Eat, drink: Moscato and dried fig fudge. Photo: Jennifer Soo
With champagne prices plunging like an England cricket fan's morale, you might think there is no contest for your festive season bubbly dollars. It's champagne for breakfast, lunch and dinner, no?
Well, not necessarily: there are some very fine bubbles from other places. Italy's prosecco is fashionable; moscato - like a mo' in Movember - is on many lips, and French fizz from places other than Champagne is no longer demode.
And don't forget New Zealand, bro. Some excellent methode traditionelle sparkling wine is coming from Central Otago these days, as well as the more predictable Marlborough - but please excuse me if I don't have a Marlborough sparkling sauvignon blanc in my list. I think it's an abomination.
And then there's our own home-grown. While it's only a few weeks since I did a round-up of the best Australian bubbles, many more beauties have come my way since then. Again, Tasmania starred, but Tumbarumba keeps adding to its claim to be considered Australia's second-best sparkling wine region (the entire state of Tasmania is a region, for appellation purposes). Macedon Ranges also has some skin in the game. High-altitude, or southerly latitude, or both, are the prerequisites for great sparkling wine in this relatively hot country.
From now to New Year is the peak season for sparkling wine sales, as we toast a mass of toastworthy dates: the start of a holiday, the end of the year, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, another Ashes win, perhaps, and who knows what else. Major birthdays, engagements, weddings, divorces …
Next week: Champagne.
Courabyra 805 Pinot Noir Chardonnay Pinot Meunier, Tumbarumba 2001, $65: the NSW Wine Awards sparkling trophy-winner two years in succession. It is truly in the vintage to prestige cuvee champagne class. Not quite a freak wine, as some have said; more an indication of what is possible with investment in time and attention to detail.
Clover Hill Pipers River Vintage Release, Tasmania 2008, $50: a very complex, mellow wine with a smoky/toasty bouquet, richness and power on the palate.
Bream Creek Pinot Noir Chardonnay Cuvee Traditionelle, Tasmania 2007, $40: Tassie again delivers refined wine with lovely balance.
Pipers Brook Vineyard ''Pipers Brut'', Tasmania 2008, $37: I like this better than its more expensive big brother, the Kreglinger Vintage. It's rich, ample and full of character.
Clover Hill Tasmanian Cuvee Methode Traditionelle, Tasmania NV, $33: has a lot of character for an NV and I suspect, plenty of aged reserve wine in the blend.
Hungerford Hill Dalliance Chardonnay Pinot Noir, Tumbarumba 2008, $30: a really smart bubbly and the price is very sharp. Fine, subtle and youthfully vibrant.
Yellowglen Perle Vintage Rose Pinot Noir Pinot Meunier Chardonnay 2006, $25: Yellowglen seems to have dumbed down its once-fine Perle range, but this is fair value at the price.
Tulloch Cuvee NV, $18: better value than most of the big-company cheapies.
Handpicked Moscato d'Asti, Piedmont 2010, $20: all the grapy, muscaty freshness of the style with fine texture and a moderate sweetness level.
Andreola Verv Extra Dry Treviso Prosecco, Italy NV, $26
Andreola Dirupo Prosecco Valdobbiadene Superiore, Italy 2012, $31.50: two wines from the same producer. The dearer is finer and superbly harmonious with low-level sweetness; the cheaper one is feather-light, soft and relatively simple.
Mme Coco Blanc de Blancs Brut, France NV, $20: grape varieties and region are not disclosed, but I suspect chardonnay is involved. It's pleasingly dry with some attractive, bready cracked-yeast character.
Marchand & Burch Cremant de Bourgogne Brut Blanc, Burgundy NV, $30: floral, generous, smooth flavour with a trace of sweetness contributing to a soft, gently rich palate.
Deutz Marlborough Cuvee Brut Chardonnay Pinot Noir, Marlborough NV, $28: toast and matchstick characters; a nicely mellow wine showing some matured characteristics.
Quartz Reef Methode Traditionelle Rosé´ Pinot Noir, Central Otago NV, $44: a rich, ample, full-flavoured rosé´ with rosewater and some Turkish delight aromas, along with a youthful, zesty, hot-pink colour.
Bleasdale Sparkling Shiraz, Langhorne Creek NV, $20: probably the most consistent and affordably priced sparkling red in Australia. Ripe plum, spice, earth and chocolate, with generous but not overdone sweetness. Cleverly made for wide appeal.
Seppelt Limited Release Show Sparkling Shiraz, Great Western 2004, $100: a magnificent example of this traditional style with leather, spices, smoky pepper and clove aromas, with a rich, creamy texture and great balance. A 40-year wine.