines of Castagna, rather than any theories, it was the sheer quality of the wine that "hooked" Packo ... from "vines which are in balance: their natural ability to resist disease is enhanced.  It’s about the density of the cells," he said. "The fruit is more naturally expressed.  The true flavour is enhanced ... Surprisingly, it’s cheaper.  The religion gets dangerously attractive." 

Of course there's a lot more to organics and bio-d than turning the poison off, and many careful growers who find the bio-d and/or organic licensing procedures annoying and impractical stop using weedicides anyway. Many just get on with it. Unlicensed. But I watched ground which had been as dead as concrete rejuvinated as others joined the movement: Gemtree, for example, and then Yangarra in my neck of the woods. Others, right up through the ranges to Clare, even the odd rugged pioneer in the Riverland. 

"I love weeds." Michael O'Donohoe, maker of Tom's Drop, organic grapegrowing in the Riverland for 32 years ... photo Philip White 

The earth regains its old bouncy vigour as its natural biota return with tiny strands of fungi and all the worms and whatnot that mix it up. 

Monsanto claims such changes are more to do with anything BUT the lack of Roundup. It claims the decaying roots of weeds killed by the glyphosate supply extra nutrients and therefore restore life to the soil. 

However committed viticulturers right across the country now say disposing of the poison and careful mowing instead, especially by sheep, is the key to those superlative flavours that first seduced me and Packo. Invariably they make no secret about being much happier, along with their staff, in no longer handling the poison. They say the "safety instructions" are threatening enough. 

Until folks start putting "glyphosate free vineyard" on their labels, keep an eye out for licensed organic and biodynamic brands if you too don't like the stuff. 

In the California courtroom, lawyer Brent Wisner accused Monsanto of bullying independent researchers and fighting science, even fraudulently ghostwriting positive papers. In flatly denying this, Monsanto counsel George Lombardi insisted there were decades of research backing his client, repeating its claim there is "absolutely no connection between glyphosate and cancer." Sounding as determined as the coal enthusiasts in our governments, he cited those hundreds of studies and reviews, saying "Testing has been done by independent scientists, by university scientists, by government scientists ... " 

Hundreds of types of crops, countless back gardens, playgrounds, parks and lawns and thousands of kilometres of roadside in over 160 countries are kept weed-free with glyphosate. Until, of course, glyphosate-resistant strains of the unwanted vegetation develop, which is happening across Australia at a terrifying pace. 

In February, for example, Dr Peter Boutsalis, from Plant Science Consulting and the University of Adelaide warned  that "farmers are terrified of glyphosate resistance as it issuch a useful product," citing "thousands of new populations" of resistant ryegrass. 

As there are now around 300 glyphosate-containing chemicals on the market since its patents lifted, Boutsalis suggested farmers stick to "high quality glyphosate products." 

Other local scientists, like University of Adelaide pharmacist Dr Ian Musgrave suggest there's no need for glyphosate panic. "You'd have to be eating 1,000 fold more than exists on current foods, or up to 100 kg of corn with residue every day to reach levels that are a hazard," he told ABC Rural in November.  

Meanwhile, as they sniff precipitative business, legal eagles all over the USA are eager and ready to mount class actions should they see a glimmer of hope that their ailing clients might get some recompense. A typical example is consumer attorneys Baum Hedlund Aristel and Goldman, whose website keeps a close watch on the many states and countries which restrict the weedkiller's use if they haven't banned it outright. Ka-chink to good health, eh?

*Since this was published on Indaily, a reader has suggested there is contention about whether this application is permitted for malting barley. DRINKSTER is investigating. 

sheep in Yangarra Estate vineyards photographed by Philip White

11 July 2018


[condensed and abridged]: Sopping winter, bone dry spring, January downpour dumps on the tight green grapes as they began to blush at veraison ... hell for the industrialists vs. heaven for the hands-on ... tiny punk grapes with real thick skins and nutty pips got em right between the eyes ... 

More magnificent Merlot and a Pressings to catch like a train

It seems at first Colleen Miller and Mike Cloak were poleaxed by 2015. The roller coaster of weather that eventually led to picking was pretty jagged. Then they poleaxed it. These dudes are on top of it. They came all the way from Digital Gulch or whatever that techno joint's called in California. Silicone Peaks. Escaped to make top Merlot as far away from that tishy biscuit skank as they could get. Bought this prime southern ground at Wrattonbully eighteen years ago and got right on with it. Introduced new clones. 

