Australian sparkling wines are going through an interesting phase right now. Sure, we can't claim to beat Champagne on a basis of quality but who can. What we do have though is some great value sparklings which come in three different, distinct colours; white, pink and even red.
The boom in Tasmania's wine industry is championed by the undoubted fact it's Australia's number one sparkling region. Its cool climate allows producers to grow fruit which translates into wonderfully fine and tight, fresh sparkling wines with crisp acidity and lively effervescence.
Australia's maestro of bubbles, Ed Carr, makes the nation's best sparkling wine from 100% Tasmanian fruit; the Bay of Fires Arras.
The Yalumba owned Jansz group produce a pair of excellent, non-vintage Tasmanian sparkling wines for around $20. These reliable wines always provide a delicious entry point into the world of Tasmanian sparklings.
Sparkling reds (probably best made from shiraz) are a uniquely Australian experience.
Seppelt championed the style in generations past with their iconic 'Sparkling Burgundies', which today has spawned a legion of imitators. The Joseph, Rockford Black Shiraz, Leasingham Classic Clare, Barossa Valley Estate E+E and even Seppelt's own Show Sparkling (which has gone into hiatus) are the industry benchmarks.
Producers put a lot of time and care into these national treasures, and at their best, they can be a very special experience.
Reviewed below are the Chandon Vintage Brut 2005, Clover Hill 2004, Jansz NV, Jansz NV Rose, Joseph 2008 disgorgement, Leasingham Classic Clare 1998, Rockford Black Shiraz 2008 disgorgement and the Yarrabank Cuvee 2004. There's always a level of hesitation when reviewing non-vintage wines, but I'm confident the Jansz products provide a consistent drinking experience year in year out. All bottles are current.
CHANDON VINTAGE BRUT 2005
- Region: Southern Victoria/Tasmania
- Price: $25-$43
Linked through ownership to the famous French Champagne house Moet & Chandon (LVMH), the Yarra Valley's Domaine Chandon produces Australia's best and most diverse range of quality sparkling wines.
With fine mousse and lace, Chandon's 2005 opens to an attractively delicate fragrance of dry crisp bread, white stonefruits and lemon citrus with a mineral edge. Crisp and sharp, it delivers a finely focused, tightly wound expression of its dry, light, lemony pear and apple flavours. The major highlight here is its precise balance, as it finishes extremely clean with good length and lingering notes of refreshing citrus.
ü+ Astoundingly fine and tight; the best Chandon Vintage Brut for some years. Drink to 2013.
CLOVER HILL 2004
- Region: Pipers River, TAS
- Price: $34-$48
Sourced from north-eastern Tasmania's Pipers River region, the Clover Hill is regarded as one of Australia's premier sparkling whites.
Presenting a developed colour beset with excellent bead, the 2004 Clover Hill opens to a quirky nose laced with cheesy, leesy, honeyed notes overlying a whiff of fresh green apples. Full, smooth and creamy, its nutty, waxy palate is not as elegant or refined as usual, and certainly lacks great length and precision.
X Evolving at a rapid rate, the 2004 Clover Hill is quite luscious due to its heavily derived winemaker influence, but it's in desperate need of the freshness typical of Tasmania's best. Drink now.
JANSZ PREMIUM NON-VINTAGE CUVEE
- Region: Tasmania
- Price: $18-$30
In my opinion the very popular Jansz is Australia's best value bubbles bar none. It's just one of those ultra reliable wines where you always know exactly what you're gonna get.
Pale yellow with plentiful bead, a fragrance of grapefruit and fresh green apples with suggestions of yeast greets the nose, displaying the proper signs of quality Tasmanian sparkling. Long, elegant and shapely, its well balanced lemon, nectarine and melon fruits are outlined by tight, zesty effervescence and persisting notes of light brioche and citrus. Delightfully creamy upon entry, it finishes clean, crisp and fresh.
ü+ Typically brilliant. Undoubtedly the best value party starter, aperitif or celebratory drink in Australia. If Morphetville served this...Drink now.
JANSZ PREMIUM NON-VINTAGE ROSE
- Region: Tasmania
- Price: $20-$31
Previously I've considered the Jansz NV Rose inferior to the standard, but in 2009 I've witnessed a marked improvement in both, especially the clean, tight and racy rose.
