“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)





08 November 2018


McLaren Vale turns right to Bordeaux: after all that, it's not only Rhônesome

Forget all this stuff about the Vales being like the south of France. Two local hotshots are going Bordeaux, one via Clare; one via Coonawarra.

Steve Pannell winning his fourth Bushing throne was one thing. 

In his astonishing career, he's won lots of things. Great awards well made. From bargain Nottage Hills to a spectacular Jimmy Watson-winning Eileen Hardy (first of two Jims), Pannell hasn't made much bad wine. 

Winning the Bushing for best wine in the McLaren Vale district with a Clare blend is another thing. 

Like it's not Clare at all of course, other than through that secret sinew that runs from A. P. Birks' Wendouree Cellars in Clare, into Pannell's vinous heart. In my book, Wendouree's the international high temple of that Cabernet Malbec blend, which is actually along the lines of the reds the old timers pinched from Bordeaux. 

Fourth Bushing crown for Stephen Pannell and wife Fiona Lindquist ... photo Milton Wordley

Where the Wendouree version is often tight with Zen rigour behind its delightful fragrance, staying warrior-slim, aloof and austere for decades, the same varieties grown in the constant maritime humidity of the Vales are immediately a bit more hairy. 

Velvet is the better word. From first slurp, the S. C. Pannell McLaren Vale Cabernet Malbec 2016 (14% alcohol; screw cap) is a plush velvet glove more than a shiny steel gauntlet. 

It has plenty of rigour and steely resolve, of course, at least as much poke, but delivers this with a lot more of a smooch and a grin. It's more generous, and its unfolding is more immediate. Its tannins are louder. 

Now, after a whole night's air, it's more forthright in its comforting pudge. It has let wafts of shellacky laquer and Marveer ooze out to match the initial violet and rosewood florals, adding a certain oriental parlour allure to this McLaren Vale version of a distinctive style of red made after an old Bordelaide model in Clare, South Mount Lofty Ranges, Australia. 

If you're quick, you can procure three bottles of this gorgeousness along with the previous Bushing monarch, the S. C. Pannell Touriga Cabernet Mataro 2015, in a six-pack for $300. 

Like Pannell, Tim Geddes (above) is another of those enlightened winemakers who pushes McLaren Vale's capacity to make the types of maritime blends you'd find along the north-west Mediterranean coast of France and Spain, but is just as likely to pull a Bordeaux rabbit from the same damn hat. 

He's just done this with his Geddes Seldom Inn McLaren Vale Petit Verdot 2017 ($25; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap)

Petit verdot ("little green", like the Joni Mitchell song) is a late-ripening red which became very scarce in Bordeaux as the early-ripening mellow Merlot rose to favour. Now the whole joint's so much hotter there's pressure there to reverse the trend. 

Tim has form with this variety: when he worked with Wayne Thomas they won their first Bushing Crown with an absolute cracker in 2004. That was grown on pre-Cambrian Kurrajong rubble on the Willunga piedmont; this new baby's from Darrell Hunt's sandy red stuff on the young calcrete and limestone at Maslin Beach. The profile there is freakishly like Coonawarra in some spots. 

Checking Darryl Hunt's lovely vineyard at Maslin Beach with him, Cowboy and Tim

Nothing green about this red, however. In a freaky way, its form is about halfway between those Wendouree and Pannell wines: it has the lacquer and the rose petals but in a more martial form than the Pannell. 

Some prune, dried fig, cruched blackcurrant leaves and skins coming from a cassis destemmer ... then less of the Pannell wine's fur and a whipsnake more of Wendouree's steely acid rigour. One on the table right away; six in the dungeon for a few years' growth. Frigging remarkable. 

I would love to know of other folks' reaction to these wines. The Geddes is not at all spendy for its class, so that's not trouble. Get some mates and share that six-pack from Pannell before they're all gone. Compare. Drop me a line. It'll take your mind off the vagaries of the Grenache results at this year's Bushing Show. Last year, they wanted everybody to make their Grenache like Pinot. This year, they seem to think it should be like cheap Californian Merlot. Keep your eyes on the horizon and your boots on your feet.

The Geddes family delivers the Petit Vedot in their '29 Chrysler: Tim, Lillian, Amanda and Isaac ... photos by Philip White

07 November 2018


image from DRINKSTER's star advisor on such matters: Plutonium and Gravy (Martin Pfeiffer)@NuclearAnthro

04 November 2018


Leon Bignell, the state parliamentarian for the McLaren Vale, Fleurieu Peninsula and Kangaroo Island region, worked for a while as a journalist at The Advertiser in his previous life. Usually known as Biggles, he collected the Drinkster and Bill Guy and drove us to the Big Smoke to a pub reunion of journalists who worked at The Tiser. 

Lots from the '70s. Probly too mean to die, most of us.

Bill was commonly regarded around Australia as the ace foreign desk editor. He came out of retirement to select six from from hundreds of cadetship applicants each year, and stay as their mentor. 

We both worked briefly on The Herald when Rupert bought that last of Australia's afternoon broadsheets in Melbourne. Man we can chat. We did the history of Australian newspapers from 1965 to now in that hour-long cruise. 

Biggles, who preferred the tabloid and sporting tv reportage life, suggested Bill is one of the last fluent speakers of Broadsheet: every sentence uttered had a few commas, a semi-colon; maybe a dash or two. Perfectly placed. Perfectly researched, with footnotes and a breakout. 

"Which I shall address shortly," Bill would say, finishing first his elegant feature. 

Who dare sub that? I wish we'd recorded that drive.

Late photographic despatch from Biggles: guess where we went for a rest? 

Looks like I'm still there ...


Awoke yesterday to the hum of chatter in the baby bush vine Grenache. The experts were in, plucking excess shoots from these tiny ten-year-old strugglers; giving them a cuddle and a clean: some encouragement in the face of a very dry year.  They are in sparse clay and sand over slab terrazzo ironstone. Every one grows a bunch or two: last vintage they were picked early for the Yangarra rosé. These will be the old vines of the future. Here's a dormant bubby last year, and another doing its best for vintage.

I kid you not about terrazzo: in some places, under just a few centimetres of sandy clay it's like this: