Wine varietals and styles


12 Dec, 2018

Of all the varieties, sparkling perhaps intrigues the most. There’s a world of knowledge surrounding the varying grapes used, methods of production and specific places of origin— and that’s just the basics. Some premium Australian sparkling wine is now regarded as being on par with the finest in the world, but a common misconception is that sparkling styles are solely for celebration. Sparkling wine is instead an all-round crowd-pleaser for many differing occasions.


Grapes used for sparkling wine production thrive in cool climate regions, with chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier the three varieties used in traditional styles. It was the cool climate and rich soils that led French Champange house Moet & Chandon to Victoria's Yarra Valley to establish Chandon Australia in the 1980s. Other regions with similarly cool climates and growing conditions also began to emerge as prime sparkling wine producers: Macedonand the King Valley in Victoria, Tumbarumba and Orange in New South Wales, Adelaide Hills, and Tasmania.


When talking about sparkling wine, James Halliday mentions that “the Port Phillip zone is the centre of activity on the mainland”. Its cool climate lends parallels to that of north-eastern France, and the region's finest grapes are chardonnay and pinot noir — two of the classic varieties used to produce sparkling wine. Examples from the Yarra Valley vary in style, from rosé to pinot noir dominant wines, to classic sparkling whites too.


Off the mainland, Tasmania is the other — and arguably top — sparkling wine headquarter of Australia. James states that "the clear majority of the best sparkling wines are now solely sourced from Tasmania”. The island produces pristine fruit, with Jansz Tasmania, House of Arras, and Clover Hill among the key producers in the Tasmanian sparkling wine game.


Just 20 minutes from Adelaide’s CBD is the Adelaide Hills. Exceptional méthode traditionnelle sparkling wine scan be found here, mainly thanks to the high altitude ideal for sparkling wine production. Varieties from this region are fresh, invigorating, and crisp. Some of the region's producers to note are Howard Winery and K1 by Geoff Hardy.


There’s been much talk about the rising excellence of sparkling coming from Tumbarumba — some even rivalling benchmark examples from Tasmania. Vibrancy and freshness shine through in Tumbarumba's sparkling wines. Wine labels to seek include Courabyra Wines and McWilliams Wines.


The Orange Wine Region of New South Wales enjoys some of Australia's highest, coolest vineyards, which in turn, produce outstanding sparkling wines. Citrus fruit and blossom aromas are among the characters noted across the region's sparkling varieties. Head to Panther’s Patch and Printhie Wines.


Sparkling wine exists in many styles and colours. Below describes some of the characters to expect from several common Australian examples.










Many countries produce sparkling wine, although the most renowned examples come from France (Champagne), Italy (Prosecco), and Spain (Cava). In Australia, the same grapes and winemaking techniques are used, in our own myriad styles, although laws forbid Australian producers to use the word 'Champagne' on labels. There is a push from Prosecco to achieve the same restrictions.


French sparkling is no stranger to wine drinkers around the world. France is the home of Champagne, which is the most most-well known variety, and arguably, finest sparkling wine in the world. It is produced in Champagne, to the east of Paris, and made using three grapes: chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier. France is also home to designated Crémant style sparkling wines, which are made in eight different regions in France.


Prosecco from Veneto is the most widely celebrated sparkling wine in Italy, and Australia has been recognised for producing fantastic examples of this dry, refreshing style: particularly Brown Brothers King Valley Prosecco. Recently, there's been battles between Italy and Australia concerning the labelling of prosecco,  over Australian producers labelling their prosecco to glera, and Italian producers are now trying to restrain Australia from calling prosecco after an Italian village, rather than the grape variety. Australians argue they are abiding by the original grape name, and the dispute currently remains unresolved. Other star varieties of Italian sparkling are franciacorta from Lombardy, asti from Piedmont, and lambrusco from Emilia.


Cava is a Spanish sparkling variety that's also enjoyed by the masses, coming from the Penedès region in Catalonia - around 40km south west of the buzzing Barcelona. Cava characters include citrus flavours, mineral tones, and high acidity. Cava that is matured shows flavours of stewed apples and creamy nuts.


The first carbonated wine dates back to the Middle Ages, and was initially named a production fault. Winemakers worked to fix the error, and eventually reverted back to still wine production. Some time later, carbonated wine made a comeback, and an increase in production was noted — the reputation of sparkling wine had shifted completely. In Australia, sparkling wine was made thanks to the French winemaker Auguste D’Argent in collaboration with an Australian doctor and parliamentarian. They crafted the first-ever example of sparkling Burgundy in 1881. In later years, Edmund Mazure of Burgundy took over and used pinot noir and shiraz grapes to make sparkling red. It was Hans Irvine however, who crafted a sparkling wine comparable to that of Champagne. Upon Irvine’s retirement, Seppelt took over, and today produce benchmark sparkling wine and sparkling shiraz.


Sparkling is possibly the most well-suited wine style for food. Its high acidity and carbonation refreshes the palate, thereby making it particularly suitable for rich and also sweet foods. Champagne and Australian sparkling pair well with fruit desserts (think blueberry cheesecake), rich cheeses (Camembert and Brie) and shellfish (such as oysters and prawns). Many chefs suggest pairing sparkling wine with steak. Sparkling rose perflectly suits salmon (smoked is best) and all berries, where as Italian sparkling like Moscato d’asti and prosecco pair with antipasti (cheese, olives and cured meats), as well as festive foods (such as quiches and pies). Cava is great with the heavier starters (zucchini fritters, mini burgers and potato chips), and sparkling shiraz pairs with breakfast items (eggs, bacon and pancakes with strawberries and cream), and anything on the Christmas table.

Christmas lunch image


Many have long believed the best way to enjoy sparkling wine is in a flute or tulip glass. However, others are now advocating using more traditional, wider-rimmed glasses or tulip glasses to allow the aromas and flavours to be full released. This is particularly recommended for more floral and full-flavoured styles. The small bulge of the body allows for the wine to breathe, and thereby the flavours and aromas to flourish. Although the coupe glass looks elegant, the wide span of the rim is said to allow too much oxygen into the wine and the carbonation to dispense.

Flute Glass Image