Stand well back, or get right in there, I reckon. With these delicious milestones, there's no half-way house. Go faster. Or slow down and stop. Make room. Get out, or stay in and get Merlode. And Cabernated. If you stay in, never stick your arm out the window. We're movin'! Expensive luxury goods like these tend to set even the smartest richest folks misbehaving fast. 

Mérite Single Vineyard Wrattonbully Cabernet 2015 
($60; 14.2% alcohol; cork; 3000 bottles) 

The first visit I had from this British racing green 4.2 litre E-Type came I reckon in a glass of Roger Pike's Marius red about a decade ago. It appears rarely but quite vividly in some wines I love, parked in the shade below big Pinus radiata with Australian ravens hiding up there, watching. You can see their wing feathers glinting blue-black like snakes through the needles and cones. 

Never believe a word you hear a colourblind synæsthete utter about hue but maybe you can smell the mood of it without demanding too sharp an organoleptic focus. The Jag's certainly in this glass, top down, shiny shiny sinister sixter ticking itself cool, adding its leather and hot lubricants to the lovely dark green perfumes of the trees. It's an analog aroma. Gauges by Smiths. 

With fruit, of course: there are fresh ripe quetsch ortenauer prunus about to turn to smootsch there on the camp table linen like there's quark or something really creamy and light here too, with the brioche and butter. Check it out. 

I believe there's a dash of Merlot in here, which makes perfect sense. 

Colleen tells me it's CW44 clone of Cab planted on a pitted rise of limestone (above) dusted with a few inches of "classic terra rossa", like Coonawarra to the south, but we won't mention that.  

Apart from a slight sooty seasoning I can barely detect the 50% new oak. All the wood's doing here is providing this deep raven shade for the E-Type parked in it. Don't even ask why it's also doused in John Coltrane, so overwhelmingly cool and hot he just launched his John Coltrane - Untitled Original 11386. Powerfully oozing intense quartet jazz, there's fresh 'Trane, never before released, fifty years after his death. Immaculate. 

And here I am. King hit, squished, saxed, smootsched all over the place and very keen to avoid the mop. But that won't come out here beneath the trees into this damp clean dirt to clean me up, will it, that mop? Not with Elvin Jones drumming. Nope. Get the wine and the record. Drink them together. Misbehave. Roll around here on the bonnet in the Roquefort. Just don't drive anywhere.  

Mérite Single Vineyard Wrattonbully Merlot 2015 
($60; 14% alcohol; cork) 

This is what the ruckus is about. Five clones of Merlot, selected by fanatics. 

In Bordeaux, where it's five times bigger than Cabernet in area planted, Merlot is the early-ripening red, so it's the grape first stolen each vintage by the merle, or blackbird. In the best instances of compensation, that little feathered dinosaur's incredible song seems to give the grape extra sweet topnotes; while its constant agitated scratching in the rotting twigs and sod give the singer its primary name: Turdus. The blackbird's officially Turdus merula. Fair dinkum The melodic shit. 

"Oh. Do you reckon Dung will ever catch on as a Christian name, Unca Philip?" 

enter PHILIP, wiping soil from hands: 

"Nope. But at the bottom of every proper Merlot there's plenty of this soft, mossy, ferny earth. Like shout your blackbird a bag of potting soil, turn the recorder on and let it go savage." 

At the top, amongst all that melodious birdsong, there's a real generous dusting of marshmallow and musk confectioner's sugar. Crystallised violets. Between, there are all those fruits, like prune skins collapsing with botrytis on their own fleshy ripeness, blueberries and the comforting humanness of the fleshiest funghi: boletus, morel, enoki, shiitaki ...  real soft over-ripe figs ... 

This is gorgeous wine. It is plush and comforting company right now. It is not as tight and reticent as the dungeon-bound austerity of the mighty Blue Poles I reviewed below and is even a touch more cushy than Brodericks' brilliant Basket Range

Which is not to overlook those deep wet tea-green/tabac tannins waiting way below like ballast beneath the tracks of all of them. You don't have to wait for this train. She's early. 

