“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)





18 October 2017


Lickin all the right toes with the appropriate confidence and clarity

My bemusement at the resurgence from antiquity of unmade wines, with their suss protein murk, macular degeneration and unstable yeast zoology, all mercilessly flogged as 'natural', has focussed the annoyance of a few of the popular winemakers vaguely at moi. 

This is a good thing, because most of them are gentle folk who don't shoot and some send ambassadors with fastidiously unmade wines for me to try. One as hirsuit as me takes readily to an hair shirt. Although I took my old grey beard off the other day, lest I be mistaken for a millennial. To be beard-specific, millennials look to me like Neo-Mennonites, or The Band on the cover of their second album in 1969. I stopped trying to look like than in 1978. 

While I take a strand of comfort from the trend amongst some millennial women to die their young hair grey, much of the pricing of the hairy or woolly wines committed by this lost and undone generation makes me prickle. 

These people are scary with presumption on pricing. 

Sure, I understand that customers will pay for what they want - think Grange - but I also know price is what I pay; value is what I get.

Reminds me of a Tom Rush song from my kid days:  

Kids these days  
they don't value a dollar 
Don't like chewin
but they sure can swaller  

That'll be the winemakers. Some of whom seem to think they're young winemakers at 40. But the punters? Whatter bout the poor punters? Try this quatrain I found in a Doris Lessing book when I was 22:

Not everyone has known these depths, 
The black uncalculated wells of sea 
Where any gleam of day lies far above, 
And stagnant water slow and thick and foul  

Unmade, like unfinished, just for the Shorter Oxford Dictionary record, is one step short of unoaked, unfiltered and/or unfined. Or any of those bottled when rotting. I invented these essential appellations for application to unmade and unfinished wines. 

One lively gourmand who gets off his mountainbike for a drink now and then is Charles Lawrence (above), who works at Karatta Wines at Robe when he's not doing pop-up wine things in the wilder snowboarding bits of Japan. He's originally from NW Florida. He brought me one of the best Shiraz wines I've had this year. It was from Canada. La Vieux Pin 2010, from British Columbia. Sheeessh. Ravishing. So he knows where he's at. But while he might frequent millennial waterholes with murky mates he likes to test my vision for clarity. He brought me two wines to prove that with consultant winemaker Richard Bate he knows how to make them. 

And finish them, not in murky unmade and incomplete death wallows, but, mon vieux, with a view to a full, healthy and bright LIFE! 

Karatta Wines K Chinaman's Trek Tenison Vineyard Robe Pinot Noir 2107  
($18; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

Hmm. A Robe Pinot? Some of the reds from along that coast betray their source with whiffs of the beach and dunal vegetation. (DMS for nerds.) While it fits some Sauvignon blanc, I never liked that brisk coast smell in some St Henri Shiraz vintages, where it didn't seem to fit that traditionally mellow style when Robe fruit was included in the blend. Recent vintages are much the better without it. 

But this one?  Let's see. Uh-huh. This is bright, pure and clean. Fruity. Pretty grapes!  Racy. Envigorating. A dark chocolate Cherry Ripe. Maraschinos in melted Val Rhôna cooking chocolate. 

This'll go in a flash! 

At first whiff, this seemed a modern, more real, perfumed and lively reflection of the old Hardy's Keppoch Pinot Noir of the early 'eighties. Hardly genteel that winemaking. Named after the big overhead-irrigated vineyard at Padthaway, that was Australia's first large-scale commercial red Pinot. While it too was made from an early fizz clone, that old Keppoch grew much further inland on the same Limestone Coast. 

Times have changed. This is a made wine. This is a Pinot that tastes a bit like a tidy young Blewett Springs Grenache, but to give the latter their due, this is less complex and intriguing. It is a waft of red, a mindless, most pleasurable custom-built crepe drape for these bonnie spring afternoons, should they ever need staining. Lovely natural acidity and cushioning velvet tannins ... it's happy wine! Nuts-and-berries. Goat cheese. Sparkling anecdote, laughter and mandolin tinkling on the veranda. Check that tiny spend. Get on it. 

Karatta Wines K Lost Ram 12 Mile Vineyard Robe Syrah 2017 
($18; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

It was fingers crossed after that Pinot, hoping the K crew could do a similarly racy trick with Shiraz. 

The French name flared these suspicious nostrils. A lot of what gets called Syrah in Oz is a bit more along the lines of Syrah-de-dah. But faith, mon: this could be straight off the Rhône, like a cheeky young wine made by a new rogue generation in Vacqueyras or Gigondas. 

I'm not saying our wines should be like theirs, but dammit, they're the wines our white ancestors hoped to copy when they sailed here with their cuttings and invaded the joint. 

Which is not that long ago. I am one third the age of the colony of South Australia. Sobering. 

So what do I do? Just go on talking about Shiraz? 

This sure is Shiraz, but unlike most lazy Australian takes on that mindless slumbering staple, it's been given the chance to better express its bright young flesh when grown cool and picked early. Once again it's dark Val Rhôna chocolate, but coating live blueberries and lovely clean grapes. As the most expensive gustatory smells often trigger anticipation of exciting pheromones to follow unsmelled, it gives the anticipatory section of the organoleptics a cheese thrill before there's any cheese! 

This is savoury in the sense of making one dribble with joy and hunger. It's friggin boom-boom. 

Speaking definitions, a brasserie is a noisy place; bistro means 'serve me quick!' Few wines fit this fickle scenario whilst showing respect for the drinker, but this naughty puppy licks all the right toes. 

And yep, you don't need kerfuffle. It also works a treat on a lazy veranda. 

