By Nicki Bourlioufas
Australians love their wine and are ready to splurge on bubbly. Forget the red wine or VB this Christmas, sparkling is the pick, and often pink, whether imported or locally made. Heading into Christmas, more and more corks will be popped, celebrating the end of a difficult year and hopes for the new one.
The share market is booming, or at least it has been, we’re almost fully vaccinated and fully employed and we’re spending on the good things in life, without overseas travel until recently ruled out. This summer, as Australia’s biggest city Sydney celebrates the holiday season, post lockdown, we’re likely to hear corks pop as people celebrate the simple joy of being free to move around (at least for now). The Covid pandemic has disrupted sparkling wine consumption worldwide, with global volumes falling by almost 5% in 2020, according to IWSR data.
But now, in Australia at least, drinkers are back to celebrating together in most Australian cities.
The good news is that Champagne imported from France is no longer as expensive as it was, and we can also get a good local drop. The quality of Australian sparkling wines has continued to improve over the years, with many premium sparkling wines now able to rival the world’s best. Australian consumers too are prepared to pay a price premium for homegrown bubbles.
If you like the French drop and don’t want to spend more than $30, ALDI’s Monsigny Brut Champagne NV ($22.99) and the Monsigny Premier Cru Champagne ($29.99) and great alternatives to more expensive labels; the Premier Cru is particularly good, in terms of flavour and length with a long finish, for a small price.
For even less you can get enjoy Cava, or Spanish sparkling wine which is bottle fermented in the traditional method. The Gran Camp Viejo Cava is bottle fermented in the traditional method and features good mouthfeel and freshness and is good value for around $20 a bottle, but big on flavour.
For something different, the Mezzacorona Sparkling Rose ($25), and Mezzacorona Glacial Italian Sparkling ($25), from Italy’s Dolomites region, and Feudo Arancio Rosato ($20) are nice alternatives to Prosecco, which has exploded in popularity in recent years, but without necessarily offering the flavour of a bottle-fermented wine. The Glacial wine is especially good, being a fresh and intense fruit flavoured blend of blend of 60% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Bianco and 10% Muller Thurgau.
If you want a local drop, the House of Arras sparkling brand features several bottle-fermented sparkling wines with character and flavour, with the non-vintage (NV) Premium Cuvée available for around $25. However, prices rise quickly after you get into the Arras vintage wines, but you do get quality. The brand is overseen by Ed Carr, one of Australia’s best sparkling wine makers. Another local, Croser, has long been a favourite, with a NV sparkling white made with premium Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Adelaide Hills. But avoid the NV Rosé. Despite being made with 100% Pinot Noir, it tastes like a commercial wine, without finesse, but still retails for around $30.
The Jacob’s Creek Reserve Chardonnay Pinot Noir is good value at around $15 a bottle, and bottle fermented. The Jacob 2017 Vintage, a cool climate sparkling made from a blend of the traditional Champagne grapes of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier grapes is also great value at around $30 a bottle, crisp and refreshing with a biscuity character.
Winemakers too are meeting the demand with new products, including ‘low-calorie’ bubbles, helping to combat bulging waistlines. Lindeman’s Early Harvest Sparkling wine, for example, is lighter in alcohol and lower in calories, so you can enjoy a nice glass of sparkling white wine without blowing your calorie count. But don’t expect the sharp crisp biscuit flavours of Champagne or bottle-fermented sparkling wine.
Younger drinkers lead the charge, even men
According to research house Wine intelligence, since 2016, sparkling wine drinkers over the age of 55 have been leaving the sparkling wine category or reducing their consumption, at least in the US, Canada, UK and Australia. This trend has been accelerated through Covid, with many older consumers reluctant to socialise and visit restaurants and bar or go on holiday to a resort, the opportunity to drink sparkling wine has diminished.
Instead, the growth in the sparkling category in the past few years – and which has accelerated in the past 12 months is coming primarily from the urban affluent consumer aged under 45 – principally the Millennials and LDA Gen-Z cohorts. “In contrast to the traditional fizz-drinker stereotype, these recruits are more likely to be male than female,” according to a report from Wine Intelligence.
Indeed, bubbly is emerging as the modern man’s drink of choice. A survey by World Wine Watch conducted from September to December 2020 reveals one in three male respondents said they don’t feel less ‘manly’ drinking bubbles in front of other men, though most (70%) only drink sparkling wine in the company of a woman – and very few in bed like James Bond. The handsome British spy has also long been a lover of Bollinger. In celebration of the new James Bond film, No Time to Die, Champagne Bollinger, the official champagne of 007 for four decades, has unveiled a Special Cuvée 007 Limited Edition.
Champagne Bollinger is featured in almost every Bond movie since Live And Let Die. The literary James Bond first encounters Bollinger in the book Diamonds Are Forever, when Tiffany Case sends a quarter-bottle to his cabin on the Queen Elizabeth.
But Dom Pérignon Champagne too has appeared in several James Bond movies and one Ian Fleming novel. The literary James Bond drinks Dom Pérignon in the novel Moonraker, when he has two bottles of the Dom Pérignon ’46, suggested to Bond by the wine-waiter at Blades during the dinner with M.
Need to know how to pronounce French Champagne names? Check out World Wine Watch’s Champagne pronunciation guide. In French, ‘ge’ in French sounds like ‘j’ and ‘in’ sounds like the ‘an’ in Anne. At the end, you say ‘ay’ rather than ‘er’ (as you would with Taittinger o Pol Rojer). For a history of 007 ad Bollinger, check out this short video out.