Sensational sparklers

Huon Hooke shares his observations from his most recent sparkling and Champagne tasting. (Photo: via Shutterstock)

The best Australian sparkling wines are world-competitive and often extraordinary value for money.

Compare these prices and ratings:

I have a love-hate relationship with these wines. Some I can enjoy, others not.

You might disagree on scores and style preferences, but I’d wager not by much. The point is that the Brown Brothers wine is an amazing buy. Why is it so much cheaper? It is three years younger, for sure, but the main reason has to be the fashionability of having Champagne on the label, versus a company noted for prosecco, pinot grigio and moscato, which has a poor profile for high-quality méthode traditionelle.

Both are great wines, it goes without saying. And it’s not the first time 2011, the dreadful wet season which was terrible for reds almost everywhere, has yielded a stunning bubbly. (There are many in Tasmania, too.)

Some other observations from my most recent sparkling and Champagne tasting.

There’s a new range of Champagnes from Alexandre Bonnet, imported by Perth importer Fine Wine Wholesalers. Interesting wines, and not too exxy, and the NV Harmonie de Blancs Brut is interesting for being a 50:50 chardonnay pinot blanc blend. The house is based in the Riceys area of the Côte des Bar, southern Champagne, an area noted for pinot noir and rosé styles, so it’s no surprise they also do a pretty smart rosé.

The other group of Champagnes I’ve reviewed come from a quirky house that I’ve reviewed before, Vadin-Plateau, imported by Sydney-based Decante This (sic). I say quirky because these are zero dosage Champagnes and an excellent example of how the sugar in the dosage (or expedition liqueur) binds acetaldehyde. Or more accurately, how absence of sugar fails to bind aldehydes. These wines often smell overtly sherry-like (by sherry I mean flor sherry, in which acetaldehyde is the main aroma component).

They also have a kinship with Jura Vin Jaune and other sous-voile wines, which are aged under a film or flor yeast.

If you like your Champagne to smell like sherry, you might like these.

I’m no chemist, but I do know that sulfur dioxide binds aldehydes (so wines no longer smell aldehydic after SO2 has been added). Sugar has a similar propensity. If you combine low or no SO2 addition after disgorgement with no sugar in the liqueur d’expedition, you can end up with an aldehydic Champagne.

This style of Champagne is popular today with those who prize what they see as low-intervention or ‘natural’ winemaking. It’s very Rootstocky, if you get the drift.

I have a love-hate relationship with these wines. Some I can enjoy, others not.

One Champagne I rarely get to taste and which I loved, was the 2009 Joseph Loriot-Pagel Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut, which I purchased from importer Ian Leamon (Champagne Connection) in Bendigo for just AUD $55.

This is my idea of a beautiful Champagne. Of course, it will cost a lot more if you see it on a shop shelf, let alone a restaurant wine list. It had more than seven years on its lees and a normal dosage level: 9 grams per litre!

No aldehyde!

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