“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)


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19 August 2017

HOT FROM BERLS IN BARCELONA

Oh Whitey! All of the beautiful baguettes here are served fresh cut and rubbed with raw, fresh tomato and drizzled with delicious olive oil! You know how I feel about this, don't you??

STEFAN DIMITRESCU - CABARET


FALCO LONGIPENNIS/AUSTRALIAN HOBBY


18 August 2017

AN ANTIDOTE TO SAUVIGNON BLANC

Nothing semi about this Semillon
by PHILIP WHITE

This is personal. After my preceding hissy about common or garden/grassy Sauvignon blanc being a tad too mindlessly garden/grassy and offering very straightforward ethanol whilst lacking wine-like character and enjoyable gastronomic comfort, I found an antidote right under my nose. 

In that whinge I'd reflected on a couple of Sauvignons I really like because they were principally the Semillon variety, and were blended after the dry white recipe of Bordeaux. Trouble is, since the 'seventies, the Adelaide trade has always said it can't sell Semillon, sometimes because they regard it as a Hunter Valley variety but usually because "nobody knows how to pronounce it." 

Funny how we all learned to pronounce Pinot noir and Viognier. And typical that Australia thirstily regarded Semillon as a gastronomic treat when it was sold as Riesling, Graves, Chablis, Burgundy or Sauternes, which it was, all at once, in the Hunter. I think even Mark Cashmore's White Bordeaux may have contained some.

For whatever reason, there's very little Semillon grown here now, which is silly as it was a key variety from the beginning of the colony. It's nearly all gone. 

The late Neville Falkenberg was a great champion of Semillon. When his role was to develop 'The White Grange' at Penfolds, his first trials were with fabulous Semillons. The powers that were, however, insisted it had to be Chardonnay, so Yattarna Chardonnay  became the business. Neville was summarily fired under the direction of Philip Shaw after Bob Oatley's contentious 'White Knight' reverse takeover of Southcorp

Charlotte Dalton Wines are the work of Charlotte Dalton Hardy, of Basket Range. 

She sent two versions made from 30-year-old vines at The Deanery Vineyard at Balhannah, one called Love You Love Me, which was so drop-dead lovely that Charlotte's quickly sold it all. There's some left in a couple of the better shops, and 'on pour' in a few wine bars and of course Fino, but if you don't have the urge or ability to hunt, there's an even better one available to hold you over until the 2017 LYLM release, which is about to hit the bottles. 

Charlotte Dalton Wines Ǣrkeengel Adelaide Hills Semillon 2016 ($42; 12.6% alcohol; screw cap), like the Love You Love Me, is barrel-aged and lees-stirred, but with more yeast lees and a lot longer in the barrels. 

Which is not to say it's oaky. Rather it has all the slender stylish poise of the Bordeaux types. But it's also very Australian: as fit and fast as Sally Pearson: not one wasted gram of fat or flab. 

So it has the basic frame of a lot of Savvy-b but it's a vast step above: it has better form; it's more determined to stand out for its rare finesse. It's tighter. It clips no timber in the hurdles and barely touches the grass which is far too dominant in those Savvies that I can't hack. It flies straight, looking neither to left nor right til the job's done and the medal's won. 

Bouquet? While it has just the perfect degree of that grassy methoxypyrazine, the natural insect and predator deterrent the Sauvignon skins produce until the seed is ready to germinate, in this instance the stuff is oxidised until it's like that dusty whiff of burlap or hemp phosphate sacks. It gives the wine a subtle country zephyr, a summery edge. 

Then comes a lovely assemblage of carambola, cherimoya and Bosc pear, all dryish and fine but maintaining that perfect athletic poise. And it's very gently buttery, like my current favourite, the French Elle and Vere. Yes, I'm being unfaithful to Paris Creek. 

Combined with the pear influence that buttery bit reminds me of loquat, a character much beloved by the great Neville Falkenberg. 

The texture is the first part of the drinking to impress: it's firm and very slightly granular, like that Bosc pear. This immediately sets the juices a-flow, stirring the hunger so a whole flick-pack of food images whirrs through the mind, stalling on the odd dry white cheese and a fresh sliced Bosc, or the even more granular Passe-Crassane, my favourite among pears. 

This wine leaves the tongue twitching for more in a most thought-provoking manner, but is sufficiently complex and impressive that it's also quite satisfying. 

Above all that, it has amazing staying power. Under this screw cap, it'll last longer than me. 

So. A great wine of significant gastronomic intelligence, made by such a person for grown-ups. Take a bow, Charlotte Dalton Hardy.

PS: There's also a very racy, intense young punk of a Shiraz, but that's another story ... 


Not The Deanery vineyard, but this is  Balhanna: mature Pinot noir and Chardonnay [for O'Leary-Walker The Hurtle] in the Adelaide Hills, looking north across the broad Onkaparinga Valley to the Lenswood ridge on the horizon - photos Philip White

17 August 2017

AUSTRALIA'S MOST POPULAR WHITE

Hills Sauvignon of the blanc rank 
by PHILIP WHITE


One of my favourite Adelaide Hills Sauvignon blanc wines was made by Tim Knappstein about thirty years ago. It was mainly Semillon. 

