Cheeky little drop that should have tasted lousy
experimentation in the winery — while keeping the price of each wine to about $20-$22.
“I felt it was patronising to think that people who ‘only’ spend $20 on a bottle of wine don’t also want something interesting and challenging,” he says.
The approach has paid off. In the past few months I’ve been increasingly excited by the 2015 vintage Airlie Bank wines I’ve tasted: a crisp, fragrant rosé made from pinot noir and pinot gris; a fabulously vibrant, dangerously slurpable red called Franc, made from the underappreciated cabernet franc grape; a wonderfully rich but balanced and fresh skins-fermented chardonnay called Blanc II.
The Noir, though, the wine that shouldn’t taste good but does: that takes Airlie Bank to a whole new level.
Just before vintage, Shand and his winemaking team were discussing the problems Yarra Valley vignerons face: phylloxera, the debilitating vine louse first discovered in the region in 2006 and now munching its way through many vineyards; the “rogue” yeast Brettanomyces; and smoke taint from bushfires, a recurring problem in the area. “We asked ourselves: what if we made a wine that represented arguably these three most significant threats?” he says.
So they picked some pinot from stressed vines heavily infested with phylloxera, fermented half of the fruit with a pure strain of Brettanomyces, and hot-smoked some of the bunches in an old rubbish bin over smouldering oak chips before fermentation.
The result? A darker than normal pinot with surprisingly succulent and intense — albeit atypical — fruit flavours, a gutsy earthiness, and a discernible but pleasant smoky aftertaste.
I took the bottle out to dinner at a restaurant with normal people — not wine geeks. I didn’t give them the background, just let them try it for themselves. It was fascinating to see their reactions.
“Whisky!” said one, after taking her first sip. Here we go, I thought. The next comment will be negative. After all, wine nerds know that pinot should never taste like whisky. “It’s ... smoky. Weird. But I really like it!” And we all went back to enjoying the wine. The Airlie Bank Blanc II and Noir wines are available through blackheartsandsparrows.com.au in Melbourne and princewinestore.com.au in Sydney. Other Airlie Bank wines — including that gorgeous cabernet franc — have wider distribution.