“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)


.

.

.

.

27 September 2018

LOCALS REGROUP IN TEETH OF DRY SPRING

High Sands Grenache just sprouting their 2019 shoots: the sheep now moved away until harvest is over; the deep sand opened with a dodge plough ... photo Philip White

Big political reshuffle in wildlife hierarchies round White House
by PHILIP WHITE


This spring is dry. Last week I watched a peregrine reaching to pluck flesh from the sky over the Onkaparinga Gorge at Hickinbotham Vineyard. It seemed too hungry too early with those relentless darts and stoops across the bleak grey space: yearnings too fast for the untrained eye. 

Now the vines around this Casa Blanca cottage are shooting, the ewes with their generation of new leaping lambs have been moved away, so a few hares are coming back. The cloven-hooved sheep seem to deter hares from nesting. Hares don't dig burrows. I watched two boxing the living shit outa each other on a headland yesterday. They fight like kangaroos, up on the hind legs. They'll bash away for a few minutes, then take a break before the next round. Once one male is clearly dominant, he'll then move on the female they're competing for, and if she's not in the mood she'll be up on her haunches boxing the exhausted rampant bloke. I can smell their wild perfume. Their social media would be sumpin else. 



When the sheep leave, the spur-winged plovers, or masked lapwings, also return. Like hares, they make a sparse nest on open ground, and if the parents werent' there with their vicious ack-ack-ack swooping, one could easily step on their freckled eggs. 

There's been a flush of quiet pride locally with the return of the southern brown bandicoot to these Kangarilla hills. This little critter hasn't been seen here since the Ash Wednesday bushfires of 1983, but they're back, gradually snuffling down the creeklines, following the sand. This means the feral cats are finally in decline. And I suspect the foraging bandicoots are happy to find places like this, which have been free of glyphosate for years. 


Similarly, we're seeing echidna back on the patch. One belligerent local called Spike freaked the life out of the lab cleaner when she interrupted it beneath a bench in the winery next door. Why Spike would travail so far across that vast concrete apron into the clinical sanctity of a laboratory beats me. Marco Polo? Looking for a red? 

The western grey kangaroos are rabid. There's a ghetto of about sixty in a red gum coppice on the fen across the track. Many more than normal. They are big, hairy and confident, and the blokes are scary. 

They're always bashing fuck out of each other, too: it seems the dominant buck doesn't stay king too long. 

Bacchus only knows what sort of a mess they'll make if the dry continues. In the ranges, they've eaten so much of the understory vegetation that the tiny critters, the hopping mice and wrens that usually live and shelter there are under very real threat. 

Within a month or so, the only green vegetation in many locations will be vines. 

The koala, meanwile seem happy. They keep to themselves. 






















Gum control by George

I live on a ridge between two creeklines, which have not really run this year. Usually, with sunny warm days like this, they're screaming with frogs, especially when the Moon's full. Uh-huh. Not this time. While one can usually measure the health of the red-bellied black snake population by the intensity of this immoral frog frenzy, today the vipers will be waking from their winter snooze to find no Cuisses de grenouille au beurre aillé et persillé served with the rosé. 

And this year the field rodents are noticeably absent, so who knows what the red bellies will eat. 


That's enough fauna. Flora time: as well as that brisk bouquet of drying meadow, the season is also marked by its early proliferation of allergens: the stolen breath business is thick and startling. These irritants are both natural and otherwise: while I'm always wary of the male brown sheoak and the cursed golden wattle, "the emblem of our land, you can stick it in a bottle, you can hold it in your hand," it's the odd waft of wind-blown chemical spray that gets you while traversing the roadways. My sniffles and gasps are immediate responses to whatever's on the air as we pass. 

This delight usually arrives later in the year, with the cursed olive blossom. 

Creekline 2017: the ground's not making water like this in the dry '18 spring

Not good for wine evaluation, the old raw face syndrome. 

No tasting notes today. 

I thought of this passage of the zephyrs and their various contents in a car yesterday as we drove through pretty springtime florals to sudden hits of stock dung, acrid roadkill roos and then aggro pollens and human-spread irritants. Not going for sympathy, but it's like a Space Odyssey, suspended out in here in a realm where I struggle to identify them, and in the case of wine, describe their aromatic wiles and allure in a language which has very few words specific to flavour or aroma. 