I suspected at the time that wine was the result of the friendly rivalry extant in Clare between Tim and Michel Dietrich, the Alsatian French winemaker Remy Martin had put in charge of their Quelltaler Estate. That outfit started when Francis Treloar planted a vineyard in 1853. The old winery, later owned by Buring and Sobels, is mothballed at Watervale, which is English for Qelltaler. 

Michel made a cracker wine. He picked the Semillon early to get flinty chalky greenness usually expected of the Sauvignon blanc and let the Sauvignon ripen til it had lost its simple green methoxypyrazine edge then softened it even more in subtle oak before marrying the two wines. It was more like like the serene dry whites of Bordeaux than the woody fumé blanc Sauvignons of the Loire Valley. 

Isobel and Michel Dietrich at Watervale in 1984 ... photo Philip White

Michel had reversed the roles of the varieties in pursuit of elegant complexity rather than grassy simplicity or fashionably overt oak. 

Pure 100% cool region Savvy-b is another thing. I was about to write 'another kettle of fish' but there are rarely any fish in it: too often it's just the old smashed windscreen acid and lawn clippings soaking in cold water. Maybe nettles. Unripe gooseberry. Soursob. Rhubarb. Weeds. Sheep food. And ethanol. 
 
Australians love it. Sauvignon blanc is our biggest-selling white. Drink enough of it and I reckon you'd start to smell like mutton. New Zealanders grow it. We drink around $350 million worth of their Sauvignon each year. But then about a quarter of us still drink Coke at least once a week, and I notice the Golden Arches and Colonel Sadness are still prolific intrusions along our roadsides. 

The jaundice my jowls show in reaction to the paler Savvies seems to be my physiology turning up the yellow to show the wines an example of proper colour. The Adelaide Hills have become as adept as New Zealand at growing such wine. There are pale ones made with lovely musky florals and rose-and-jasmine scents like the exemplary elegant favourite from Paracombe, but too much of the rest is the sort that brings on my yellow jaundice and the fear of smelling like cold Kiwi mutton fat. 

So it was with certain wariness I opened a box from Matthew Hill Smith. The bottles within had survived the long trip from Brisbane without as much as a cardboard divider: I could hear them clinking against each other. Never a source of confidence, the cardboard box full of loose bottles of Adelaide Hills wine from Queensland. 

Sho nuff, there was the Savvy-b, in one of those frosty-looking bottles designed to give the wine even more of that green water appearance. Mark's Vineyard Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($25; 12% alcohol; screw cap) treads the wire. It is pristine, like a mountain brook fed by a sward of nettles and soursobs. It has a little more texture than actual flavour, which affords it a shard of comfort. It's slightly sweet. 

This is straight-down-the-line lower-priced Kiwi juice in style. It could be top drinking chilled in the tropics, a bit like the juice of the starfruit, Averrhoa carambola. Or in fact the juice of the Kiwi fruit, which is really the Chinese gooseberry, Actinidea chinensis. I can imagine it being cooling and refreshing in the Brisvegas humidity, a perfect partner for your salt'n'pepper squid or a ham-and-pineapple pizza with a little chilli. 

It is what the trade called a grease-cutter back when I was a boy. 

While the Mark's Vineyard Adelaide Hills Pinot Gris 2017 ($25; 13% alcohol; screw cap) is one alcohol bigger I think it's more along the lines of the Italianate grey Pinot - they call it Pinot grigio. It's not much like the more characterful grau/gris ones from Alsace. 

Other than that, it's pretty much of the Savvy-b school, without the grassy bits. There's not much along the lines of your actual Pinot tribe marching through this glass.

To feel a little like I was somewhere on the equator, I used a big tip of the first wine in the hot fish curry I have just cooked, and drank this second wine with it. Not too bad really. No challenges. Clean. Sauvignon blanc, by the way, is my favourite cooking wine in stir fries and asian stews. Its acid works perfectly. 

Mark's Vineyard C3 Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2016 ($35; 12.9% alcohol; screw cap) smells like a blood orange marmalade with plenty of rind and a little minced ginger. It also has insinuations of honey and butterscotch. The flavours are a smooth segue of the same, and the wine has more texture than the other two. It's still very safe and sound, neat and tidy and unsurprising. The extra tenner buys you a suggestion of oak. Those mobsters in Melbourne shoulda had this with their lobster and kept the Grange for the quiet privacy of the shooting range. 

I made a blend of this Chardonnay with one third Sauvignon and ended up with a Sauvignon blanc I could like ... somewhere toward the lines of those Knappstein/Dietrich blends from a previous life.

A previous life: Tim and Annie Knappstein in the Clare valleys in the late '80s. That's Tim's Boeing Stearman, which was a tidy aerobatics performer

Mark's Vineyard Adelaide Hills Point Eight Shiraz 2016 ($35; 14.9% alcohol; screw cap) is peppery, as rocket and cress can be quite peppery. Behind that piquancy there's a fathom of fresh soft licorice, mulberry and cassis. 

It's quite soft to drink, too: almost fluffy until that pepper reappears in the tail, with timber and the hot miasma you'd expect of a light-bodied wine with this ethanol. There isn't much tannin. 

So there. Four top varieties of the Adelaide Hills. 

