Aussie sparkling beats champagne in top European tasting

The award-winning House of Arras E.J. Carr Late Disgorged 2004 sparkling.
The award-winning House of Arras E.J. Carr Late Disgorged 2004 sparkling. Photo: Supplied


Tasmanian winemakers have known it for years, but this week one of the world's leading wine publications made it official: Australian sparkling can trump the best fizz from France.

Released by Tasmanian winery House of Arras, EJ Carr Late Disgorged 2004 was named sparkling wine of the year in Decanter magazine's January 2021 issue, published in the UK on Friday. 

Ed Carr, founder of House of Arras, Tasmania's premier sparkling wine label.
Ed Carr, founder of House of Arras, Tasmania's premier sparkling wine label. Photo: Supplied

The $266 fizz – a mix of 69 per cent chardonnay and 31 per cent pinot noir – nudged out sparkling entries from Champagne houses such as Krug and Bollinger to steal "the judges' hearts with its maturity, complexity and sheer deliciousness". 

To create Australian sparkling which can hold its own against champagne has long been the goal of winemaker Ed Carr, who founded House of Arras in 1995. 

"This Decanter honour is just brilliant," he says. "The wine has always been extremely elegant and slowly aging. If you look at global media scores, a lot of Tasmania sparkling has been coming up strongly like this for some time."

Naomi Rheinberger (left) has a glass of Cullen Rose Moon sparkling poured for by QT Sydney sommelier Samantha Belt. ...
Naomi Rheinberger (left) has a glass of Cullen Rose Moon sparkling poured for by QT Sydney sommelier Samantha Belt. Australian sparkling sales have increased since the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Chris Morrison is group wine director for QT Hotels and former Good Food Guide sommelier of the year. He says the quality of all Australian sparkling has improved dramatically since the style's early days.

"There is a greater understanding of climate, vineyards, varieties and importantly the process [of making sparkling]. Attempts at white sparkling wine 30 years ago were made from a fruit salad of grape varieties that provided neither the freshness, flavour or structure required.

"Now we have traditional champagne grapes [chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier] planted in the right places. We have experience and the learnings from previous generations blending with the energy of new ones."

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According to winemaker Tom Wallace, who makes Pirie Sparkling in Tasmania's Tamar Valley, there is very little difference between top fizz from the island state and top champagne "except for maybe a few dollars"

"Our cool Tasmanian climate is incredibly suited to grow pinots and chardonnay that retain a lot of acidity, which is what making great sparkling is all about," he says.

Data from market research company IRI shows sales of premium domestic sparkling grew by 20 per cent in the latest quarter compared to 5 per cent over the same period last year.

Jacob sparkling winemaker Trina Smith says Australian fizz has an exciting future.
Jacob sparkling winemaker Trina Smith says Australian fizz has an exciting future. Photo: Supplied

"After the bushfires and COVID, there has been a lot more people wanting to support local, domestic winemakers," says Ben Luker, Australian country manager for insights agency Wine Intelligence. 

It is expected the "buy local" trend will become stronger after China's decision last week to impose tariffs of up to 212 per cent on Australian wine.

"We've been seeing a real spike in people replacing champagne with premium domestic wine as a gift choice this Christmas too," says Peter Dillon, chief winemaker at Handpicked Wines. 

Pirie Sparkling rosé made by Tom Wallace at Tamar Ridge in Tasmania.
Pirie Sparkling rosé made by Tom Wallace at Tamar Ridge in Tasmania. Photo: Supplied

Dillon is excited to release Handpicked's first non-vintage Tasmanian sparkling this week at $35 a bottle.

"Climatically you can look at data that shows similarities between Tasmania and Champagne, but I don't think you don't really need to bother anymore," he says. 

"The state has enough runs on the board in its own right. Tassie is cool, but it also has great sunshine, which creates acidity underlined by brightness and complexity."

Notable sparkling regions on the mainland include the Yarra Valley and Adelaide Hills. In November, Pernod Ricard launched Jacob, a premium $30 Australian sparkling that sits outside the beverage giant's entry-level Jacob's Creek range and is made predominantly from Adelaide Hills pinot and chardonnay.

"South Australian and Tasmanian sparklings both have really nice acid drive, but the Jacob is pinot dominant with a bit more weight to the palate," says Jacob winemaker Trina Smith. 

"It has been wonderful to see producers are really starting to develop their own house styles while still showcasing their region and the vintage. Australian sparkling has an exciting future."

Chris Morrison's sparkling picks for the summer

"Australian sparkling wine is about to have its moment," says the sommelier. "Buy a bottle and taste it."

House of Arras Brut Elite NV, Tasmania, $39

"A unique blend of aging and terroir. Sumptuous and refreshing."

Match it with: washed rind cheese.

Jansz Rosé NV, Tasmania, $30

"That magic blend of strawberries-and-cream with a whip-crack of acidity."

Match it with: mortadella and grissini.

Swift Cuvee NV, Orange, $40

"Some of the highest vineyards in Australia. Pure chardonnay driven flavours."

Match it with: tiger prawns, lemon and aioli.

Friends of Punch Rurale Petillant Naturel 2016, Yarra Valley, $29

"Fruity, grapey, thirst-shaking flavours. A pet-nat with punch"

Match it with: fish tacos and lots of jalapenos.

Seppelt Show Sparkling Limited Release Shiraz 2008, Grampians, $100 

"History in a bottle, if history tasted like Christmas pudding."

Match it with: sticky date pudding.