It's hard work for Australian sparkling winemakers to compete today with the great bargains in direct-imported champagne, but there is plenty of life in the local bubble business. Like any wine styles, the best are created by passionate, determined people who are more driven by a desire to make great wine than lots of money. Happily many of my picks are between $30-$40, which is still cheaper than most fizzes of the imported variety.
Hardys/Arras continues to lead the charge here with its brilliant fizzicist Ed Carr in the driving seat, but it's encouraging to see small family-owned enterprises like Printhie and Deviation Road having a red-hot go. This is my top dozen pick from my most recent tastings.
12 best Australian sparkling wines
1. House of Arras E.J. Carr Late Disgorged Chardonnay Pinot Noir, Tasmania 2001, $130 (10 years on lees)
It's hard to decide which is the greater wine, this or the blanc de blancs. They are a sublime pair. A tremendously complex bouquet displays toasty bread, straw, dried fruits and roasted hazelnuts, perhaps even more multifaceted than its single-grape sibling. The flavour is generous and mouth-filling at the same time as it's superfine; the finish is emphatic and long, dry but rich, with a firmness that comes in part from skilfully managed tannins. A great wine.
Food: Fresh truffle sandwiches. 12.5 per cent alcohol. 97/100.
2. House of Arras Blanc de Blancs, Tasmania 2001, $80 (9 years on lees)
This is an outstanding, almost freakish wine. The colour is medium-full, bright yellow and it smells enticingly of hazelnut cream, toasted bread, beeswax and egg custard. There are mushroom characters derived from age on cork. The palate is tremendously focused and long, with laser-like line and continuity. The finish is lip-smackingly clean and dry, with a very long aftertaste. A great sparkling wine in any global context. Drinking at its peak now.
Food: Oven-roasted scampi. 12.5 per cent alcohol. 96/100.
3. Brown Brothers Patricia Pinot Noir Chardonnay, King Valley 2006, $45
With considerable age under its belt this wine has developed tremendous complexity. The colour is still a youthful light-medium shade of straw-gold and the bouquet is very bready from pinot-yeast interaction, with iced pastry hints and some aldehydes. The palate is deep and rich with rose petal and quince jelly nuances. It's a mouthfilling, satisfying glass of fizz with a very long palate and superb balance between the fruit and aged characters, the acidity and liqueur. An outstanding champagne-like style.
Food: Mushroom vol-au-vents. 12.5 per cent alcohol. 96/100.
4. Deviation Road Loftia Pinot Noir Chardonnay, Adelaide Hills 2011, $38
A terrific wine whose only drawback is being released so young. Light, bright yellow hue leads into a fresh lemony aroma with a trace of lees-developed complexity, and the palate is delicate and refined, taut and focused, with bright acidity and good persistence. It's a wine of zip and drive, almost blanc de blancs-like linearity and lovely balance. It could even be cellared a while.
Food: Crab sandwich. 11.5 per cent alcohol. 93/100.
5. Macedon Ridge Blanc de Blanc, Macedon Ranges 2010, $40-$44
A straight chardonnay which has a lot of character for such a young wine. There may be some assistance from a barrel-aged component. The bouquet evokes nougat, almond-meal and lemon curd, while the palate manages to combine freshness with character and complexity. It has generous, pillowy structure and mouth-feel, with lots of flavour. The balance is excellent, the liqueur well integrated, the acidity seamless and refreshing, with a long dry aftertaste.
Food: Cheese gougeres. 13 per cent alcohol. 93/100.
6. House of Arras Brut Elite Cuvee 601 Pinot Noir Chardonnay, Tasmania NV, $40 (6 years on lees; based on 2006 vintage)
Arras's non-vintage wines are pinot-driven to bring them forward sooner; chardonnay ages more slowly. This has a light straw-yellow hue and a mellow, creamy bouquet with hints of pineapple and hazelnut paste. It's remarkably youthful for its age. The palate is lively with zesty acidity, fine bubbles and a long carry. A fine wine indeed.
Food: Grissini wrapped in smoked salmon. 12.5 per cent alcohol. 92/100.
7. Deviation Road Beltana Blanc de Blancs, Adelaide Hills 2008, $68
The little family Adelaide Hills winery of Kate and Hamish Laurie is producing some very smart sparkling wines. From a 500-metre-high vineyard, this nicely aged chardonnay has a bright, light yellow hue and a mellow meringue and straw-like aroma, still showing primary fruit, and a youthful, firm, full-flavoured palate with a low sweetness level and a touch of richness in its texture. The flavours persist with a clean, dry aftertaste.
Food: Pistachio nuts. 12.5 per cent alcohol. 92/100.
8. Printhie Swift Cuvee Brut, Orange NV, $40 (bottled July 2011; two years on lees)
This is a fresh, fruit-driven wine with verve and vitality. It's pale-coloured, with a clean bouquet showing spice and subtle passionfruit, with modest age and yeast-development. It's youthful but good, with attractive flavour and zest, the liqueur nicely integrated into a seamless whole. Delicate, fresh, clean and balanced for drinkability.
Food: Crab and avocado timbale. 12 per cent alcohol. 91/100.
9. Stonier Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula 2009, $30
This is remarkable quality for a $30 bubbly. Attractive spice and lemon aromas plus a little buttery development. Amplitude, richness and full-flavoured generosity; softness and finer texture, finishing with a fairly dry, high-acid finish. A satisfying drink.
Food: Lebanese dips. 11.5 per cent alcohol. 90/100.
10. Chandon Australia Vintage Brut Methode Traditionelle 2010, $41
Typical of the maker's style, this emphasises freshness and youth, with a pale colour and fresh floral/grapy aromas, with a steely, minerally note. Not much evidence of yeast autolysis, and the liqueur level is low, making for a refreshingly clean and moreish drink. Balanced, not very complex, but loaded with verve and vitality.
Food: Salmon gravlax. 12.5 per cent alcohol. 90/100.
11. Chandon Australia Brut Rose Methode Traditionelle NV, $32 (Disgorged 3/7/13)
A youthful, fresh, very appealing wine, not very complex, with aromas suggesting strawberry and crab-apple jelly. The colour is pale pink turning to a salmon shade. It's soft and smooth in the mouth, with a lick of sweetness in good balance, the finish clean and refreshing. A good aperitif style with some definite pinot noir characteristics.
Food: Smoked salmon. 12.5 per cent alcohol. 89/100.
12. De Bortoli Windy Peak Brut Cuvee Pinot Noir Chardonnay, Victoria NV, $15
The bouquet is subdued, straw-like, with very subtle yeast influence, while the palate is soft and rounded, nicely harmonised over a fairly high dosage (sweetness) level. A slight phenolic after-grip chimes in to help clean the finish. There is good flavour and some evidence of aged material. Because of the sweetness it needs a good chill.
Food: Taramasalata. 11.5 per cent alcohol. 87/100.
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