To explain a bit of this patriarchal Hill Smith stuff, Wyndham Hill Smith had two sons, Robert and Samuel. Wyndy's brother Mark had Michael and Matthew. When Rob and Sam bought Michael and Matthew and 25 other family members out of the business in a cleverly-planned surprise coup, Michael started Shaw and Smith at Oakbank with Martin Shaw, the son of his mum's twin sister. 

With some of his share of the buyout millions, urged by his sons, Mark planted this vineyard at Woodside. It's actually called Marko's - the company is Marko's Vineyard Pty Ltd. Both Wyndham and Mark are long deceased. 

After some sort of family difference in 2015 Matthew bought Marko's from his mum and brother and now has the wine made somewhere by contract. Matthew no longer drinks alcohol and boasts of being a farmer who doesn't own a tractor. He has sold his Brisbane restaurants. Now he has wine to sell. 

Knappstein sold all his Lenswood and Clare vineyards and winery and now runs the Ripost brand. 

Remy sold Quelltaler to Wolf Blass who changed its name to Eaglehawk. It became Black Opal and then Annie's Lane. 

Karl Sobels' ancient dry-grown Semillon vines in the chalky Quelltaler Karlsfield overlooking Watervale were bulldozed by Vic Patrick when Fosters bought that historic heart of large-scale Clare winemaking and shut it down when they absorbed Mildara-Blass. 

Typical of a Coonawarra bloke, Vic replaced that Semillon, which I thought was the best in Australia, with a forgettable clone of Merlot. 

Michel Dietrich has lived in Bordeaux for thirty years, where he makes lovely inexpensive blends of Semillon and Sauvingon blanc at his 80 hectare Château Haut-Rian winery and vineyards on the Premières Côtes de Bordeaux and Entre-Deux-Mers at Cadillac. He surprised me with a visit a couple of years back. Both he and Isobel were in fine fettle. They love driving across vast extremes of desert. Nowdays, for leisure, they usually drive around north Africa, but hey, it's safer to cruise a renter from Darwin to Adelaide. By Bacchus and Pan it was good to see them!


15 August 2017

ROUNDUP TIME AGAIN

After a lovely hint of spring, rain's belting down today and there are a few more days of it to come. 

This will delay budburst. 

Yesterday's warm sun saw the Shiraz over my fence beginning to fur up nicely. The vineyard crew began moving the sheep back toward their normal pastures before they discover the juicy new vine growth. 

The lambs are weaning and have all been tagged. The little rams are already head-butting each other and mounting the infant ewes. 

They've left a lovely neat sward with a complex mixture of pasture along with perfect little lumps of fertiliser.

I'll have to start mowing my own grass again, which is a bugger, but it'll be great to grow some fresh herbs and vegetables again.

 photos by Philip White

12 August 2017

BEST RIESLING FOR BURGER WITH EGGS

If I ever get a proper Russian hamburger like this and the vodka stares at me too hard I'll tell it to wait while I first share of bottle of the best Clare Riesling I know, the O'Leary-Walker Drs Cut Polish Hill River 2013, which is still available as a matured release at their Watervale cellars. 

Miraculous. 

This 'Doctors' vineyard was Grossett's original source of fruit: it made him famous. But in all the years he had sole access to that fruit, I don't think he ever made a wine of this stature. 

Here's the view of the Watervale Côtes du blanc from the bold and beautiful O'Leary Walker tasting and sales room. 

The Polish Valley is a few kays over that range. Its ge9logy is generally several hundred million years older.

Here's the last Pole to live there (below): the beautiful man, John Ruciak, who was born in this house and lived there all his life with no plumbing or electricity, but a couple of shipping trunks full of the incredible  copperplate natural history diaries he wrote every day. 

When John was failing thirty years back I suggested having them moved to the Mortlock Library so they'd be safe in archival storage and folks could use them in research, but the locals ferreted them off elsewhere.

You can see those sandstone/schist rocks in John's wall are a helluva lot different to and older than the baby acid rain calcrete the Watervalers pretend is limestone.

I've always believed these much older rocks make the better wine.


ECHIDNAS RETURN TO YANGARRA SANDS

All pruned and ready to roll: there's plenty of æolean, or wind-blown sand at Yangarra: this High Sands Grenache thrives in its big dune. 

It's not seaside dunal sand, but stuff that simply blew in during the last few thousand years. 

A few metres down you hit a layer of red clay peppered with ironstone. Below that lies the 200-300 metres of coarse Maslin Sand, which washed down from the mountains that lived up the escarpment until they all wore off.

When my neighbour Bernard Smart planted this in 1946 the vines went so well without water they doubled the vineyard the next year. That summer it got hot and dry and windy and the dune moved to bury that new section. Imagine that vineyard you can see simply disappearing under drift sand.

So we know that if you clear the native vegetation and the grass dies, all of what we colloquially call 'Blewett Springs sand' can move quite readily. 

Standard industrial viticulture, with all its repetitive tractor work and sprays, is the enemy of the native Echidna, or spiny anteater. 

With the platypus, the Echidna - Tachyglossidae - is the only monotreme. Both critters lay eggs and carry them in a pouch. 

Echidnas love sand. They are expert and rapid diggers in the right terrain. 

Now, nine years since the Yangarra crew abandoned the old conventional management regime to convert to organic and biodynamic practice, it  seems the Echidnas are returning. 

This fat greedy guts, now called Spike, scared the daylight out of Neva the Cleaner, who found it this lunchtime in the pristine winery lab.

