As the silly season approaches and your mind turns to what to serve at a party or send as a Christmas gift, you may wish to consider Australian sparkling as an alternative to French Champagne.

Australia is really starting to make its mark as a producer of  fine quality sparkling. The best examples are being made in the cool climate regions of Tasmania, the Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills and Macedon Ranges under the direction of skilled winemakers using either the French traditional method (méthode champenoise) or the ‘transfer method’ (in which second fermation takes place in the bottle like Champagne, but the wine is disgorged after it has completed its ageing on lees).*

As I mentioned in a previous post, Australian Sparkling: Rivals Best in the World?, 3 September 2010, earlier this year the Tasmanian House of Arras released the EJ Carr Late Disgorged Sparkling 1998, which at a recommended retail price of  $190 made it the most expensive Australian sparkling wine on the market. But Arras also makes very good and less expensive vintage and non-vintage sparkling. The Arras Grand Vintage Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir 2003 (rated 96 points by James Halliday) retails for $75 and the Arras Brut Elite Sparkling Pinot Noir Chardonnay retails for $55.

 

Other top producers include boutique winery Mount William Winery in the Macedon Ranges. Like Arras it recently released a vintage 1998 sparkling, Mount William Winery Macedon Blanc de Blancs 1998 (retail $80), which spent 10 years on lees before being disgorged. James Halliday gave the wine 97 points, and here’s the winemaker’s Murray Cousins description of the wine.

Still maintaining a freshness and colour which belies the age. The fruit character was found to be so elegent on disgorging, that no dosage was required. Very delicate with a light bready yeastiness. Extremely fine beading eminating from the centre of the flute. Soft, though developed on first taste, with refined lingering flavour on the palate.

The tasting notes are not too far removed from the impression the unbelievably fresh Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin La Grande Dame 1998 made on me at a recent Vintage Cellars Champagne tasting! (Champagne: Highlights from a Memorable Tasting!),

Taltarni owned Clover Hill in the Pipers River region of northern Tasmania also makes very fine sparkling under the direction of French born Loic Le Calvez. The Clover Hill Blanc de Blancs 2005, Cellarit Wine Market $50), for example, was was blended from five separate cuveés sourced from the Clover Hill vineyards and two cuveés from Coal Valley grapes that were included in the blend for added stone fruit characters, weight and complexity. All the parcels were gently whole bunch pressed, fermented and underwent partial malolactic fermentation and batonnage in tank. The wine was aged on lees in bottle for 38 months prior to the first disgorging.

Yet another fine example of how Australian wineries are employing the best techniques of French Champagne to create sparklings that have excellent structure, depth and complexity, and an intensity of fruit characters that distinguishes them from their French counterparts!

* For some excellent insights on Australian sparkling, read UK wine critic Sarah Ahmed’s The Landmark Tutorial 2010: sparkling wines presented by Dr Tony Jordan and Edd Carr, The Wine Detective, 10 November 2010.