In this line of work, we are forced to resort to simile and metaphor when wrapping English around a task it was never built for. 

Even further off the track, another highlight of this strange season's been watching Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH), that vast luxury champagne, liquor, perfume and fashion house, spend a squillion on its current attempts to photograph aroma in a big vid campaign promoting its latest fragrance. 

As I reckon Gus Howard and I did making the first movie promoting Australian wine to Europe for the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation in the early 'eighties. Need immediate access over-ruling all security extant? Wear a uniform. That's the Steingarten behind the Orange Man below, doing the white balance.



It's obvious Emma Stone's journey in the old Merc sports doesn't take her through a waft of sulphur spray or old buck roo piss on the roadside, but I reckon they've done a pretty good job of visually triggering the sense of an array of pleasing aromas. 

I'm not in the business of promoting expensive perfumes yet unsmelled, but I wonder how many hints of fragrance you can count in these very cleverly  sophisticated images? They evoke a long list of wines in my post-perfume brain. Mainly white. 

Now for the smell of ripe wombat. This underground sub-contractor dug his way out of China through North Korea to eventually emerge in Osaka. 

26 September 2018

CRAP THAT GOES ON BOTTLES

classic colonial imagery in this 1880s economy: South Australian wine label art from the Bremer Valley vineyard and winery of George Burney Young and his son Harry Dove Young; eastern estuarine side of the Adelaide Hills bit of the Mount Lofty Ranges ...  

David 'Unaipon'Ngunaitponi, the revered Ngarrindjeri anthropologist and inventor worked in these cellars, as did the great French winemaker Edmund Mazure, who worked on his St Henri Claret recipes here in the late 1800s


Wrap some facts around your bottle: try selling some simple clever honesty 
by PHILIP WHITE 


Awoken last night by my mates Valmai Hankel, the great librarian, historian, desert traveller, writer and book expert, and her carer, the illustrator George Grainger Aldridge, talking wine literature to ABC Adelaide announcer Peter Goers, I'm sure I heard the latter complain that he thought my reference once to a wine smelling like lignite was pushing my descriptors too far. 

This usage seems to have annoyed dear Goers for years. 

Grape skins, from whence the winemaker takes colour and flavour, are composed largely of lignin. The oak of barrels is made from lignin - it's the scaffolding that holds plants up. Toast the barrels toward the point that Bourbon makers call "gatorback" and you oxidise that lignin. Add a dash of the yeast, brettanomycaes, that lives on sugar in the wood, leaving mainly oxidised lignin aromas and you shouldn't be surprised if the eventual drink smells a bit like lignite, which is brown coal, which is oxidised lignin, no? 


As a little kid growing up in the mountains overlooking the La Trobe Valley, I learned very young that aroma of the coal trains scurrying along the valley floor, carting coal and briquettes from Yallourn to Melbourne. It seemed an opposite aroma to the freshness and bountiful growth of rainy Gippsland. 

While this slight whinge about usage came amidst some very kind praise, thank you, it reminded me of the current state of wine labels and the mess of mangled grammar that finds its way onto many back labels. I wouldn't expect notable levels of English descriptive literacy from a winemaker any more than I'd expect it of an accomplished potato farmer or slab chemist, but jeez, some of it leaves a fair bit to be desired. 























I suppose it adds something folksy to the product, but they forget that what I want is copy in a face large enough to read, in colours chosen to assist the large number of folks who like me have rather challenging colour-blindness. 

I want to be able to easily see the alcohol level, in the hope the winemaker hasn't taken too much advantage of the slack law that permits 1.5 per cent variation in the ethanol degree - either side of the claimed amount. This means many wines that claim the standard 14.5 per cent level are actually closer to 16 per cent, a degree that puts your table wine closer to the realms of port strength than the polite amount you might expect to enjoy with your average-to-standard chook. 

Not that I haven't enjoyed too many wines that were perhaps a bit too strong for me. 

