On the one hand, it feels a little weird to be talking about 2021 wines, since autumn seems like only yesterday. On the other hand, it’s bloody exciting because conversations with growers about the sensational conditions are fresh in the memory.
Well, here they are – fresh on the tongue, too. And none are newer or more jubilant than Airlie Bank’s first bottling of Garden Red, a cuvée some years in the making as young Grenache plantings readied themselves to unite with Loire Valley bedfellows Gamay and Cab Franc. This debut is joined by the just-rolled Pinot Noir from the same vintage.
That means that the Airlie Bank range – snappily dressed in its new livery – is a complete package of youthful exuberance.
This is a blend of 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir fruit sourced entirely from the Napoleone Vineyard in 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, as well as small injections of new oak and brandy spirit.
It’s pale gold in appearance with a fine persistent bead. The nose shows aromas of citrus fruits and subtle apricot, complemented by a doughy, bready complexity. Fresh and vibrant with a focused palate structure of apple blossom and citrus characters with complex brioche notes.
The 2021 Airlie Bank Sauvignon Blanc fruit was (as always) picked at low baumé (10.5) from Block 10 on the Napoleone Vineyard, which was planted in 2009. Juice with all solids was run to old puncheons the day after pressing. After fermentation it was stirred weekly before coming out to the bottling tank in late April. It just gets an SO2 addition and then to bottle in mid-May.
This is a really gentle, refreshing wine. It has hints of passionfruit and baby peas. The wine runs a higher pH/lower TA than most Sauvignon Blanc that’s out there. It’s really succulent as a result, and the fruit finishes with a savoury and slightly phenolic line. – Tim Shand, Punt Road
The 2021 Airlie Bank Gris on Skins has its distinctive Redskin (now quite rightly renamed Red Ripperz!) nose, with Meyer lemon and dash of Old Spice. The palate is more restrained than in previous years, musky and floral with a bitter aperol finish. Winemaking was more towards whole bunches this year, and even the skins component had a longer maceration (4 days). Despite all this the wine is refreshing and balanced, restrained even. – Tim Shand, Punt Road
This was another mild, relatively wet growing season leading into a mild but dry, clear ripening period, so broadly a cross between the much-loved 2015 and ’17 seasons. The Airlie Bank blocks (predominantly clones 777 and 115) are now 15 years old, which should be a watershed in terms of vine rigour and subsequent wine depth.
The gentleness of the weather and benign vintage conditions led to gradual ripening and high tannin synthesis, but most significantly ripe tannins – dense but fine-grained. We have found that whole-bunch ferments in the milder years can lean towards aggressive green tea characters, so we brought the proportion back to 40% this year. That’s still much higher than any “affordable” Pinot on the market. The role of the whole bunch element in people’s enjoyment of this wine can’t be overstated.
As always, we used no barrels. The wine was pressed to tank, left on full lees and with no SO2 until just before bottling. For the preservative-wary its worth pointing out that this wine only carries 45ppm of SO2. Nearly all red wine not labelled preservative free would be 80-110ppm. This also means the wine is ready to drink much sooner. It was subjected to no finings and only a coarse filtration. This is a lot of Pinot for the price. – Tim Shand, Punt Road
This is exciting on two fronts: First, as a considered response to the fresh, juicy red style the drinker is rapidly swinging towards. Second, because it marks a significant point in time for our vineyard, seven years in the planning. This wine is an equal-parts blend of Grenache, Gamay and Cab Franc. Grenache and Gamay are relatively new arrivals for us, and both could be as significant as Pinot Noir in our future. The wine’s characteristics show why we planted them post-phylloxera and in a warming climate. This is bright but savoury, and maintains our house style on an increasingly volatile planet.
Gamay and Cab Franc play together as you’d expect, the young vine Grenache surprised us with its ability to bring seriousness and edge, particularly to the tannin profile.
The winemaking is Punt Road 101: Canopies maintained to promote vine and fruit vigour; grapes picked on the cusp of ripeness; 100% whole-bunch ferments in one-tonne open pots; pressed to old puncheons to rest on lees for four months. There was a small SO2 addition the day before it hit the bottle (40ppm). No finings, coarse filtration. – Tim Shand, Punt Road