A Taste of Australian Wine...'Sparkling Reds'by Gavin Trott
Sparkling red wines, or as they used to be known in Australia - Sparkling Burgundies, are a particular love of mine. I’m not sure about the US experience, but many in Australia were turned off these wines due to drinking light red concoctions tasting like sweet lolly water sold here in the 1960’s and 1970’s with names like “Cold Duck”. These usually tasted like a blend of cough mixture and boiled lollies and have put a generation off what are very traditional Australian wine styles that are indeed world class.
So what are we talking about with Sparkling red wines from Australia? Well, we are talking about quality red wines made in the same way as Champagne - that is, bottle fermented, aged on lees, then liqueured and left to develop in the bottle. However, instead of using Chardonnay and Pinot as the base wines, they use quality red wines.
These styles exist elsewhere in the world, notably in the Burgundy and Loire regions of France, but not in any quantity, or with the same quality. Only here in Australia do these tend to be taken seriously, indeed they are very much in fashion currently, and the range and variety are now truly exceptional.
What should you expect from these wines?
Well, imagine tilting an empty glass and pouring ... down the side runs a frothy liquid, vivid purple in color with violet and purple froth. Roaring out of the glass comes the smell of blackcurrants, blackberries, chocolate, cherries, strawberries and more. You finish pouring and slowly the froth settles into purple red wine with a steady mousse. Another sniff now shows hints of oak, sweet fruit and firm acid. Try some .... powerful fruit, dry yet seeming sweet, some acid and tannin on the finish as the flavours run over your tongue, berries, mushroom, spice, cherries and more. Makes me thirsty just writing about it!
What are these wines made from?
Well these days just about anything red. Most, and I think the best, are made from Shiraz. All that chocolate and rich smoky blackberry fruit just seems to suit the wine style. At one extreme we have the almost impossibly rare Rockford Black Shiraz. In the early days at least this wine started off life as a quality 10 year old Barossa Shiraz before Rocky took to it with the fizz. Also try the Rumball which uses 100% Coonawarra Shiraz, or the Leasingham, using the same Clare Shiraz as their classy table wines do.
Some people are making this wine from Cabernet too, notably Yalumba, and most successful it is too, lighter in style than the Shiraz, but not light. After this we have some beautiful Sparkling Merlot, notably the Irvine. One or two make a sparkling Pinot Noir like McWilliams and then we have the something different wines, Tatachilla make a brightly coloured Sparkling Malbec and D'Arenberg have just released their Sparkling Chambourcin.
How do we drink these wines?
These Sparkling Shiraz wines should be served slightly chilled. Naturally this depends on the conditions. If its summer and you want them with a barbeque for example, 30 – 40 minutes in the refrigerator helps them, it stops them seeming flabby and over alcoholic. However, if its mid winter then room temperature will do fine. In short, don’t overchill, or serve warm.
What do we drink these wines with?
Well, they are fantastic with your favorite pizza, served slightly chilled. They also drink wonderfully with Turkey particularly the sparkling Cabernet, and naturally also for barbeques where they hold their own. Added to this are any of the meat dishes that Shiraz style wines go with.
If you like experimenting, then try them also with Duck, char grilled Tuna, in fact, most meats char grilled. The lighter styles also make excellent aperitifs particularly on colder nights.
What sparkling red wines should I try?
Hardys Sparkling Shiraz
Mt Prior Sparkling Durif
Tatachilla Sparkling Malbec
Rockford Black Shiraz
Charles Melton Sparkling Shiraz
Leasingham Classic Clare
Irvine Sparkling Merlot
Henrys Drive Sparkling Shiraz
Gavin is the manager of the Australian Wine Centre (a large collection of affordable, rare and cult Australian wines) and hosts the very popular Auswine Forum (An online discussion forum about Australian wine) .