Cathy Gowdie

Sweet delight: Sparkling red wine is an Australian favourite.
Sweet delight: Sparkling red wine is an Australian favourite. Photo: Anthony Johnson

I'm going to a work friend's family for Christmas. He says their family tradition is for everyone to bring a bottle of sparkling red wine, but I don't like that style of wine. Will I offend them if I take something different that I would prefer?

What kind of patriot are you? I suppose you don't like lamingtons either, or sand wedgies, or sledging touring cricketers. What's that you say? You are not Australian, you can't get home for Christmas this year and that is why you are going to your workmate's family lunch.

All right, then. It may not have been made clear to you that, contrary to whatever Fosters-generated propaganda you were fed back in the Old Dart, sparkling red is one of Australia's great national drinks.

I know it has a reputation for being sweeter than a kindergarten kid in an elf costume, but that's not what the good stuff is all about. There are plenty of spicy, savoury examples made with high-quality shiraz and they marry nicely with roast turkey and plum pudding, which is why these wines turn up on so many Christmas lunch tables.

By all means take something you would like to drink but do the right thing by your hosts and their family tradition by also buying a bottle of good sparkling shiraz.

There are cheapies around - perhaps these are the wines that put you off this style - but since this is going to be a gift for people who are putting on a multi-course lunch, it's not a time to stint. The best sparkling shiraz undergoes a champagne-style secondary fermentation in the bottle and spends a bit (or a lot) of time ageing on lees, meaning it's expensive to produce. To err on the safe side I'd start looking at around the $20 mark, although you can spend much more. You'll find lots of reviews online to guide you, or a knowledgeable bottle-shop assistant should be able to point you in the right direction.

While you're at your workmate's family bash you may as well sample some of the bubbly red stuff, as it sounds as if there's going to be quite a range on the table. It will be a good opportunity to establish, once and for all, whether you really do dislike sparkling red. As cultural immersion goes, it could be worse: surely this is easier to learn to love than Vegemite?