While champagne remains the classic choice, there is competition coming from other parts of France.
THERE has been an explosion in types of sparkling wine. The choice of wines in the marketplace makes it a very exciting category. No longer are we restricted to choosing champagne and perhaps you should consider fizz as an everyday wine, or maybe you already do.
The choices start in the vineyard. Grapes for sparkling wine are generally selected from cool climates and can be slightly under ripe if they are going to be made into wine by the traditional method. But if the secondary fermentation is going to be carried out in tank, or if it is being made by the ancestral method, then the grapes will need to provide all the flavours so they can be grown in warmer climates. Whatever style of sparkling wine you need to have grapes with high acidity. Fermentation and the types of yeast vary with each process and more flavour can come from using aromatic yeast when the tank method is used.
While champagne remains the classic choice, there is competition coming from other parts of France. Outside of Champagne there are eight cremant regions to choose from. In 1985 the EU outlawed any region from using the term methode champenoise, so France adopted the term cremant to signify a bottle-fermented sparkling wine made outside of the champagne region. The most popular cremants are found in Alsace, Burgundy and Loire. These can represent excellent value for money and a number of regions are producing higher quality wines. Take Alsace, for example, with its Cremant d’Alsace Emotion that requires a minimum of 24 months on lees. A similar venture was launched in 2018 in the Loire with the Prestige de Loire category. Here cremant is big business with around 400 producers and an annual production of over 17 million bottles.
Spanish cava might be regarded as a poor imitation of champagne, but it has now followed the French in establishing a higher category. The single vineyard classification of Cava del Paraje Calificado (CPC), established in 2017, has become only the third Spanish Calificado DO (Rioja and Priorat are the other two). The wine must be aged for a minimum of 36 months and be from a single vineyard, and tasted by a panel of experts. The strict rules include that the wine must be dry and made by a producer who owns the vineyard, and they are not allowed to add acid. But there is unrest in the Cava DO, with a splinter group of smaller producers being formed called Corpinnat. Nine Penedes producers have gone it alone, having been forced to drop the name cava from their labels. The group is open to only Penedes producers with an organic focus and longer aged wines, as well as a focus on local varieties which must make up 90 per cent of the blend. Cava can be produced in a large area of north-western Spain but Penedes is regarded as the centre of production. Obviously, the group wants to promote the region more and push the quality of their wines.
Tasmania is now constantly delivering great sparkling wines. Ed Carr and the House of Arras have ensured that the Apple Isle stays on top as the preferred site for bottle fermented wines. But just like Europe, other areas shouldn’t be overlooked. Ashton Hills, in the Adelaide Hills, makes a lovely vintage rosé that has red fruits and autolytic characters together with texture and length. What impressed me more recently is Bird in Hand Sparkling Pinot. It is one of its biggest sellers and it is easy to see why. The wine delivers bags of red fruits with an elegant fresh palate. This is a tank fermented wine that keeps up with demand by having six batch ferments a year, ensuring it is always fresh. When you look at price-v-quality this wine has hit a sweet spot in the market.
Tank or charmat method sparkling wines involve a cheaper method of production, but it should not be regarded as inferior wine. Charmat method wines can still involve time on lees, for instance, that is if the winemaker desires autolytic characters.
Prosecco is the leading tank wine (in Italy the process is called the martinotti method), and while Australia continues to produce and label wines as prosecco, its home is in the Italian towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene in north-western Italy. The wine has light amylic aromas of pear and apple. Drunk as a fresh, light aperitif style, it is a wine that has grown in popularity across the globe which has helped Italy overtake France as the largest exporter of sparkling wines by volume.
Again, we have some alternatives. Prosecco Col Fondo is a traditional and slightly cloudy wine that is normally a frizzante style. This is refermented in the bottle and is left undisgorged, and can age for a short period on its lees. Label terms such as “rive” (grown on a hilly site) and “superiore di cartizze” (small sub region) indicate more quality-driven wines. Local grower and former resident of Sydney, Martina Dal Grande, comments on the latest developments, “The biggest trend at the moment is the new Conegliano Valdobbiadene prosecco superiore style – brut nature/zero dosage as well as a prosecco rosé which will be introduced in 2020 – using pinot noir for the rose colour.”
Pet nat (petillant nature) wines are now extremely popular, but I wasn’t expecting to start with one at a recent Vanya Cullen masterclass. Her 2018 Cullen Rosé Moon Pet Nat is a blend of malbec, merlot, petit verdot and cabernet sauvignon. The wine is bottled while it still has 20g or so of residual sugar and yeast present, so it is still going through its fermentation. A normal sparkling wine has around 24g of sugar added to start the secondary fermentation. It is a lovely textured wine, but traditional drinkers will need an open mind to appreciate these unusual wines. “It’s our super natural style,” says Cullen. According to her, the longer the wine spends on lees the better it gets. Incidentally, lees ageing is the enzymatic breakdown of dead yeast cells and can continue for four or five years. It is an interesting fact that keeping a wine on its lees stops the oxidation process, but once it is removed it ages quicker.