Did I hear you say you’re celebrating Australia day with something French and fizzed! I sincerely hope not, especially when this country has its very own alternative…
Back in March one hundred and twenty-seven years ago, a French winemaker by the name of Edmond Mazure, resident at the time at Auldana in the city of Adelaide, made a wine from the Champagne varieties of pinot noir and pinot meunier which sparkled. So what? Well, the wine was red; a deep uncompromising red. A rosé it was not. This strangely deep, dark and complex red wine which frothed on opening was called Sparkling Burgundy. All of a sudden, Australia had its very own sparkling wine.
While some may argue that another light-bodied sparkling red fashioned twelve years before by Auguste d’Argent, another Frenchman, was actually Australia’s first ‘sparkling burdundy’, serious students of the style, especially Dr John Wilson from The Wilson Vineyard in Clare, prefer that the credit goes to Mazure. But Mazure was fast pursued by Hans Irvine at Great Western, Victoria, whose Sparkling Burgundy was commended in 1894 in the class for Australian sparkling wine at the Melbourne Wine Show. Just twelve months later there was a class at the Adelaide Wine Show for ‘sparkling wine other than champagne’ which was convincingly won by Edmond Mazure and Auldana.
While a treaty with the EU prevents us from calling it Sparkling Burgundy anymore, Australian sparkling red could indeed become your favourite wine of celebration. Or not. You’ll either love it or you hate it; it’s as simple as that. I happen to love it, but for me to love it, it has to be one of the really good ones. So which are they?
The best are made following a spin on the same process as Champagne. It begins life as a deeply coloured dry base wine, often but not exclusively made from shiraz, before an in-bottle second fermentation and subsequent maturation in contact with decaying yeast cells for several years. From Great Western in Victoria, Seppelt Show Sparkling Shiraz – by some distance the leader of the pack – receives around ten years of this maturation prior to release. It continues to evolve over the decades, becoming heady, smooth, earthy, mushroomy and chocolatey, while its bubble definitely becomes rather more lazy in the process. If this is too pricey for you, just open a Seppelt Original Sparkling Shiraz…
Before undertaking the champagne process, Rockford’s Black Shiraz is made by blending with older ‘reserve’ Barossa shiraz wines to develop more complexity and aged character. It’s typically luscious and deeply fruited, with earthy, gamey undertones and a silky texture. I’m a fan.
The third example that consistently shoots my lights out is made by perhaps the most innovative winemaker this country has ever seen – Joe Grilli. Each year his Primo Estate Joseph Sparkling Red includes in its base wine an unrepeatable collection of old bottles of Australian red and vintage fortified. The result is off the charts in terms of its depth, structure, layers of flavour and rustic, meaty intrigue.
If you’re wanting one a little off the beaten track, but loaded with flavour, development and texture, rustle up a bottle of Anderson’s Methode Champenoise Shiraz. From Rutherglen in Victoria, it’s wild, peppery and meaty steeped in black fruit and licorice.
What food do you serve with these wines? Whatever you makes you happy. From kangaraoo to vindaloo, from shiraz sorbet to eggs benedict, I’ve tasted it with nearly everything. Match it with a mixture of sound commonsense and just the right amount of risk and you won’t go wrong.