Australia's top sparkling winemaker, Ed Carr, is looking anxiously at the calendar in the run-up to Christmas.
Of the 25 sparklings he makes for the Accolade group - formerly Constellation, formerly the Hardy Wine Company - Carr is responsible for seriously high-end bubbles, the kind taking on the French at the cash register this festive season.
Will Australian drinkers stand by the home team? Carr hopes for a little patriotism but he's realistic. With the price of quality champagne continuing as low as $40 and $50 a bottle, it's another tough year for Australian sparkling makers.
Carr, who counts Taittinger Blanc de Blancs and Pol Roger's Winston Churchill among his favourite champagnes, admits the French are turning out consistent quality. As a maker of Australia's most expensive sparkling, the House of Arras E.J. Carr 2000, at $190 a bottle, his wine will be fighting the likes of Veuve Clicquot 2004 rose´ and Larmandier-Bernier 2004 Cramant Grand Cru for our affections. Ten years on lees, the E.J. Carr is the most complex Australian sparkling wine made, dense and exotic, but can it win us over?
The Australians …
■Abel's Tempest Tasmania 2009 Chardonnay Pinot Noir ($32)
Tempest 2009 is all about youth and freshness, with crunchy apples and fruit blossom on the nose and a strong chardonnay-driven citrus palate. Clean purity of cool-climate fruit is a feature.
■Brown Brothers Non-Vintage Brut ($23)
This classic ''Champagne'' blend - pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot meunier - with fruit from the high, cool King Valley, rates among Australia's best non-vintage styles. It has the hallmarks of quality: lifted toastiness on the nose with fresh pears and citrus, following through with complex toast, mushroom and nougat.
■Domaine Chandon Brut Rose Non-Vintage ($31)
Charming, lightly fruity wine that sings: red fruits, spring blossom and a dusty nose followed by sustained raspberry-gelato flavour intensity and striking acidity.
■Dominique Portet Non-Vintage Brut Rose ($28)
Looks pretty and smells divine, like a bowl of wild strawberries and cream. Bright acidity drives the wine, a blend of 60 per cent pinot noir and 40 per cent chardonnay.
■House of Arras Grand Vintage 2003 ($75)
Powerful, expressive sparkling that captures the freshness of apples and citrus, then builds through the creamy palate of savoury fruit peel, mushroom and buttered toast.
■Jacob's Creek Trilogy ($23)
All-round and reliable, Trilogy ticks all the boxes. It is a blend of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier. The palate is dry, with enough mushroom and toasty complexity to add interest. Acidity is clean and fresh.
■Yarrabank 2006 Cuvee ($38)
The Yarrabank searches for a subtlety not usually associated with Australian sparklings. A fine-textured wine of bright, almost austere, fruit flavours and riveting freshness.
For something less classic and more left-field, compare Cumulus Wines' ''Rolling'' Central Ranges sparkling - and savoury - pinot grigio against the lightly spiced pear flavours of the Great Wave sparkling pinot grigio from the Adelaide Hills (contact Sam Scott, sam@
scottwinemaking.com.au); or the fruit-tingle vibrancy of Brown Brothers prosecco versus Dal Zotto's fine Pucino prosecco.
… versus the French
■Larmandier-Bernier Blanc de Blancs Vertus Non-Vintage ($85)
A biodynamic champagne maker of class, Larmandier-Bernier gets better with each year. The non-vintage is a good place to become acquainted with the house style - appley crisp, youthful and light in the mouth - before graduating to the magnificent 2005 Cramant Grand Cru.
■Pascal Doquet Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Non-Vintage ($95)
Pascal Doquet, one of the new breed of organic champagne grower-makers, is building a strong reputation in Australia based on elegant wines such as this. Fresh, floral honeysuckle on the nose is nicely contrasted on the palate with spice, lemon rind, orange-blossom, biscuit and minerals.
■Philipponnat Reserve Rosé´´ ($110)
An example of why rosés will be big this festive season, Philipponnat's style is lean and tight, coral in the glass and all bright and lively with tangy cherry-red fruits. Disgorged in January and super-fresh.
■Pol Roger Brut Non-Vintage ($80)
Lemon, lantana, honeysuckle - it's a dramatically floral and aromatic introduction to this performer. Honey carries through on the palate.
■Ruinart Non-Vintage Blanc de Blancs ($130)
Ruinart is known almost as much for its elegant bottle as for its ''R'' rosé but its blanc de blancs - 100 per cent chardonnay - is rapidly gaining ground. A rich, intricate style, its high minerality provides the structure from which to hang substantial flavour: citrus, smoked oyster and a mealy richness.
Agent: Moet Hennessy
■Taittinger Brut Reserve Non-Vintage ($85)
One of the most exciting and consistent champagne makers today. Taittinger's fault-free range starts with non-vintage, a house style of both fineness and complexity.
Agent: McWilliam's Wines
■Veuve Clicquot 2004 Rosé ($148)
With flesh, structure and beauty but also attitude, there is nothing sweet or retiring about this vintage rosé. It has strawberries and red fruits to the fore, an intriguing smokiness and racing acidity and freshness.
Agent: Moet Hennessy
And, if you can hunt them down, try the contrasting rosé styles of Rene Geoffroy's bright cherry, creamy Rosé de Saignee and the reserved, super-lean Chartogne-Taillet Le Rosé Brut (both from Eurocentric Wine Imports, sales@eurocentric wine.com.au), the dusty lemon features of the Delamotte Brut Non-Vintage (Luxury Beverage Group Imports, info@luxurybeverages .com.au) and the apple, nutty complexity of Drappier Millesime Exception 2002 (Pinot Now, inquiries @pinotnow.com.au).
*Prices are approximate.