State of Play: Blanc de Blancs
Surveying the classic ‘white of whites’, a timeless Sparkling style.
The effervescent world of Sparkling wines has long captivated wine enthusiasts around the world and particularly Australians. You might be surprised to learn that Australia is the sixth-largest importer of Champagne in the world, importing around 10 million bottles annually, and the largest consumer per head outside of Europe. Now more than ever, our deep love affair with bubbles is not just for grand occasions, but precious everyday moments with loved ones.
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Whilst most Champagne is a blend of three grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, Blanc de Blancs Champagne stands apart for its elegance and purity, recognised as a symbol of luxury and celebration. The French term Blanc de Blancs literally translates to ‘white of whites’, indicating the Sparkling wine is made exclusively from white grape varieties - usually, but not always, Chardonnay.
In recent years, Australia has emerged as a significant player, crafting high quality Sparkling wines at attractive price points, literally giving the French a run for their money. Australians no longer need to look to Champagne as the default for celebration bubbles.
Locally, advances in viticulture, refined winemaking techniques, and increased expertise in méthode traditionnelle processes, have produced some enthralling wines of complexity and unique character. Perhaps the greatest compliment is the investment by a handful of renowned French Champagne houses into producing Australian Sparkling. The world is taking notice.
Chardonnay’s crisp acidity and finesse allow winemakers to craft wines with elegance and freshness, which are essential elements of Blanc de Blancs Sparklings. Our cool-climate wine regions such as Orange, Yarra Valley, Tasmania, and Adelaide Hills produce exceptional Chardonnay grapes, making them ideal source locations for this wine style.
A LOCAL PERSPECTIVE
Ed Carr is royalty when it comes to Australian Sparkling, having started House of Arras in Tasmania in 1995. With a love of Blanc de Blancs, he had a clear vision of crafting world-class Sparkling - a vision he has realised. Ed’s first vintage Blanc de Blancs, in 2001, achieved two prestigious global championship awards in recent years. Ed also received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2018 Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships, becoming the only non-Champagne winemaker to win.
According to Ed, “I love the structural elegance, finesse and the longevity of Tasmanian Blanc de Blancs. We play the long game as we keep our wine on lees for seven years and then do a museum release after 15 years - the wine is still elegant and complex, but fresh as a daisy. Our Blanc de Blancs are generous in style and have beautiful suppleness and purity on the palate with a unique sea spray note.”
Drew Tuckwell, winemaker at Swift (the bespoke Sparkling brand for Printhie), believes that Blanc de Blancs from Orange showcase the region’s strengths of altitude and the high quality of Chardonnay available. Drew says, “Blanc de Blancs are about beauty and simplicity. But it’s a complex wine as it doesn’t have all the tricks like using oak or tannin, so there’s nowhere to hide. There is a lot of crystal ball gazing. You start with the best fruit for the highest quality base Chardonnay and wonder how it will work with bubbles, then on lees, and then with dosage and age. It’s always evolving and endlessly fascinating, so it keeps you on your toes.”
Perhaps the greatest compliment is the investment by a handful of renowned French Champagne houses into producing Australian Sparkling. The world is taking notice.
It was a university lecturer’s passion for Champagne that hooked Fran Austin of Delamere, at Pipers Brook, Tasmania. She laughs, “my mentors all warned me off saying that Sparkling is incredibly technical, expensive and just too hard, but it was my passion.” Fran believes her strong suit is getting the very best out of her vineyard, which has a narrow diurnal range that helps retain natural acidity, and deep red basalt soil which creates depth of flavour. “Our Blanc de Blancs is not our biggest volume Sparkling, but it showcases the quality of Tasmanian fruit and potential to create quality wines of a global standard.”
As Fran comments, “Blanc de Blancs appeal to people who want to treat themselves. I believe consumers want something authentic from real people with real thought and meaning behind it. There is a philosophical fulfilment as we can bring people closer and interact with nature through our wines. We work extremely hard to preserve in the bottle what nature creates in our vineyard.”
MAGICAL FOOD MATCHES
Blanc de Blancs are super versatile when it comes to food. Generally light, crisp, dry and citrussy in style, some wonderful classic pairings include oysters, seared scallops, sashimi; or, try an aged Blanc de Blancs with lobster rolls. The bracing acidity also cuts through those deliciously oozing soft triple cream cheeses or funky washed rind.
But it’s not all about fancy cuisine: Blanc de Blancs go equally well with comfort foods, especially fried. Try one with karaage chicken, fish and chips, or even macaroni and cheese for the ideal combination of class and comfort.
GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS
In a first for the Selector panel, we decided to look at local Blanc de Blancs, and whilst it’s a niche in Sparkling wines, it’s one held in high esteem by aficionados of fizz.
There were notable absences of some of the more renowned producers such as Chandon, Coldstream Hills, Pirie and Clover Hill, with samples not submitted. However, we had a good mix of non-vintage and vintage Blanc de Blancs with a cross-section of regions.
