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A Time to Sparkle: Member Tasting

Which Sparkling for which occasion? We asked some Wine Selectors Members: Traditional, Prosecco or Blanc de Blanc?

With the festive season in full swing, you are going to want to have a handy stash of Sparkling on hand to make sure you have the absolutely perfect drink to toast any occasion. After all, fun, fizz and Happy New Year/Hooray for Holidays/Cheers to that etc… go together.

Traditionally, that meant finding a good Sparkling wine and by that I mean the exquisite Champagne blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and often, but not always, Pinot Meunier.

Sometimes, you’d be looking for a smart Blanc de Blanc, that is, a Sparkling made entirely from white grapes (bearing in mind that Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier mentioned above, are both red grapes. Of course, you knew that, but I’m just explaining it for those who don’t). Blanc de Blancs are most often made from Chardonnay, but in Australia you’ll also find impressive examples made from Semillon, Riesling or whatever white varietal winemakers have lots of and want to use to add a Sparkling offering to their cellar door range.

Recently, though, there has been a sassy new lady on the scene – Prosecco. Commonly explained as the Italian version of Champagne, Prosecco has become the top-selling Sparkling wine in Europe, and it is trending that way here. It is easy to see why. It is generally cheaper than Champagne, lower in alcohol at around 12%, and has a lighter bubble, so it is a bit easier to drink and it has a stronger fruit profile so it is a versatile food match. Well heeled (or should that be perfectly palated) critics say that Prosecco is a bit simple and lacks the complexity of Sparking wine. Which is true, strictly speaking. One of the main reasons for this is the way Prosecco is made.

Stick with me here as I’m going to give you a bit of background data followed by some technical details, so pay attention.

Prosecco is made from the Prosecco grape, although outside of Italy you should refer to the varietal as ‘glera’ because the Italians successful petitioned to have the name protected, much the way Champagne can only be called Champagne if it comes from the Champagne region in France. However, the Prosecco law only covers Europe, so Australian winemakers can still go about their merry way making Prosecco from Prosecco and calling it Prosecco, at least for now.

The method used to make Prosecco is the reason it is generally cheaper and less complex than Sparkling. Unlike Champagne, which undergoes secondary fermentation in the bottle (commonly known as the Method Champenoise – once again, you knew that), Prosecco undergoes fermentation in a tank and is bottled under pressure. The Italians call this process Metodo Martinotti, crediting an Italian winemaker called Federico Martinotti with developing and patenting the method. The French call it the Charmat method after French winemaker Eugene Charmat, who further developed Martinotti’s method and secured a new patent. All of this matters very little when you have a glass in your hand and you just want to say, “Here’s to us!” as one does at festive occasions. So to find out who prefers what, we organised one of our infamous Members’ Tastings.

Find out more about Australian Prosecco in this article

A Festive Feeel

Usually, our Members’ Tastings are fun but also somewhat serious occasions, but seeing as we wanted to see what best to drink for festivities, we decided to make it much more of a party atmosphere. Seven Wine Selectors Members joined Tasting Panellists Adam Walls and Nicole Gow and all were in rarified company with special guest, Sparkling wine guru Ed Carr, winemaker at the mutli-award winning House of Arras, lending his knowledge on all things bubbly.

Naturally, the evening started with a glass of bubbles and some delicious canapés in the boutique vineyard adjacent to the Wine Selectors headquarters in Newcastle. Then they got down to the business of tasting. A Prosecco bracket was followed by a Sparkling wine bracket and a Blanc de Blanc bracket.

The results were as diverse as the palates around the tasting.

Robin Farmer said he was very much in the Italian camp. “I actually enjoyed the Prosecco,” he said. “It seemed to be a little more easy drinking, less bubbles, a bit more to my taste.” Laura Egginton agreed, saying the Proseccos were “deliciously light and easy to drink.” However, once she tried the traditional bracket, she had a Sparkling awakening, describing “flavours that lingered with much more body.” Chantelle Staines agreed with Laura, describing the traditional set as “fresh and the easiest to drink.”

On the other side of the equation, Jen Carter, Oonagh Farmer, Louisa Brown and Trudi Arnall said they preferred the Blanc de Blanc. Louisa summed it up when she described the Blanc de Blancs as showing, “more flavour and more depth of character” and being, “more aspiring.” This was perhaps a little unfair given that some of the B de Bs were aged, and with age comes complexity.

What does it all mean?

The results of the tasting went like this. Everyone generally liked the Prosecco bracket, some more than others, but overall everyone enjoyed them. When they tasted their way through the Traditional Sparkling bracket, everyone enjoyed those too, the majority more than the Prosecco bracket. And once again, you guessed it, everyone liked the Blanc de Blanc bracket, with at least four of the seven guests (and all of the experts) nominating these wines as the highlights of the night.

The discussions after the tasting, held over a second serving of canapés with some lounge music in the background, revealed some interesting conclusions.

It seems that all the wines were great, it was just a matter of what sort of occasion you were attending that would determine your bubbly of choice. Trudi voiced everyone’s collective thoughts when she said, “If I was to turn up for an afternoon BBQ with the kids in the pool, a Prosecco would be great. But if I was going to a dinner party, I’d go with the traditional Sparkling, and if I really wanted to impress, I’d go with a Sparkling or a Blanc de Blanc with some age.”

And with that we all nodded in agreement. It was a sentiment to which we could all toast. And we did. Cheers!

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World's Best Rieslings
Words by Trent Mannell on 14 Feb 2017
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