No ants there: poor old Spike was in a panic! It didn't want to go in the bin.

As you can see, I've had a long-term affinity for Echidnas. I kept a pet one in the mountains when I was a kid. But I dunno where George got the panda. We'd been joking round the campfire about the Dadaists, who got their name for their habit, when being presented in the courthouse for obscenity or other errant artisitic behaviour, sang da-da-da-da, da-da-dadada to the tune of the French national anthem ... 


11 August 2017

COATES DOES ROAM

Coates La Petite Rouge 2015
($18; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 300 dozen) 

 "We have been asked by customers and the wine trade if we could make a less expensive, everyday drinking wine and we have worked on ways of keeping costs down," writes winemaker Duane Coates. 

"We have started with good vineyard sites, but kept down costs by not using new oak, utilizing less expensive glass for our bottles and maintaining a 12 month barrel maturation regime. The base wine uses 2/3 Langhorne Creek Syrah and the rest Adelaide Hills pressings." 

Nevertheless Duane let natural yeast do a three week ferment before shovelling the pulp into his  "favourite ½ tonne Mori basket press ... that gives a great flavour and soft tannin profile ... [our] traditional approach precludes the use of the additives and fining agents such as tannins, enzymes, egg, fish or milk products. Bottled unfined and unfiltered in February of 2016."  

The result's a sinfully smooth, intense, adult, juniper-and-fig beauty, with the texture and some of the flavour of the heirloom "peach plum" I recall from my childhood, and peppery Dutch licorice without the salt.
 
Then, yep, soft and fine tannins. Schlurp.

I admit to harbouring a shard of doubt when Duane suggested the wine would still be drinking well in eight years, but here I am finishing this bottle a week after opening, and it still tastes bloody lovely. It'll go a decade easy. 

Which is probly why it's sold out. 

Watch for the '16 model!  

Coates Robe Vineyard The Malbec 2015  
($25; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 240 dozen)  

Malbec, or Cot, is another of the Bordeaux red varieties left in the shade - or the wake - of the big hit Cabernets. It now lives on both sides of the equatorial Andes, and a little in Patagonia. 

It makes muddy soft floodplain red at Langhorne Creek, gunbarrel blue juniper and ozone elegance at Frankland Estate in Great Southern near Albany, and some of the best, most intense and elegant red of all in the formidable arsenal of Wendouree in Clare. 

Because of the climates and proximity to the Great Southern Ocean, I approached this expecting its Limestone Coast fruit to show similarities to the Frankland wine. It's not quite so fine and taut as that: stylistically it's somewhere between that Frankland form and the blues-and-funky soul of the traditional Langhorne jobbies. So atop all those usual black-and-blue fruits, there's that chocolate Mississippi mudcake, but also a most intriguing whiff of the curry tree, Bergera koenigii

Like the Petite Rouge, this more surly natural yeast wonder is still drinking fresh and clean after a whole week of air. It'll live for yonks. Lamb korma, ta. Or kedgeree. 

Coates Langhorne Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2014  
($30; 14% alcohol; screw cap)  

This mudflat baby is chockers with the minty eucalypt those Langhorne vineyards exude. It smells like your first big inhalation when you alight there from your car. Not to mention the feeling y9u get through the aroma and flavour sensors in your skin. 

There are the usual maritime Cabernet characters, too: blackcurrants, blueberries, juniper and cedar. 

It confirms my forty-year suspicion that if managed carefully and harvested before it turns to gloop, Langhorne Cabernet can get very very close to that other estuarine vignoble, Medoc in Bordeaux. It's almost as austere as an average Medoc, but that extra Oz breeze of red gum in with the forgivable, nay, likeable brash edges of youth: it will tighten and polish up to a shimmering sheen in five years. Masterly wine. Brilliant. 

Pity so few Langhorne winemakers ever get near this. Maybe they're just too busy drinking beer. 

Coates The Iberian McLaren Vale Langhorne Creek 2013 
($30; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 270 dozen) 

Touriga Nacional (44%), Tempranillo (14%), Monastrell (11%), Syrah (9%), Carignan (6%), Garnacha (6%), Cinsault (6%) and Malbec (4%)? Why the hell not? 

How does one little Peninsula, this bonnie Fleurieu, produce wines so akin to Hermitage, Bordeaux, Italy and Spain? Why do so few winemakers understand this amazing potential? And how come so few ever get to squeeze those visions so successfully into bottle? 

Intelligence. Worldly knowledge. Acute epicurean awareness. Patience. Wisdom. Money. Skill. 

Of all this suite, this is the ravishing black-haired beauty that has just grown more sultry and broody over the week I've taken one glass per day. Now on the dregs, I wish I'd missed days two to six, and still had five glasses to go over the next days. 

Maybe it would start to show signs of fatigue during that remarkable excursion. This is indeed very Iberian. Black ham; warm black olives; chorizos ... yum. Then it tends to yearn its way east toward the more perfumed Bandol and I think of Helmut Newton photographing Charlotte Rampling naked on the table in the bullfighting committee's meeting room in the Hotel Norde Pinus in Arles ... 

"The use of selected French cooperages (Seguin-Moreau, Nadalie, Marsannay, Dargaud & Jaegle)," Duane writes, "in a mix of puncheons, hogsheads and barriques provides complexity, integration and harmony with our intended style." 