Crafting Blanc de Blancs is a meticulous process that demands precision and expertise, and there were a few clear trends. The Vintage Blanc de Blancs proved more compelling, Tasmanian quality shines, and Orange as a Sparkling-producing region is fast ascending.
Priced between $50-$150, the best of the vintage Blanc de Blancs showed a lovely balance between fruit flavours, lees complexity and refreshing acidity. At 12 years old, the 2011 Swift Blanc de Blancs was rich and complex with honeysuckle, fresh baked pastries, nashi pear, lemon pudding and almond nougat with vibrant acidity and lovely length. It is drinking beautifully now.
The 2016 Gilbert Blanc de Blancs from Orange was well received, showing citrussy lemon zest, toasted almonds and brioche with a crushed oyster shells minerality on a bone-dry palate with lively acidity. The 2016 Delamere Blanc de Blancs from Tasmania had white blossom, dried apple, stonefruit and biscotti with a ginger zing to the refreshing acidity - and a lovely complex mouthfeel.
Across the non-vintage range, we saw some wines with vibrant citrus notes, complemented by hints of orchard fruits like green apple and pear and mineral undertones that finished with racy acidity. There was some good value to be had in these wines and the Carillion Blanc de Blancs, at $25, found strong favour, as did the Bleasdale NV Blanc de Blancs for $32 and Arras Blanc de Blancs NV at $43.
Overall, some variability across the tasting led the panel to conclude that when it’s good, it’s very good; however, the Blanc de Blancs ‘style’ is still very much a work in progress locally.
Drew Tuckwell sees a bright future. “Increasingly we have local companies who are seriously invested creating benchmarks and championing Sparkling wines. It’s a long game, but if you look at our 2011 Vintage Blanc de Blancs with 10 years on lees for $150, the equivalent wine in Champagne starts from $500. You get the same quality with different regional expression for less money - it’s a no brainer.”
This style is revered worldwide, so, if you are a Chardonnay lover or a Champagne fan, seek out an Australian Blanc de Blancs.
According to Fran Austin, “It’s a wonderful style that ticks every box. They have a glamour about them with the ultimate in finesse, and you’re just cheating yourself if you don’t try them.”
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Selector's Panel Blanc de Blancs Tasting Notes
SWIFT BLANC DE BLANCS 2011
Awarded Best Australian Sparkling at last year’s Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships. Fresh and fine with pear, peach, lemon pastry and honeysuckle aromatics. Long and creamy with fine toast, baked fruit and pastry notes flowing over the palate. A true benchmark of both the style and the Orange region.
DEVIATION ROAD BELTANA BLANC DE BLANCS 2017
Crafted with fruit from the cool, high altitude slopes of Adelaide Hills. Aged 6 years on lees, the palate is rich with complex toasted nut, sweet pastry/ brioche and lemon characters. Sherberty zest and sea spray notes drive to a crisp and mouth-watering finish.
GILBERT BLANC DE BLANCS 2016
Another cool climate, highly awarded, class act from Orange reinforcing further the region’s Chardonnay ascendency. Toasted brioche, nectarine, lemon and fine autolytic characters dance across the nose into a lively, bone dry palate of citrus, toasted almonds and stonefruits. Like the other aged examples this wine is all about complexity and length.
ARRAS BLANC DE BLANCS NV
Shy on the nose with delicate hints of white blossom and citrus. Light-bodied and dry expressing stonefruit pith, Granny Smith apples, lemon curd and fresh-baked sourdough. Silky and well-integrated with classic sherberty citrus and saline characters.
HOWARD VINEYARD BLANC DE BLANCS 2023
Honeysuckle and lychee aromatics with hints of lemon sherbet and cut grass open onto a palate rich in nashi pear, lychee and lime, with licks of marmalade. Lovely salinity and a fine persistent bead and length.
FARM HAND ORGANIC BLANC DE BLANCS NV
Fresh and fruit-driven with aromas of green apple, citrus, guava, and hints of sourdough. Crisp, clean and refreshing, with green and yellow fruit characters, nearly-ripe nectarine and flinty salinity. A pleasant wine with a quality that belies its price point - great value.
DELAMERE BLANC DE BLANCS 2016
Chalky earth, lemon tingle and white blossoms define the aromatics of this Tasmanian classic. The palate is crisp and energetic with layers of oyster shell, citrus, baked apple and ginger. Beautifully balanced.
MACQUARIEDALE ORGANIC BLANC DE BLANCS 2021
Lively lemon, pear, Granny Smith and almond croissant aromas complement a generous and vibrant palate of green apples, guava and nectarines seasoned with baked brioche.
ROCHFORD ISABELLA’S BLANC DE BLANCS 2017
Open and generous with a complexing mix of lemon curd, ripe stonefruits, hazelnuts and nougat woven through a lemon and lime backbone, tinged with yeast lees and sea spray. A great wine for washed rind cheeses.