Then she'll roll right on through the night into the Never-Never. Two lights on behind. Glory be. 

Mérite Wrattonbully Ultra Merlot 2015 
($130; 14% alcohol; cork; 745 bottles) 

Ultra? Ultra? After the pressings of the various Merlot clones were kept separate in oak, one barrel was rejected for being a touch too bitter, leaving the other four to be blended with wine from the finest barrel of 2015 Cabernet. To make this little parcel of joy. 

Goodness me. Man this is sick. This is so plump and silky sensual and deadly from the first accidental inhalation that you got no chance. This delivers an opiate hit that removes all necessity to stand. This is the vinous equivalent of Pethadine, which was dumped after too many doctors got addicted. So sit back and slump and let it trickle on in. There's always a lot more old drunks than old doctors. 

I said silky. By bedtime it's more like the raspy satin of grosgrain, like the bows on your patent opera slippers. You can chew it for days but never swallow it. The more air it gets, the higher grows its wave of tannin. Which very dryness makes everything worse. Forget it. You wouldn't like it. It takes too long. You won't have time. 

So leave it with little old shoe chewin' me ... I'll look after it ... only a bottle a day for two years ... yum ... Church's opera slippers with Roquefort and Ultra ... 

After a few days the primary fruit falls, leaving that tannin and solid rise of acid. Sometimes it reminds me of the Wendouree Pressings sometimes released in the '70s and early '80s: magnificent in their youth, but not always the greatest wine for serious long-term cellaring.

So maybe try it in four or five years ... if you get past the 'Trane catch Maria Callas doing Ebben! Ne Andro Lontana from La Wally and you'll stop chewing her shoes. 

Ultra? Exquisite.


Much more than mellow: Blue Poles hits new Merlot goal for  Australia

Merlot. Poor thing. Abused for decades in Australia, often by famous winemakers who grew awkward clones and over-oaked it. 

And confused by Americans, who thought it mean mellow, mainly because the words to them sounded the same. 

There's hope, however. Various small producers faithful to the great Bordeaux wines of Pomerol are kicking serious arse with it, finally, in Australia. Blue Poles (Margaret River), Mérite (formerly Ruckus Estate; Wrattonbully), Broderick's Basket Range Wines (Adelaide Hills) and Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard (McLaren Vale) are my current faves. 

Regardless of its thin skin and resulting susceptibility to moulds like mildew and botrytis, France has 115,000 hectares of Merlot; internationally there's about 266,000 hectares of it, making it the world's third biggest wine grape variety.  

The sands, ferruginous clays and limestone of the Bordeaux  "Right Bank" (referring to the country north of the Dordogne and Gironde Rivers) with its Pomerol and Saint-Émilion appellations, makes the Merlot most loved, or at least most coveted, by many. There, it's usually blended with a little of the fragrant Cabernet franc. I notice you can order a bottle of the 2017 Chateau Petrus, which won't arrive until  2020, for $3,995, or collect the 2010 model now for $9,975. 

The two (count 'em, two, okay?) hectares of sandy gravel on the slab limestone of the cult icon,  Chateau Le Pin, which is all Merlot, is scarcely available in Australia. It'll be closer to $3,000 than $2,000 a pop if you can find a recent vintage. 

Blue Poles Vineyard Margaret River Reserve Merlot 2015 ($40; 13.3% alcohol; screw cap) is equal to Le Pin in its size: two whole hectares of Merlot, growing in a profile its Australian geologist owners felt was as close to the Right Bank's best as their seaside appellation affords. As geologists do, they drilled holes looking for it.

"It had everything [we] desired ... iron rich gravels overlying clay, slopes to the south and west, a cooler climate than the more coastal and northern vineyards of the region, giving a longer ripening period ... it's a beautiful location," Mark Gifford writes. 

In this, its most awkward youth, It oozes moody semi-dried fig, prune and date aromas as much as the usual desirable black-to-blue berries. Its oak is more like the trencher board these fruits are presented on than your actual container: it's not so intrusive, but pleasant, seasoning and supportive. 

Below those fruits lie aromas insinuative of mossy, ferny earth and fresh Plumcake pipe tobacco, which is nothing like cigarettes. 

