News Articles

Celebratory wines (that aren’t Champagne)

Publish Date: 01 Feb 2018

Authored by: Ned Goodwin

Whether you’re still soaking up the good times of summer, or preparing for an event such as Valentine’s Day, reviewer Ned Goodwin has some sparkling ideas.

Celebration and warmer weather frequently demand a rummage about the cellar, groping for a bottle of fizz that’s thirst-slaking, dry and with balletic energy.

Champagne plays an orchard fruit soprano above a toasty baritone, inflected with an inimitable DNA of chalky mineral and high-toned acidity. But the better stuff can be expensive and let’s face it, wine is of the moment and profundity is not always required.

So, what are our alternatives?

Like Champagne, a slew of domestic fizz is made in the ‘traditional’ method, as is a litany of French regional wines prefixed with the word ‘cremant’. This means that a second fermentation occurs in the bottle before time on lees imparts a creamy texture and autolytic detail. Like Champagne, many of the more complex examples of these sparkling wines sing with food.

Tasmania is a bastion of quality. Think House of Arras and Stefano Lubiana, among others. However, a favourite of mine is Neil Prentice’s 2009 Moondarra Au Naturale, a non-disgorged, zero-dosage homage to the best grower Champagne, albeit using Gippsland fruit.

On a more visceral note, prosecco and petillant-naturel (or pet-nats, as they are known in sommelier circles) serve up a gentle skein of fizz and giddy, fruity aromas that work as a ‘don’t think, just drink’ proposition.

While prosecco often gets a bad rap, there are few fizzes as effusively joyous; splaying apple and pear gelato notes across a bubble bath froth. The best examples are relatively dry and less expensive than good Champagne due to production techniques and brand equity. Prosecco is largely fermented in tank, with little lees-derived complexity imparted. Priorities lie with fruit and freshness. Dal Zotto and Pizzini craft delicious examples on our shores.

Pet-nats see a single fermentation expedited to bottle rather than finished in tank or wood. The result is often a cloudy wine, with varying degrees of residual sugar depending on the robustness of the yeast. A gentle sweetness is mitigated by the CO2 remaining in the bottle, often making for an easy-going drinkability. Some producers to note are Jauma, Hermit Ram and a number from the Loire Valley, drawing flavour and texture with extended skin-contact techniques across red and white varieties.

Ned Goodwin

Next article: The wine styles to try this year. 

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