Very few winemakers can say that. Very few have dreamed or attempted a wine like this. 

And $30? You gotta be jokin.

10 August 2017

LEGACY GARDENS AND LION'S TEETH

It's already on the record: I love the exquisite wines of Elena Brooks. I had three for breakfast before the sunrise gave me this light (above). Here is what I found (below):

Dandelion Vineyards Enchanted Garden of the Eden Valley Riesling 2016 ($27.50; 11% alcohol; screw cap) is much the better-settled wine after a year or so in bottle: it's creamy, smooth and alluring, where many others are sharp and crunchy with acid like a smashed windscreen. That winemaker Elena Brooks has picked and made the wine to be virtually dry at just eleven alcohols and still achieve this gentility and comfort is a great credit to her indomitable gastronomic intelligence. It reminds me a little of Dr Ernie Loosen's Riesling from the Pfalz part of Germany. It has an aged lime-and-ginger marmalade notion to it, and it's just a teeny bit toasty. I admit to guzzling half a bottle in no time at all with not one thought of accompanying food. It's just that easy. Cool. 

Dandelion Vineyards Lion's Tooth of McLaren Vale Shiraz Riesling 2013 ($27.50; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) is no printer's error. 

Having recently suggested that too much McLaren Vale Shiraz looks like it's pruned for vast lazy yields if indeed it's been pruned at all the writer took some comforting flak which was hungrily sucked in. You gotta love it.

All that cosmetic nonsense about geological tastings and Scarce Earths and whatnot will never fix this embayment's Shiraz: they've been at their geology-driven misplaced marketing sophistry for ten years now, to no obvious avail to the buyer. 

All they need to do is what I've told them at too many committee meetings: check the average price achieved per tonne, relate it to the vineyards' geologies, and admit that there are easily-discerned parts of the vignoble where people probably shouldn't bother with Shiraz, or any other grape, as their work tarnishes the very fine and reliable job done elsewhere in the district by committed professionals. 

No likelihood of that, given the powers that be.

Then, just yesterday, the UK's most influential wine journal, Decanter, reported a tasting of Australian Shiraz priced between ₤8 and ₤20 and simply suggested that "McLaren Vale was the biggest disappointment, with the largest proportion of 'bland, unremarkable' wines." 

Every likelihood of that, given the powers that be. 

That price bracket's supposed to be this region's forté, for Bacchus' sake. Like AU$13 to $33? Piss it in!

Uh-huh.

On the other hand, Walter Clappis' The Hedonist was singled out for exceptional praise. That's on Kurrajong piedmont geology: just about my favourite for Shiraz. Think Marius. And Drew Noon's Grenache. 

There's nothing new about blending a little Riesling in Shiraz. Charlie Melton's been doing it from the start: his old Barossa bush vine vineyard has Riesling vines speckled through its Shiraz, to be picked together. The Riesling contributes some focussing, drying acidity. Saves on the tartaric additions. 

While I review this 2013 wine - there's still a skerrick around the trade - there's some advantage in seeing the wine with a little bottle maturity. This blend could well solve the Shiraz problem for some, although you wouldn't want everybody running off doing it like they stupidly did with Viognier. Most of those folks should get some sensible pruning done and limit their yields or get on the dozer and start a fire. 

We need more native vegetation around the place: especially in the bit I call The Wok, on the lowest cracking clays from Willunga down past the airport to Aldinga. That would restore one fine marsh for tourists and wildlife: you could even hide three or four intensive eco-villages in there: small two-story houses facing in to shared courtyards in the bush. 

This Lion's Tooth is about the Riesling: just five per cent of the blend. The admixture seems to have brought some pleasing crunch to the blackberry Shiraz. It's not that shattered windscreen acid, but even the bouquet seems a bit closer to honed Damascus steel than your usual gloopy jam. 


You get a tidier finish without having to squeeze too much tannin from the skins and pips. 

The entire wine is more stylish and stylised, is more appetising and entertaining, and leaves you more bright and keen than the types of McLaren Vale Shiraz that nobody loves. 

There's a new vintage emerging now: I'll review it when it hits. 

And if the Poms at Decanter don't like it, I'll drink at least half of it. 

As for the Dandelion Vineyards Legacy of the Barossa Pedro Ximenéz XXXO ($60 375ml; 19.5% alcohol; screw cap)? 

I hear there's a change of name in the pipeline: Zar Brooks is now calling this Legacy of Australia, perhaps because old soleras like Karl Lindner's Barossa barrel hoard end up absorbing bits and pieces of wine from all over the place as they settle into great age. 

The Lindner stack has been sitting there growing and glowering for nearly seventy years. 

This isn't gloopy, either, in spite of that alcoholic strength. It has an acrid, dusty sherris-sack in its bouquet. Below that wells the simmering fruit mince, with plenty of rind. It's sweet, sure, but has severe acidity and what blenders called rancio: that illusion of dryness that comes with great age and oxidation of fortified wine in the barrel stack. 

This wine's perfect  sipping with nuts, raisins and soft-to-runny cheese. Given its lovely composure and obvious breeding, it's cheap at this price. 

It has finer form than many of the popular cooked/boiled versions from Jerez. Seriously. 

Heat emulates age, but is never so genteel. Let the Brits drink Jerez.


