What is Sparkling White?
Synonymous with celebrating special occasions like birthdays and weddings, Sparkling White is a popular style of wine in Australia - and it’s also perfectly suited to a casual catch-up with friends or a long lunch.
Sparkling White is a wine style containing carbon dioxide – either as the result of natural fermentation or injection – which gives it bubbles. Classic Australian Sparkling White wines are typically modelled after Champagne, the French Sparkling named for the region in which it is produced. The three mainstay grape varieties used for Sparkling White are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
So, when it’s time to celebrate, should you choose a French Champagne or stick to an Australian Sparkling, and what is the difference between the two? Which foods pair best with Sparkling White? How is it made? And where does it grow best in Australia?
Let’s pop the cork on all things Sparkling White and find out!
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For the first time in history, Australia now stands tall among the greatest Sparkling producers on earth. Aussie fizz has truly come of age, and there’s never been a better time to discover the exciting diversity of this remarkable category.
SPARKLING WHITE IN AUSTRALIA
The most prolific trailblazer in Australian Sparkling was Colin Preece, who made wines for Seppelt in the Great Western region of Victoria mid last century. Colin’s attention to quality and detail created a demand for Australian Sparkling wines that has grown rapidly over time. Many of his wines made over half a century ago are still drinking well today.
Victoria's Yarra Valley was the first cool climate Australian region to make a name for its first-class Sparkling in the 1980s, while today, beautiful examples can be found in regions throughout the country.
AUSTRALIAN SPARKLING WHITE WINE REGIONS
The Yarra Valley
The Sparkling wine stocks of the Yarra Valley received a huge boost when Moet & Chandon established Domaine Chandon in 1986. The Yarra Valley’s cool climate produces elegant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which combined with Chandon’s winemaking experience and resources, enables it to produce excellent quality Sparkling whites.
Tasmania’s cool climate allows producers to generate fine base material to be blended into excellent examples of Australian Sparkling wines, either made on the island or the mainland.
The Macedon Ranges’ cool temperatures and soil types provide the perfect setting for Sparkling wines. Small producers like Hanging Rock, Cope-Williams and Granite Hills excel here.
The Great Western/Grampians region in Victoria pioneered Sparkling wine in Australia and it continues to produce some great examples, particularly at Seppelt.
The Adelaide Hills has the ability to produce graceful Chardonnay and Pinot fruit with a unique textural minerality.
The Hunter Valley produces fine Chardonnay-based ‘Blanc de Blanc’ Sparkling wine. The use of Semillon in Sparkling wines is also becoming popular in the Hunter.
This high-altitude region of Tumbarumba has a very cool climate, which produces fruit with high natural acidity that provides the base for fine Sparkling wines.
IS SPARKLING WHITE THE SAME AS CHAMPAGNE?
The essential difference between Champagne and Sparkling White involves the origin and name. Over a decade ago, the European Union pushed for tighter controls regarding their wines, meaning other wine-producing nations could no longer use names such as Port, Sherry and Champagne. As such, here in Australia we refer to Champagne-style wines as Sparklings.
While the Champagne industry in France is highly regulated and producers are limited to using only Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes grown in the historic region, that rule doesn’t apply here. Australian winemakers are able to experiment and are also crafting outstanding expressions including party-starting Prosecco and Pinot Grigio.
Find out more about Australian Prosecco, including where it originated from, what it tastes like and more’
WHAT DOES SPARKLING WHITE WINE TASTE LIKE?
Sparkling White is diverse, as the taste is influenced by the different varieties of grapes used and the method in which it is produced. From dry to sweet and everything in between, these delicious bubbles are enjoyable to drink with a fizzy mouth-feel.
In Australia, Sparkling White wine is commonly made using Chardonnay grapes to create wine that’s medium-bodied and dry, often possessing yeasty characters and fruit-forward flavours of peach, apple, grapefruit and melon.
Sparkling White can very happily hold its head up high with a reputation that can match the best of Champagne. Thanks to the championing of regions like Tasmania and Tumbarumba, we are starting to see examples that express purity of fruit and clever winemaking decisions.
