Sparkling reds extravaganza

Just one evening after Australia day, a small group tried 8 sparkling reds (aka sparkling Burgundy). It’s not quite a unique Australian style, but near enough; many European tasters are perplexed. It’s a style that seeks to balance ripe fruit, and acidity. Residual sugar via liqueuring, typically  with “port” styles  between 15-30 g/l being common – and necessary – to balance the tannins. Time post-disgorgement helps, although “how long?” is a matter of personal preference.

Sparkling reds are a surprisingly food-friendly style; anything “gamy” succeeds; turkey, duck, pork, some cheeses, or merely as an interlude; even beef succeeds; I am not at all in favour of deployment as a “breakfast style”, or with bacon and eggs; this underplays its potential seriousness and quality.

Time on lees helps, but earthy and mushroom aspects seem to emerge up after about 10 years; 15-20 years on lees seems too much based on the few samples I’ve had. Brett needs close attention, as it thrives in the environment of sugar.

The interplay of these elements, plus temperature makes a big difference.

Extended time on lees means there is more chance that the wine has had several winemakers involved through its path to release.

Australia has generally used Shiraz for the style, but I’ve seen examples with Cabernet Sauvignon, Durif, Pinot noir and Merlot, plus assorted blends. Wines were served in brackets of two, and my notes are impressions, not fully contemplative.

2008 Castagna (Beechworth 13.5%) – 89 points

NV Rockford (Barossa) disgorged August 2010 – 92 points

The immediately noticeable difference is that the Rockford seems richer and sweeter. It’s creamier, oakier with raspberry red fruits. A real crowd-pleaser, while the drier Castagna showed some light mushroom, and fine mousse.

I have had worrisome experiences with leakage with Rockford in the past; this bottle was pristine.

2005 Peregrine ridge (Heathcote) 14% – not rated

2005 Peregrine ridge (Heathcote, late disgorgement, 6.5 years on lees) 14% – 94 points

This was a useful exercise, with the later-disgorged style showing a creamy texture, raspberries, violets and Its had well-deserved success in some wine shows. Lovely drinking, and perhaps even better with a little less r/s.  I thought the standard release was very dull in comparison – a faulty bottle is suspected.

2002 Andersons (Rutherglen) 14.5% – 96 points

1998 Leasingham Classic Clare 14% – not rated

The Anderson’s is a lurid healthy bright red colour. Dense, creamy with has balanced mushroom, its bursting with ripe blackberry dark fruits; there is compelling deli meats and charcuterie, and spiciness. To my bafflement, its still available at cellar-door for a derisory $49. Lots of well-merited show bling. Extraordinarily good VFM.

The Leasingham has alas, died.

1991 Seppelt Show (Grampians) 13%, 6.5 years on lees – 96 points

2004 Seppelt Show (Grampians)  13.5% 8 years on lees- 96 points

It’s just as well these two wines were not masked, as they were just so good and so different. Seppelt has a long history with sparking reds, even their standard vintage sparkling red (available for less than $20 to canny buyers) will surprise – even better if it was under crown seal)

The 1991 was at a lovely stage; certainly more developed with some honey, hay, camphor, truffle, leather and dried mushroom. But fruit is still present; a very appealing package, but to drink, not to keep.

The 2004, from the St Peters, Imperial and McKenzie blocks) is a ripper, albeit embryonic. Its very ripe and somehow balances bright red berry fruits with a gentle touch of capsicum and tomato-leaf, without veering into greenness. The plate is darker, some chocolates, an array of mixed spices and so finely manicured!  Leave it for 5 years to soften, and it will be very, very special. Or leave for much longer, safe with a crown seal to make it almost indestructible.

All in all, however, a stimulating set of wines, that deserve those terrific scores.

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