While many wines in this column are born of singular-vineyard and farming-driven projects, there’s plenty of room to detail undertakings that fall outside that realm. Balmy Nights is a collaboration label brought to life by wine industry pals looking to make interesting and creatively styled wines at affordable prices.
Sommelier-turned-distributor Dan Simmons is behind Grafted Wines, a wholesale business that distributes a neat and tidy range of high-quality avant-garde wines including the intriguing McLaren Vale-based Poppelvej, cool-cat northern New South Wales producer Jilly, the organically farmed-and-raised Barossa wines of Geyer, and, most importantly here, rising star of the Hunter Valley, M&J Becker Wines.
M&J Becker Wines is the work of James Becker, who is collaborating with Simmons for the Balmy Nights project. Becker’s Hunter Valley heartland wines walk to a different beat and though his range includes excellent classics, these releases exist alongside edgier wine styles. Beyond the Hunter wines, there’s Australia’s first tequila-like spirit, handmade by Becker and a mate, and a collection of wines Becker makes in the US in his off-season – all underpinned by organic farming. The M&J Becker Hunter Valley wines will be detailed in full in a coming column, pending an upcoming new release tasting.
For most wines under the Balmy Nights label, fruit is sourced from various regions around New South Wales. The wines are made with minimal intervention, taking cues from natural wine, with freshness, drinkability and intrigue as the touchstones.
The 2020 Balmy Nights Fizz (A$27) is a first release and produced from picpoul sourced from the O’Dea family’s Central Ranges, organic certified vineyard. It’s an undisgorged, naturally sparkling wine (pétillant naturel), that shows strong scents of lemon, frangipani and sweet bread dough. The palate is crisp, clean and vibrant, a little funky, a little tangy, but wholly delightful and easy to drink.
More complex is the duo of orange wines, with 2018 Balmy Nights Tropicana (A$31) the higher priced and more complex of the two. Tropicana is made from Becker’s own organic verdelho grapes. The fruit was fermented and left on skins for a whopping 12 months and raised in ceramic eggs. The perfume is strong and evocative of tropical fruits, farmhouse cider and green herbs. The palate is serious, stern with tannins and crunch. This is a deeply complex and resolved orange wine of powdery texture, brisk acidity, and layers of stone fruit and exotic tropical fruit flavours. It’s fantastic.
The 2020 Balmy Nights Amber (A$27) is a conundrum. The impact of the devastating 2020 bushfires is the talking point, with smoky characters strong in the wine. Sauvignon blanc fruit was sourced from the Freeman vineyard in Hilltops and fermented on skins for a week before pressing off. The wine has freshness, chalky pucker and bright fruit character, but it shows ashy scents and aromas. A straw poll I conducted among tasters had opinions ranging from “I think it’s interesting” to “too smoky for me”, and I sit somewhere in the middle. A caveat and a conversation starter in one.
The red and white wines are pure, fresh and delightful drinking. A crisp and delicious white, 2019 Balmy Nights White (A$27), is made from the unusual grape variety schönburger. The Hunter Valley fruit source is converting to organic farming, a commitment to the existing planting of this quixotic variety. The wine smells of lime squeezed on green apple, with similar flavours. Texture is crunchy, the wine thirst-quenching and packing plenty of zing.
The 2018 Balmy Nights Red (A$27) is the sole departure from New South Wales, a light, chillable red wine made from sangiovese sourced from the Adelaide Hills. It’s redolent of sour cherries and peppery spice, and tastes somewhere between sour cherry, raspberry and cranberry, with a sheath of fine, puckering tannins. It’s destined for casual pasta nights or long picnic sessions in the park.
Balmy Nights is a wildly delicious suite of wines showing creative flair and derring-do.
Minim proprietor and winemaker Tim Sproal selects fruit from vineyards around Central Victoria, and makes wine at the collective winery space, Boomtown Winemakers in Castlemaine. His first harvest was in 2011, with an inauspicious, small-batch experimental release that set in motion his career. Sproal has honed his craft through work undertaken at a variety of vineyards and his keen selection of vineyard sites is providing drinkers with increasing quality.
Minim wines are full of energy and vitality but seem to also showcase a great deal of finesse. They meet a matrix of interest, personality, drinkability and complexity. Year on year the quality has risen. Likewise, the growth of the range has been noted, and most recently a trio of wines shaped from Italian grape varieties has caught my eye.
The 2019 Minim Colbinabbin Sangiovese (A$35) is outstanding and would stand proud alongside the best released in Australia. Fruit is grown by Troy McInnes of the Chalmers Vineyard in Heathcote, and picked at relative freshness. The wine is built across two ferments, one a whole-bunch carbonic maceration, the other extended maceration on skins. The resulting wine has beautiful nuance and detail. It’s high in spicy, just-ripe red cherry perfume, and sits in the palate with succulent texture at just shy of medium weight. Tannins ripple with authority, long and fine. It’s such an impressive, detailed and delicious wine.
A little friskier, and built for more frivolous drinking, 2019 Minim Colbinabbin Nero d’Avola (A$35) comes from the same vineyard as the sangiovese. The wine is again built around two ferments, carbonic maceration the feature of one, gentle, destemmed skin ferment the other. The resulting wine is ultra-fragrant, all sweet cherry cola and sarsaparilla characters with a good dusting of clove and cinnamon spice. Flavours are similar to the bouquet, the wine juicy, but cinched with a web of fine, gummy tannins. There’s a sense of ripeness and sweetness, but acidity is fresh, crisp and up to the task of finding balance. A light chill has this wine singing.
The third wine is 2019 Minim Yandoit Barbera (A$38), with fruit grown on a single vineyard in the parish of Yandoit, as the wine name describes. The pint-sized parcel of fruit is shaped into a compelling, vibrant and thirst-quenching red. It reeks of cranberry and pomegranate, shows bright herbal and white peppery spice characters, tightens on rails of fine tannin, and finishes with a starburst of amaro-laced acidity and general freshness. It has a sense of generosity but feels surprisingly bright and vivacious to drink.
While this group of wines has landed on the page, it’s worth following Sproal’s work across fiano, vermentino, judicious white, red and white-red blends. And of course there’s stunning shiraz that has emerged under his care. Talent and a feel for expressive winemaking is writ large in these wines.