Know Your Variety: Sparkling Red Wine
Deliciously complex, sophisticated and uniquely Australian, Sparkling Reds are the perfect choice to spice up your special occasions and bring some delectable delight to any festive celebration. We explore its origins, when to serve Sparkling Red wine, the regions that make the best Sparkling Reds and what foods to serve with it in this deep dive into the style.
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Origins of Sparkling Red Wine
Technically speaking, Sparkling Reds are a style not a variety. Filled with exotic spices, rich red fruits, velvety tannins and beautiful bubbles, they can be made from several red wine grapes including Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet, Chambourcin, Pinot Noir and Durif.
The bubbles that define Sparkling styles – the result of fermentation in the bottle – was observed in the earliest eras of wine’s history, and was commented upon by Ancient Greek writers. Because the cause of such bubbles had yet to be determined, and the fermentation would often cause bottles to burst, many attributed them to spirits, or even to the phases of the moon.
British traders of the 17th century were first to recognise such bubbles as a desirable trait, and soon Europe had developed stronger glass and cork stoppers to facilitate the distribution of the increasingly popular Sparkling style. While Sparkling White wines were by far the most popular, Sparkling Red enjoys a long history, its origins extending as far back as Etruscan times.
Of all the world’s nations, three stand out for their particular talent with the style. Australia, Italy and Moldova are each famed for their Sparkling Red wines, with perhaps the most well-known example being Australian Sparkling Shiraz, and Italy’s varietal Lambrusco Sparkling wine, made in the frizzante style.
Australian Sparkling Red Wine
Australian Sparkling Red wines were referred to as ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ until the EU outlawed the use of the name. The first recorded production of ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ in Australia was in 1881, by the Victorian Champagne Company – a collaboration between a Melbourne doctor and a French Champagne maker, Auguste d'Argent in 1881.
The venture didn’t last long, but it was followed up soon after at Auldana, near Adelaide. Here, another French winemaker, the Burgundian Edmund Mazure, initially used Pinot Noir grapes to produce Sparkling Red wines before pioneering the use of Shiraz grapes to make Sparkling wine in 1893.
Around the same time, the Ballarat businessman Hans Irvine took over the Great Western winery and went about making a Sparkling wine comparable with French Champagne. His winemaker, Charles Pierlot, who had previously worked at the House of Pommery, successfully produced award-winning Sparkling wines. On Irvine’s retirement in 1918, Seppelt took over the Great Western winery and continued to make some excellent Sparkling Reds. Also, around this time, Minchinbury commenced operations in outer Sydney, and stepped up production during the 1920s.
During the 1930s and 1940s the finest Sparkling Reds were made at Great Western by Colin Preece, and many bottles are still drinking beautifully today. Production of Sparkling Reds was all-but killed off by ‘Cold Duck’ – a cheap imitation in the 1970s. But the style re-emerged in the 1980s, thanks largely to the cellar hands at Seppelt Great Western who had kept a secret stash of Colin Preece’s Sparkling Reds. They showed them to the new winemaker of the day Ian McKenzie, who revived the style with gusto.
Top Australian Sparkling Red Wine Regions
- Hunter Valley
- South Australia
- Great Western
- Yarra Valley
Hunter Valley Sparkling Reds
Home to some of Australia’s oldest Shiraz vines, the Hunter Valley makes superb Sparkling Shiraz. Hunter Valley Shiraz is medium bodied, savoury and food friendly. Don’t be fooled by the fact that they’re not big, muscly wines – they have a wonderful complexity.
Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, Langhorne Creek And Mclaren Vale Sparkling Reds
South Australia’s iconic wine regions all have a long history of producing rich, concentrated Shiraz. All these regions produce amazing (and sometimes rare) examples of Sparkling Red wines. Expect big flavours laced with mocha and intense dark cherry.
Some of the finer examples will exhibit kirsch, cinnamon, kitchen spice and liquorice. Some South Australian producers use other varieties to successfully produce Sparkling Reds. Hollick makes a softly textured Sparkling Coonawarra Merlot, while Irvine makes an excellent Sparkling Eden Valley Merlot. In McLaren Vale, d’Arenberg makes a superb Sparkling Chambourcin.
Great Western Sparkling Reds
There’s a long history of Sparkling Red wine made in the Great Western region and today some of the best quality and best value Sparkling Reds from there are typically soft, spicy and intense. Great Western is also the home of the benchmark Seppelt Show Reserve Sparkling Shiraz, which offers great complexity and intensity.
Yarra Valley Sparkling Reds
Although much harder to come by, there are a few makers in the Yarra Valley who look to craft more reserved, lighter-bodied Sparkling Reds, using Pinot Noir and sometimes Shiraz in the blend.
Rutherglen Sparkling Reds
Mostly known for fortified wines, the cool, ripe concentration that can be achieved here produces interesting examples made from Shiraz, along with other varieties like Durif and Cabernet Sauvignon. Expect sweet, leafy flavours with dusty, earthy lines.
What Does Sparkling Red Wine Taste Like?
The pouring of a Sparkling Red is made more enticing by the effervescent mousse or bubbles. Yet the big appeal lies in the complexity that bottle age imparts. Aged wines or those that have enjoyed extensive contact on yeast lees show great complexity and a creamy, velvety mouthfeel.
Shiraz is by far the most widely used Sparkling Red variety in Australia, as its soft tannins are ideally suited to easy-drinking.
As outlined above, different regions impart different qualities depending on the variety used in its making, but Sparkling Red wines are typically very ripe and rely on rich fruit characters, combined usually with a degree of sweetness, to achieve their impact. In their youth they are deep, crimson red in colour, vibrantly fruit-driven, really juicy and surprisingly refreshing when served chilled. The palate should be rich and complex with soft tannins and sweet berry flavours.
Aged styles of Sparkling Reds make truly sublime wines. The bead and mouthfeel are softened and delicate and the wine takes on intriguing savoury characters of leather, tobacco and cedar.
How To Serve Sparkling Red Wine
Much like Sparkling White wines, Sparkling Reds are best served chilled, and are ideal for any celebratory or festive occasion.
We recommend chilling in the refrigerator before serving. Once removed from the fridge, let it sit for around 10 minutes before opening. Or, pop it in an ice bucket and let stand for about 30 minutes to get it to the ideal temperature.
The best glassware for Sparkling Red wines is, as with Sparkling Whites, the classic flute.
When storing Sparkling Reds, they should be stored on their side in a dark, temperature-controlled environment at around 12.8o or cooler.
Best Food Pairings For Sparkling Reds
If you like to stick to tradition on Christmas Day, pair an Aussie Sparkling Red with a classic roast and clove-studded ham, or roast turkey. It’s also superb served with barbequed ribs, Chinese roast duck and chocolate desserts, or for pure decadence serve it with crispy bacon and fried eggs for breakfast.
Bring out the left-over ham and turkey and pop a bottle of Sparking red for a Boxing Day brunch to remember, there’s no better way to use up Christmas Day leftovers!
Best Recipes For Sparkling Red
Heather Jeong’s Barbeque Galb (Korean barbeque beef short ribs)
Lyndey Milan’s roast duck with roasted cherries
Silvia Colloca’s espresso, chocolate and raspberry tart
Best Sparkling Reds To Enjoy Over Summer
Thirsty to try some quintessentially Australian Sparkling Red wine? Check out our tips for some of the best Sparkling Reds to keep your eyes out for in the warmer months. Or get in the festive spirit with our ultimate Christmas food and wine pairing guide – and enjoy the deliciously complex and refreshing flavours Australia is so celebrated for!