Tasting stars

bubbly

Break out the bubbly, it’s Tuesday!

Whether it’s a wedding or a barbecue, Australians draw on any excuse to uncork the sparkler. Ben Canaider rolls up his drinkin’ sleeves and gets down to bubbly basics.

Despite recent macroeconomic events, there are some things that seem to enjoy the attention of otherwise cash-strapped consumers. Sparkling wine. It is the ultimate affordable luxury. Your customers might not be able to fund their next Bermuda holiday or investment portfolio, but they still like to disentangle themselves from the day-to-day with the aid of good quality, cutting-edge sparkling wine.

Yet changes in trends and predilections are around every corner. ‘Sparkling wine’ for so long has meant just one thing: champagne. And by that we all, of course, mean champagne from Champagne. The real deal.  Yet just as no one nowadays says ‘champagne’ when they are ordering local fizzy wine, no one from the posh set asks for a simple sparkling wine any more. Sparkling wines are now thoroughly sub-divided. And sparkling wine drinkers are taking a keener interest in some hitherto under-appreciated styles of fizz.

Beyond ‘sparkler’ and the real champagne, we now have a range of fizz sub-categories. All of these categories are expanding, both at the wine-making level and at the wine-drinking end result.

Blanc de Blancs

The white of whites is often thought of as the true champagne connoisseur’s first choice. Made from 100 per cent chardonnay grapes, Blanc de Blancs is a fresh and very elegant style of sparkling white, with good citrus aromas and flavours—and plenty of revivifying acidity. With Blanc de Blancs you also get sparkling wine that is more often dry than not. It is a great luncheon aperitif, as its citrus qualities really perk people up. The vintage versions, with some bottle age, are good with more substantial food, and the 1999 Champagne Ayala Blanc de Blancs is a fantastic example. ($70)

Rosé

Sparkling and champagne rosé is becoming more popular for one reason—food. With recent consumer trends towards more on-premise dining (and more casual dining at that), and the hospitality industry’s move towards more by-the-glass wine service, drinks like sparkling rosé have helped to fill that void between drinking-at-the-bar and drinking-with-food. A bottle of sparkling rosé is a harder beast to sell than, say, a bottle of rosé sans bubbles. But by-the-glass, and with a lot of the tapas that is creeping into more and more restaurants, sparkling rosé makes sense. But be sure to go for the dryer examples if you want this wine to work with food. Residual sugar counts higher than 10 grams per litre are going to start messing with the wine’s finesse. A perennial star in this category is Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé. It has life and freshness, but lots of structure to deal with all sorts of food. ($80)

Zero dosage

At the sharp end of the wine stick, this style of sparkler is trés fashionable. Zero dosage sparkler is made without the traditional post-disgorging liqueur. Once the bottle has had its riddling sediment removed, it is topped up, not with sugar and base wine (as in the normal course of events), but simply with the base wine itself. This means that zero dosage sparklers are bone dry. And to drink bone dry wine is the epitome of sophistication. Victoria’s Chandon has been leading the charge with this style, and its Z*D 2005 is a good point to start. It’s also doubly cutting-edge as it comes with a crown seal rather than a traditional champagne stopper. ($27)

Prosecco

This sparkling wine is undergoing a real makeover at the moment. Traditionally it has been a fairly unremarkable sparkling white from Italy’s Veneto; but of late we’ve seen some Australian producers making more serious versions, and with the prosecco grape, to boot. Dal Zotto, from Victoria’s King Valley, has got the style in a very good groove, and it is a wine worth considering if you want to add some variation to your sparkling list. ($20)

Moscato (the odd one out…)

This semi-fizzy, low-alcohol, fruity and sweet wine has—at a production level—gone gang-busters over the last two years. Moscato really is a world away from the elegant style of great champagne, but its uncomplicated and easy-to-like nature sees a lot of occasional drinkers go for it. It can be used as an aperitif, or with fruit desserts. The Yarra Valley’s Innocent Bystander Moscato 2008, in half bottles and at 5.5% alc/vol, is a great example of the style. ($9)

Perhaps the reason sparkling wine is becoming more of a complex category in this country is because of the staggeringly high per capita consumption Australia has for so long enjoyed. Indeed, Australia is the third biggest consumer of champagne outside of Europe, sitting behind the USA and Japan. We are nowadays drinking over 3 million bottles of the stuff a year, at a rate that is growing by about 15 per cent per annum. (Although, how that statistic might fare will be interesting to watch amidst global economic movements.) Some other facts and figures that might interest your own sparkling wine inventory include demographic detail.

There’s been a lot of change in the champagne demographic; it is now seeing a lot more younger females buying and consuming champagne. And women in the 35- to 49-years-old category are much more likely than the general population to be consumers of champagne. Another statistic worth noting relates to the style of champagne that’s most popular. About 85 per cent of champagne sold is Non Vintage. (The fact that this is the cheapest-per-unit category might have something to do with this.) I think this figure shows us two things: firstly, you need to keep affordable NV champagnes and other sparkling wines on your list; but secondly, you also need to show some cutting-edge by including the sub-categories mentioned above. This will demonstrate to your customers that your business and service takes the best things in life very seriously.

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