Penfolds has unveiled the first champagne made by an Australian winery at an event held overnight at the Hotel Ritz, Paris.
To mark Penfolds' 175th anniversary, the South Australian winery has collaborated with independent champagne house Thienot to create three champagnes from its 2012 vintage.
"I had a bit of a secret kid's fantasy of making champagne one day," said Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago. "We had been extending the Penfolds brand over the years. Our reds, and the classic old fortifieds were well-known, and we had extended the brand to include whites with great success. All that was missing was a sparkling wine. Why not a champagne?"
By law, champagne can only be produced in the Champagne region of north-east France.
Alain Thienot founded the champagne house bearing his name in 1985. The family-owned business also counts champagne houses Joseph Perrier and Canard-Duchene in its portfolio, and is Penfolds' agent in France where the winery is well regarded for its Grange.
Thienot's ageing stock and wine sources for blending impressed Mr Gago and the availability of base wines from the top vintage of 2012 increased his enthusiasm for the plan to collaborate.
"This is a first for us," said Thienot's managing director, Stanislas Thienot. "I am proud to say this has also been a truly collaborative experience from the very beginning."
The Franco-Australian partnership involved wine selection, blending and input of know-how from both sides.
"We have created blends reflective of both Thienot and Penfolds wine styles and philosophies," said Mr Thienot. "We are very happy with the results. The champagnes are modern reflections showcasing fruit, freshness, and finesse."
The first of the three releases, Champagne Thienot x Penfolds Chardonnay Pinot Noir Cuvee 2012, will be available from June at a recommended retail price of $280.
By comparison with other prestige labels, a bottle of Krug Grande Cuvee retails for just below $300 and Louis Roederer Cristal is near $400.
The remaining Thienot x Penfolds limited edition champagnes, a blanc de blancs (white wine from white grapes) and blanc de noirs (white wine from black grapes), will be released in 2020.
"One of the most interesting things about these new releases is the styles of champagne cuvees that have been created," said John Noble, director of the Champagne Bureau of Australia.
"Champagne is being recognised more and more for its ability to be matched with food and these are great styles of champagne to enjoy with a meal. Blanc de blancs is a sensation with any kind of seafood from fish-and-chips to oysters."
Australia is the sixth largest market for champagne in the world. Mr Noble said it was possible the Penfolds and Thienot collaboration could lead to similar champagnes created by Australian winemakers but such projects require a significant investment of time and money.
"Europe is a long way away, and for an Australian winemaker to regularly travel to the region, it would mean a large amount of time away from home," he said. "Most well-known champagne makers spend a lot of time in the vineyard, seeing first-hand the quality of the grapes they will select for harvest.
"Time is one of the most important factors in producing champagne, especially for these [vintage] styles. It is not just the winemaking, but the time the bottle spends in the cellar ageing its lees. This is where the champagne magic happens."
Thienot x Penfolds Chardonnay Pinot Noir Cuvee 2012
A wine of great finesse. Characters reminiscent of apple tart, creme brulee and nuttiness flow through a subtle, fine mouthful. Light but intense, lingering and fragrant. Very elegant.
Released in June and available for pre-order from penfolds.com. RRP $280.
Thienot x Penfolds Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 2012
My pick of the three, this single vineyard 100 per cent chardonnay champagne has delicate floral and citrus aromas woven through richer stone fruit and toasty notes. Rich yet fine, it offers a sustained, refined palate of lovely length and tight structure. Ultra stylish champagne
Released in 2020.
Thienot x Penfolds Grand Cru Blanc de Noir 2012
From Ay, in champagne's pinot noir heartland, this is the most reserved wine of the three. It's more fruit-driven with rich pinot qualities at its core, trimmed in classic brioche, patisserie and spice elements which add complexity. Creamy, nutty and fine, it tastes very dry and serious. In need of a little bottle age to flourish.
Released in 2020.
Ralph Kyte-Powell is a contributing wine writer for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age Good Food.