Such perfumes of rich vegetal decay usually indicate deep green tannins to follow. Strong tannins, but ripe and not at all angular. But here, they're certainly not mellow at this stage; more like surly and glowering. I dare to suggest I get a whiff of port salut cheese as well, without its waxy rind. 

As the wine gulps oxygen - this is the second day open - it grows a creamy, musk sugar top layer, which seems to seal it as much as open it. it becomes more monolithic. But within that stubborn, squat shape, its texture is all velvet and dry; its flavours jostling to settle like a basket of puppies. 

That structure promises a wine which will bloom and burst out over the years: what? Twenty of them, under that screwie? Comfortably, I reckon. It's yet another reason to stay alive, not to see whether or not my prophecy is true blue, but merely to cark with that mad Merlot smile of the deepest satisfaction. 

This is a benchmark Merlot for Australia. 

And price-wise, it's a serious cannonade across the bows of Bordeaux, whichever bank you aim at. 

Blue Poles Margaret River Allouran 2015 ($40; 13.2% aclohol; screw cap) is Merlot with about 30% Cabernet franc, from the adjacent one-hectare block. The Franc gives that deep vegetal Merlot even more confectionary dressing: while still very complex and deep, it has alluring and capricious whiffs of crytallised violets and marshmallow sugar. 

These are reluctant, like the best bits of the baby Merlot above, but they make the wine seem a little more casual, which is misleading. While the palate's more lissom and spritely - this puppy's at least half whippet - and the tannins take longer to park, all this merely reminds me of the sorts of Coonawarra one could sometimes find when they picked before the jam or the frost hit: think Merrill's old Chateau Reynella Coonawarra blends after the Bordeaux style, without nearly so much green tea tannin and tomato leaf. 

Perhaps not looking at such longevity, this is the modern Premières Côtes de Bordeaux, dancing, giggling like Harlequin in circles round the more reserved Merlot. More drinking, less thinking, especially with that port salut. Which is not to say it's rosé, or even clairette. But to to me it fits the old claret template. Ten years? Probably. It'll be as cute and dribbly as those puppies in two. If Jackson Pollock had a case of each of these wines he woulda stayed home painting poles instead of perishing with Edith when he rolled his Olds whilst tanked on rye.

Number 11, 1952 (Blue Poles) by Jackson Pollock 
(2.1 m x 4.86 m) National Gallery of Australia

07 July 2018


Duane Coates finally has his own winery. It's in the chill woody hills atop the Willunga Escarpment, over the ridge from here, east of McLaren Vale ...  photo Milton Wordley

I'm open to challenge, but of the famous names spread quietly in fine vineyards around him, the breadth and depth of Duane's decades of quiet astute winemaking sets a new bar ... I photographed and reviewed three whites from last year's release here 

To spill some gastronomic glory on the new baby's head, Rebecca Stubbs, Duane's partner, cooked lunch for 20 today. 

And a shiny new baby the Coates  complex is, crisp Wallpaper/Dezeen, part slaty grey colourblonde but every inch of it precise, very cool on the eye and utterly functional ...  I love it ... photo Milton Wordley

You see the measured touch of these two utterly practical æsthetes, brilliant modernist classical chef and scientifically-focused international winemaker, all over it.

... I reviewed and photographed some of last year's red releases here ...

Like it has plenty of Euclid in the right angles, with the best library I've seen in a tasting and sales room, and this afternoon, the most swoony, seductive aromas.

Because Bastille Day looms, they put together a gradual feast in which Duane served his wines with French ones which he finds inspirational. Rebecca accompanied each brace with brilliant cuisine.

In every case, the wines danced a pretty three-part harmony with the food. 

It was nothing so simple as a threeway or trinity of course. This was surfin the real deep colour charts with Fibonacci, Mandelbrot and the Muses, led by Sister Polyhymnia. Got that vision? Convert it to smell, flavour, exhalation and high. Selah.  

While the French wines Duane regards as exemplars were more obviously  menhirs of Gaul than his canny, audacious Australians, the latter, in all their brash presumption, very soon sat down there on our table with their own monumental weight. 

Asterix watches Obelix make a menhir ... Duane's are much more Australian ... 

Get on the good list at Coates and you might score a chair at the next affair. They'll always be twenty people only. Another hot reason to live on the faultline.

photo Milton Wordley