State of Play Sparkling Red
Sparkling reds can be made from diverse red varieties such as Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet, Chambourcin, Pinot Noir and Durif. Traditionally, the majority have been made with Shiraz grapes, which is where this style all began over a century ago.
How did this come about? Well, let’s dive into the history for a minute. Ironically, the emergence of Sparkling red wine came about through French winemakers in Australia, utilising their Champagne-making expertise.
In 1881, French winemaker Auguste D’Argent was employed by Dr L.L. Smith's Victorian Champagne Company and created the first version of a Sparkling red. Limited information exists about the early batch, but it was pale coloured and not particularly successful.
A decade later, a fellow Frenchman Edmund Mazure, at the old Auldana winery in the Adelaide foothills, produced a Sparkling Shiraz that was deep purple/black coloured, full-bodied and high in alcohol.
In 1893, Hans Irvine also produced Sparkling Shiraz at his Great Western winery in Victoria. The winery was taken over by Seppelt in 1918, who have a long pioneering history with the style.
Originally known as Sparkling Burgundy until the French enforced appellation laws, most wine regions now produce Sparkling reds, however, the most renowned come from Great Western and the Barossa Valley.
With its opulent deep purple colour and frothing crimson mousse, pouring a Sparkling red into a Champagne glass just feels like an outrageous, rule breaking, guilty pleasure. Those exotic spices mixed with generous fruits of plum and berries bundled into effervescent bubbles that dance on the palate, finishing with a touch of sweetness and smooth tannins. Delicious, festive and totally satisfying.
Some people revere them, but most have never tried them. As for me, I’m in the first camp. My parents have a strong vintage pipeline of the iconic Rockford Black Shiraz, which has always been our traditional Christmas lunch wine.
Sparkling reds reach their height of popularity at Christmas time, adding instant glamour as a uniquely Australian celebration drink. They pair perfectly with festive food and if you haven’t tried one with Christmas ham, turkey, pork or duck, you are missing a great wine and food experience.
However, according to Kym Teusner of Teusner wines, “it used to be the case that you’d sell all your Sparkling Shiraz in the months leading up to Christmas, but that has changed. We now sell it consistently throughout the year as more people enjoy them every day, or for occasions like birthday celebrations.”
The winemakers I spoke with aim to produce a rich wine with generous fruit, spice and soft tannins that offers a refreshing twist for picnics, poolside, or a barbecue with friends. As Kym commented, “the beauty of this wine is that it works so well in our climate.
It’s designed to be refrigerated, so on a hot day you can still get the gratification of a rich, complex Barossa Shiraz, delivered in a lovely bright and refreshing style.”
And, with that hint of residual sweetness, it really shines with a multitude of Asian dishes like Peking duck, Mongolian lamb, char siu pork and teriyaki chicken.
There are also those who swear by it as the perfect cheeky breakfast or brunch drop. Kym’s Sparkling Shiraz food matching tip, “it’s definitely best unleashed at breakfast with bacon and eggs.” You can even pair it with chocolate-based desserts or top a scoop of vanilla ice-cream with a sparkling red for an instant adult spider. Hungry yet?
The Insider's secret
Sparkling reds account for approximately two per cent of sparkling wine sold in Australia, and in the 12 months to July 2021, grew by six per cent. The winemakers I spoke to clearly have a soft spot for Sparkling red, however, believe it is largely a hidden gem.
According to Bleasdale’s Winemaker Paul Hotker, “there’s a lot of creativity in Sparkling red production, with everyone making a slightly different style.”
Paul uses a 'solera style' system, blending the current vintage with previous vintages creating complexity.
Whilst the Bleasdale is 90 per cent Shiraz, it has a small portion of Malbec and Cabernet blended in for mid palate weight and length. Says Paul, “you couldn’t get a more Australian wine than Sparkling Shiraz, it’s about national pride. It’s the one wine we make that is purely Australian and we aren’t trying to copy anything from the old world.”
Kym Teusner admits that when he created his first vintage Sparkling Shiraz back in 2005, it was a selfish endeavour. “I just love the stuff and wanted to make some for myself. I use my best Shiraz so it’s expensive to produce.”
Kym uses Méthode Traditionelle, leaving the wine in oak for two years, plus another two years on lees in bottle before hand disgorging. So, it’s already five years old before it reaches the market.
Winemaker David Morris, whose family pioneered Durif in the 1920s, has been making his Non-Vintage Sparkling Shiraz Durif for over 30 years. Using a blend of vintages, they found that the rich body and firmer tannin achieved by adding 25 per cent Durif complemented the Shiraz, making their style distinctly Morris and classically Rutherglen.