Blue Poles Margaret River Shiraz 2016  
($25; 13.6% alcohol; screw cap) 

If the rebel kids have pushed the Old Man aside to make that Lost Ram, somebody's sage elder had a bit of dogged input here: similarly perfumed and heady, but showing a bit more good old-fashioned torque, this lovely brash baby reminds me more of something from upstream of Gigondas: it's a dash more like a young Cornas from alluvial gravels. One that's been listening to a lot of the Rocky Burnette Trio. 

And of course a lot of it has to do with this Blue Pole growing on the edge of a different ocean (Indian) to the K (Great Southern) and the Big C  (Mediterranean) with different everything in a place hardly known for its Shiraz. 

Stretching the geographical pallet, Whitey? Trust Unca Philip. And trust Mark Gifford and Tim Markwell, the thirsty and eternally patient and determined geologists who chose their Margaret River site for Blue Poles for - wait for it - its ... geology! Alluvial gravels under the Shiraz! 

Other than a fleeting sense of anise and long pepper, one of the wafts that catches me here is a sinister dark green thing, which is tricky for a self-censoring colourblind synæsthete to project. I recall a similar character in an early Marius Shiraz: it's a mood more than a flavour. Something to do with a hot British Racing Green 3.8 litre E-type Jaguar drophead ticking itself cool beneath the pines after a fang around the Old Willy Hill and Kuitpo. Walnut dash; black leather; the patina of years of unearthly speed and risk oozing with expensive oil from a piece of exquisitely sculptured engineering ... that earlier record from the highly earthly gravels of the Kurrajong geology beneath Marius ... rock dreaming, see? 

Whew. Take the rock stuff as you will. I've barely mentioned music. This is a rockin Shiraz, but it's not stony. Apart from the granular, sandy tannins, which simply stoke more hunger after that unblemished pure Shiraz fruit.  It's lovely springtime wine, and once again, cheaper than Grange. And a damn sight faster. 

Saltimbocca, please, pink and juicy, Capers; mash. Don't spare the lemon.

16 October 2017



Forget the skinny lil birdie on the front. Surrender instead to four delicious fleshy new 'uns from Thorne-Clarke's fresh winemaker Pete Kelly. These wines didn't fly in from Siberia:

Thorne-Clarke Sandpiper Eden Valley Pinot Gris 2017  
($20; 11.5% alcohol; screw cap)

Long of the belief that you can't grow good Pinot gris anywhere that won't grow good Pinot noir, I hit the dogma wall at this wine. Like you wouldn't expect to grow the world's best Pinot noir in the Eden Valley, but then unless we knew the lesson of colonial history, you'd never think the Riesling grape of cold Germany would grow well there, either. Which of course it does. 

It's as unlikely as Riesling working brilliantly in the Clare valleys, until you appreciate that parts of Clare, like the Polish Valley side of the range, is very similar geologically and sunshine-wise to parts of Alsace, where Riesling and Gris make serious mojo magic. 

This lovely slurpable has a topnote that smells like Craneford when they're baling hay. Below that fascinator there's all sorts of fruit from lollypop-simple dessert salads with meringue, banana and pineapple, to honeydew and strawberry. There's also lots of lollyshop bubblegum and frivolous whatnots that make it somehow childish simple, which it's not. 

Not at all. 

Rather, it's just downright disarming in its bare-faced charm. That bit grabs me so convincingly I don't even bother delving into the refined complexities lying beneath the rosy freckles. In keeping with simple impulses, I wanna run off with this bottle now. To the Stanley's fish café of a decade back for battered flathead and chips with fresh-sliced chilli and lotsa salt. You comin' with? 

Of this new quartet blanc, this was the first I opened. I proceeded, half-imagining it was a fluke. Nope. This fab four is is the best white release yet from Thorne-Clarke. By a long shot. 

Thorne-Clarke  Sandpiper Eden Valley Chardonnay 2017 
($20;  12% alcohol; screw cap) 

$20 Chardonnay is something I normally approach like bat goozie, so I was even more delighted to find this clean, clear spring-and-summer waft of a thing knocking that prejudice out of the ring. 

It's obviously been made to a price, but with a great deal more intelligence and sensitivity than most Chardonnaise show. 

It has a grainy, almost chalky aromatic edge in the same hayfield as the gris. Firm white peach, sapodilla and comice pear are the first fruits to come to mind, with none overwhelming. It's a smooth, clean, honest perfume with just a fleeting insinuation of French oak and fetta, and, dammit, enoki. 

But we're here to drink, not talk, surely? 

Same deal: down-the-line fresh-faced honesty with a stack of immediate appeal, but plenty hidden in there for the fancy gang and nerds to discuss. Just get on with it, I say. 

With pont-l'Évêque and/or port salut and some fresh-sliced pear. Like comice. Get on with it. 

Thorne-Clarke Sandpiper Eden Valley Riesling 2017 
($20; 11% alcohol; screw cap) 

I was about to go on about Dr Loosen's Riesling in Mosel vs. Pfalz vs. Alsace et cetera, et al, but get over it, Whitey. And forget all that stuff about lemon and lime and citrus blossom. In keeping with the form of the pair above, this is like the powdered cheeks of infant vegan winged archers who've just falled off the Sistine Chapel ceiling. 

Cherub's cheeks grilled lightly in butter with lemon and pepper. I can think of no better introduction to Riesling. Swoon. It has the flesh to handle the sort of brutal chill too many restaurant fridges deliver, but it's best just slightly on the chill side of cool. Which is precisely what it is. Also: Deadly. 

