A Guide to Australian Sparkling Wine
Entrenched winemaking traditions, whilst important in their own right, can sometimes hinder creativity as producers attempt to fit into regional styles.
12 Jan 2021
by The Blackhearts Crew
Like many other new-world winemaking countries, Australia is experiencing a shift in attitude towards wine. Our presence on the international winemaking stage was defined in the latter half of the 20th century by rich, fruit-forward reds and oak-laden whites – a reputation which is no doubt part of the success story of Australian wine.
While these styles of wine continue to be celebrated (Chardonnay is truly our ride-or-die here at Blackhearts), Australians are beginning to embrace wines from cooler pockets of the country which are built around freshness and subtlety.
A perfect example of this shift is the growth in popularity of Australian Sparkling Wine. Typically made in cooler regions across the world, these styles of wine are incredibly diverse and can be quite tricky to make.
Picking the right bottle of bubbles can sometimes be a bit tricky, with a range of regions emerging across Australia. We’re here to help demystify things for you, so you end up with the perfect fizz for your occasion!
Which styles of sparkling wine are Made in Australia?
One of the benefits of being a comparatively young wine industry is that we have a bit of room to experiment with sparkling wine here in Australia. Entrenched winemaking traditions, whilst important in their own right, can sometimes hinder creativity as producers attempt to fit into regional styles.
Having said that, Australia takes a lot of inspiration and methods from countries such as France or Italy in producing our own sparkling wine. Discounting the mass-produced bubbles which are artificially carbonated (essentially like a SodaStream but with huge tanks of wine), the two most popular styles in Australia are the French ‘Champagne’ style and everyone’s favourite budget bubbles: Prosecco.
Whilst there are a few rules specifying how these styles are to be made, there is a general trend to which grape varieties are used. Australian Prosecco is made with Glera, the grape variety with which it’s made in Italy. French-style sparkling wine, however, can be made with many different varieties, though it is mostly centred around the holy trinity of Champagne varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay.
Why Can’t We Call It Champagne?
So, you’ve browsed the shelves and seen a whole bunch of labels that look pretty good - But what does it all mean? Why don’t they just call it Champagne? And what on earth is ‘Cuvée Brut’?
These are all valid questions, which we’ll have a stab at answering for you.
As with many wine regions outside of Europe, Australia takes inspiration and methods from countries such as France or Italy in producing our own sparkling wine. The trouble is, some of these regions or methods have rules to protect the brand associated with them.
The classic example is Champagne: a protected region in France, Champagne requires a producer to make their wine according to a strict method in order to be able to bottle as ‘Champagne’. In addition to this, it has to be produced within the zone that has been designated for the production of Champagne, in northeast France.
For this reason, we have to get a little creative with names here in Australia. One thing you’ll see in Australia a lot is the words ‘Cuvée Brut’, which is basically our way of sounding French without using the word ‘Champagne’. It translates to ‘dry blend’, which is essentially what a Champagne is: a dry sparkling wine made from a blend of wines from different vintages, which are then re-fermented together in bottle to create the carbonation. Carbonating a wine this way is also called the ‘Traditional Method’ (Méthode Traditionnelle, if you’re feeling fancy), which you might also see on bottles of Australian sparkling wine.
It’s worth noting, however, that Italy has yet to introduce legislation banning the use of the word ‘Prosecco’ in Australia, which is why we are still able to call our own wines as such. Up until quite recently, the grape variety used to make Prosecco was even called Prosecco (it’s now referred to as Glera). There has been a renewed interest in Italy of late to ban the use of the word, but for now we can still swill our Aussie Prosecco without having to refer to it as ‘Vino Frizzante’.
Which Regions Are Best for Australian Sparkling Wine?
So where should I look for these wines, you ask? Well, the key to great sparkling wine is acidity. Cool growing climates are important to help preserve acidity in grapes, so in Australia we’re seeing sparkling wine production mainly from regions in the Southern reaches of Australia, and particularly those with altitude. The following is a list of some of our favourite regions, home to an array of fantastic producers making the fizzy stuff.
Tasmania has the coolest growing conditions in the country, because – well you can probably guess why. In the last ten years, Tasmania has risen to become a powerhouse of sparkling wine production in Australia, garnering an enviable reputation abroad and offering some of the most premium and sought-after bubbly in the country.
Located in the foothills of the Victorian Alps, the King Valley is Australia’s heavy-lifter with the much-loved Italian sparkling wine style, Prosecco. This is where to look if you’re after wines that are pure-fruited and made for carefree enjoyment. There is a growing diversity within the King Valley, however, with a growing number of producers experimenting with different styles and grape varieties to great success!
The Picturesque Adelaide Hills region is home to Australia’s most thriving cool-climate wine region, and is home to a breadth of producers championing a wide range of grape varieties. It’s also home to a thriving minimal intervention wine scene, some of whom have garnered international attention for their Pétillant Naturel styles of sparkling wine (aka ‘Pét Nat’ for all you cool kids out there).
A stone’s throw from Melbourne, The Yarra Valley is a beautiful and diverse wine region with a thriving sparkling wine industry. The widely-known Champagne house Moët & Chandon set up production in the Yarra Valley in 1986, cottoning onto a growing trend of producers realising the potential of the region for Sparkling Wine production. Fast-forward to now, there is a wonderful range of boutique producers in the Valley which offering a range of styles in a range of price points, from everyday bubbles to premium, age-worthy wines
Et voila! There’s a brief introduction to the sparkling wines of our beloved home soils - but as always there’s always more to learn (and many more things to drink), so next time you’re in store just have a chat to our friendly staff and they can assist you in finding the perfect drop!