Cheeky lit­tle drop that should have tasted lousy

The Weekend Australian - Life - - FOOD & DRINK -

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 black­heart­sandspar­ in Mel­bourne and princewine­ in Syd­ney. Other Air­lie Bank wines — in­clud­ing that gor­geous caber­net franc — have wider dis­tri­bu­tion.

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