“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. 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.

Tim – Shandy to his friends – 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

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

2019 Airlie Bank Pinot Noir $24

50% of this wine is whole-bunch fermented, which is done as 100% whole bunch ferments in 5-tonne open fermenters. This is a carbonic process; stomping does not occur until after day 10, and only once per day at that point. Due to tannin ripeness, the duration of steeping was longer this year; the ferments were pressed at 16 days. The other 50% is whole berry, with two daily pumpovers and no plunging. We aim to retain raspberry fruit flavours by a long cold soak, cooler ferment temperature and minimal berry breakdown. These were wild ferments, which generally started spontaneously on day three of the cold soak.

The wine is pressed immediately it hits zero Baumé. The blended wine is then held in tank, where malolactic fermentation starts spontaneously. Post MLF, the wine is held unsulphured on lees for five months. Unfined, it is rough filtered through rock stoppers and bottled in mid-winter with minimal SO2. – Tim Shand, Punt Road

Nuts, cherry, raspberry, a little spice and sap. Fresh, bright, straight-down-the-line and juicy, some fresh strawberry acidity flavour and brightness on the finish, along with a gentle rasp of tannin. In some respects, has the easy drinking appeal of a bigger rosé, if you take my meaning. Regardless, it’s fun and very good to drink. And it’s nearly springtime, as I write. Spot on. 92 points.

Gary Walsh, The Wine Front August 2019

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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