Eden Trail Eden Valley Riesling 2017 
($24; 11.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

Tell me another premium white wine producer whose elite superwine is one whole $4 more expensive than its standard version? And we're still an entire buck short of $25? Get down. Only slightly less chubby than those rosy cheeks, this is that previous wine cranked in the finest, most tasteful and intelligent direction. It has less flesh, more bone. Its spine, for example, is not quite brittle, but approaches ground-up bone china in its dry, fine-grained authority. The sinews and pink muscles around that bit will hide it if you're not in the mood to think too hard. Grilled squid with lemon, please. And would you mind if I left my clothes here on the chair? I need to go out and lie in the sun.

13 October 2017


Spare a thought for poor Cardinal Pell now that Barolo's suddenly so far away ... what must the poor man endure simply performing pastoral duties ... thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers ... and a solution, by George

12 October 2017


"Koalas armed in eucalypt highrise" was the message accompanying this notebook 
sketch George Grainger Aldridge e-mailed from his phone this morning.

11 October 2017


Should the Murray estuary wine folk have a bit of a think about Bordeaux?

Two of the things I learned living in the Bremer Valley as a kid in the 'sixties have stuck with me all my life. Both came in the summer's dusty blast: that rain shadow country where the hills meet the Mallee around Kanmantoo can be brutally hot. Which led me appreciate the value of an estuarine influence: escaping from the sweaty little school bus was even more worthwhile when cool late afternoon sou-easterlies came all the way from the Southern Ocean across the Coorong and Lake Alexandrina to the alluvial plains round Woodchester, Salem and Callington, eventually to relieve Kanmantoo. 

That was Lesson # 1: estuaries are precious.

The second big learn concerned land clearance. 

As the miners of the 1800s had cleared all the trees and scrub around Callington and Kanmantoo to fire the copper smelters the land was bare and troubled. 

The largest local landowners, Charles Burney Young and his son Harry Dove Young ... like imagine that shit ... "oh no this is our land now" ... grew unirrigated bush vines in the local alluviums, eventually to have original owners sending their kids to pick grapes. 

Just by chance the lives of two very heavy dudes overlapped there in the Kanmantoo St George Winery. The Ngarrindjeri genius, David Unaipon, worked there, as did the Burgundian Edmund Mazure, who was developing his recipe for what became Auldana St Henri Claret and eventually Penfolds St. Henri. Mazure named it after his son, Henri. In that barren dust-or-mud backwater, he also made a world champion red there: Kanmantoo St George Claret won top gold at the Paris Exhibition of 1889.Because they were old vines perishing of die-back, Nora Young pulled them out between the Wars.

Summer thunderstorms in the hills to the north of Kanmantoo would dump an inch of rain in just an hour or so. As there was no vegetation to hold it, that water would simply skim off the hillsides to flash-flood our house and wash cars off the main street into the Big Erosion that joined the Bremer four miles downstream at Callington. 

People died. 

(Matthew Abraham, David Bevan and Nick Xenophon may care to learn that while these storms always caused lengthy power blackouts, nobody blamed the local windmills.) 

I don't recall any of the car wrecks being found beyond Callington but the water would rip through there and off to Langhorne Creek. There the vignerons would catch it with levees and deliberately flood their vineyards, grabbing some last-minute deep soil moisture before the flood was eventually let escape into the Lake and down over the barrages through the Murray Mouth into the Southern Ocean. 

Opening a floodgate at Bleasedale ... note windmill to pump aquifer water

There is no creek called Langhorne. The locals don't even call the joint that: their patois usually pronounces it Larncrk. If you wrote it out there was a bridge called Langhorne after a bloke of that name, but it crossed the Bremer. Unless there was a flood, when the bridge became an island near the other one with the pub on it. 

The Old Man would stack us six kids in the car when the vineyards were flooded and we'd drive down there and rubberneck at the water that had filled our house with sheepshit and mud a few days earlier. As the Kanmantoo Vineyards had long gone, these were the first vineyards I can recall. We were taught they made the Devil's Brew and this was his country. 

The Devil was a fairly impressive character to the young White: Potts' Bleasedale winery was probably the biggest building in the district. I quickly figured that's where that sheep-shitty water got turned into wine: Jesus had nothing on it. 

When I went to work for him full-time in the early 'seventies, Mr. D taught me the flavours of the Larncrk wines through those muddy, soulful Bleasedale wonders. I eventually discovered these were made, by default, by time, procrastination and family disagreement more than intent or your actual œnological recipe.

(NOTE: Since a shorter version of this was published on InDaily several people have told me I have been unfair to Bleasedale. This is not my intention. I have had delicious dry white Verdelho from that establishment, soulful rustic reds of various breeds, and of course the very old fortified Verdelho is one of the rarest, most exquisite treasures of Australian fortified wine history) 

A young German reffo bloke with a Volksy beetle was also discovering these old vineyards. His name was Wolf Blass. He had a recipe. Soon I was drinking his take on the district: much more polished, impressive and memorable than the traditional Potts' family styles. While I didn't realise then, they were absolutely corseted with the sap of new Quercus alba - American oak - barrels from the Barossa cooper, A. P. John. Sophisticated.

As the mantra of Wolfie's shotgun riding/blending/winemaking offsider, John "The Ferret" Glaetzer went, "No wood, no good; no medals, no jobs." He knew that brash oak seduced wine judges. Those two had watched what Penfolds did with Grange and new American oak. But they needed that special Larncrk fruit.  Soft intensity, with a little more airborne mudflat eucalyptol in the Cabernet.

Although irrigation from the aquifer was handy for commercial success when there was no flood, the vignoble's area was still limited by the flood boundary. 