The one thing the winemakers all agree on? When people do try it, they are pleasantly surprised and there is a definite wow factor.
The taste test
The Wine Selectors Tasting Panel, plus myself, gathered for a tasting line-up of 27 Sparkling reds representing a good mix of varieties, styles and regions.
According to Selector’s Paul Diamond, “the inclusion of bubbles in a red wine makes every element more pronounced – from oak, tannin, acid to fruit ripeness. The best offer a harmonious balance between sweet black and sour red fruits with skilfully integrated oak.”
Red wines, particularly Barossa Shiraz, have undergone a renaissance over the past decade, where the fruit is picked earlier, less oak is used with lower alcohols to achieve a more fruit-driven, balanced style. This evolution is also evident in the Sparkling reds, which were consistent and clean with a fresher, more modern approach.
The Panel noted it was also good to see innovation and experimentation in the style, with 30 per cent of the Sparkling reds sampled made from alternate grape varieties rather than traditional Shiraz. Many of these wines, particularly those that were Merlot-based, performed well.
The top wines showed no compromise in their attention to detail. They were sophisticated wines of refined fruit, structure, with pristine acid and length – a pure joy to drink. The two that stood out were both aged vintage wines.
The 2008 Seppelt Show Sparkling Shiraz was a stunning wine that astounded the Panel with its freshness and, despite 13 years of age, this wine still has a long life ahead. The 2013 Teusner MC Sparkling Shiraz with generous plum and a savoury earth spice finish, was a complex and classy wine.
The Morris Sparkling Shiraz Durif and The Black Chook Sparkling Shiraz performed well offering good fruit, structure, restrained sweetness and great value for money. They are perfect as an introduction to this style.
Accolade Wines' Bryn Randall summed it up, “it’s amazing how many people haven’t tried a Sparkling red. There are plenty of price points and styles on offer from entry level to premium wines and it transcends whether you are a white or a red wine drinker.”
So, with the festive season fast approaching, why not make it special. Add the adventure and excitement of discovering something new, surprising family and friends by celebrating with a quintessential Australian Sparkling red.
Sparkling Red Wine Tasting Notes
Teusner MC Sparkling Shiraz 2013
Barossa Valley, RRP $65
While Teusner wines was founded by Kym Teusner and Mick Page in 2001 as part of a quest to save some old vine Grenache, their MC Sparkling is 100% Barossa Shiraz. Released with five years age, it is inky dark red in the glass, and has a concentrated nose full of blue and black fruit, tobacco and cocoa aromas. The palate is massively flavoursome and incredibly youthful with a bold core of sweet dark fruit characters along with toasty oak, notes of cola and black pepper, and terrific depth and flavour drive.
Seppelt Show Sparkling Shiraz 2008
Great Western, RRP $100
Made only in exceptional vintages, this Sparkling Shiraz celebrates the long history and tradition of Seppelt Sparkling wines. Aged in bottle on lees for a minimum of seven years then disgorged at exactly the right maturity, this wine is ready to drink now or cellar carefully for even more rewards. It shows savoury dark berry, leather and charry oak aromas with cedar development. Youthful, with sweet red and black fruit concentration balanced by fresh acidity and powdery tannins, fabulous secondary complexity, and terrific persistence.
Krinklewood The Gypsy Sparkling Shiraz 2017
McLaren Vale, RRP $50
Krinklewood made this Sparkling using the traditional French method, whereby the Shiraz juice underwent secondary fermentation in the bottle and was aged on yeast lees for 24 months before riddling and disgorging. It is made from 100% Shiraz fruit and is the first batch to be released of this vintage. It presents earthy and intense black fruit, cola and iodine aromas. The palate has sweet, ripe and plummy fruit drive with toasty oak notes, powder-soft tannins, damp earth and leather complexity and a deep, persistent finish.
Morris Sparkling Shiraz Durif NV
Rutherglen, RRP $20
Morris and Durif have become synonymous, making this Shiraz Durif blend a real delight! The winemaking team crafts this Sparkling in the Italian style with the result being a wine that is steely and crisp. While it is ready to enjoy now, it will also benefit from a few years in the cellar. Medium to deep red in the glass, it delivers concentrated aromas of black fruit, toasty oak, dried earth and fruit cake. The palate is bold, flavoursome and well-structured with a deep core of liquorice, mulberry and blood plum characters, touches of mince pie and pepper, and a savoury finish with impressive length. A serious wine!
