14 May 2014. Words by Rory Kent.
In the words of one female punter, “Wine on tap sounds gross.” This tune may ring true with you too. However, there’s now a maverick wine bar in town pouring damn good wine on tap.
Opened in December 2013, Harry & Frankie (they’re a bottle shop too) located in Bay Street, Port Melbourne, is the brainchild of Tom Hogan – former wine buyer and sommelier for the Lake House in Daylesford.
Whilst wine on tap is not new, the thing about Harry & Frankie’s kegged wine is their commitment. It’s the quality of the product, and at a great price to boot.
Harry & Frankie’s riff is evident in their exclusive bottlings from Dave Mackintosh (Arfion, Salo), Adam Marks (Bress), Pete Schell (Spinifex), Dave Bowley (Vinteloper) and Abel Gibson (Ruggabellas), who all happen to be past finalists of the Young Gun of Wine Awards. Hogan and these producers represent a new wave in the wine scene of Australia where wines are crafted in small quantities and push the boundaries in stylistic conventions.
Why and how these winemakers have done their exclusive bottlings will each differ. In the case of Bowley, Hogan approached him to specifically make a Riesling. Made from the same Watervale vineyard as his other Rieslings, Bowley fermented it as a separate batch from the start. At 15 grams of residual sugar, the off-dry Riesling Bowley made for Harry & Frankie is sweeter than his Vinteloper Rieslings. A self confessed wine-geek at heart, Bowley sums up the reason he went to the effort, “This enabled me to make another wine… I love making wine!”
On tap, Harry & Frankie presently offer a Yarra Valley Pinot Grigio by Dave Mackintosh and a Heathcote Shiraz by Adam Marks. Both are very good wines with much detail in their winemaking. At $7 by the glass or $20 per 500mL carafe, they are pound-for-pound easily half what you would pay at a restaurant. Hogan says Harry & Frankie offer such value to their customer through these kegged wines, “Because we wanted to offer a quality product at an entry level price.”
Whilst wine on tap is seen by most punters to be inferior, there’s no reason for it to be. As Mackintosh points out, “Keg wine is sensible. The technology has improved. In the end, it’s just another vessel. It’s pretty much just like a bottle, but we achieve lower costs and less carbon footprint to make the wine more accessible for consumer.”
The Heathcote Shiraz by Marks blends components that have gone into Bress’ Silver Chook and Gold Chook Shirazes which retail for $25 and $40 respectively. Velvety and plush, with no jagged edges, it’s a very elegant and polished example of Heathcote shiraz fruit with some savory notes coming from Marks’ winemaking techniques.
The Yarra Valley Pinot Grigio by Mackintosh is an exciting interpretation of the variety. Honeyed, straw, pear and mineral characters are delivered across a chewy textural palate. It’s a great “session” wine: still so pleasing and intriguing when you reach the end of the bottle, you go back for another.
But why does Harry & Frankie bother to have this commitment to quality when most consumers may perceive the product to be inferior? Hogan points out, “We push forward with keg wine because we have consumers best interests at heart. We utilise our close relationships to create wines of provenance and quality at a price that wouldn’t be possible packaged in a conventional manner – without the unnecessary costs of labeling, bottling and transport.”
There’s always resistance to change: a struggle between conventions and new thinking. But Harry & Frankie are doing what’s best for the punters, even if they have to pull some people into the future. In Australia, we’ve seen the outcome of the initial tension between consumer perceptions and winemakers’ decisions with the whole cork/screwcap thing. Good wine poured from keg is the same song, but one that’s just about to break. It will surely catch on if operators adopt the same commitment as Harry & Frankie, which would be a damn good thing.