As the aquifers were more or less buggered with salt from too much greedy extraction through uncontrolled irrigation bores, the government had eventually restricted this practice. This management regime had commenced under the premiership of the brilliant Don Dunstan and his similarly enlightened Minister for Mines and Energy, Hugh Hudson. I know. I worked for them, and took a display caravan around to regional agricultural shows to explain the importance of saving the aquifers.

Winemakers and grape farmers, in their gold button blazers and moleskines, thought I was a representative of the new homosexual communist regime. I remember them all too well. The same lot, and their offspring, now jealously protect their aquifers and sensibly whinge about fracking.

Along came Liberal Premier Dean Brown. When together we officially opened the Willson family's new tasting room at Bremerton, he promised to replace this underground water by permitting the installation of big new pipes to pump fresh water from the Lake. 

I use 'fresh' loosely: often the salinity of the Lake was too high for irrigating plants. 

In 1991, there were 471 hectares of vineyards there on the Lake. In 1997 that hit 2,500 hectares. While the plan was to carefully double that again by 2002, opportunists used the Brown water to stretch the vignoble to 4,317ha by 1999, making a tenfold expansion in eight short years. It's since slowed down; some vineyards perished. I reckon there's around 6,000ha now. 

The author with Wolf Blass and John Glaetzer ... photo John 'Guitar' Preece

Jealous of Wolfie's incredible wood-bound pillage of the national wine show circuit, newcomers had crowded in, planting industrial vineyards on the slightly higher sand-over-limestone country as well as the salty samphire flats. Whatever. Wherever. Nobody seemed to care about the ground. The fascist irrigated petrochem viticulture regime taught then to big squirters at the University of Adelaide was guaranteed to overcome the erratic, threatening nature of your actual terroir.  

Out towards Strathalbyn, at Belvedere, there'd been vineyards in the 1860s, but those pioneers had withered without fresh water. Now there are vineyards there, too, and all over the joint, well beyond the Langhorne Creek boundary, south through the Currency Creek flats (below), almost to Goolwa. 

Water, see? 

Somewhere I have the triumphant press release from Orlando, boasting that under its new French owner, Pernod Ricard, its new Langhorne Creek vineyard cost $30 million, used 200,000 trellis posts, 1,000 kilometres of drip line, and 50,000 kilometres of wire. That was their measure of gastronomic accomplishment. Thankyou France, thankyou Premier Brown. 

Within a few years, the vineyard was on the market. It never sold. Good work, those men. Take a bow. 

Which leads me to a slow-motion spat between the chairman of judges of the local wine show, Murdoch wine critic Nick Ryan, and his friendly Fairfax rival in Sydney, Huon Hooke. Huon had written of his amazement that in the Langhorne Creek Wine Show  Nick and his team had awarded the top golds to a couple of $12 'Classic' Jacob's Creek reds; one also took a trophy.

Nick responded last week with a surly piece on Wine Business Monthly's WBM Online

"I don’t question the awards on the grounds that they are cheap wines," Huon originally wrote on his Real Review blog. "I question the awards because of the way they taste. They’re no more than bronze-medal wines, in my opinion. 

"They are simple, fruit-driven wines with sappy tannins – the latter pointing to less than perfectly ripened grapes. I don’t know what vineyards the grapes came from, but my experience leads me to suspect they came from heavily cropped (high yielding) vines. Such vines often give rise to red wines with underripe tannins, especially in the Cabernet family of grape varieties. And that is how they both taste to me." 

I was honoured to chair the first Currency Creek Wine Show at the Signal Point Gallery at Goolwa in 2012. Here are fellow judges Nick Ryan (left) with Patricia Piccinini's Big Mama, her suckling, and Zar Brooks ... in my speech at the awards lunch I repeated a lot of what I've written here. There was never another Currency Creek show. That was my last wine show. Sounds like a movie ... The Last Wine Show ... photo Philip White ... below: of course it was all very professional and respectful when Ryan and Hooke sat diagonally opposite each other at the Grange tasting ... might be a millennial beard thing

Langhorne Creek, Currency Creek - all those lakeside estuarine flats where the Murray River system meets the sea, are to me the closest South Australia gets to Bordeaux. Sure, it's a little warmer and there's more sunshine, but the feeling of that special  place there on Lake Alexandrina, its alluvial geology, its marine smell, with those cool winds coming off the Southern Ocean, remind me of Bordeaux on its estuary where the Garonne River hits the Atlantic.

I wonder whether Pernod Ricard, having changed Orlando's name to another river-sized creek, this time called Jacob, has ever thought of this? Has the chairman of judges? Do any of the Larncrk locals? Have they considered less water, lower yields, and proper French oak? 

Langhorne Creek, of course, has no nuclear reactor proud on its low embankment like the Garonne. But on the southside of the Garonne I've seen riverine alluviums mirroring bits of the big slow deltas on that east side of the South Mount Lofty Ranges, from Harrogate right down through our house to the Lake.  

Last figures I saw, from the Winemakers Federation of Australia paper, 2015 Production profitability analysis, 77% of the fruit grown in Langhorne Creek sold at a loss. 

The wine show is the least of the region's troubles. But it reflects them well. Ask a kid from Kanmantoo.

Me and Mum with three others of her six, on Mount Barker summit, overlooking the rainshadow country of the Bremer Valley and the Mallee ... if the Old Man had turned the Voigtlander a few degrees to the right, to the sou-east, we'd see Lake Alexandrina ... by the time he'd done a gentle pan back round to west, I was gone mining

06 October 2017


Tasting the landlord's new wine

While it seemed time to let somebody else have a go at it, I laid off reviewing my landlord's wines for awhile. But Peter Fraser's new release Grenache babies have shivered me timbers and rattled the sensory roofbeams sufficiently to set my knuckles cracking for the word piano. 