Now I see a return to some more classical labelling on front labels. We've had a few years where the shelves bulged with a great cacophonic mess of label art, amateurish, confusing and confounding. We got past that phase where mum and dad would sit down at the table with a Biro and pad and design a label, and got to the point where it was young Pebble Brook and Fern Raintree, the kids, designing imagery that ranged from head comix and Mouse Studios' Grateful Dead posters in style, to rather infantile drawings of fairies and glitter. 

Often this matches the mood of the murky, naturally oxidising tinctures within; just as frequently it serves as a warning to this prospective buyer.

Stanley Mouse for The Grateful Dead

Never, man, NEVER do the late teen retro Mouse fudges emerging now match true Mouse. To avoid this confusion, it seems there is a return to providing some basic essential information about strength, grape type, source and age. This is good! 

One of my mentors was that erudite wine man and art collector, David Wynn, who wanted to be an architect or a sculptor more than a winemaker, even after his old dad, Sam, convinced him instead to follow the winemaking game upon his demobbing from the Air Force. 

David was exceptional in the degree of fuss he put into his label design. Foremost is the example that survives to this day on Wynns Coonawarra Estate bottles. 

Having congratulated him on never changing it, and keeping it constant, he chuckled and showed me how over the years, he'd made constant, almost imperceptible micro adjustments to his design, which was based around Richard Beck's perfectly simple woodcut of John Riddoch's 1890s winery and distillery. David had commissioned Beck very early in the piece: it bravely announced a new direction for the region, and in the 'fifties, was alarming in its modernity. 


David claimed to be the first winemaker to use the word "Estate" in relation to his holding, and while he left Beck's distinctive illo unchanged, he struggled and fiddled each vintage to ensure the words "Wynn's Coonawarra Estate" and "Coonawarra" appeared as many times as possible on his bottle. It was on the capsule (twice); it was on the cork. It was on the front label, prominently, and repeated in finer print at the bottom as the estate address. Turn the bottle around, there was a map showing Coonawarra, with, yep Wynn's Coonawarra Estate smack dab in the middle. It was repeated there again, in fine face, top and bottom; even in four point, up the side, as a code. Just to be sure. 

"If you're on Norwood Parade," Wynn told me, "and there's a bottle of my wine on a table on the other side of the road, I want you to recognise that bottle as Wynn's. If you walk into a liquor barn, and there's a bottle of my wine on the shelf right down at the back, I want you to recognise that bottle, walk straight to it, pick it up and buy it with confidence and pride. Between the shelf and the till, I want you to read 'Wynn's' and 'Coonawarra Estate' as many times as possible." 

So if you study the bottles from Wynn's era through several corporate takeovers to today's ownership by Treasury, seventy years on, you'll be alarmed at the repetition you'd never noticed before. That woodcut stays distinctive through all manner of adjustments and tweaks, even surviving brilliantly the inclusion of a black background and a bright red stripe. 


To Wynn, that map on his back label (long gone, mind you) was much more important than any attempt to describe the contents beyond those basics: owner, source, type, strength and age. He had a new region to promote - nobody had heard of Coonawarra, or knew where it was. Wynn believed that if the brand was sufficiently distinctive to earn respect, the drinker would quite simply trust the contents without having to interpret some winemaking waffle about smells and flavours and whatnot. 

David Wynn, Howard Twelftree and the author at the twenty years of Mountadam Chardonnay tasting at the winery on High Eden in 2004 ... photo Adam Wynn

With all that digested, I'm not here to say winemakers shouldn't attempt to somehow describe the style of the drink they want you to buy. Get the biro out. Have a bit of a write. Get an editor to have a go at it. Designers are not editors. 

But if your wine smells a bit like lignite, I wouldn't be bragging of that on the back. I'd leave that mining to the critic, hoping such a discovery would never be made. Go solar.


The auth0r visiting Maire Mannik at the Mines Department in Rundle Street Adelaide in 1973 ... I reckon that ute had a diff from a supercharged Terex V16 fifty tonne dumper in it ... taking it out to beg Dick Cavell at Cavpower for help ... dear Dick died a few weeks back ... he was a good bloke ... this photo Chris Langman using Stuart Young's Nikon



19 September 2018

A LIGHTER SHADE OF PALE

Light and precise: see how these Grenache rosés have grown paler with consecutive years ... photo Philip White

Firsts for South Oz: pale, precise rosé; more boisterous chrome Blanc blend
by PHILIP WHITE


It is no secret that I live like a crofter hermit with a pen on the back block verge of Yangarra. Neither is it an accident: for many years I've been fascinated by this unique slice of terroir, and how its manager/winemaker, Peter Fraser, respects it and reads its best potential. 

