Australia's sparkling wines
Session 11 of the Landmark Australia Tutorial

Tony Jordan, Ed Carr and Andrew Caillard

It’s fair to say that Aussie sparkling wine doesn’t get a lot of attention internationally. But, as with other areas of Australia’s fine wine offering, quality has risen of late as better sites have been chosen for growing sparkling grapes.

This sparkling wine tasting was presented by two undisputed experts – Tony Jordan and Ed Carr. Both have quite different styles, and it showed in the wines they’d made and which were included in this tasting.

‘Our popular premium end can’t compete with Cava,’ says Tony Jordan, although he highlights one exception: Jacob’s Creek, which sells over half a million cases in the UK, and is a good example of a sparkling wine that’s a brand extension from still wine to bubbles.

In the 1970s Australia made good clean sparkling wines from a range of varieties, largely by the transfer process. These were good wines, but lacked finesse and flavour complexity. By the 1990s these labels had become low priced.

Since then there has been quite a bit of progress. ‘Our best bubbles are made from vineyards in our cooler areas,’ explains Ed Carr. ‘We can get similar climate by numbers to Champagne, but the style of wines is very different.’

For example, the growing season heat degree day climate summation in Reims is 1000 (for Bordeaux it is 1400 and Montpellier is 1530). Australia has upper Yarra at 1000, Macedon at 950, Tamar (Tasmania) at 1150, Tumbarumba at 1100, and Piccadilly (Adelaide Hills) at 1200 (for comparison, the average Australian warm climate region is 1750).

‘We have tried all sorts of things, but cool climate is definitely necessary,’ says Jordan. ‘You end up with the coldest vineyard you can find.’ He adds that moderate cropping levels work best, and that you don’t want excessively high crops. He will pick at higher crop levels than still wine makers. ‘In Champagne, big crops work because you don’t want too much fruit concentration.’ Picking dates in the cool climate regions can be as late as May or June. ‘You want to pick grapes without greenness, when the fruit moves into the first stages of maturity.’

Currently, 30% of Australian sparkling wines are made by bottle fermentation (traditional method) and 70% by the transfer method. The latter is not a quality compromise, according to Carr.   

The choice of whether or not to use oak is very much a stylistic one. Ed Carr uses it; Tony Jordan doesn’t.

Malolactic fermentation is also a style tool. Carr uses malolactic for all his wines but then may add acid, seeing malo primarily as a style choice and not an acid reduction step. Cold climate grapes may have 4–6 g of malic acid; cool climate grapes could have 3 g.

One of the keys to making top quality sparkling wines is the use of small amounts of reserve wine in the blend. Currently, access to good reserve wines can be an issue. ‘With the rapid evolution of quality [in Australian sparkling wine] it will take some time for the reserve wines to catch up,’ says Carr.

Finally, Carr has some interesting views on closures. ‘Cork is very much the final stage of ageing a sparkling wine. It’s a stylistic choice,’ he says. ‘It is not just the effect of oxygen: there are compounds in the cork that can affect the wine. We live with the variability because the cork improves the wine.’


2005 Domaine Chandon Z*D Vintage Blanc de Blancs Chardonnay, Yarra Valley
Taut, subtly toasty nose with some herbiness. Crisp, lean palate with lovely taut citrus and lemon character. Savoury style. 89/100

2004 Yarra Burn Blanc de Blancs Chardonnay, Yarra Valley
Taut, fresh nose is a little neutral. The palate is super-fresh and lemony with high acidity. Nice freshness and a bit of herby complexity. Fine, light and elegant. 89/100

2004 Josef Chromy Wines Pinot Noir/Chardonnay, Tasmania
Broad, intense, toasty nose with some vanilla and bread notes. Very forward and quite complex. Warm. Bold, complex palate with rich, mouthfilling toasty flavours. Maybe a tiny bit clumsy, but delicious. 91/100

2004 Brown Brothers Patricia Pinot Noir/Chardonnay/Pinot Meunier, King Valley
Full yellow colour. Very sweet, intense, grapey, toasty nose. The palate is rich and full with a grapey, almost Gewürztraminer-like character. Seductive, rich, over-the-top style. 87/100

2003 House of Arras, Arras 'Grand Vintage', Chardonnay/Pinot Noir, Tasmania
Full yellow colour. Muted nose. Powerful and intense, almost wine-like with a richly fruited palate. Bold, quite savoury and mouthfilling. Intense. 92/100

2002 Domaine Chandon Vintage Brut Late Disgorged Chardonnay/ Pinot Noir/Pinot Meunier, Yarra Valley
Rich and creamy with subtle toast notes on the nose. Some fruit sweetness. The palate is tight with lovely herby complexity. Broad, complex, intensely flavoured palate. Elegant and youthful. 93/100

2001 Jansz Late Disgorged Chardonnay/Pinot Noir, Tasmania
Fresh, taut, full herby nose with focused savoury citrus fruit. Really interesting. The palate is complex and full flavoured with a herby edge to the bright fruit. Distinctive, open, herby notes here. Strongly savoury with fresh acidity. 90/100

2000 Hardys Sir James Tumbarumba Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, Tumbarumba
Rich, warm toasty nose with some vanilla notes. The palate is complex and fruity with oak notes. It’s quite wine-like with rich fruit and great balance. 92/100

1998 Petaluma Croser Proprietor’s Reserve Pinot Noir/Chardonnay, Adelaide Hills
Rich, creamy, subtly toasty nose with some sweetness and a bit of vomit character. The palate shows herby evolution and is quite taut with nice depth of fruity flavor. Savoury and complex, in a distinctive style. 91/100

1998 House of Arras, Arras Late Disgorged, Chardonnay/Pinot Noir, Tasmania
Very open, enticing fruity nose with grapes and citrus. The palate is amazingly bright and fruity with a grapy richness. Seductive and delicious. 90/100

NV Hanging Rock Cuvee VIII Macedon Late Disgorged Pinot Noir/Chardonnay, Macedon Ranges
Made in a solera system. Deep yellow colour. Intense, rich and warm with toasty herbal notes on the nose. The palate is intense and herbal with some greenness and rich melon characters. Hint of tinned pea character too. 87/100

MV Bay of Fires Rosé Pinot Noir/Chardonnay, Tasmania
Lovely pale salmon colour. Focused ripe strawberry fruit with lovely elegance and balance. 90/100

2005 Domaine Chandon Brut Rosé, Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley
Pale salmon colour. Taut and subtly herbal with nice fruit on the nose. The palate is savoury, taut, complex and herby with a bit of grip. Nicely put together. 91/100

1994 Seppelt Show Sparkling Shiraz, Grampians
28 g/l residual sugar here. Very sweet, lush, attractive berry fruit nose. Distinctive and slightly meaty. The palate is complex, sweet and smooth with meat, pepper and spice notes as well as lots of sweetness. Almost too sweet? 89/100

Landmark Australia
Visiting the Australian Wine Research Institute
Session 1 - Regional Classics
Session 2 - Riesling 
Session 3 - Shiraz and Blends
Session 4 - Historical Perspective
Session 5 - Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Blends
Session 6 - Cabernet Sauvignon and Blends
Session 7 - An Alternative View
Session 8 - Chardonnay
Session 9 - Pinot Noir
Session 10 - Blending the rules
Session 11 - Sparkling
Session 12 - Fortified

Wines tasted 06/09  
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