2020 with new look bolsters Airlie Bank coffers

“I love a wine that’s made for drinking pleasure first and foremost, and these Airlie Bank wines have that goal set firmly in their sights, or more specifically, perky-faced winemaker Tim Shand does,” was Gary Walsh’s ringing endorsement of this range on The Wine Front.

It’s a compliment that certainly applies to the first 2020 wine to hit the CellarHand portfolio, the Airlie Bank Gris on Skins. Tim – Shandy to his friends – reckons there is an emphatically “right” way to do Pinot Gris from this vineyard. This partial skin contact, partial whole-cluster ferment, then, is that tried-and-tested method. And you can’t argue when the result’s this tasty!

The Airlie Bank wines are perennial overachievers in terms of texture, interest and vibrant expression of Punt Road’s estate vineyards in Coldstream. The intrigue and insane value make these a shoo-in as go-to wines for your everyday drinking stash.

Shandy recently revamped the range so a bolder, contemporary label mirrors the ingenuity, creativity and originality inside the bottle. “I love the fact that it reflects our newfound confidence as winemakers,” Shandy told us. “The labels are inspired by Bauhaus design, a German art school (1919 to 1933) which encouraged artists and designers to collaborate with architects and builders to rebuild Germany after WW1, using only the simplicity of triangles, circles and squares.”

And so from relative simplicity – grapes farmed at their Yarra Valley home – the Punt Road team have composed these delightfully engaging minor masterpieces.

NV Airlie Bank Yarra Cuvée Sparkling $24

A blend of 85% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Noir, sourced from the Yarra Valley. Each bottling represents a blend, being one part from the grandfather base tank (the oldest element being 2010) along with one part from the current vintage. The wine sees full MLF and small portions were barrel fermented and given extended time on lees to build texture and complexity.

It’s pale gold in appearance with a fine persistent bead. It shows aromas of citrus fruits and subtle apricot, complemented by a doughy, bready complexity. The palate is fresh and vibrant with a focused palate structure of apple blossom and citrus characters with complex brioche notes. – Tim Shand, Punt Road

2019 Airlie Bank Sauvignon Blanc $22

A fairly vigorous fruit thinning was called for in 2019, with about 20% of the crop removed. The remaining fruit was picked early from Block 10 on the Napoleone vineyard, just before maturity. Pressed hard, then fermented warm on full solids in old hogsheads. To maintain freshness and lock in the trademark Yarra passionfruit character, we brought the wine together in tank in May, and bottled it soon after. – Tim Shand, Punt Road

Passionfruit, thistle, fennel, bright and cool line, frisky and crunchy, juicy tinned grapefruit segments and passionfruit tingle on a nice long finish. Goes down a treat. Fresh! 92 points.

Gary Walsh, The Wine Front August 2019

2020 Airlie Bank Gris on Skins $24

This is Punt Road’s second bottling from the bizarre 2020 vintage, which went from ridiculous to sublime. The team had very small crops, early tannin ripeness and picked at low baumé. They avoided disease pressure in a very difficult year for that, and ended up with more transparency and freshness in the fruit than 2019.

This year Tim went back to a 50:50 mix of skins and whole-bunch ferments. The skins ferment was 72 hours, with light hand-plunging every 12 hours during that time. The wine was pressed at 8 baumé to old puncheons. The whole-bunch ferment was on skins for 14 days, with carbonic maceration until some light pigeage on days 12 and 13. It was pressed to old puncheons to finish ferment.

Both batches had two months in oak unsulphured. The wine was racked in early May, with minimal filtration and no finings. 40ppm of SO2 was added prior to bottling.

Lovely and fragrant. Strawberries – flesh, juice and leaf – all leaping from the glass. A hint of tea leaf as well. Striking acidity this year, which only reinforces the brisk nature of this wine, with all its pithy and bitter notes. There is sweet fruit in the core but all around it’s amaro, hay, leaves and pleasing bitterness. Easy to love and enjoy. – CellarHand

2020 Airlie Bank Pinot Noir $24

The Pinot really could have gone either way this year. Ultimately though all factors (inclement spring, mild summer, plentiful rain, elongated ripening) lead us down the quality road – i.e. small crops, humidity and robust vine health, minimal disease, ripe tannins.

We used plenty of whole bunches (60%) and, as always, no oak. The grapes were picked a fraction underripe for fruit brightness and pop. Minimal SO2, added late. Held on lees until a week before bottling at the very end of June. No fining, and only a coarse filtration.

2020’s Pinot Noir is a more savoury proposition than the ’19. It has more in common with the 2017 Airlie Bank Pinot, though with riper tannins. – Tim Shand, Punt Road

2019 Airlie Bank Franc $24

Harvested from the Napoleone vineyard, on a block planted in 2001. The vines are finding good balance now, with the crop coming down and the canopy less vigorous. 2019 Airlie Bank Franc is brighter and fruitier than the 2018. Less deep and structural, and a return to the heady herbal aromas of the 2017. This wine is built on seven one-tonne 100% whole-bunch ferments, completely sealed and left to do their thing for 14 days. We did a couple of foot stomps towards the end of ferment to extract some colour, but otherwise this was a very good crack at carbonic maceration.

The wine is pressed to ferment out in tank, then racked to old hogsheads, where it remained (unsulphured) for eight months. That’s longer than usual, in an attempt to build the presence of the wine, and take the edge off any confected characters that come with cab mac. Racked out in November 2019, no fining, lightly filtered and 40ppm of SO2 the night before bottling (mid-December 2019). – Tim Shand, Punt Road

Nicely packaged, made, grown and priced. Excellent wine to drink. Essentially it’s fresh and fruit-driven but it’s flecked with such an assorted of flavours. Interest, it has plenty. Briar bush, dust, hay, red licorice and fragrant herbs. The latter are in fine voice, it has to be said. It almost tastes/smells stalky but the fresh buoyancy of the fruit prevails. Tonic-like finish, as a positive. Makes you want to keep going back for more. 91 points.

Campbell Mattinson, The Wine Front May 2020

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