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Murray Almond's "From the Left Island"

How about a Sparkling Red this Festive Season
© Murray Almond
(Photos © Sue Courtney)
20 December 2001

Around about now food and wine lovers around the globe will be deep into the cookery books planning the all-important Christmas meal, either lunch or dinner, and on or around Christmas Day. The traditional Christmas fair, even among those in the Southern Hemisphere who may sweat through the summer months, is Roast Turkey with all the trimmings.

Sparkling Red Wine Those of us on the Left Island have long had the ideal match for roast Turkey, a flute filled with a good Sparkling Red, the 'Red' being more than likely being Sparkling shiraz.

Sparkling Shiraz in Australia dates back over 100 years, carrying the stylised name "Sparkling Burgundy" up until the late 1980's. Sparkling Shiraz almost died out as a style a few years back, with only Seppelt and a handful of other producers bottling the style. Seppelt's signalled it's intent to delete the style, and in the ensuing wave of nostalgia, the wine buying public took another look at the style and its rebirth began. Nowadays there are new Sparkling Reds coming onto the market all the time.

The biggest producer of Sparkling Red in Australia is Seppelt, who at Great Western produces the Great Western Original Sparkling Shiraz priced around the $16 mark, and the benchmark Show Sparkling Shiraz, which has extended oak aging of the base wine, extended time 'on lees' and then bottle maturation prior to release. The current released vintage is the 1990 which is selling for around $60, which is great value for the quality of wine produced. Sparkling Reds now are available in all price brackets, with some labels available from around $10. In my opinion the cheaper labels are quite coarse drinking, and I generally will refuse a second glass, which is quite something for me. Shiraz is predominant Grape variety seen, Australian wineries are also producing Sparkling Durif, Sparkling Cabernet, Sparkling Merlot, and various blends include a Pinot Noir/Shiraz coming from Domain Chandon in the Yarra Valley.

However send more money, say from $18 or more, and you get a vastly better drink, showing great complexity, velvety mouthfilling characters and a great long finish. Many well also amply reward bottle aging, which integrates the flavours while increasing the complexity of the wine. I had the privilege of drinking a 1965 Seppelt Sparkling 'Burgundy' recently which was still showing varietal fruit and with a gentle fizz and wonderful underlying complex old characters. My current favourite Sparkling Reds are

  • Rockford Black Shiraz
  • Primo Estate 'Joseph' Sparkling Red
  • Seppelt Show Sparkling Shiraz
  • E&E Sparkling Shiraz
  • Leasingham Classic Clare Sparkling Shiraz
  • Charles Melton Sparkling Red

Sparkling Reds should be served chilled, but not as much as for Champagne, about Chardonnay serving temperature is good. Too cold will shut down the wonderful aromas of the wine. A champagne flute is the best glass for this style of wine.

The Sparkling reds come in a number of styles; these tasting notes from a recent tasting of Sparkling Reds provide some insight into the range, and also the joy of the great Sparkling Red.

1999 "Chainsaw", Tim Knappstein Clare valley, South Australia
Dark red colour with a vigorous fine bead. Nice ripe berry with a touch of dried plum characters on the nose. Nice lifted characters on the palate with quite a tannin kick in the back palate before a good long finish. Didn't really taste of a true Shiraz but has a very nice style to it. Very good drinking for $22.00. This is a brand new wine to the market, already with a colourful history. The back label notes Chainsaw shiraz is the product of an economic mistake. The vines, planted in 1969, produced wonderfully full-flavoured dry red up until the 1980's when they were brutalised with chainsaws, and had Chardonnay grafted on Shiraz was a difficult variety to sell at the time. In 1996, these same Shiraz vines were again attacked with chainsaws, this time returning them to their former glory. Fruit was then picked from these rejuvenated vines in 1998 and in 1999 a small parcel was used to create the first Sparkling Shiraz. The precious fruit was hand picked, destemmed, crushed and fermented on skins for 2 weeks before barrel aging in French Oak Barriques. The wine was then tiraged and fermented in this bottle, before disgorging in October 2001.

1998 Majella Sparkling Shiraz Coonawarra, South Australia
This wine tasted quite a deal older than the Chainsaw, with dusty shiraz aromas with older complexity coming through on the palate. The acid was slightly harsh on the back palate, but gave every indication of provide ample reward for a few years in the cellar. At $30 possibly the best sparkling red coming out of Coonawarra.

1997 Auldstone Sparkling Shiraz Taminick/Glenrowan, North East Victoria
This wine has a lively bead, more fruit-forward on the nose than others; albeit with great style. The palate is quite lifted with young, quite aggressive fruit. It cries out for bottle aging and will be an excellent wine in the future. A little known gem at $22.

Morris Shiraz Durif NV Rutherglen, North East Victoria
Nice complex nose of dark berry, yeast and a hint of spice. The palate has medium weight and slighter bitter at the finish. A wine that's slightly lacking in fruit for the tannin present in the wine. Note really my style for about $18.

Rockford Black Shiraz, 1999 disgorgement Barossa Valley
Low intense nose of high quality shiraz fruit. A palate of magnificent balance; full bodied without being aggressive, dark plum, blackberry and. Lovely backbone before a very long finish. Obviously a premium wine. This is probably the most approachable young Rockford Black I've had, typically they require extended time in the cellar to soften enough to drink. This is a great wine now and will also develop beautifully over time. It spent 3 years in oak before a further year on yeast lees and sells at $70 or more and it's worth it.

1985 Seppelt Show Sparkling Shiraz Great Western, Victoria
Classical cassis nose with underlying aged Shiraz. The palate carries he developed fruit characters with a hint of licorice and chocolate, good balanced acid and a good fine tannin backbone before a great long finish. The palate had a lifted characters that may be due to a touch of volatile acidity. Still with plenty of time ahead of it.

1991 Seppelt Show Sparkling Shiraz Great Western, Victoria
The wine had a brick red colour, a classic nose of quiet intensity that provided a stunning mouthfeel. Beautiful velvety shiraz characters, with a hint of fresh berry and old leather and great style. The wine has beautiful balance, incredibly fine tannins before a brilliantly long finish. The wine is beautiful now and will also developed further complexity with careful cellaring. This wine is not yet released onto the retail market, but is highly recommended and worth seeking out when it's released. If it's around $65 it's a bargain.

© Murray Almond
20 December 2001

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