Forget the cultural cringe. When it comes to champagne—or local sparkling wine—we can hold our heads high as quality improves exponentially, reports Ben Canaider.
Champagne sales remain immodestly high in Australia, and this is good news. For a start, it’s a sign we like the good stuff, and that our tastes in this regard are semi-sophisticated. It is also a sign that, given champagne is not inexpensive, there’s still some money about the place. Another indication that we can’t get enough of the genuine French fizz is shown by the fact that more lesser-known champagne houses are being more regularly imported in the country. We want to drink it, there’s a market for it and everyone —drinkers and distributors alike—is keen to keep the good news coming.
One very positive offshoot of this local champagne addiction concerns our locally made sparkling wines. Champagne’s presence in our drinking circles has meant domestically made sparklers have had to lift their game. The quality of Australian bubbly has never been better. And such wine is no longer the victim of some sort of snobbish cultural cringe. In comparative tastings with some of better French champagnes, Spanish cavas, and Italian proseccos, Australian sparkling wines have—at the posh end—done very well.
More importantly with Australian fizz, there are some very identifiable features and benefits that you can look for to ensure you have the right stuff on your wine list. Listed are key areas to keep an eye out for:
As the head fizz maker at Hardy’s, Ed Carr, says: “Altitude and latitude equal attitude.’’ In other words, the higher up a mountain your vineyard is the colder it will be. That follows the further south you go.
Cooler vineyards produce fruit that has more natural acidity. It’s the same for grapes as it is for any other fruit—apples, for instance. And Tasmania is not known as the Apple Isle for nothing. Tasmanian pinot noir and chardonnay grapes are sought by sparkling wine makers for their attitude, that is, their acid. Such grapes give sparkling wine its steely backbone and its refreshing, persistent length. Hardy’s top sparkler, Arras, is an example of this. Freycinet’s Radenti is another top Tassie sparkler, but similarly pricey (both about $35–$40 LUC). A top Tassie vintage sparkler is Kreglinger Vintage Brut 2000. It has champagne-like complexity and is under $30.
Pink and salmon coloured sparklers are becoming the default fizz of choice for those trendoids at the sharp end of the fine wine scene. One reason for this is that sparkling rose wines are considered to be much more food-friendly than their paler twin. Sparkling rose wines are only going to grow in popularity over this summer—whether they are champagne, cava, prosecco or Australian.
The real deal
When it comes to champagne, Pol Roger Brut NV is about the easiest and best, particularly given its Australian distribution and price (about $56 LUC).
Gosset Brut Excellence NV comes in slightly cheaper and is a good champagne brand that might give you a point of difference.
Cheaper imported champagnes, such as Pol Gessner and Joseph Perrier, are ubiquitous. But such wines are imported by a big liquor chain, so your customers will notice the mark-ups.
Cava and Prosecco
Another growth area in imported sparklers comes from Spain and Italy. Prices are still good but quality is higher.
For cava try some of the new offerings from The Spanish Acquisition, such as Raventos i Blanc, Vallformosa, or Juve y Camps. These cava houses come in Brut styles, NV, and there are some good rose offerings.
The Juve e Camps Cava Brut Reserva 2003 is about $26 LUC is the pick, with nuttiness, texture, and a sophisticated dryness. For a more striking look try Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad for about $13 landed.
It is one of the most over-the-top bits of packaging of any wine anywhere in the world. Given the price and packaging overheads, it’s amazing the wine inside the bottle is as good as it is—with apple, nutty, citric flavours, and just complex enough. As for Italian Prosecco, Carpene Malvolti Rose is a $15 LUC wonder. From the Veneto, it is made from pinot nero (or noir) and raboso grapes and has good juicy fruit flavours with a dry finish.