It seems like only yesterday I sat on the deck with Milton Wordley and some other very famous photographers he'd brought, toying with the new Yangarra Rosé 2011. 

As a colourblind person, I find the hues of rosé both challenging and delightful: rather than use the usual names, like pink, orange or red, it's safer for me to take a stab at metaphor and simile, so I've usually said they're the colour of raspberry, strawberry, onion skin, pheasant eye or whatnot, leaving the Pantone details to the more reliably sighted. 

On that day of the great snappers it was cool to hear eight much more competent and highly-trained eyes than mine discuss the glints in those glasses.

Yangarra Grenache 2011 ... photo by David Burnett ... other snaps by Philip White

Carignan, Grenache and Mourvèdre from baby bush vines were picked together at just under 11 Beaumé and the full bunches left intact in sealed cabmac bags for a week to make that wine, so the ferment was well underway within each berry and the juice had extracted quite some colour during that initial stage of ferment even before pressing. David Burnett's photograph makes me take a stab at that wine being raspberry red, but please make your own decision. It smelled vibrantly of stuff like Turkish delight, rose petals, maraschino cherries and pink grapefruit right from the press: you could smell it outside the winery. 

The new one, the Yangarra McLaren Vale Grenache Rosé 2017 ($25; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap) takes the colour thing way off into much more pale territory. It took me ages to photograph its tantalising hue. 

It seems Peter's been chasing texture and perfume more than pink, although it smells pink. He allocated baby bush vines that were picked early, specifically to make this. He pressed whole bunches, as if making a white wine, and let the wild yeasts take over and kept the wine on lees for a couple of months, stirring it weekly to magnify the comforting texture. 

It smells like babies: soft and musky, with faint hints of magnolia and jasmine. It has lovely subtle spices, a hint of banana and a summery dry topnote of lucerne hay and coconut husk. 

Taste-wise, it has the uncanny ability to be many things to many people. It has the pith, rind and juice of lemon, and to a greater extent, the less edgy lime, but with reflections of all those fleshy, alluring aromas. Nectarine and white peach. 

It's very slippery drinking: dangerously easy to quaff if all you need is succour, but there's plenty of complexity lying in there to feed those who like to think and talk about their drinks. That hay and husk in the bouquet returns as tannins in the long, dry tail. 

This wine levers Grenache, Fraser's cornerstone, into a new realm. And it shows how even rosé can be a much more serious and accomplished thing than the old raspberry cordial types that are always lying about the shelves and lists, sweet, dim and simple, giving the entire genre a bad name. This ain't that. 

Yangarra Old Vine McLaren Vale Grenache 2015 ($35; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) is another benchmark. It seems that the fastidious biodynamic vineyard husbandry, the 1946 bush vines and  the established winery mentality have all arrived together to give a more complex and accomplished Grenache than before. Which is saying something. 

The vines were hand-picked and the bunches destemmed; then the grapes were sorted mechanically to remove all the raisins and squishy bits, leaving berries that look like caviar. Half of these were crushed, then their must wild fermented with the intact berries after a week of cold soaking. Thence into barrel for 8 months on lees, before blending and bottling without filtration or fining. 

The result has more spice than its predecessors. Mace and nutmeg brood away in there, sultry and moody with the fig, date and charcuterie aromas. Forget the polished silky sheen too many of us once expected of fine Grenache: here the firm natural acidity and the rich, velvety tannins all sit with easy poise, giving us nerds plenty to talk and write about, while offering the thirsty a wonderful, wholesome, adult slurp. Try it with crumbly cheese, complementary dates and figs and charcuterie meats.


Classic 389, traditional St. Henri, huge RWT, elegant Mitsouko Grange

It's like being in the engine room of some bloody great ship, sitting in the old stillroom at Penfolds Magill. The powerhouse of a towering palace, at least. 

But there a few of us sat last week, leering at a table laden with the cream of Australian premium wine. Peter Gago AC kept our snifters trim. 

Here, following are my initial favourites from a very impressive release from the world's biggest boutique winery, which is what the best end of Penfolds has always been. And I pay passing homage to a couple of significant majesties that'll be very popular but just ain't my style: 

First, there are four exemplary white wines. The Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling 2017 ($30; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap) is more like actual glass than say chalk or slate. Sure, it does have some granular action in the tail but it's closer to the pith of some tiny limes I recall from Dum InMirree, a flat slice of mud and lush jungle with crocs on the side off Dundee Downs on the Timor Sea. Sorta takes your mind off lime pith, eh? 

But go back there and think of cool lime juice and its thickish texture and gingery chilli broth and perfect glassy clarity and you have something like this or go all Issye Miyake and Hendrick's Gin with cucumber. 

Near the top, there are three Chardonnays. The Bin 311 Tumbarumba 2016 ($45: 12.5% alcohol; screw cap) is one for wusses. It seems full of isovaleric acid and cheesy tropical umami: soothing, brow-stroking notions of motherly pulchritude. It's the one for avocado lips. Millions will love it.

In the belly of the beast: tasting in the old still house at Penfolds Magill Estate: Milton Wordley, Nick Ryan, Anthony Madigan, Peter Gago, Huon Hooke, the author and Emma Franklin

Yattarna Chardonnay 2015 ($150; 13% alcohol; screw cap) is the huge cushy limousine. There are no bumps. This is royal lavishment: poached peaches and crème brûlée. Gago says there are oatcakes. I reckon it's more like buttery shortbread down beneath the plumpedness. Somewhere in there. Serious king-hell luxe, mon. Town car. This be the squish. 

