Buying wine when you don’t know much about wine is no longer the daunting task it once was. It’s easy to get recommendations from bottle-shop staff based on the flavours you like, what you’re having for dinner, your mood, even the weather.
And we’re talking about wine in more approachable terms than ever – less minerality, perfume and complexity; more zing, drinkability and “icy Ribena” .
But buying is only half the battle. It’s months later, that bottle-o chat long forgotten, looking through bottles stacked up at home – some with beautiful, elaborate labels but without a word of useful copy, others written entirely in French – that you can get stuck all over again.
Viticole is a new online wine shop where every bottle – whether a fresh, fruity beaujolais from France, or a floral marsanne from the Yarra Valley – comes with a tag of succinct, straightforward tasting notes, like a little cheat sheet.
It’s by Dan Banks, who’s been in the wine industry for the last decade. When Covid struck he was working for French wine importer Vintage and Vine, supplying drops to some standout Melbourne eateries – Vue de Monde, Etta, Bar Liberty and Estelle among them.
On the side though, he was putting together mixed dozens, just for his family and close friends, complete with notes such as “amazing with duck”.
“The more I did it, the more popular it became, and the more I began to think that it could be a business one day,” Banks says. “Once Covid hit and restaurants were forced to cease trading, I got stood down from my job as a wine rep and figured now’s the time.”
In May, Banks converted his garage into a warehouse and office, and now personally delivers wine around Melbourne (he uses Sendle to reach the rest of the country). He specialises in mixed packs, but you can buy single bottles, too.
“I have the privilege of tasting hundreds of wines a year, and my job is to whittle these down to the very best,” he says. “I only select wines that I genuinely love.”
Packs are based around the season or a theme, such as Weeknight Quaffers (“drink at home, in front of the telly”); Australian Wines; and the Tour De France (sourced from French regions associated with stages of the tour, from Savoie through to Provence).
After the bushfires and the pandemic, many Aussies are feeling motivated to support local producers more than ever. But Banks says he chooses to include international wines not because they’re superior, more to mix things up.
“Australian wines are equal to the world’s best. [There’s] a great deal to be proud of and excited about in our own backyard,” he says. “But there’s such climatic variation in the wine-producing regions of the world – Champagne has snow on the vines in winter; Burgundy is frequently frost-affected; Italy has regions that approximate our climate, but very old vines and varieties we don’t have. So the difference, really, is diversity.”
Banks says it’s been hard to see the impact of the pandemic on the restaurants he supplied. “They’re businesses that have poured heart and soul into creating gastronomy and culture in our great city,” he says.
But in getting Viticole off the ground, he’s finding silver linings.
“I’ve gotten to know my neighbours much better since starting a wine business in lockdown,” he says. “Many of them are enjoying having a wine guy in the neighbourhood. Delivery is very quick if you live next door.”
Viticole delivers free to metropolitan Melbourne, and for a $15 flat fee to the rest of Australia. Mixed-pack pricing ranges from around $20 to $50 a bottle.