Winemaker Elena Brooks, left.

WOMEN IN WINE AWARDS

They're doing it again: some women, I mean: the 'Australian Women In Wine Awards'. 

Which must presume that women are somehow different to all other winemakers, or surely the organisation wouldn't exist. 

In a time when we're all struggling to learn to see each other as equals worth marrying, I can't possibly work out how a human with a vagina, or whatever it is that now delineates your actual woman, makes wine any differently to a person with a penis. Or, foolishly assuming acceptance of these traditionally-regarded extremes, any point between. 

Or out further. I don't care.

Maybe to properly equal everything out, we should have an Arseholes in Wine Award.  

Whether already rigged with dick, cunt, both, or neither, nearly everybody has an arsehole. And every poor bugger I've met without one sure knows plenty of them.

Bacchus knows, the wine business overflows with testosterone-soused idiots. I'm tired of  'em, regardless of their chromosomes. Many are people who I imagine have vaginas. I don't really care. Too many are male jerks or whatever the permissable word for what was that gender now is. 

Jerks will do for now. 

Confession: I tire of male-ridden wine functions. I'm a hardcore philogynist, in or out of wine.  

But just as too many Ocker wine blokes jerk themselves to unserviceable, so I encounter lasses who flick the bean so fucking hard they can no longer hear or read anything unless it's about themselves. 

Anyway, before they make the big winners announcement, I want to recommend Annika Berlingieri for practical winemaking and exceptional gastronomic intelligence, above, and Brande Nicole Roderick, below, for target marketing. Or her agent. And the photographer.



      

THINKING, THINKING

Stanislav Potenko painted this. A 1961 vintage Muscovite who couldn't stop painting, he drew the ire of his Mum and Dad who put him into the turbine construction department of Moscow Machine Construction Institute, then the army. There, of course, he was appointed painter in the Officers'  Club. He is now a designer. I really like his work. That'll be a vodka and soda, thanks. And here's a bonus one:

09 August 2017

GRENACHE SEDUCED ROBERT HILL SMITH

Yalumba 1889 Grenache vines at Vine Vale


Grenache - a Barossa story 
by ROBERT HILL SMITH 

I hereby declare my unrequited love for dry-grown, gnarly, termite-riddled, woody, candalabra-like old Grenache bush vines. 

Good. It's now out in the open, and whilst we have sought to drag doubters over the line of Pinot demarcation by gilding the lily of warm-area Pinot noir, these wines and vines deserve to be embraced and loved without apology or shyness. 

Like many of my  generation, I was brought up believing Grenache to be a tolerated weed and a squeaky dray: akin to Percy my favourite old Clydesdale who shared the front paddock with brother Sam's billygoat appropriately named Billy. Percy pulled the cart which contained all the prunings that were burned up the back. How we miss that aroma and the horse. Maybe there will be a reincarnation of that big head and lovely rhythm of the vineyard when we switch to a bio world. 


So in truth the Grenache workhorse and the carthorse were parked and forgotten in my youth as mechanisation arrived. 

When I was first paid at Yalumba I recall reading Rudy Kronberger's neatly-recorded notes and tasting his great tawny base wine blends. All had healthy percentages of Grenache from the Valley floor from whence they arrived at Yalumba in various-sized trailers and carts to be squashed, fermented and fortified with sugar left in the wine. 

We all ate grapes when we tossed the crop off the trucks to the screw but few ate the Grenache even though they were hellishly sweet. Mind you, in that era we didn't celebrate Shiraz or Mataro as we now do, so Grenache was no orphan. This was a time when high yields were celebrated and colour and flavour were secondary issues at the weighbridge. 

Time drifted and so did the prices paid for decent dry-grown and revered Shiraz and Grenache in the late '70s. It was a crook time for all, including the grapes! Fashion was running in the opposite direction to where these rustic old mates sat uncomfortably and unloved. 

The late Peter Lehmann began his winemaking life making Grenache port with Rudy Kronberger at Yalumba

Maybe it was comrade Lehmann that straightened my thinking at a long lunch one day, but my curiosity and respect shifted. Then the likes of O'Callaghan, Melton, Lehmann, et al, led a renaissance in the Barossa as affordable gems were being ignored by the bigger end of the village when Chardy and Riesling held the tiaras. As their budgets allowed access to these vineyard plots they siezed an opportunity as coincidental interest in fortifieds started their precipitous decline. 

A trip to Europe in '78 fortuitously had me educated on Viognier, Chateauneuf and Hermitage with the exxy best of Chateau Grillet and Rayas crossing my lips of appreciation. The soil and climate matched many of our growers' sites which I often visited. A bell rang, and was parked again. I heard from the Frogs about the fragility of excellence and true respect for the vine and in particular old vines on their own roots. We now import Guigal, Rayas, Chave and Perrin's wines. 

I also visited Delas with my old mate Kit Stevens who knew everyone very good and very bad in that part of the world. A few of those stories shall remain in the archive of my library! But Kit had a class palate and was a star character. We miss him as we do Trott. 

My life was nearly a blur through the '80s and '90s but we can fast-forward to 1999 anyway. The Graetz family offered their 23 hectare Vine Vale vineyard (click for vid) for sale and we leapt at the opportunity to bid and own it. It was a typical Barossa site in that it was planted to reflect insurance and fashion. It had Chenin blanc, Cabernet, Pinot noir and Shiraz. There were seven hectares of younger Grenache in one corner, but importantly for me it had about 900 dry-grown bush vines planted on two hectares in 1889, and though they had been managed for a a different outcome in our minds we finally had a real jewel to work with and elevate the Grenache category.



At that time we had Brian Walsh (ex-McLaren Vale), Louisa Rose (ex-Yarra) and local lad Kevin Glastonbury on board and we all believed in the possibilities. I wanted to give each 1889er a name: they were beautiful! 

Putting that aside, it's fair to say Grenache was not popular. Riesling was also on struggle street and we joked about whether their renaissance would occur in our lifetime as the tsunami of Sauvignon threatened to drown the market. 

The Nursery Vineyard is now an estate planted out to bush vine Grenache all taken from the 1889 Mother Block. We name the wine our Tri-Centenary (TCG) as it has survived over three centuries and seen off depression, booms, busts, droughts, floods, wars and wankers! 

These vines are warriors. I wonder still if they will ever get the respect they deserve as it is palpably evident that the main lovers are South Australians, employees, and in fact Riesling drinkers! 

Interstate? Hmmmm. Maybe that's why Walshy coined the phrase "Blue-collar Pinot" or "warm area Pinot" to help nurse the east coasters through nervous choice and social acceptability! 

KG is my go-to on the wine team when it comes to Grenache. He deeply cares for the vines and the wines and the oak we use. 

Fast-forward again to 2017. Yalumba now makes three single-site Grenache wines from the Barossa floor and a bush vine blend. We have lifted the Tri-centenary into our Rare and Fine folio to reflect the respect it deserves. It remains a tough sell here but is seemingly better respected in other parts of the world. 

Whilst the winemakers see its time has come, consumers seem less convinced. The Lehmanns, Meltons and O'Callaghans now have the Cirillos, Schells, Kalleskes, Canutes and others raising the flag and it is inspiring. 

Barossa Grenache revivalists: Rick Burge, Stephen Henschke, Brian Walsh, Peter Lehmann (dec.), Robert Hill Smith, Bob McLean (dec.) and Robert O'Callaghan photographed by Milton Wordley ... all other photos supplied by RHS

I tasted the Tri 2012 in many parts across Britain, America and Canada and they get it and buy it. They see its mid-weight, dense-to-medium crimson tones and savoury, spicy, juicy subtlety and value. What Pinot noir can offer this history, quality and joy? Made with such love for under $30 or $40 a bottle? 

KG is a hands-off wine man but our extreme vineyard health and biodiversity is allowing a wild ferment to start and finish and then remain on skins for 35 to 60 days. Note the 2017 had 116 days on skins post-ferment! This plays to a recent thought about elevating texture, spice and length. It then heads to older French hogsheads for around nine months. It is a thing of beauty.  

My belief is that the 2005 TCG may be the greatest wine we have made. A big call, and maybe just one, but memorable and cherished. 

Grenache has so many incarnations and annually reflects its vintage and maybe the speed of a simpler life. In 1889 Banjo Patterson wrote Clancy of the Overflow

We hope Australians will invite classy Grenache with a story to tell in the glasses forever. It deserves to be, and I remain weak-kneed and thrilled at the possibility and proud to be part of the brotherhood! 

We just need an old vine register and a new generation of drinkers to see where real love lies in a glass.


OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS GRENACHE SERIES

1 Intro: McLaren Vale Grenache: A Study 
2 Out my back door: picking the High Sands 
3 Grenache: Drew Noon's love story 
4 Grenache: the Italian Connection 
5 Out my back door: finishing High Sands
6 Grenache and upland geology: top of the bottom 
7  Thistledown for the Spanish: Grenache from Tres Hombres
8 Grenache from Blewett Sands Mike Farmilo and Sue Trott 
9 One Grenache; one Pinot  are there similarities?
10 Echidnas return to Yangarra after nine years without poison

Rob Hill Smith, Norty Schuter and Charlie Melton at PL's wake ... 
Grenache lovers all ... photo by DRAGAN


PEACE IN THE VALLEY

We won't need too many warmish-dry days like this to see the baby vine buds popping in the vineyard, meaning it's nearly time for these weed-eaters to go back to normal pasture ... photo Philip White ... noon today over my side fence

DELL'UVA'S DELIGHTFUL DRINKING

Wallow in Wayne's Dell'uva reds
by PHILIP WHITE

Some time ago, like a couple of years, when my brain fell out of favour with my mind I couldn't work very well and postponed tasting a lot of wine, which built up around the dining/tasting-room. 

Which is now a room dangerously bulged-out with packaging waste, which I hate. 

One set of bottles I was delighted to find on a recent quarrying and delving had come from the Freeling, north-west Barossa vine gardener and nursery cuttings propagator, Wayne Farquar. Like others he's probly long thought I'd swallered and forgot but while my guilt made me know these wines are no longer available it's a delight to taste them after a couple of years' cool storage and maturation. 

We can see where they're going ... 
 

Wayne Farquar with a giant Dolcetto bunch
 

Being a nurseryman, Wayne's a bit spoiled as far as his range of selection of disparate varieties goes, but I can happily advise that if you're a producer who has a wide range of flavours available behind various labels, take a look at this. If you can't match this spread of flavours, even given Wayne's particular winemaking style, you might as well drop some lines, think up a new name and make a blend. 

One small estate way out near nowhere in particular, with a range of red-to-black brain candy like this? All from fewer than fifty acres? You gotta be jokin! 

Then I check the website to see which vintage they're on now. Same. Most of these wines are still available. From $24 to $45! Where we been?!? Go sniff! 

Dell'uva Barossa Carménère 2013 (13.5% alcohol) is pretty and ethereal. At first snap of the cap it's like someone soused in Chanel No. 5 eating ripe cherries. Then there's gradual rise of the sort of mossy ferny fungi-laced earth I associate with properly grown Merlot. My goodness it's delicious. Intense, supple, polished, shimmering. Long and juicy and fresh with the finest tannin. 

A Bordeaux variety that fell from grace there because it ripens so long and slow, it mainly lives now in Chile. I love it. I reckon it'll become an essential cornerstone of the thinking drinker's vineyard as the climate goes nuts. 

Dell'uva Barossa Dolcetto 2013 (14%) has a fair whoof of Linke's Butcher Shop about it, with all those smoky meats. But it's also ripe and rich with overt dates and figs and all sorts of dark things that just have to be picked before they fall to the ground or the elephants eat 'em and get drunk. It has very little tannin. Picked earlier this cheeky, usually frivolous Italian red can be more nutty and tea tin than this. It can make a cool sparkling red, too. 

Dell'uva Barossa Graciano 2013 (14.5%) is polished black leather and satin. Superhero sinister. It has a gravity that will suck the light from the room. It has the old tea tin edge in the waft department but also in the tannins: after a lick of Chamberlain gearbox oil there's juniper with anise and licorice and dark chocolate. Sort of Mallee bachelor farmer goes beserk in Haigh's chocolate shop kind of thing, sick with Zorro obsessions, trying to save the girl from the man she really loves. 

Critters in the vineyard mean it's healthy, but these are the types of life that mechanical harvesters pick and deliver with the grapes to the winery, where they become known as 'protein' which makes fining and filtering essential. Dell'uva is picked by hand. Bearded dragon, above, wood swallow's nest below.

Dell'uva Amphora Nero d'Avola Natural Wine 2014 (14.5%) is deep and sooty and aniseed balls. It smells like a croft kitchen in the Western Hebrides. Somebody's cooking black seaweed to die the weft in a smuggler's tweed. There's peat in the lug; kippers in the barrel. The flavour's alive and vibrant and cordial-juicy. Framboise. Which I suppose makes some sort of sense in the sense that at least this is an island grape, from Sicily, where it's a lot hotter than frigging Lewis or Uist. And yet it's still jumpin and stompin jigs'n'jugs of eager spiritous glee. 

Dell'uva Barossa Primitivo 2013 (14%) is more along the lines of the Nero, but wound round to eleven. It has some of the acrid smouldering coke of the smithy's forge but with lots of mulberry, a bit after the old blackberry nip, and perhaps even a fresh light young crème de cassis. With fresh cream. Scones. Dangerously slippery with barely a speck of tannin. Keep away from teenagers. 

Dell'uva Barossa Sangiovese 2013 (14%) is pushing me to the point where I suspect all these cottage kitchen and polished woodfire stove and smithy aromas are more regional and maybe cellar-peculiar traits. Not a surprise. Once again, in this instance the edgy/acrid topnotes sink fairly soon into the syrup of fruits, this time with a blood pudding steaming away while the bread cooks. Fitting thing with the blood of San Jove. This is a more elegant and lithe thing than some of the others. 

Dell'uva Barossa Saperavi 2013 (13%) is the only one in this suite with a cork and a heavier bottle. Which befits this rambunctuous Caucasus Georgia variety which is rare amongst wine grapes because its juice is red. Unlike nearly all other red grapes, whose white juice takes all its colour from time fermenting or soaking on skins this big bubba's red right though from the start. If you prune it too early, you'll discover even the sap of the brute can be the colour of beetroot juice. So you can get all the colour you need without extracting tannin. 

Dunno why, but this immediately reminded me of Elon Musk. Something to do with matte space finishes. This has a touch of titanium/teflon about it. Jeez it's delicious. Just rocket slick and smart: very very fast and silent. Non-stick. 

Dell'uva Barossa Tempranillo 2013 (13.5%) is straight back to the Zorro comic with all the Spanish leather and gros grain and blackness with an added lash of sabre oil. If I'd had this wine as a kid it would have reinforced my belief that Zorro polished his moustache with sabre oil. Now I've passed puberty it reminds me of the lass in the mask doing the tango drinking goddam bullwhip dressing oil and smoking a long cigarillo while the old snicker-snack tragic in the black boater and cloak heavy breathes at the window. 

Juicy fresh red and pink berry salad in kirsch and marshmallow sugar.


This is an amazing suite of wines from a determined thousand-mile-stare viticulture visionary and gastronomic mud pie man who could only live in a town called Freeling. I've deliberately avoided addressing his good number of how-you-say more conventional varieties, like the Shiraz ones, the Grenache, the Merlot and whatever. Today it's just these new Australians.

note ultra-close vine spacing to make roots compete and keep yields down ... 
top bottles photograph by Philip white, all others supplied.