Kimbolton Bella Monte Sparkling Montepulciano 2019
Langhorne Creek, RRP $38
Kimbolton has created the world's first Sparkling Montepulciano and what a triumph it is! Deep red purple in appearance, it appeals with intense blackberry, blackcurrant, plum, tobacco and fresh herb aromas. The palate is surprisingly medium weight considering the richness inherent in the variety, with red berry fruit depth and drive, savoury kitchen spice notes, and a clean, pleasantly sweet finish.
The Black Chook Sparkling Shiraz NV
South Australia, RRP $24
This Sparkling Shiraz has been sourced from McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek vineyards and has lovely texture thanks to ageing in old French oak. Aromas of plum, dark cherry, Italian bitters, pepper and damp earth lead to a sweet fruit palate entry in this generous style, with a rich mix of red, purple and black fruit, lovely pepper and clove spice, elegant tannins and a long finish.
Zema Estate Sparkling Merlot 2018
Coonawarra, RRP $30
This Sparkling Merlot was made from fruit harvested at its optimum maturity. After maturing in French oak for 18 months, a selection of barrels were chosen. The result is a deep coloured wine with dark cherry, plum, liquorice, cola and maple syrup aromas. There's serious fruit and structure on the palate with ripe mulberry and blueberry fruit depth, harmonious vanillin oak, very fine and dry tannins and fresh acidity.
Hollick consider their Sparkling Merlot to be a wine that pushes the boundaries as it challenges the traditional use of Shiraz in Sparkling red. It's youthful crimson in appearance with ripe plum and mulberry aromas with notes of damp earth and liquorice. The palate is soft, ripe and fruity with a soft mix of black and purple fruit, gentle savoury tannins, mouth-watering bead and good length of flavour. Easy-drinking!
Grant Burge Sparkling Shiraz Cabernet NV
Barossa Valley, RRP $30
This quintessential red blend from Grant Burge is a firm favourite on the Burge family's Christmas table! It features Shiraz from the southern end of the Barossa Valley near Lyndoch and the Eden Valley, while the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes come from Grant Burge's Barossa vineyards. Crimson purple in the glass, it has a nose of blackberry, blackcurrant, cigar box and vanilla pod. Light to medium-weight, supple and savoury, the palate shows elegant layers of red and black fruit characters, along with black pepper and clove spice complexity, while it finishes with lovely lingering dusty oak.
Peter Lehmann Black Queen Sparkling Shiraz 2016
Barossa Valley, RRP $42
Peter Lehmann refer to the Black Queen as the "Jewel in our crown" and with the gorgeous 2016 vintage, it's easy to taste why. Its allure begins with its deep crimson shade followed by subtle aromas of red plum, blackberry jube and milk chocolate. The palate has a sweet strawberry confection entry in a deep and fleshy style with a juicy, youthful and intense core of fruit and lovely easy-drinking appeal.
This wine is named after the year the Shottesbrooke church was built in England of which winery founder Nick Holmes' grandfather was vicar. Dark berries, spiced plum and game aromas lead to a sweet, rich and dense yet youthful palate with deep layers of cherry and plum jam, attractive liquorice, cola, nutmeg and clove notes, lovely balance and a juicy yet dry finish.
DiGiorgio Family Sparkling Merlot 2020
Coonawarra, RRP $29
If you're looking for a festive wine to top off your feast, DiGiorgio recommends matching this wine with fruit cake. It's a youthful crimson colour with aromas of blackcurrant, dark cherry, cola, mocha, pot pourri and black olive. The medium-bodied and quite floral palate shows a pretty mix of red and black fruit, jubey confectionery notes, and a touch of charcuterie that lingers on the finish.
Ashton Hills Sparkling Shiraz 2015
Clare Valley, RRP $50
Fruit for this wine comes from only the very best vintages and is sourced from a vineyard with dry grown plantings dating back to 1919. Medium crimson in colour, it has a restrained nose of earth, plum, cherry, old leather and tobacco. Elegant yet powerful, sweet yet earthy, with a fine mousse carrying the core of fruit, elegant tannins, jubey acidity and
a long, persistent finish.