With these two new wines, he's raised the Yangarra bar, but also opened a new gastronomic track for McLaren Vale. 

Yangarra Estate Vineyard McLaren Vale Grenache Rosé 2018 
$25; 13% alcohol; screw cap 

A few decades back, a great deal of the grand old vine Grenache that South Australia grew went into sweet lollypop pink rosés. 

The Tollana version was a fine example, coming in its flattened pear-shaped bocksbeutel after the Mateus style. This ancient shape was developed to prevent bottles rolling away from the drinker but became very handy with the invention of the fridge: you could slide 'em in the door rack where they looked extra neat and tidy and wouldn't fall over if you slammed it. 

In recent years winemakers have learned to make very fine red wines from the Grenache that survived, inspired in some cellars by the style of Pinot noir perfected in Burgundy. 

Yangarra Rosé 2011 photo by David Burnett when he came to visit.... others by Philip White

But still a determined few have been honing more adult styles of rosé, reaching past the red skins into the berries for their most fragrant, elegant heart juice. 

In the case of this svelte delight, the winemaker has preferred to keep that pale blanc-de-noir hue by rigidly limiting the duration of skin contact, a method which also stops short of extracting much phenolic tannin from the skins, keeping that juice as fresh and fine as possible. 

This is assisted by picking early, before the skins ripen fully. The result is an alluring aroma that avoids the usual overt, even brash raspberry/redcurrant/cranberry characters. Instead it offers a distinctive agave/prickly-pear juice finesse after that delicious cactus fruit adored as the heart flavour of spring and summer by the Maltese since they were Phoenecians. 

Yangarra Rosé 2017

So we have a wine that's pretty much along the lines of a white Grenache. The curious side of me would be tempted to pick some even earlier and make a serious sparkling wine after the methode Champenoise. In either case, I suspect it would attract the sort of drinker much less likely to let the bottle roll away or kick a fridge door shut. 

Yangarra Rosé 2014

I'm very happy indeed to sit toying with this mischievous wine, sans suds. 

Speaking Mediterranean, it does a proper job with most of the snacky platter cuisines from Lebanon to Morocco. Very old ideas in a new style; a new direction. Get down. 

Yangarra Vineyard Estate McLaren Vale Blanc 2018 
$25; 13% alcohol; screw cap 

Here's a brand new blend for Australia: a push into realms paler than that posh pink above. 

Convinced that his upland old vine Grenache indicated a very special affinity between Yangarra and the north-west Mediterranean, winemaker Peter Fraser has spent ten years importing the white varieties of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. 


This wine is a certified biodynamic/organic blend of Grenache Blanc (35%), Clairette (30%), Roussanne (20%), Picpoul (10%) and Bourboulenc (5%). It was made with indigenous yeast in 675 litre ceramic fermenting eggs. 

"Back in 2009 we had an attempt to first bring in Grenache Blanc." Fraser says, "but it was rejected in quarantine. It had corky bark virus. When a variety is first imported, it is only in very small quantities. It takes time to pass quarantine, and then some years to populate the planting material to have enough for commercial plantings." 

Very gentle tootsies on some 2014 Roussanne

As it's a first on many levels, it's not surprising that this Blanc doesn't remind me much of other Australian wine. Nor for that matter, even the whites of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. They tend to have a more rural/rustic approach than Fraser's measured blend of science and nature. He gets more precision in his chaos. 

It is a reassuring, wholesome wine of a special finesse. Its fragrance is once again after the cactus flower and the juice of the agave, aloe and prickly pear, with the accent on streamlining all that into a tight chrome sheen. It's polished; seamless. It has a tad more tannin than the Grenache Rosé, giving it more authority, but overall it's a smooth and shiny thing. It needs no oak. 

