Bird in Hand
The Bird in Hand winery acknowledges the people of Peramangk Land on which it stands and I acknowledge the same.
This isn’t Champagne. This doesn’t carry the wisdom, the rounded bready or brioche-ness, the foaming honey-suckle. This doesn’t carry the weight of hundreds of years of history in each effervescent pop and sputter. And that’s okay. It isn’t trying to. It neither needs nor wants to be anything like its richer, more elegant and occasionally catty older sister. This is party juice. This is sparkling wine. This is Charmat, the younger and much more fun sibling of the Sparkling sisters. This is what we call fizz.
I won’t bore you, and myself, with all the details of Champagne (traditional) and/or sparkling (Charmat) wine production, though there are some basics that could be skimmed to make the mediocre enthusiast a master in a few short sentences. Both start with a still wine and add sugar and yeast. Champagne goes into bottles to make bubbles (could take years). Charmat goes into tank to trap bubbles (could take weeks). Champagne spins each individual bottle to move dead yeast. Charmat is filtered to move dead yeast. Both add still wine and sugar to finish. Both are delicious, but in different ways. One is delicious like table-side fresh-cut sashimi, the other is delicious like a defrosted and deep-fried crab cake. One is lovely like a crushed linen onesie, the other is lovely like a gold-trimmed FILA tracksuit. Both have their place at the table and in the wardrobe. Both have an open invitation to waltz in the glass.
The Bird in Hand winery sits in the glorious Adelaide Hills of South Australia on an old gold mine. Owner Andrew Nugent and winemaker Kym Milne, mining for a different kind of gold, have thrown together a prize-fighting and rose-tinted fizz. The 2020 Bird in Hand Sparkling is a proper Charmat zinger. Almost pale orange to the eye touching edges of pink, the bubbles jump and dance, racing to escape the prison in which they’ve been confined; fat and playful and with more obvious girth and grit than the finer bubbles of her sister. The nose gives jelly sweets and Turkish spice. The mousse rushes like the first smacking wave of a sea swim, and pulls back a little too quickly. Though well-balanced the acidity is a little overwhelmed by the fragrance and stickiness of the fruit, saved in part by its steeliness and a soft salinity. There’s no autolysis giving the bready-brioche toast of traditonal method mixers, but there is all the clean zest and sharpening florals of tank plonk. The cepage, noted as ‘predominately’ Pinot Noir, sounds cool and mysterious. Not the least because I’m an avid alliterationist (see what I did there?). And it is this predominance of Pinot Noir that gives the wine all of her pale colour and all of her prettiness.
It’s accessible. It’s approachable. It’s uncomplicated. It’s a college grad with a phd in medicine who decides to make cupcakes for a living. It’s a luxury perfume brand directed at the teenage daughters of oligarchs. It’s a game-day aperitif from the private box where there’s giant king prawns sitting on crushed ice and towering bowls of fruit salad and your team just scored and the roar from the crowd, the nearness of winning, is deafening.
And it sounds good too… honest! The wine sounds good. Next time you’re drinking any kind of fizz or Champagne stick your ear in the glass. It should have that echo-song of seashells, that crackle of frying fish, an effervescence serving the elixir. Attempt it at home though before you bemuse your mates at the pub who think you’ve lost your marbles and are trying to drink through your ear.
There is something pleasurable and unpleasant about it. There’s the stirring of bath bombs in the sale section of Primark and also the operatic hum of blossom that you get on the street outside a Penhaligons. And the combination thereof makes it all the more compelling. Like smelling fart. Like smelling truffles. Like smelling dead flowers on their way to potpourri. Pleasurable and unpleasant. Not that this smells like fart or truffles. But it definitely made me think about fart and truffles. And edible soap bars. And a girls night in. And grapefruit sorbet. And salty white chocolate. And sun-dried strawberries.
And that is what Charmat does. It gives wine that rushes at you, that smacks of prettiness and ease. Wine that favours the easy life. And flavours the easy life too. With bubbles fat and fit to burst. Bubbles that startle us from the mundane and mediocre, that remind us we’re alive. Bubbles that say ‘Hey! Drink me! Drink me now because this bubbled life is fleeting and soon enough we’ll all fizzle out and die.’ Both sisters say this. Both Charmat and Champagne. Both are the only wines that serve all the way from apertif to digestif. They serve to sit alongside them all. They can start a party and bring it to a crashing, delirious and euphoric close. You can’t say that of a Californian Cabernet. You can’t say that of an Oppenheimer Riesling. You can say that of a tall glass of champagne. And you can really say it of a tumbler of fizz.
And whilst we’re at it… Fuck champagne flutes! Fuck ‘em. I have a big nose. Not big like aged, swashbuckling, bulbous big. Not big like busted prizefighter big. More like waifish, Irish raconteur big; curving outward in a a slight hook from between the eyes to a hard bridge, and filling out around long nostrils. I have a big nose and it’s hard to get it properly inside a champagne flute, or any kind of flute, to properly savour the promise of those bouncing bubbles and that golden water, so fuck ‘em! Take a normal wine glass. Take a bowl-like burgundy glass. Take a beaker. Take an actual bathtub. Take anything but a goddamn flute.
And if the occasion calls for fizz take the Bird in Hand. Take Champagne. Take Charmat. Take both sisters. Heck, take the whole family.
tasted February 2021