Like other recent years, the Reserve Bin A Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2016 ($125; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap) is marching off into barren stony ground in its style, far away from the cushion of the Tumbaramba or Yattarna. Its most immediate fruit starts out somewhere tight like grapefruit or even more like the pink grapefruit or the artery juice of the blood orange without so many red corpuscles. Then it marches off into the wilderness, driven, aloof. It's stunning wine. 

Now for austere; a decade later for slightly older austerely scrumptious. 

You prefer curvy? Go Tumbarumba or Yattarna. 

While we're on angular wine, the Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($500: 14.5% alcohol; cork) has been cornered in brand new American oak hogsheads for twenty months. While I'm sure this wine is dead true to its heritage and tradition and made from the fastest tightest deepest vineyard selections from Coonawarra, Barossa, McLaren Vale and Padthaway, I have never been capable of loving Quercus alba wood of this concentration. Never been a lover of such ramrod stiff right wing stuff. This wine is angular, man. It'll make the wheelwrights and lumberjacks purr from right across the yard. It's a record-breaking 707 for promise and accuracy: if you like 'em you'll love it. But it just ain't me. 

On the other hand, the Bin 407 South Australia Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($95; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) has confectioner's sugars and musk all over its crystallised violets, meadow blooms and hedgerow. I felt it was from chalk and turns out to be primarily from Wrattonbully, Coonawarra and Limestone Coast chalks before they gave it admixtures of McLaren Vale and Barossa. This has some supple form and some sensuality and some older barrels (in with 25% new French ones) set it afloating and playing about without getting bargey. It's spritely and perfumed. 

My romantic pick of the Cabernets this year isn't even that. It's the blend our earliest white forebears brought from Bordeaux, in the days when those  Aquitaine reds often contained a sploosh of reinforcing Hermitage. The Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2015 ($95; 14.5%; screw cap) is a beauty. It's had only Quercus alba, but equally spread over new, one and two year-old barrels. So it has plenty of that classic old-fashioned Penfolds shellack in with the snakes draped panting in the blackberry vines and the hillbillies burning offcuts to boil their still out the back. A bastion of the great Penfolds castle, and a very good example. This wine is a piece of serious regional pride. Very posh but never fancy, the 389. 

From which we make a neat sideways step to wine of a style we once called claret, as in fine and tending to austere: St Henri Shiraz 2014 ($125; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap). Almost so shy and refined as to avert its eyes, this is a relic recipe followed to the T. It almost has tea leaves rustling in its bouquet, but that's pink everlasting flowers and lavendar floating on a genteel syrup of prune and currant, chicory, fig and juniper, all perfectly harmonised and settled after a year in bloody huge fifty-plus years-old oak vats. Damn thing glows. 

With respect to the great Edmund Mazure, this one's really after the old style. Prim and proper, but practising sensuality. 

Much more boisterous and bumptious is the RWT Bin 798 Barossa Shiraz 2015 ($200; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap). All French oak, 83% new, this is like interrupting somebody like the king in the royal vestry. They've not cut short the oak polish budget but they know if you can smell it you shoulda saved that money for starch and ironed it into the raiment cuffs and the ruff collars and the doilies. 

But that recent touch of dusting cloth and polish is rich and hangs about the sense of somebody very big and so damn royal that you daren't even look up. That's Barossa Shiraz. 

This is a mighty wine, but that authority is still so noble as to show the sort of soulful motherliness Max loved. So it's not really so bumptious as we expected. It's gruff, but it'll take your hand. 

Which brings us to the Grange Bin 95 2013 ($850; 14.5% alcohol; cork). Goodness me. 

Peter poured this with a 2012, which reassured my initial notion that this is a more supple and sensual wine that that. 'Twelve was indeed mighty; a bit lurchy yet. This is a fitter, more svelte prince. The black armour lacquer smells like a waxed Japanese screen. Soy. Big thundery summer ozone raindrops in the dust outside; in here a vase of marshmallow, elder and hawthorn. Sense of humour: there's a crown hanging in the damn hawthorn. It - no he - has dashed through to dining where there's prunes soaked and smudgy plum and struesel fresh yeast kuchen blackberries and mulberries. Linen in the press. 

Drink: incredibly fine and silky; precisely sensual; yearningly slender and languid; many single-line poems on reflection. There's a trunk of copperplate lists and dust from the verge of the austral zones ... those big raindrops ... This is a more serene, reflective Grange than usual. It's the Guerlain Mitsouko Grange. Perfection. 

I didn't mention money, did I? Damn!

photos by Philip White


Chardonnay in the press, Clos du Mesnil, Champagne, 28th August 2014 ... first 2014 pick in the bin, below ... photos Olivier Krug

New Krug 2004 - a Chardonnay year for an early Chardonnay vintage

Olivier Krug had a barely got back to vintage in Reims, Champagne, after releasing the new Krug Champagne Vintage 2004 in London, and there was Peter Gago AC and the Penfolds Magill Estate people pouring one in Adelaide. 

It was a generous thankyou to a few privileged souls who had foregone the Royal Adelaide Wine Show tasting to respond to Treasury's invitation to Magill to taste the new Penfolds Collection. On rocket week. 

The Magill Estate restaurant people pride themselves in offering bottles of  nearly one hundred small Champagne producers barely-known (yet) in Adelaide; scoring this royal baby was like having the King or the Pope or somebody in the room to visit them. Encouragement, you know. 

It wasn't all that long back Mr and Mrs Prince of Wales dropped in there for a schlück, but they drank only Grange, poor dears. 