In the 170 years since white boozers pushed into this Kaurna country. the embayment and uplands of what became McLaren Vale after a surveyor, Bacchus only knows how many white varieties they've tried here, but it's pretty much everything from Sauvignon blanc to Savignin; Chardonnay to Chenin. 

Most forgettable. Although I have had some lovely Rieslings from the northern uplands of the vignoble, some Cudmore Kay showed me at 30-35 years of age. Golden beauty in those caterpillar/barrel flagons with the cork. I think Sam Wynn invented them for recycling. And I've had some lovely early 'nineties Rieslings made by Brian Light at Tapestry from Yangarra vines. All gone now.   

Dare I suggest this new selection of ancient Mediterranean types offers better hope, in these days of new heat, less water, and a much more discerning drinker? 

Funny that it took us so long. Try it with a cool bean and pork belly stew.


15 September 2018

ANNUAL CLARE RIESLING TEMPLATES



Spring is Clare Riesling time. O'Leary Walker always sets an early template
by PHILIP WHITE


O'Leary Walker Watervale  Clare Valley Riesling 2018 
($22; 11.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

Just limes. Pure and simple. 

Oh yes. There's also the wild high smell of that chalky Watervale slope after a light summer sunshower. Dampened dry pasture. A general feeling of nature and delight. Good Clare Riesling does this. 

And the O'Leary-Walker blokes are the masters of getting all this into the bottle, safe and sound for decades. My annual wait for the arrival for these truly distinctive whites, after nearly twenty years of them, has become a bigger deal than Christmas. The frustration is handling the idea that each year seems better than its predecessor. Yep, this year seems better than all of them. 

This really is about as definitive as Watervale gets. Precise, fine, uncompromising, taut: it's hard to handle the notion of something so steely and humourless being so packed with life. And we're still just sniffin'. Drink. As predicted: limes and shiny, shiny steel. Refreshment with its own inbuilt challenge. 

Prime slice of Watervale's Côte des Blanc, viewed from the tasting and sales room ... these photos Philip White  

This is no joke, but it makes me smile. It's full-bore austere, yet it's really a solid billet of generosity. Confident. It pretty well moves in and just sits there, totally occupying the mouth. 

Fresh Emu Bay King George whiting sizzled briefly with butter, squirted with lemon, fresh grind of black pepper, crunchy bread and butter, bottle o' this ... hear me leer. 

O'Leary Walker Polish Hill River Clare Valley Riesling 2018 
($25; 12 % alcohol; screw cap) 

Grown in the older schists, siltstones and slates across the range to the east of Watervale, the Polish Hill River wine usually has more tropical fruits, like fleshy, aromatic lychee and rambutan, than the straight down-the-line steely citrus offered by the Watervale chalks. 

Same here in 2018: maybe there's more of both tropicals and Ozzie dust. This is looking increasingly like a mighty year - these ARE better, or maybe just more obvious than usual, if that means anything. 



So in there with the grapefruit pith, the magnolia petals, the star fruit, the entire jungle fruiterer, that reek of high summer dust, you'll find a less austere, more open-heartedly generous, more coddling and cuddling sort of a companion. 

This is the wine for fattier river fish and marron with garlic in butter. Reminds me of Jean Meyer showing me how his Alsace Riesling from ancient marine geology went better with seafood while his Riesling from freshwater riverine geology was best with freshwater fishes. 


Shiitake. Enoki. I suspect that of the great longevity both wines promise, this year the Watervale wine is the real long-hauler. It'll outlive me. The Polish Hill offers more humourous pleasure and immediate comfort and reassurance in this its youth. I intend to outlive it. This bottle, anyway. Get up to Clare and rattle a few glasses. And buy a bottle or two of the right royal 2013 Drs. Cut Riesling while you're there. That'll shiver some timbers.

Here be the lads with the serious pre-party jitters. Have we done the right thing? Like which is the better Riesling? Have we invited the right people? 

They'll be cool when the guests arrive!

"Whole lotta things that I never done - I ain't ever had too much fun!"


I hope that Peter Dutton keeps this snap close to the front of my file: I was invited to do the business welcoming Prime Minister John Howard and introducing him at the opening of the O'Leary Walker winery. You don't get too many Prime Ministers opening too many wineries anywhere on Earth these days. Together, on the day, we did a good job. I reckon overall, Howard handled my low pH intro speech pretty well. Not chatted since, mind you. 

Six Prime Ministers later, and the O'Leary Walker is the only constant. The Rieslings get better organised every year.



QUIET LUNCH WITH THE CLAPPIS BLOKES


No sorry mate we're shut today for renovations. This is just a work lunch.
by PHILIP WHITE
 

Under cover of renovations Enzo and Andy Clappis gave a lunch for a few senior blokes. Their Our Place is a buzzy tavola di famiglia for lost weekend lunches and special events. It's down The Range from Casa Blanco, across the Willunga Fault atop its escarpment. 

You look out over the Gulf St Vincent from up there with the eagles. 

Father and son served astonishing dishes through a lazy afternoon, including hung pheasants with porcini risotto. Shivers.

A bright young prominently necktagged health inspector from the local council seemed surprised when he strode in to interrupt the Member for Mawson dutifully stirring porcini juice into the big risotto pot. 

The inspector withdrew, suggesting he should return to make an appointment after the renovations - and lunch - were complete. 

Pane di Andy is a tru-blue gastronomic highlight of McLaren Vale life. Andy Clappis by Tony Lewis for Indaily.

When I was green in this game, Greg Trott, explaining his region advised "Young White, there's no competition between McLaren Vale and the Barossa. They're German. We've got the Italians." 

We sure do. This is the menu: 

Pane di Andy and Michael Harbison’s olive oil

Baccala Mantecato alla Venetziana

Pesce in Savor (Coorong mulloway)

Vitello Tonnato (classic Piedmonte dish)

Trippa in Bianco served with freshly grated Padano

Fagiano con Castangne e risotto in bianco con Fagiano e Fungi Porcini

Verdure selvatiche from our paddock (wild broccoli)

Gorgonzola dolce con pere


Joe and his brother John Petrucci were there. Wine people. Growers. Joe brought his confounding Sabella Colorino, which is the syrup of starless nights. This is Joe and his winemaking son Michael. 

photos at top and this one by Philip White

Enzo and Andy are heroes in Adelaide pub history. When they had the Maylands, they were I think the first publicans in Australia to put a posh espresso machine on the front bar. Their food was exemplary. 

Premier Don Dunstan called Enzo "The King of Offal". The last bottle of Penfolds Bin 60A I shared with Max Schubert was in the Maylands. Robbie Robertson brought it. That's what sort of a joint they ran in the face of a towering wave of Colonel Sadness and Hungry Dan's. I have lived a blessed life. 

Thankyou dear Enzo and Andy for adding such rich new layers. And that al dente honeycomb tripe was pretty trippy.

Enzo Clappis by Tony Lewis for Indaily

12 September 2018

ŻUBR AND THE GREASY GRASS


XXX Chardonnay substitute made from rye and buffalo grass. In Poland.
by PHILIP WHITE

 Żubrówka Bison Grass Flavoured Vodka  
($55 for 700ml; 40% alcohol; screw cap) 

In the matter of stronger drink, spring is Żubrówka season at Casa Blanca. Seven times distilled, this is the Polish rye vodka flavoured with Hierochloe odorata, the fragrant buffalo grass much beloved by the żubr, the rare European bison politely named Bison bonasus by Linnaeus in 1758. It's also called the wisent, from the viking visundr

There are precious few of these lumbering beasties left - they're a protected threatened species - but every now and then one human hero or another will post a photograph of themselves with a żubr they've managed to slaughter with a high-velocity rifle. 


Pretty hard to miss, the old żubr. 

This trophy business has been going on a lot longer than the firearm: old Germanic tribes used żubr horns to make their battle helmets look more scary. Contrary to Hollywood myth, Vikings used sea eagle or raven's wings on their bloodbuckets, not horns. They tended to use the horns they'd get from their enemies' helmets as drinking vessels, after taking their first victorious draught from the sköl of the vanquished. 