Hancock & Hancock Sparkling Shiraz NV
McLaren Vale, RRP $23
The Hancock & Hancock brand was created by winemaker Chris Hancock to reflect his passion for McLaren Vale. His Sparkling Shiraz, a full-flavoured and generous example of the style, was harvested from select parcels of McLaren Vale Shiraz with each parcel matured in old French oak hogsheads. Inky crimson to purple in colour, it features aromas of lifted blackberry, raspberry, dark chocolate and charry oak. Juicy and flavoursome with strong toasty oak alongside masses of sweet black fruit, underlying bay leaf and white pepper, and a long, satisfying finish. A great all-rounder.
Mr Riggs Battle Axe Sparkling Shiraz NV
McLaren Vale, RRP $35
Mr Riggs says he named this Sparkling Shiraz the Battle Axe after his "beautiful mother-in-law". It's inky dark red in appearance with aromas of raspberry, cherry, blackberry and liquorice lifting from the glass. The palate shows concentrated and flavoursome dark fruits throughout, with attractive nutmeg and earth complexity, savoury tannin foundation and a long, rich finish.
Gapsted Wines Limited Release Sparkling Saperavi NV
Alpine and King Valleys, RRP $37
Another first of its kind - this time using the Saperavi grape, which is a variety native to Georgia. The resulting wine is inky dark red coloured with aromas of baked fruit, molasses, cherry cola and exotic spices. Deep, fleshy and concentrated with a sweet mix of plum, mulberry and blueberry lifted by herb and spice notes, and an attractive chalky tannin texture.
Bleasdale Sparkling Shiraz NV
Langhorne Creek, RRP $24
This non-vintage Sparkling Shiraz features wine from every vintage of Bleasdale Shiraz since 1997 in its blend. It is inky red to black in the glass with a vibrant bubble, while the nose exudes blackberry confectionery, mocha, charcuterie, dried herb and pepper aromas. The palate features a very sweet entry of fruits of the forest flavours, along with some underlying earth and bacon bone notes, balanced acid and tannins, and a sweet purple fruit finish.
Seppelt Original Sparkling Shiraz NV
Victoria, RRP $27
The history of Seppelt Sparkling reds is thought to date back as far as 1892 and this wine is a tribute to their long legacy. Inky purple, almost black in the glass, it shows intense aromas of prune, pepper, cola and iodine. A super-sweet and concentrated wine with bright yet massively flavoursome core depth, a
layer of cinnamon spice, and a sweetly juicy finish.
The Ruby Velvet is a unique blend of Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lagrein and Dolcetto, resulting in a youthful ruby coloured wine with fresh red berry and rosemary aromas. Featuring on the palate are light, fresh and jubey redcurrant and raspberry characters complemented by hints of earth, white pepper and wood smoke, all leading to a delightfully sweet, easy-drinking finish.
d'Arenberg The Peppermint Paddock Sparkling Red NV
McLaren Vale, RRP $28
The Peppermint Paddock is inky dark purple in the glass with a nose exuding aromas of charcuterie, tobacco, roasted beetroot, cola and pepper. An interesting yet complementary blend of Chambourcin and Graciano making for an inky and concentrated style, with masses of ripe prune-like fruit and earthy undertones. Powerful and flavoursome with a long, dry finish.
St Hallett Black Sparkling Shiraz NV
Barossa Valley, RRP $50
The base wine for this Barossa Valley Sparkling is blended from various parcels of Shiraz and a small portion of Mataro of various ages. It is a deep crimson coloured wine with aromas of raspberry, cherry, anise and iodine. It is a concentrated and full-flavoured style with a deep mix of black fruit, tobacco and leather characters, fine powdery tannins, and a surprisingly savoury finish.
Sirromet make their Sparkling Red with Petit Verdot rather than the more traditional Shiraz, and it's the robust tannins of the variety that have helped this wine to age. Blackcurrant, sage, mint, earth and vanilla aromas introduce a rich palate with developing layers of red and black fruit, hints of dried herb and kitchen spice, creamy mousse and a touch of mint tea to finish.
The fruit for Leconfield's Syn is sourced from Coonawarra Shiraz vines that were planted in the 1970s. Medium crimson ruby in colour, it has a nose
of spiced blackberry, red cherry and sweet kitchen spices. The palate is light to medium-weight with a fine and elegant mix of sarsaparilla, cherry and vanilla bean flavours, a soft mix of tannins and acidity, and an uncomplicated, sweetly-fruited finish.
From Victoria's scenic Pyrenees region comes this unique and savoury Sparkling Shiraz from highly respected winemaker, Andrew Koerner. Deep red purple in the glass with menthol, cola, liquorice, black fruits and black pepper on the nose. The palate is medium-weight yet saturated with sweet plum and mulberry, with tight acidity to balance and a massively flavoursome finish.