CARILLION BLANC DE BLANCS 2023
A stylish, youthful wine with energetic stonefruit and citrus aromatics bursting out of the glass. Palate is lively and intense with layers of apples, pears, limes and melon following after the creamy mousse dissipates.
BIMBADGEN SPARKLING BLANC DE BLANCS 2021
Packed with rich and ripe flavours, this one’s a real crowd-pleaser with creamy layers of apples and lemon lime citrus that ride easily across the palate. The aromatics are creamy and toasty with lemons, brioche and nuts.
HENSKENS RANKIN D2 BLANC DE BLANCS 2014
Eight years of lees contact give this wine plenty of buttered toast, lemon curd, fresh lime and white flower aromatics. Palate is complex with a creamy/ tart entry leading to layers of pears and apples before a crisp, saline finish.
BLEASDALE BLANC DE BLANCS NV
Complex apple, grapefruit, sour-lime peel aromas are intertwined with natural, earthy undertones. Generous, juicy, and complex with nice tension between savoury and sweet white peach and grape lees.
CROSER BLANC DE BLANCS NV
A classic Adelaide Hills style with just-ripe green apples, crisp stonefruits and lemon juice. Mouthfeel is fresh, tart and creamy, accompanied by a swathe of peaches, melons, baked biscuits, lemons and white flowers.
TREAD SOFTLY BLANC DE BLANCS BRUT NV
A flinty bouquet with notes of nectarine, creamy yellow fruits and hints of cashew and honey. Palate is soft with lemon sherbet zest, green apple and pear, and a light, well-balanced and crisp acidity. An enjoyable wine.
TRENTHAM ESTATE RESERVE BLANC DE BLANC NV
Aromas of acacia blossom and Granny Smith apples threaded with tangy citrus and brioche. Delicate, crunchy green apple and almond meal flavours flow across the palate, laced with nougat and subtle yeast characters. Very smooth.
WOODSTOCK TWIGGY BLANC DE BLANCS NV
Pleasant aromatics of white lilies, apple and lychee with lemony lift and a touch of toast. Displays a fine, refreshing and almost savoury palate with notes of lemon, apple, nashi pear and stonefruit, with a good, creamy mousse mouthfeel.
FARMER’S LEAP DESTINY BRUT NV
Delightful rose petal and lychee characters on the nose with lemon pith and citrus blossom present. Palate expresses rosewater, lychee and exotic fruits, with quince, almond nougat, and slate in good balance. Gentle, refreshing acidity and lovely mouthfeel.
DELAMERE LATE DISGORGED 2012
Earthy with subtle nutty aromas and hints of buttery toast with fresh cut lime evident. Years on lees imparts a rich and creamy mouthfeel, balanced well with characters of baked lemon pie and almond nougat. Complex and long, this is now in its ideal drinking window.
TALTARNI BLANC DE BLANCS 2019
An inviting bouquet of baked biscuit with white blossom hints opens onto a textural palate of stonefruits, green apple and lemon curd, while balanced, mineral acidity delivers a decent length to the finish. A pleasant wine from the stalwarts of the style.
ARRAS BLANC DE BLANCS 2014
A wine that truly expresses the elegance and sophistication of Tasmanian Chardonnay. Fragrant citrus blossom, freshly baked pastries and oyster shell open to a palate of baked Granny Smith apple, white peach, lime essence and brioche, and poised, vibrant acidity.
THE LANE LOIS BLANC DE BLANCS NV
Enticing aromas of lemon sorbet, nashi pear and grapefruit zest. A crunchy, cleansing palate of green and red apple, lemon and lime gives vibrancy and energy, while a dash of honeyed complexity, a fine, tight bead and taut acid length makes this a winner.
SOUMAH BLANC DE BLANC NV
Rich and generous, this crisp, energetic wine bursts with peach, pear, melon, lemon and lychee flavours. Creamy with an appealing lemon tang on the finish, the aromas are driven by peaches, lemon sherbet and grapefruits.
MOORES HILL BLANC DE BLANCS NV
An intricately perfumed wine delivering lemon zest, buttered toast and jasmine flower aromatics. Rich and powerful with white peach, lemon, limes, mushrooms and grapefruits leading to a tart, creamy finish.
KILLIBINBIN SOCIAL CUVéE BRUT NV
A fresh, zippy new wine with a nose of fresh lemons, lemon sherbet, white peach, brioche, and honey. Think apples, citrus and stonefruits laced with layers of guava and lychees, finishing clean and creamy.
SEVILLE ESTATE BLANC DE BLANCS 2018
Nutty, creamy aromas from lees contact. Palate is bright with lifted melon and grapefruit characters, with developing autolysis notes of spice, nougat and citrus. A nicely complex and well balanced Sparkling wine.