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. This 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 still drink 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.
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 made Sparkling Red variety in Australia, as its soft tannins are ideally suited. However, some producers may make Sparkling Reds from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chambourcin, and Durif.
Sparkling Red wines are typically very ripe and rely on rich fruit character 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 quite refreshing when served chilled. The palate should be rich and complex with soft tannins and sweet berry flavours.
Older styles of Sparkling Reds make truly sublime wines. The bead is softened and delicate and the wine takes on entrancing savoury characters.
The Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Coonawarra, Limestone Coast and Langhorne Creek 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 cherry. Some of the finer examples will exhibit kirsh, cinnamon, spice and licorice. 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.
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 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.
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.
Mostly known for fortified wines, the cool, ripe concentration that can be achieved here produces interesting examples from Shiraz, along with other varieties like Durif and Cabernet Sauvignon. Expect sweet, leafy flavours with dusty, earthy lines.