Hardcore Krugistes will shimmer with delight at this 2004: it's a finer, tighter, meaner drink than other recent vintages. It seems Olivier was so excited that it had finally begun to sing that he simply had to get it out and on the market: the wine was disgorged way back in 2014. It is 39% Chardonnay, 37% Pinot noir and 24% Pinot meunier. 

One could say it's the unusual Chardonnay dominance of the year that's beginning to give the wine some fru-fru and frisson, but while the Chardonnay produced a generous crop in 2004 the full assemblage story will be a much more complex business than Chardonnay alone. 

While I said "sing" I didn't mean to suggest you should expect the full mezzo soprano Dame Joan thing. So far this is more your Girl From Ipanema slinking by, the bright mirage shimmer of the ocean behind, blurring her sandy, slightly breathless edges. For now. Only once you get to look properly into those eyes do you realise the steely resolve and determination that will keep this show on track for what Olivier says will be a good thirty years. 

Julie Cavil, the Krug oenologist, calls this bright demeanour "luminous freshness." That'll almost do me. But I reckon it'll be so wild and bright you could add the possibility of that husky voice growing all silvery and shattering glasses in a decade. Empty ones, anyway. 

While all this kerfuffle and vintage and everything being coincident was tricky enough, Olivier dropped a rare fizzbomb in the water by suggesting too much of Champagne was picked too late this year. His candid criticism was a rare enough event for any Champenoise, but coming from such a mighty house whose wine usually makes all the speeches, Olivier's opinion sure rattled some parochial French rafters. And he wasn't talking about the management of the huge houses being responsible, or the Champagne committee which makes the annual vintage date announcement: he blamed village politics. And business. Local parsimony. 

While the Comité Champagne had set a start date of 26 August, which was very early due to unseasonal heat then humidity, Olivier told The Drinks Business that "the responsibility should lie with decision-makers among the grower-community in each village, who are tempted to wait until September for the start of the harvest to save on paperwork. 

"Usually there are people with a bigger voice than others who decide the start-date in the village; it is not coming from the houses," he said. "And these big muscle people said ... 'begin on Monday 4 September' because they didn’t want pickers to start in August because then they have to make two payrolls for thousands of pickers ... to pay a salary for the work in August and then another for September." 

Ha. On my way to the Penfolds tasting, a Persian friend, a cab driver, had asked how it was possible that using the same common plant, some winemakers charged hundreds of dollars for a bottle of their wine, while others charged only four or five. It was confronting, but refreshing to be asked such a simple question. My answer was about laziness, disease, greed, stupidity and such, as opposed to conservative and responsible garden husbandry and the respect of quality and provenance. 

Pity I'd not really been fully aware of Olivier's thesis until after I'd tasted the wine and taken my boggled brain home to do some further research. Around the digital chat alleys his harvest criticism was a bigger deal than the launch of one of the world's truly great wines of recent decades. If you read my in-tray after I'd written whatever I have describing recent less-than-ideal years in Australia, you'd think it was impossible for two-thirds of an industry to make a dumb mistake about something as straightforward as a picking date. They give me hell if I say they left it too long. What would I know. But here you go: this is Champagne. And it's simple. "Some might say start on 1 September, but, because it was a Friday, they waited until Monday," Olivier told London. "By delaying the beginning picking to 4 September, it meant that the harvesters could avoid working over two weekends." 

One can only forecast that when these 2017 village wines emerge, there'll be some riper fizz in that special big fridge at Magill. 

It's been a tricky year, rain and botrytis following a bistering summer. Krug sensibly started early, picking Chardonnay in Clos du Mesnil when the grapes offered alcohols between 10.2 and 10.3% and natural acidity of 7.5 to 8 grams per litre. It's another "Chardonnay year." But Bacchus be damned if we can afford to wait as long as the exquisite 2004 has taken. In fact, Bacchus can be damned that I can't possibly afford the hundreds that sublime luxury will cost once it more formally lands on our shelves.

Krug's Clos du Mesnil: The Champenoise take on the walled village: 1) plant Chardonnay 2) build a wall around it to make it a clos 3) build houses outside the wall

28 September 2017


A bloke I know in Melbourne thought he'd let me know a lot of his mates thought I was parochial. I considered that this morning once I'd worked an hour, put the second pot of coffee on and opened the front door curtain to see this. Talk about parochial. That's a Zen corner of the Ironheart Shiraz vineyard on Yangarra Estate. Then I took the little Sony around to the east and saw this: 

that's baby bush vine Grenache, in a few inches of dirt on slab ironstone ... the old vines of the future ... photos by Philip White, chthonic parochialist, currently superterranean

27 September 2017


Feds and big winers slow to catch Jaylon juggernaut in big export opp
EXCLUSIVE: Philip White

It was a shame that the wine industry was far too busy preparing for this week's Royal [sic] Adelaide Wine Show to squeeze a wee sponsorship out for the International Astronautical Congress, the largest and most significant yet staged on Earth. 

Since I ceded responsibility for the annual wine races to younger folk with so much more to learn, it is nevertheless fortunate that the intergalactic export potential available to South Australian winemakers has captivated my good friend Mr Elon Musk. 

In our years of private negotiation, we have made great progress in the matter of wine in space. Musk was just a kid when together we perfected the screw cap, one huge leap for man previously obsessed with bashing the unsanitary organic bark of Portuguese trees into sterile silica bottles. 

He was the first to realise the risk of bashment relative to Newton's Third Law in environments of weightlessness, a dictum former Prime Minister the Hon. Tony Abbott MP and Mr Astro Labe realised last week in Australia's principal satellite, Tasmania. 