Sköl as drinking vessel for the Viking victor ... photo Derek Adams, Natural History Museum

As far as herbal business goes, Hierochloe odorata had long been a favourite medication for humans. It was, and still is in some quarters, harvested for its natural phenylpropanoid, coumarin, an efficaceous compound that works a bit like low doses of wormwood, Artemesia absinthium, in its calmative capacity. Coumarin has been claimed to be analgesic and antiseptic. For centuries buffalo grass was used to ease siezures, settle heart palpipations, ease odema, shrink tumours, reinforce the immune system, kidneys and liver, soothe asthma and thicken ageing bones. Like nettles, you can make tea or soup from it. 

In the USA, the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms people found that coumarin too closely resembled dicoumarol, a manufactured anti-coagulant which in huge doses causes internal bleeding and is used in rat poison. So in the US, Żubrówka is spared its natural flavourant, which is replaced by a synthetic essence, and sold simply as Żu. Even the single blade of buffalo grass which comes in every bottle in Australia and Europe is replaced by a strip of green plastic in the US. 


For perspective, a teaspoon of cinnamon contains around 10mg of coumarin - not dicoumarol - while one litre of Żubrówka holds about 12mg. German health officials rule that humans can safely handle 0.1mg per kilogram of body weight per day, which means I'd have to consume about 1.5 litres per day of 40% alcohol Żubrówka to even nudge the coumarin safety limit. 

If you need inspiration, a healthy żubr of about one tonne weight devours about 30 kg of the raw grass per day and is known for its ability to leap a two metre fence from a standing start. 

As far as a drink goes, Żubrówka is nothing like other vodkas, flavoured or not. Without being too much of either, it's bitter-sweet, with a comforting unction, after the nature of cold chamomile tea, which also happens to contain coumarin. The sweetness is an illusion: it's more a slightly oily viscosity than your actual sugar. 

Being a human who likes bitter flavours, like Campari, I quite enjoy a slow neat Żubrówka on an ice block. It's also alluring chilled with soda - it's like a XXX-rated Chardonnay in some ways - and those who like a touch of true sweet in their bitters may enjoy it with lime juice or a dash of Bickfords. Blackcurrant also suits it, or cider. It's great with a proper perry. Garnish? Try a slice of lime or fresh ginger root. 

Above all, it's the alluring meadow perfume of Hierochloe odorata that gives Żubrówka its distinction, and made that grass an essential part of the ancient parfumier's arsenal: as well as providing its own verdant plains aroma, it works as a fixer, stabilising other more fleeting floral fragrances. 

So as you drink, share a ka-chink with your colleagues, toasting the few remaining żubr in the hope the buffalo grass keeps them leaping from the cross hairs of the jerks who insist on hunting them. And you may well draw a second schluck in recollection of General Custer and his last foolish brigade, perishing there on a whole fragrant prairie of the stuff. That massacre at Little Big Horn was first known as the Battle of Greasy Grass. Breathing this soothing perfume, Custer and co. bled to death there on the plain they did not own, long before the petrochem business even dreamed of dicoumarol. Always best to reflect on such stupid plains wars with a natural soporific that can hoist a bison two metres, methinks. 

Żubr; Altamira, Cantabria, 18,500 - 4,000 BCE ... photo Ramessos

NO BLEACHED BARK IN PROVENCE PINK



Provence Grenache Cinsault rosé stays fresh and pink with screw cap
by PHILIP WHITE


You know the feeling? Years of dreaming of eventually reaching Marseilles to bog into a real bouillabaisse with a bright Provence rosé to finally arrive and discover most of the rosé was rotten? 

I know it too well. That acrid carrion twang of trichloranisole (TCA), the perfectly-named rotten cork compound. You have a spongiform wild oak bark steeped in wind, rain, dust, squirrel piss, birdshit and those dainty titbits left by bulls relieving itches. You peel that bark off the Quercus suber trunk and bleach it so it looks clean. Natural. Food-grade. But the bleach reacts badly with some of the resident cork fungi and leaves that damn stink. Shove cork in bottle; TCA moves into wine; eats all primary fruit leaving bitter gutted corpse of the original drink, ribs to the sun. 

Twas on that lovely sunny first day in Marseilles I discovered that in the south of France the drying, eviscerating nature of trash Portuguese cork had become so prevalent that most wine vendors, from cellar to somm, thought that was simply what their local wine was like. I couldn't believe it. You're in a spaghetti western, you got buffalo ribs sticking outa that cracked desert clay, right? The visitor does not complain. 

