Drinks News

Sparkling gems

Not all that sparkles is Champagne. Some very fine fizz is made beyond the borders of the reigning bubbles region. Max Allen picks 16 of the best bottles.

By Max Allen
Make no mistake: all of us here at Gourmet Traveller adore a glass or three of Champagne. Especially if it's been grown and made by one of the Champagne region's best artisan producers. But you don't have to drink The Real Thing from Champagne if you want to drink delicious sparkling wine.
From Italy to California to the south island of New Zealand and even the UK, vignerons all over the world have perfected a staggering array of methods for enlivening their wine with carbon dioxide. And right now, lovers of non-Champagne bubbly in Australia are absolutely spoilt for choice. The proliferation of importers and increasingly adventurous local producers means an enormous diversity of sparkling wine styles are available in our bottle shops, on our restaurant lists and direct from cellar doors around the country.
Here, then, are 16 of the best: the most interesting, the most eye-opening, the most delicious sparkling wines you can buy. And not one of them is from Champagne.
1 2011 Dal Zotto L'Immigrante Prosecco, $36
Here is the latest vintage of the top sparkling wine from the Dal Zotto family, King Valley pioneers of the prosecco grape in Australia. Prosecco produces such a different style of fizz to chardonnay or pinot, it even looks different, with a pale, almost water-white colour and lively mousse. And it's so fruity - white peaches - drying off to a refreshing finish.
2 2002 Radenti Chardonnay Pinot Noir, $55
Claudio Radenti is quietly producing one of Australia's finest pinot noir-chardonnay sparkling wines at his Freycinet winery on Tasmania's east coast. This bottling spends more than eight years in the cellar on its lees before being disgorged - patient ageing that adds precision, length and intensity along the tongue to the wine's subtle flavours of toast and grilled nuts.
3 2012 Fairbank Ancestral Sparkling Rosé, $30
This pétillant naturel or pet-nat wine - bottled part-way through fermentation, capturing all the natural fizz - is the palest of pink colours. It's a little cloudy, very dry with a lean, savoury texture that's screaming out for food, perhaps some crumbly fresh cheese from the winery's neighbouring Holy Goat dairy south of Bendigo.
4 2008 Castagna Sparkling Genesis, $75
Julian Castagna, that dead-serious advocate of biodynamics and terroir, has turned some of his Beechworth vineyard's top shiraz into a dead-set legendary sparkling red. Two versions are available, both are great: one disgorged after two years on lees that's spicy and brambly, one disgorged after four years that's darker in character, more sinewy, less about grape, more about place.
5 2012 Paolo Saracco Moscato 375ml, $22 for 375ml
Oh, wow. You think you know what moscato should taste like - sherbetty, fresh, fun - and then you try this, from one of the leading exponents of the style, and you realise how amazingly complex and vibrantly sweet sparkling wine can be. There is just so much lively, perfumed grapy fruit in here: you feel like it's all clambouring over itself to get out of the glass and into your mouth.
6 Costadilà Prosecco, $42
About as far from the vast sea of insipid commercial prosecco produced each year in Italy's north-east as it's possible to get, this one is made from a single, high-altitude vineyard and bottled without disgorging (in clear glass, to emphasise rather than hide the leesy cloudiness). It's a complex, nutty, slightly - and deliciously - sour, yeasty apéritif-style sparkling that's crying out for cheesy finger food.
7 2012 Paltrinieri Radice Lambrusco di Sorbara, $33
Here's another one to upset preconceptions. Forget the idea of Lambrusco as super-sweet purple fizzy plonk. This is only pale bronzey-pink in colour, slightly cloudy and very dry. It has complex flavours of rosehip, ripe apple and wild strawberry, and then a wonderfully tart, savoury finish that makes you want to tear a hunk off a crusty loaf, slice some salami and take the rest of the day off.
8 2006 Feudi di San Gregorio Aglianico Metodo Classico Dubl Rosé, $65
This wine is such a surprise. It comes from Italy's hot south, it's made from the notoriously tannic, gruff red grape aglianico, and yet - thanks in part to the winemaking collaboration with Champagne legend Anselme Selosse - it is exquisitely refined, subtle and delicate. On a par with the best of the finer, paler rosés in Champagne.
9 2010 Plageoles Mauzac Nature, $43
The Plageoles family are passionate defenders of local grapes in the region of Gaillac, in France's south-west; grapes such as mauzac, which they use to make this wonderfully satisfying, tangy sparkling wine. There's a pinot gris-like spiciness and peachy ripeness to the fruit flavour, offset by a sake-like, rice-water savoury quality. Really intriguing fizz.
10 2010 Domaine Vincent Carême Vouvray l'Ancestrale, $39
This super-gorgeous sparkling chenin blanc comes from limestone-rich soils on the banks of the Loire River and is another wine made using the ancestrale method, where the wine finishes its fermentation in the bottle. It's a beautiful amalgam of typical chenin apple flavour - like fluffy baked Granny Smith - and powdery, chalky texture. So refreshing.
11 2012 Bordelet Poiré Granit, $49
Okay, it's not wine, it's poiré - the French name for pear cider. But quite a few of our top restaurants are pouring it by the glass as though it were a top demi-sec Champagne because it's stunning. Made from the fruit of 300-year-old Normandy pear trees, it starts with a rich, almost caramelised beurré Bosc flavour, then sharpens to a fine, crisp, juicy finish.
12 2010 Ridgeview Bloomsbury, $57
One sip of this superb sparkling grown in the chalky South Downs in Sussex conjures summer garden parties, or a bracing walk along the prom: the wine is pale and fine, with very delicate aromas of lemon and hay, dry and crisp in the mouth with a powdery, fresh green-apple bite. Bring on the cucumber sandwiches and potted shrimp.
13 2007 Agustí Torelló Mata 'Kripta' Gran Reserva Cava, $150
You know you've stepped through the looking glass when a Spanish cava is the most expensive bottle in a non-Champagne sparkling wine tasting. But what a bottle! And what a wine: it has the most developed and mature flavours of any of the bubblies here - a slightly Sherry-like, nutty, tangy complexity that makes you hunger for deep-fried salt cod croquettes.
14 2007 Quartz Reef Methode Traditionelle, $57
As well as producing some of Central Otago's - and New Zealand's - finest red wines from pinot noir, Rudi Bauer also blends some of his pinot with chardonnay and fizzes it up. The result is a wine with lovely strawberry and brioche mouth perfume and a crisp, juicy quality that brings to mind fresh fish dishes like ceviche with lime and coconut.
15 Strohmeier Rosé Schilcher Sekt, $52
Wild by name, wild by nature. This fantastically complex and richly savoury sparkling wine is made from the rare wildbacher grape, grown in a biodynamic vineyard in Styria, southern Austria. It's been produced without sulphur dioxide additions (the C02 keeps the wine fresh), and it has a gorgeous full, floral perfume and creamy texture that matches smoked ham beautifully.
16 2008 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs, $59.95
An historic wine, this sparkling chardonnay has been made at Schramsberg's north coast winery since 1965 and was the fizz at Nixon's famous Toast to Peace dinner in Beijing in 1972. It's easy to see the appeal: in classic blanc de blancs fashion, it's pale in colour, delicate in aroma and has a fantastic lemony, chalky quality in the mouth. Very refined and stylish - befitting presidential occasions.