The keen young Musk was quick to realise that applied to popping corks in enclosed weightless environments with unconfined liquid ethanol, Newton's Law had tricky implications. 

In space? Screw, don't pull. 

Perhaps by the advent of next year's Royal [sic] Adelaide Wine Show the learned judges and their associates from Wine Communicators Australia (WCs) will be better prepared to trial the SpaceXL6 solar-built wine snifter. 

I can reveal Musk has invented and perfected this using fine South Australian glass sand previously regarded as an inconvenient contaminant in his Lithium Battery Mines in the sandy deserts of the Pastoral Lease country. 

This Sahara-sized stretch of mineral sand overlies the radio- active bounties of the Gawler Craton, north-west of the old Roxby Downs Station. It must be removed before we can get to the uranium deep beneath. 

When not in use, this radical SpaceXL6 stemware is designed to hang in racks inside spacecraft windows, where each unit harvests sunlight to drive its own interior gravity field, making possible, in weightless environments of challenging gravity, the standard swirl developed by wine connoisseurs over the ages. 

The interplanetary passenger can now swirl, sniff, sip and swallow without globules of the wine straying loose in the cabin. 

Titanium, another contaminant in the lithium extraction business, is used to coat the glass crystal in an invisible protective layer. When exposed to the ultra-violet light of the spacecraft window, this conveniently renders the snifter non-stick self-cleaning properties without the need for water or dangerous detergents. A small solar-powered fan above each glass rack removes remnant wine particles and sends them to the spacecraft's liquids recyling system. 

A matching crystal spitbucket has been perfected, using the same theory. We are convinced that in the normal gravity of the Earthly competitive arena this brilliant glassware will guarantee substantial savings in standard industrial-level wine show spillage. 

Once this news filters through, the WCs are certain to love it: Musk plans to make available a substantial grant for their members to develop the products' sales brochures and website, stressing this non-drip convenience. 

It's important to appreciate the long-term co-operation that existed between South Australia's arid-land pastoralists and the early space business. This commenced when the young Byron H. MacLachlan tasted his first Château Lafite, which he'd discovered in his father's Jumbuck House cellar during World War II. 

Having convinced them of the advantages of vast amounts of space as a visionary defence tool, B.H. made available to both British and Australian governments his properties and those of his neighbours, vast swathes of sheep country like Commonwealth Hill (10,000 sq. km.), Balgunya and Mulgathing Stations, for use as a downrange landing zone for Woomera rocketry. The subsidy he thus collected was equivalent to these pastoral leases increasing their stock intensity from half to two-thirds of a sheep per square mile.

With his new bonanza, B.H. was able to develop and expand Australia's largest premium French and German wine importing agency, which used the Adelaide Club and its associated establishments in other capitals as its distribution arm. His eager young accountant, Mr Brenton Fry, quickly adapted his skill - checking timesheets and making $6/week pay checks for jackeroos - to managing this booming Premier and Grand Cru wine agency. It eventually became the famous Negociants Australia, the lucrative wine distribution outfit further developed by Mr Robert Hill Smith when Fry took his services from Jumbuck House in French Street to Hill Smith's Yalumba cellars in Grote Street. 

Another great progress in outback wine appreciation was the government's installation of blast-proof bunkers on each of B.H.'s vast pastoral leases. 

From the introduction of the radical Black Night Rocket in the mid-'fifties, through the giant British Blue Streak ICBM, stray spent space vehicles frequently splattered themselves around this country. 

Desert dwellers, like DRINKSTER illustrator George Grainger Aldridge, have been forced to employ arcane voodoo rituals and sonic ectoplasm to detect and deflect errant rocketry (see above). 

Based loosely on the original sod-roofed cellar built by John Reynell at his pioneering Château Reynella in 1845, the bunkers government provided to wealthy sheep cockies are permanent vibration-free, constant-temperature storage capacities for the extravagant vintage collections they procured from MacLachlan, Fry, and then Hill Smith in the comfort of the Club. 

By the end of this week's historical Congress, we are assured these significant achievements will be freshly recognised by the conservative Federal government and its friends in the wine industry councils. 

These bodies are currently preoccupied with the Royal Adelaide Wine Show and spending the $50 million taxpayer-funded grant recently made available to them by the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, the coal-loving Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and his assistant, Senator Anne Ruston. 

This generous gift is designed to assist our biggest irrigating wine companies mount terrestrial wine tastings. Insiders say it's only a hint at the rivers of backing the Federal government suddenly sees necessary to fully develop wine appreciation classes for inter-planetary tourists. 

The first pastoralists to settle and develop sheep runs on other bold leases elsewhere in this solar system will also require safe, cool, taxpayer-funded  cellars. 

Once these beachheads are secure, the potential of intergalactic wine export is out there for the taking. 

Wine leaders guarantee they'll have better time to address these issues after Friday's big WCs' wine awards lunch at the Royal Adelaide Showgrounds. 

It was a telling seminal signal this week that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sent his Education Minister, Senator Simon Birmingham to the space Assembly early in the piece. There he delivered promises of further Federal funding to alleviate charges of the initiative being one-hundred per cent the work of the Jaylon Axis, a keen intellectual business partnership of South Australian Labor Party Premier The Hon. Jay Weatherill and our other visionary friend, Musk. 

Significantly, Birmingham took to the Education portfolio like a fish to water after his long faithful service as a lobbyist for the wine and hotel/gambling industries. He is a seasoned expert in his field.  

 These accomplished gentlemen are not fools: they can now see the future brightly through the crystalline brilliance of the SpaceXL6.