Salmon-pink with extremely attractive mousse, bead and lace, it unfolds to reveal a crisp, bready fragrance of pink cherries and lemon. Wonderfully clean, fresh and foamy, with great line length and precision, the balanced palate sparkles with superb vivacity alongside its deep pinot fruit nuances and an undercarriage of savoury quality. It echoes Tasmanian freshness with every mouthful.
ü+ Just when I thought the standard Jansz couldn't be beaten, Natalie Fryar goes and delivers this. Magnificent. Drink now.
JOSEPH SPARKLING RED 2008 disgorgement
- Region: McLaren Vale, SA/Various, AUS
- Price: $54-$80
A stunningly presented wine in its tall, long glass bottle, Primo Estate's Non-Vintage Joseph Sparkling Red is blended from every shiraz Primo's made since the 1980s, a selection of Australian base wines purchased at auction dating as far back as the 1960s, a portion of Joseph's iconic Moda Cabernet Merlot, and some Australian fortified wine. All this adds up to one of the most sought after sparkling reds around.
Very mushroomy and truffley on the nose, with deep notes of suede and currant, its lavish, heavy and savoury palate announces great complexity and typical eccentricity. Although it requires a fraction more freshness and vibrancy, it nonetheless delivers a ready to drink combination of mature, savoury flavours with nuances of cherry fruits along a silky texture. The wine exits the mouth with lasting notes of leather.
ü Another delightful Joseph but it just lacks the freshness of its predecessor (2007dis-94pts). Drink to 2011.
LEASINGHAM CLASSIC CLARE SPARKLING SHIRAZ 1998
- Region: Clare Valley, SA
- Price: $47-$64
Not released until 10 years old, Leasingham's Classic Clare Sparkling Shiraz is a genuine contender for the title of Australia's best vintage dated sparkling red.
Darkly stained in colour with generous mousse, it's extremely complex yet fresh and inviting, as a leathery fragrance reveals lovely aromas of cassis, redcurrants and dark chocolate with a fine underswell of greenish mushrooms. Pleasantly smooth and elegant, with great drive, focus and vibrancy; flavours of forest fruits meshed with savoury, developed tones of suede and truffle finish with appetisingly zippy notes of mineral and cola. Its deliciously creamy mouthfeel is augmented by an impeccable interweaving of primary and secondary characters.
ü+ Superbly complex, fresh and lively, this is unquestionably one of the best vintage sparkling reds of the modern age. It should be easily accessible with extended cellaring and all the better for it. Fabulously intriguing, grows on you with every sip. Drink to 2018.
ROCKFORD BLACK SHIRAZ 2008 disgorgement
- Region: Barossa Valley, SA
- Price: $55-$120
Rockford's cult sparkling red, the Black Shiraz, is infamous for its scarcity. It almost always sells out to Rockford's loyal mail order customers and barely reaches retail shelves.
Bright red in colour, its violet infused nose is somewhat deficient in intensity and definition, as aromas of red plum and cherry display an unexpectedly fruity fragrance for this label. Elegant, balanced and harmonious, its finely focused palate delivers a restrained yet well composed expression of savoury, small berries, sour edged fruit and earth, however, it is faintly hollow and lacks the depth and complexity of previous releases.
O Precisely built with fine line and distinct acids, the 2008 disgorgement of Rockford's eccentric Black Shiraz is neither complex, layered or deep enough to warrant its $80 price tag, but it could surprise with another 5 years in the bottle. Drink 2011-2015.
YARRABANK CUVEE 2004
- Region: Yarra Valley/Mornington Peninsula, VIC
- Price: $31-$44
An Australian sparkling wine specialist, Yarrabank is the combined efforts of French Champagne house Devaux and the Yarra Valley's Yering Station.
Blessed with a genuinely delightful artefact of lees derived complexity, the 2004 Yarrabank reveals a most enticing nose of nougat and almond biscotti beneath its wonderfully foamy head. Smooth, rich, generously long and chewy, its creamy palate presents yet more lees derived flavours before buiding into a rather sharp finish laced with citric acids.
ü+ A luxuriously rich, complex and beautifully structured expression of Victorian sparkling wine, the 2004 Yarrabank comfortably shares elements with vintage French champagne. Mouth-wateringly delicious. Drink to 2011.