Vineyards in Mendoza, Argentina.

Dirty Black Denim

In the world of avant-garde Australian wines, few are named as creatively as this compelling project from central Victoria. Brothers Tim and Lawrence Scanlon are the duo behind the grape-sourcing and winemaking, delivering wines of derring-do and expressive feel. Their label was born from curiosity around the burgeoning world of natural wine and life around the vibrant hospitality scene of Melbourne.

New releases from Dirty Black Denim seem to come in fits and starts: a random(ish) assortment of youthful wines with others seemingly held back for balance and an ideal of ‘coming together’.

Vineyard sources are diverse – spanning Sunbury, Heathcote, Harcourt and Mornington Peninsula – all with a focus on sustainable and progressively organic farming underpinning the ‘hands-off’ natural winemaking. Dirty Black Denim wines are also made alongside Lawrence’s solo project, Street Walking Cheetah (yes, an homage to Iggy Pop and The Stooges), which typically offers even edgier, creative releases.

The 2021 suite of wines includes 2020 In The Belly Of The Whale by Street Walking Cheetah (A$37), a field blend combining marsanne, sauvignon blanc and viognier, sourced from an organically grown vineyard in Sunbury.

The wine is fermented on skins for three weeks, then aged under flor in barrel for six months. It’s a wildly aromatic white of savouriness and bright acidity. Scents of fino sherry, blanched almonds, blonde tobacco and citrus peel, with flavours that zip and zing with tart, lemony freshness, more fino characters and a chalky-salty finish. It’s left-of-centre, but exciting drinking.

Dirty Black Denim’s primary releases focus on textural, skin-fermented white wines and lighter, fresher expressions of reds. The 2019 Dirty Black Denim Sauvignon Blanc (A$28) gets two days’ skin ferment before being pressed off to barrel. Half the wine is left to ullage and raised under a flor yeast layer while the other half is topped up. The parts are blended, resulting in a wine of lemony tang and herbal lift. It’s squeaky in texture, zippy with saline acidity and finishes with a salted nut-like smudge of texture and flavour.

The 2020 Dirty Black Denim Electric Marsanne (A$28) is a more serious approach at skin-fermented wines, seeing three weeks of skin contact and emerging as a dry, puckering style orange wine. It’s bold in scents of dried orange, bergamot tea and dried herbs, with similar flavours, albeit a bit more in the fresh citrus spectrum, and amongst the tang some sweeter green apple character emerges. It’s a complex, chewy and tannin-shaped wine of high intensity but with an incredible refreshment factor.

Reds from Dirty Black Denim emerge at lower alcohols and with brightness on their side. The 2020 Dirty Black Denim Harcourt Cabernet Sauvignon (A$28) is sourced from the sustainably farmed Bress Vineyard in Harcourt, Victoria, and is picked intentionally for ‘emulating the Australian cabernet from the old days’. It hits the bottle at 11.5% alcohol, and features cassis, salt bush and white pepper characters in bouquet and palate alike. It’s svelte and taut, bright and fresh, a wine for now, but feels equally excellent for its short- to medium-term cellaring potential.

The ‘fuller flavoured’ release of red is 2019 Dirty Black Denim Heathcote Carménère (A$28). The wine is matured in old wood after being left on skins for two weeks; it emerges from the glass with brooding, salted plum fruit characters, whiffs of char and dried meat, and lifted green herb and pot-pourri. The palate is supple but courses with bright, minerally acidity and graphite-like swishes of tannins. According to Dirty Black Denim it’s “definitely the most powerful wine we make”, though it weighs in at 12.5% alcohol and feels best drunk with a light chill, so take that statement with a dose of mirth. This is one quixotic, excellent and fun-loving wine project.

Amo Vino

Amo Vino is the winemaking undertaking of sommelier-turned-wine distributor/importer Tim Stock. Some may recall him as the brains and brawn behind the brilliant folio of wines under the banner of Vinous and Vinous Imports, but Stock has been making wines for more than a decade, from various vineyards in South Australia, under the Two Stock and Les Fruits wines labels.

While Les Fruits has grown to be a formidable voice in the natural wine scene of Australia in the past five years, Amo Vino is a more recent offering, with a focus on affordable, avant-garde wines sourced specifically from the Riverland region.

Stock would baulk at the idea that these are ‘entry level’ Les Fruits wines, instead he sees Amo Vino as a standalone brand that delivers good value and accessible wine styles while still sitting under the banner of ‘natural’. The wines have been a runaway hit in both restaurant and independent retail landscapes.

The 2020 Amo Vino Tino (A$25) is a vermentino of immense freshness and vitality but enough tension and texture to deliver an enhanced white wine experience. It’s redolent of tart citrus fruits, nashi pear and jasmine, with flavours tending to nashi pear, pineapple and cucumber, with a vein of saline, minerally tang. It’s one of those wines that immediately evokes memories of seaside seafood consumption and warm summery days. There’s another white in the Amo Vino suite of releases, a fiano, but unfortunately stock had sold out at time of tasting for publication.

A more complex take on white grape winemaking is 2020 Amo Vino Pelle (A$25), an orange wine built from 60% vermentino, 20% greco and 20% zibibbo. The result is chewy in texture with ribbons of fine, silty tannin pending pucker and stony finish.

It has a bouquet reminiscent of green apple, ripe stone fruit and citrus blossom,
with stone fruit flavours and sweet spice following in the palate. Surprisingly serious
in style, it’s one of Australia’s best-value orange wines.

In the red wine department, 2020 Amo Vino Barbera (A$25) is a more structured, taut and refreshing take on the higher acid variety of barbera. It’s a wine that feels very ‘dictionary definition’ of the expectations of the grape, with scents and flavours of cranberry, pomegranate, peppery spice and alpine herbs prevalent. The wine is crunchy in texture, perky and fresh, drinks a charm at room temperature but really comes to life with a light chill. Bring out your best carafe and tumblers, and splash it around while picking at a charcuterie board.

The diversity of influences in winemaker Stock’s work universe have breathed life into a wine brand that feels already rusted on to the Australian avant-garde wine scene. The shift to accessible, earlier drinking, value proposition wines will be a boon for drinkers wishing to explore the flourishing natural wine scene. Kudos to Stock’s vision.