Eat your bouillabaisse, son. We make our rosé dry. 


TCA makes wine taste dry. Dry bones and coal dust. In those days, the locals would not use screw caps. Many still won't. So it's cool, decades on, to be sent the wine I went to Provence to drink with the local fish stew. 

Note I say Provence, not provenance, which I discussed here below. This wine came from yet another  company whose website has yet to assemble itself, if it's providence that interests you. On the bottom of the texturally/graphically-pleasing paper letter that came full speed by snail were the address of another website and a twitter handle. Nothing there either. 

The producer is a mob called Debussy, which seems to be a negociant-based thing which I reckon might get its wine made to order in one south-of-France co-op or another. The packaging and texts make me suspect there are Brits in the background: "Rameau d'Or," it says, "A specialist Rosé producer from Provence. The name, Rameau d'Or translates to Golden Bough and comes from a fantastical French tale of enchantment love and transformation - a perfect match for this quintessential summer rosé." 

What do you think? Brits? 

I reckon the back label's even worse. It introduces the ugly prince. 

Never mention the ugly prince. 

The wine is distributed in Australia by red+white, a well-reputed wholesaler which has absolutely nothing to do with me. To me it means pink when it's not clarified, and as a colour-blind person, pink is a colour I do not see. 

Tell me about it.

Debussy Rameau d'Or Golden Bough Côtes de Provence Rosé 2017 
($28; 13% alcohol; screw cap) 

That mild rosepetal/rosebud perfume that wends from the thorns all the way along to Turkish delight is here. There's a bowl of lemons on Mamée's same dappled linen, and the acrid dusty dry of the Provence farmyard well after the lavendar's all picked, packed and gone off to the stills. Hard bread covered in dusty flour. Long before I reached the top of the label I could smell chook feathers blowing around. We are at the long Sunday table in the four o'clock sun. Fully replete, Old Pop snores as his chins nod closer to the cheese. The accordionist is drunk. The nieces are giggling. Does gingham have a smell? 

I know cantaloupe - called muskmelon by some - wrapped in prosciutto is ideally a flavour from across the border in Italy, but this drink actually tastes like that. With some lemonburger pear, as grown by McCarthy's Farm down my way. And then that hempen burlap smell of sacks stacked right there in the barn. All those flavours, with the slender acid of the grapes - Grenache 70%; Cinsault 30% - and the tiny residual hints they leave: insinuations of gingery lime marmalade and leatherwood honey - are all here jumping and dancing so fresh and lovely BECAUSE IT HASN'T GOT A GODDAM CORK! 

This is a bonny dry rosé of the best sort from the one place it suits as well as mine. You'll find it more easily around the internet if you drop the Debussy. Rameau d'Or will get it. Strange, that.

Fish for bouillabaisse in Marseille ... photo Annika Berlingieri ... below is Fish catch and Dawes Point Sydney Harbour by John William Lewin, who was the first big time white bloke painter ashore. This surreal documentary 1813 painting is one of the oldest colonial treasures in the Art Gallery of South Australia.

09 September 2018

SOME SNAPS FROM A COLD DRY SPRING

As spring is in but dry I find myself wanting to keep a photographic record. 

More than usual, I mean. 

That's Yangarra's Ironheart Vineyard in the foreground above, looking out across another neighbours' vineyard on the fen. That remnant coppice on the left is a roo ghetto.

It's suddenly the beginning of blossom time out the back of Casa Blanca.

Took a walk up the near creek this afternoon, to the High Sands Grenache. That's still a frigid hill at this time of year. This is the dovecote near the mulch heap.



I interrupted a few slumbering roos whilst fumbling for this shot of my back door out on the shoulder. This creek hasn't run yet this year, but the smaller ponds have some water and  there's plenty of feed ... all for the roos now budburst is imminent and the sheep have gone for the year ... all photos Philip White

This is the season for very chill nights when there's no wind or cloud, many bright sunny days, and this year, not nearly enough rain. 

It can still suddenly storm up though, like it did on this afternoon last October: