The Vinicultural Cringe
God, I love the letters page of Decanter, the world's best wine magazine (their words, not mine).
There's usually at least one highly amusing, long-running pitched battle between an Old World wine critic and a New World winemaker. (Winemaker: ''You wouldn't know how to recognise a good wine if it came up and bit you on the bum you snivelling Pom.'' Critic: ''You wouldn't know how to make a good wine to save yourself you Ocker peasant.'' You know the kind of thing.)
There's often a rather snidey letter or two (written, you imagine, by a rather grey man in beige slacks from his bedsit in Hampstead) pointing out that one of last month's featured columnists had a commercial affiliation with a minor chateau in the Cotes de Blaye in 1974, so shouldn't we be questioning his credibility?
All good, wholesome stuff, and great for a quiet giggle.
But I laughed out loud at June's Letter of the Month. An ex-wine steward related his horrifying experiences aboard a yacht full of Norwegian businessmen cruising the Caribbean - and shared with Decanter readers the complete sacrilege they committed with what they ate and drank.
More than 400 bottles costing 40,000 quid were consumed over 10 days. They had '69 Dom Perignon for breakfast with their bacon and eggs; '61 Gruaud-Larose and magnums of the Dom aplenty; and (shocked intake of breath to compose himself) they washed down plain old pasta and bolognese sauce with Chateau Beychevelle 1961 and finished with cheesecake and 1921 Yquem.
But wait - there's more. Apparently - horror of horrors - they finished the meal with plenty of beer.
Now according to the author of the winning letter, this account of philistinism should make any ''true wine lover cringe.'' Well sorry, bucko, but I ain't cringing.
In fact, call me an Ocker peasant, but good on ya, boys! Okay, so Yquem '21 and Sara Lee may not be quite my idea of dining fun (although if the cheesecake's good ... ), but Dom for brekkie and '61 Beychevelle with spag bol I can't actually get all that upset about. In fact, I reckon the combos would be pretty tasty. Certainly not the epitome of dining sacrilege.
But that's not the point. The point is that Jesus, when will people get off their high horses and stop treating wine as something somehow divine that needs to be protected from the oiks down in the real world? Okay, so Norwegian businessmen necking Yquem at 1,500 quid a pop isn't exactly the real world, but at least they're drinking the stuff (wine is after all just a drink, remember) rather than hoarding, selling, speculating or revering it.
But then maybe I'm not a ''true'' wine lover.
Max Allen Max Allen writes a fortnightly article for Wine Planet. He is Australia's first recipient of the prestigious Andre Simon Memorial Award for his book "Red and White, Wine Made Simple
THE WINE AND JAZZ APPRECIATION SOCIETY NEWS, VOL 5, NO 38, 17/11/99
You know how sometimes you sure you’ve made a bad decision, but instead of cutting your losses you hang around hoping that some sort of resurrection will occur? I guess that’s the same human failing that besets gamblers who lose their pay packet or house because of the belief that luck must turn eventually. It was just this situation that befell me at The Continental on Monday night for the performance of visiting singer/songwriter/country/bluesy-type, Chris Whitely. I guess the first inkling was evident upon his stage entrance in a cloud of cigarette smoke, super-model skinny, jeans falling off barely existent hips, armless t-shirt shortened to ensure the fashionable tattoo on the lower abdomen was visible, Bowie hairstyle – need I continue? Oh, and he described his music as “industrial jug-band”.
Now, we know that The Conti has a fine sound system and a capable sound engineer, so why did Whitely decide to select the “sound of man singing very loudly with head in bucket” option on the mixing console? At least the minimalist blues group 20 Miles are upfront about their intention when they choose to employ old telephone handsets as microphones. This intentionally created dirty sound is ok if you know what to expect from a band’s history or from their cd’s, and you still turn up. In this case, however, the 2 CD’s I’ve heard and enjoyed (Living With The Law, and Dirt Floor) have been clean sounding, with good dynamic range from voice and guitar, nice picking and slide (especially on the National Resonator guitar), and, decipherable lyrics.
After the first 4 tunes I retreated to the bar for some distance education, but to no avail. At least the Coopers was cold, and the regular feedback squeals less grating at a distance. The sound quality didn’t improve though, and the Resonator was flailed in a continuous very loud rhythm guitar style, entirely without light and shade. He also employed a stomp board, a sort of amplified bass drum for thumping with the foot to provide more rhythm. This was also over-amped and the big Conti PA system was crackling with displeasure at the overload it was fed. I met a few similarly disenchanted listeners in the refuge, and as they were obviously people of refinement, we whiled away the time swapping yarns about both wondrous and execrable musical experiences in Melbourne.
The support act was Jeff Lang, local guitarist and singer/songwriter. He played some interesting and complex tunes of his own on a copy of a Weissenborn guitar, similar to that played on the lap by Ben Harper. Jeff’s playing is his strong suit, and he milks a variety of sounds from the instrument (with signal processor). He employs picks on three fingers and thumb, and tends to use the slide on single strings rather than across all six. This combination allows for simultaneous acoustic picking and slide effects. Apart from the final tune (by Tom Waits) the set contained all self-penned numbers. Like Whitely, he uses a stomp board to provide a bass rhythm, yet the sound of guitar, voice and board were clean and clear, thus relieving The Conti of the responsibility for the sonic abuse that followed.
Noticing Jeff in the bar during my exile, I struck up a conversation (as I am wont to do), imagining that he was also annoyed at the squall now emanating from the stage he had vacated. But no! Jeff was enthralled by the sound – by the power chords (not cords, as I was imagining) produced by Chris. And the dirty sound and incomprehensible lyrics bathed in distortion that I thought I heard were defined quite differently by Jeff. A sign of authenticity, he opined. Well! He seemed keen to escape from further discussion for some reason, and so he did.
Beforehand we ate a most agreeable dinner at David’s, the restaurant reviewed by The Age below. The food was delicious, and the service impeccable. As to the proclaimed health benefits, I think I blew those away at the Conti.
David's, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran. Phone 9529 5199 John Lethlean, The Age
You will take from David's what you like, depending on your open-mindedness. Here is a restaurant that not only makes the usual promises about food and service - in this case predominantly Shanghai and Sichuan styles, though in typical Chinese manner including many old favorites – but also promises to subtly include ingredients that will do all sorts of things for your health, too. The good thing is that while it comes with a deal of rather infectious enthusiasm, It also comes, quite rightly, without the dogma often associated with herbal medicine, and it makes for an appealing package.
After a meal at David's (Shanghai-born proprietor David Zhou also sells Chinese herbal teas and alternative healing therapies at shops in Prahran and St Kilda), you may well emerge into the Prahran night with better blood circulation, improved lung capacity, fewer toxins in your system, stronger kidneys and more energy. Such are the promised benefits of ingredients used here: gingko, dangshen, Chinese dates, yams, wolfberries and ginseng. Silly me. I had attributed that satisfied feeling to some lovely food, fine service, a great beer and a bottle of Knappstein riesling. Like I said, you will take from David's what you want.
This herbal harmony approach to cooking at David's is in accord with that other, less prescriptive philosophy so important to the Chinese: that good food and the ritual of eating is one of life's fundamentals. David's, which opened four months ago off Chapel Street, differs from the average Chinese restaurant in several other respects, too. First, this is a salmon-pink tablecloth-free-zone. Created over two levels in an old warehouse, the restaurant has that New York loft feel: open, light, with high ceilings and exposed joinery. Above, low-voltage spotlight cables crisscross the space like slender tramline cables. Whitewalls are decorated minimally with timber-framed mirrors and subtle images that suggest modesty rather than ethnicity. Polished jarrah floors, funky, pendulous metal light fittings, timber bistro chairs and white-draped tables complete the deceit: it does not look like a Chinese restaurant (except for three of those red paper lanterns which hang, incongruously, between the lower and upper sections of the dining space, and the Kenny G-ish soap opera soundtrack.
The espresso machine at the front bar, and a crowd that looks as if it were weened on Lavazza instead of baby formula, add to the impression David's is a happening thing already. Second, service here is smart and wine-friendly, despite a dull list. Finally, a quick look at this menu will tell you that David's is a place to discover new flavors, less commercial dishes- fried smoked fish with tomato sauce, for example, or something titled "New popular dish in Shanghai, yellowfish meat with bean curd skin" - and an uncompromising approach.
What else can be said of the splendid cold pigeon with special Chinese wine from the menu's valuable opening page ("Specially Recommended Dishes")? It arrives, in a pretty claypot in its heady wine-broth complete withhead, beak and neck, expertly dissected. To many Anglo-Australians, this may prove somewhat repugnant. Certainly, it is a place my companion did not care to go. Personally, I sucked the brain out of thatpigeon with enormous pleasure; the pink flesh and slightly gelatinous skin of the bird is full of gamey flavor enhanced, not shrouded, by the broth of stock, Chinese wine and goodness-knows-what spices in which it had been steeped. A study in simplicity, luxury and tradition. A taster of excellent steamed Tasmanian Pacific oysters ($6.50) reveals subtle cooking: one comes with a lightginger-garlic dressing, another with a fair XO sauce(basically, a luxury chilli, dried scallop and Yunnan ham condiment fashionable in Hong Kong) and the third with a sweet-pungent black bean sauce. It is with a recommended dish - stewed lamb ($18.80) -that Chinese herbal therapy and the culinary arts first combine for us.
What comes to the table is a small stainless steel wok on a little burner holding pieces of incredibly tender, sweet lamb in a herby, malty, cleanbroth peppered with Chinese dates and yam and lots of the wolfberries - small, red fruit with a pleasant tang. Portions are served at the table, with rice if you wish, and whatever the medicinal benefits, it is a very successful, light meat and broth dish. The menu is structured Western style - entree, main,dessert - but the cultural heritage of this food cannot be denied, and it must be shared, over as many dishes as you can manage. Without any prompting, a waiter will suggest half-serves of the mains, an offer you mustaccept. The dish of braised crystal shrimps cooked with some long jin green tea leaves, for example ($20.80, a peculiar price) sounds very much like something two will share easily. It is in fact a massive serve, too much for two people, of slippery/crunchy crustaceans with specks of tea leaf, more of the wolfberries and a traditional Shanghai dipping sauce of dark vinegar with ginger shreds. They have an intriguing texture of softness and crunch at the same time but are not intended to be eaten en masse, and lose their appeal. Eventually.
Desserts here fall into two camps: the disappointingly cliched (fritters and the like) and the authentic and intriguing (such as red bean pastries, rarely appealing to a Westerner). Sadly, mashed green peas with coconut milk is unavailable the night we're there, but a deep-fried dessert, consisting of a sweet pumpkin paste in a glutinous pastry made with sticky rice flour and speckled with sesame seeds ($5), certainly is. The flavor and texture are intriguing.A waiter suggests a bowl of tea as dessert. A bowl of Calm Concentration tea ($4.50) will provide nutritional and restorative hydration benefits, we're told. And he's not wrong.The bowl is awash with interesting things, besides quality long green tea leaves and boiling water: longan flesh, citrus peel, chrysanthemums, wolfberries, red Chinese date and, if you wish, pieces of rock sugar. Did this nourish the heart blood, a pre-requisite for a calm and concentrated mind, according to the proprietor? Who knows? Did it aid my memory, concentration and digestion? Quite possibly. These things are hard to measure. But can you expect to leave David's feeling better? That's easy. The summary 14/20. A new approach, and interesting food, well executed in a great warehouse space. Owner: David Zhou
There has been a veritable explosion of new venues with music in 1999, apart from Manchester Lane, Mayfields, and Dizzies that I’ve discussed previously, here are some of the new places.
The Troubadour at Katcouta, 400 Sydney Rd Brunswick
The Purple Emerald, 191 Flinders Lane. 9650 7753
The Rosti Bar, 230 Flinders Lane
The Toucan Club, St Georges Rd, N. Fitzroy
The Yak Bar 160 Hoddle St Abbottsford 9486 9900
The Cotton Lounge, 26 Toorak Rd S. Yarra
OzCat at Parkview, Cnr St Georges Rd & Scotchmer St, N. Fitzroy 9489 8811
THE WINE AND JAZZ APPRECIATION SOCIETY NEWS, VOL 5, NO 39, 30/11/99
A staff dinner-dance at the Novatel was an unexpectedly enjoyable evening, largely due to the presence of Zydeco Jump as the band – an inspired if unusual choice for a formal do. Their energy and great mix of Zydeco, Cajun, and blues tunes were a joy to dance to, and it was difficult to leave the floor. They played long and hard and actually appeared to enjoy themselves while doing so. George Butrumelis on piano accordion was outstanding as usual. The old joke about a person of refinement being someone who can play the accordion but chooses not to, definitely does not hold true in George’s case. To hear him play Robert Johnson blues riffs is a revelation.
The combination of accordion, drums, tenor sax, washboard and bass guitar disqualifies the band from the Zydeco label, strictly speaking – but who’s going to be picky when the music is great. Certainly the younger brigade flocked to the dance floor, and only a few of the fogies wore their eyebrows in elevated mode. There is elevator music, then there is elevating music – and about 4 hours of the latter is seriously good value at such a usually staid event.
At The Rainbow on Mon (15/11) to catch Geoff Achison (guitar) guesting with The Paul Williamson Hammond Combo. The band is about to celebrate their 8th Rainbow birthday on the 29/11 with a live recording, and guests such as Ben Gillespie and Eugene Ball (of The Hoodangers). This is an occasion not to be missed unless it coincides with your 30th Wedding Anniversary and you are hoping to reach 31.
A good sized crowd expect to hear intelligent r’n’b and jazz, with an emphasis on blues when Geoff plays. He doesn’t disappoint, with some blistering solos mixed up increasingly in recent times with delicate touches. Not being adept at sight reading sometimes causes some interesting moments for Geoff, but his keen ear usually allows him to avoid major embarrassment. Paul in a momentary loss of self-control had allowed himself to be bottle blonded – a sight best avoided by those of delicate constitution. No such people at this gig, however, and they were most appreciative of his wails and squeals on tenor and baritone sax. Presumably the corrosive and oxidative elements of the peroxide, which are known to destroy the brain’s music centre, were unable to penetrate his skull.
Some classic numbers: Hard Times, The Yodel; It All Went Down The Drain were up to the usual standard, while the standout for me was a slow version of Percy Mayfield’s The Voice Within. Great lyrics, a sustained sense of menace and eerily atmospheric. The last set, one I look forward to because of the additional guests drawn from whichever musos happen to be in the audience, was less successful, I thought. Mark Zors (violin) appeared on the first album Red Hot Go and has spent the last couple of years in Thailand. On the couple of tunes he played, he was unfortunately swamped by louder instruments even when they were comping to his solo. Julie O’Hara performed Sweet Georgia Brown as she often does, in her cheeky, scat style. It is a great high energy tune for the band though it was one where Mark could have been given some space - a tune that really suits violin. A blues singer named Sam Linten Smith did only one number, mercifully. Obviously a fan of Rick Estrin (of Little Charlie fame), his over-the-top performance and lack of substance, was so out of character with the band’s lack of pretension, as to be something of a culture shock.
A weekend of music – Friday to Sunday at the Troubadour Festival (Campaspe Downs, Kyneton). Ten of us in a bunkhouse more usually used for school camps was a novel experience in close-quarter survival. Continuous music mainly of the folk/country/blues variety provided plenty of opportunities to find something congenial. Of two visiting US artists was Bob Brozman, apparently king of the National steel guitar. His is a name new to me, though not to Alex Burns (a local National guitar exponent) who sat front and centre (in my spot, damn him!). He treated everyone to a tour de force of technique on a range of custom Nationals and a lap-played Hawaiian guitar. He is certainly a fabulous player who incorporates much percussion of the strings and guitar body to create sympathetic rhythms, in addition to a range of tricks that I’ve not before seen. These fingering, slide usage and finger-picking techniques created unusual harmonic tones and long sustains without the use of sound processors – quite remarkable sounds. His voice was rather ordinary and his patter about the relationships between African, Indian and other musical styles to blues made the session into something of a masterclass that militated against the entertainment that many of the crowd sought. Many comments were that his technique was awesome, but of the flashy “look what I can do” style rather than as a complement to overall musicianship.
The other visitor, Steve Young is revered in non-country-and-western country music circles for his singing and songwriting. I have always found his voice to be tiresomely thick with emotion, so continuously that it sounds to me like affectation. On the other hand, his guitar playing is exemplary, far more complex than a country singer generally requires.
Apart from a jovial set from Greg Champion including some very humorous lyrics, and very tasty guitar from Phil Manning (from Chain many years ago), the acts for the most part were not to my taste (Mike Mclellan, Danny Spooner, Martin Pearson, Brent Parlane, Jane Saunders, Doug Ashdown, Russell Morris, Bob Eden).
The Winos vs Musos cricket match was great fun, though I found it hard to decide to which team I truly belonged. I managed to knock out the front tooth from an opposition batsman which would have been very satisfying were he a little older than 9 years. As it happened, I was later pilloried from the stage by Russell Morris for my perfidy, my so-called friends gleefully pointing out the villain to the assembled throng, much to my embarrassment.
The highlight in many people’s mind was an act that relied as much upon visual impact as for the sound of their music. Mic Conway’s Junk Band grew out of The Captain Matchbox Whoopee band from the early eighties (I think). Wonderfully entertaining in a sort of Twenties-style music-cum-Vaudeville act it was very cleverly produced by a group of eccentrics, none more so than the leader – singer, guitarist, fire eater, magician, juggler, tap dancer, humourist – Mic Conway. He has a most expressive face, one that looks as though it belongs in an earlier period in history, and when he wears his accessories of assorted bells, whistles, kazoo, harmonica around his neck while strumming a very rare 4 string National guitar you get the feeling that this is not serious music.
In fact the musicianship left nothing to be desired. Marcus Holden, on a weird violin that has no body but which channels its sound through a metal horn (such as to be found on an old Victrola 78 record turntable), is a very fine player. Though his posture suggests classical training, he proved eminently capable of playing in a wonderful blues and jazz style, whether on melody or improvising. The bass was provided by a female member of the WA Philharmonic (or somesuch) on marching tuba, electric bass, and on a one-gallon glass jug. A pretty capable National 6 string player, known as Filthy Dunny Seat also sang and provided John Blackman-type comments. The drum kit was assembled by Heath Robinson in a lean year. It was based around a kitchen sink as snare, high-hat made from hubcaps, toms of varying capacity tin cans, bass drum – a plastic rubbish bin, several large lids and battered cymbals. The drummer employed golf gloves tipped with metal fingernails such as used by washboard players, and also added voice as needed. The music was exuberant, novel, unpredictable, and great fun.
NICKS WINE MERCHANTS - VINTAGE DIRECT EMAIL NEWSLETTER
ISSUE No. 23 http://www.nicks.com.au/ email: email@example.com
1998 SEVENHILL SHIRAZ * A LINK WITH THE ANCIENTS
Region: Clare Valley, South Australia
The Sevenhill wines are made by the Jesuit Brothers at Sevenhill in the Clare Valley. Monks and wine are very much an integral part of Western Civilisation, and some authorities even claim that the two most important achievements of the Ancient Egyptians were the building of the Pyramids and the invention of Christian monasticism.
The real founder and genius of Western monasticism was Benedict of Nursia (c. 407-547). St Benedict, synthesized and harmonised the monastic ideas and divided a monks day into three parts - prayer, study and manual labour, with an emphasis on agriculture which was based upon the hallowed trinity of corn, oil and wine. *The Measure of Drink* was an important consideration to St. Benedict and may enlighten the lives of contemporary wine lovers. *Each man has his own gift from God, one this and another that. We are therefore
hesitant in deciding how much others should eat or drink. Keeping in mind the weakness of the less robust, we consider that half a pint of wine is sufficient for everyone. But in a case where the locality or work or heat of summer may make a larger allowance necessary, the Abbot must decide, taking care that there is no excess or drunkenness.*
With the Abbots generous proviso, all that one now needs to do is plead a special case, for a larger allowance shouldn*t be too hard to come up with a credible spin! The Society of Jesus was founded in the sixteenth century by the Basque soldier Inigo de Loyola to become the spearhead of the Counter Reformation. As schoolmasters, the Jesuits shaped the entire ruling class of Catholic Europe, as confessors, they directed Kings and Emperors, as
missionaries they roamed from Ireland to Russia and from India to Texas. In China they converted the last Ming Emperor and became astronomers, clockmakers, mathematicians and gardeners to his Manchu successors.
In Australia, the Jesuits arrived in the Clare Valley in 1848, three years later built a slab hut in the valley at Sevenhill and in 1852 began to plant vines. The first winemaker was Brother John Schreiner, who secured vine cuttings from a local brewer at Bungaree. Initially the wine produced at Sevenhill was for the use as sacramental wine, however, later red and white wines as well as brandy were produced for lay consumption.We are indeed fortunate that today the good Brothers are producing some exceptional wine for wine lovers. Brother John May, now in his 70*s remains at the helm and is one of the wine industries best ambassadors. Many a wine maker would do well to take a lesson in modesty from this great man.
THE 1998 SEVENHILL SHIRAZ AND 1998 ST. IGNATIUS DRY RED ARE TWO EQUALLY
OUTSTANDING WINES. THE CHOICE OF FRONT COVER WAS MADE BY THE TOSS OF
TASTING NOTE: An outstanding Shiraz. The colour is spectacular and heralds a wine of great flavour concentration. Opaque crimson mauve purple colour, which clings to the glass leaving a film of mauve. Superb nose. All that one prays for in a Shiraz. Inky youthful blackberry fruit aromas are layered over by aromas of blackpepper, plum, liquorice with a confectionery end note. Mouthfilling palate, concentrated blackberry and plum flavours over spice and a peppery persistent back palate. Fine grained tannins in perfect harmony with the
fruit and providing a structure that will develop over an 8-10 year period. Very long, peppery liquorice aftertaste. The Sevenhill Shiraz is a historical phenomenon in that it presents a remarkable historic link back to the early beginnings of Western civilisation. The philosophy and history aside, the 1998 Shiraz is an outstanding red and exceptional value for money. The decision of which wine to feature on the front page of this edition of Vintage Direct was difficult, as the 1998 St. Ignatius is equally impressive. The decision is simple. Buy some of
each! $17.99 each or $210.00 per dozen