HOW IS SPARKLING WHITE WINE MADE?
There are three primary means of Sparkling production in Australia and the method of production largely determines the quality of Sparkling.
All Sparkling wines undergo a primary fermentation to produce a base wine. The best producers have a vast selection of base wines, which are blended together to produce the desired style.
- The Traditional method – Also known as Méthode Champenoise, is the classic approach to produce Sparkling wines. It is the most labour intensive, costly and lengthy method, but produces the highest quality Sparkling wines. The traditional method involves a second fermentation taking place in the same bottle as the wine is sold. The wine is left in contact with its spent lees cells after the secondary fermentation, usually for at least 15 months. The yeast cells are then removed from the wine, then the bottle is topped up with a dose of base wine and sugar before it is corked.
- Tank method – Known as the Charmat Method, in which the secondary fermentation occurs in pressurised steel tanks, not in the bottle. Tank method Sparklings are also filtered and fined. These differences can mean the wines can taste less creamy, and instead crispier on the palate, yet still with the yeasty characters expected in a good Sparkling.
- Carbonation – The simplest and most cost-effective method for Sparkling wine production is the injection method. No secondary fermentation takes place through the process - rather, the wine is injected with carbon dioxide, the same process used in soft drinks, which produces big bubbles that dissipate quickly in the glass. This method is used for the cheap, commercial Sparkling wines.
Blanc de Blancs are Sparkling Whites made from white grapes, while Blanc de Noirs are Sparkling Whites produced by fermenting red grapes without skins.
Most Australian Sparkling wine producers will make a Non-Vintage wine each year that is blended across vintages to produce a consistent product. In favourable years a Vintage wine may be produced. These wines tend to be more expensive and refined, offering a good expression of the region, variety, year and house style.
IS SPARKLING WINE SWEET OR DRY?
Australian Sparkling White, like Champagne, is diverse and can be extra dry, dry or sweet.
WHAT ARE GOOD SPARKLING WINES?
The bountiful plethora of Australia’s Sparkling offering is as diverse as the far-flung regions from which it hails. This vast, sunburnt continent boasts an immense variety of terroirs that give birth to its extensive Sparkling personalities, from the cool elegance of Tasmania, to the characterful expression of the Adelaide Hills, and the heights of Victoria’s Yarra Valley, Henty, Pyrenees and Macedon Ranges. In recent times, Western Australia’s Margaret River, Pemberton and Great Southern and New South Wales’ Tumbarumba and Orange have increasingly proven their credentials in the premium fizz stakes.
Pairing SPARKLING WHITES WITH FOOD
One important thing to remember when matching Sparkling Whites and Champagne with food, is that they come in a range of different styles with varying dosage, or sugar levels - so keep this in mind when making your match.
Canapes and entrées:
Start off with classic matches like fresh oysters, scallops, sushi, sashimi, light white fish and salads. Blanc de blanc styles make a great match to these food suggestions.
Try Sydney Rock Oysters with Ginger and Shallot Dressing for a classic sparkling white pairing.
As Sparkling wine is quite acidic, it does a great job of cutting through fat/oil and salt, so if it’s deep-fried chicken that you’re craving, just go with the flow. With its yeasty characters and fuller fruit, vintage Sparkling is perfect to serve with richer fish like salmon, earthy and gamey dishes including duck, venison, mushroom, truffles, and full-bodied cheeses.
When it comes to spicy foods like Thai and Indian curries, the best option is to keep the chilli level under check, otherwise it will overpower the subtleties of the Sparkling. A sweeter style, like a demi-sec is another good choice.
Try Lyndey Milan’s Smoked Salmon Souffles for a delicious pairing with your sparkling wine.
It’s best to stick to sweet with sweet, so go for a demi-sec style, or a sweeter Sparkling Rosé.
Pair your Sparkling with Seasonal Fruit with Vincotto and Créme Fraîche for another delicious match.