What springs to mind at the pop of a bottle? Without a doubt, most of us think “Champagne, yes please”. And while Champagne is, without question, one of the greatest interpretations of sparkling wine, there is a wide world of bubbles out there that are well worth exploring.
Recently I had the privilege of attending Howard Park’s Global Sparkling Tasting, and the day provided a rare opportunity to taste the breadth of variety to be found in the world of fine sparkling wines in one place. Nic Bowen and the team at Howard Park pulled together an interesting and diverse lineup, and while some of these bottles remain nigh on impossible for consumers to source, the below round-up will give a great starting point for your exploration, and some names to look out for when you next travel to one of these wine regions. Alongside Nic, the panel included Aussie sparkling winemaking royalty and winemaker at House of Arras Ed Carr, alongside Western Australia’s own Erin Larkin, who writes and reviews on the global stage for The Wine Advocate.
With 23 wines tasted in total, as well as a few fun dosage vs non-dosage examples, I’m going to break this post into two parts. The world of sparkling wine is a vast one, and hopefully, in the next few minutes of reading, you’ll be inspired to head out and try something new the next time you reach for a bottle of bubbles.
BRACKET 1 - AVANT-GARDE SPARKLING
Avant-garde sparkling wine is where the experimental wines and curveballs sit. Yes, there were several pet nats with varying degrees of character, but this bracket also had a few enjoyable surprises. In Ed’s words, “these wines make a lot of noise”. Whether you are a purist and enjoy the classic sparkling expressions, or you’re a fan of the natural wine movement and alternative winemaking methods, there is certainly a place for wines of this style, and if a wine is delicious then it should always have a place at the table and in the marketplace.
I’ll share my thoughts below:
2021 Ravensworth Riesling Ancestral – Australia
One of Australia’s best examples of the pet nat, or method ancestral method. Nashi pear on the nose, with a crunchy fresh palate. Perhaps a touch thin, but with juicy acidity that creeps up the sides of the mouth. Oodles of texture, with a hint of ripe pineapple giving way to a savoury finish. If I’m going to crack open a bottle of pet nat on a hot summer’s day, this is the type of bottle I’d like to enjoy. 89 points.
NV Follador Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore di Cartizze D.O.C.G. – Italy
A highlight of this bracket and a unique winemaking technique. Grapes are frozen and the juice is extracted as close to the skin as possible. Six months of aging in Charmat tanks provides a creaminess that isn’t the norm for prosecco. Pale lemon in colour with a less pronounced, yet thoroughly enjoyable effervescence. The nose is heady ambrosia, lifted with white florals layered on top of tinned pears and a restrained nuttiness. Ripe apricots and luscious honeyed notes await on the palate. A textural delight, this has length and weight that belies its brightness. 94 points.
2018 Colet-Navazos Extra Brut – Spain
Mid gold and packs a punch with tertiary autolytic notes, and a ripe fruit spectrum. Close your eyes and it’s like walking into a spice bazaar. Cinnamon, clove, and cardamom for a start. Macerated pears, pink lady apples, butterscotch and a distinct flor-type note on the palate. This makes complete sense given that the wine is crafted with a dosage from sherry, it’s aged in sherry barrels, and it has been fermented with a flor yeast. A vibrant and interesting wine – bring it to a dinner party and you’ll have guests stumped. I’m a fan. 93 points.
2018 Benoit Lahaye Jardin de la Grosse Pierre – France
A field blend in a pale shade of copper and a touch of cloudiness. The nose is resplendent with candied nuts, chestnut honey, white florals and a slight note of kerosene. An explosion of pear skin, spice, and nutty autolysis in the mouth finishing with a hint of balsamic. Impressive length and a chalky texture. Pear cider for grownups. 92 points.
2014 Podere Pradarolo Vej Metodo Classiic – Italy
NV Gosset 12 Ans de Cave 4 Minima – France
The oldest champagne house, Gosset was founded in 1584 by Pierre Gosset and while the production quantities have never been sizeable, the quality has been consistently impressive. Only 12,000 bottles of this wine were made: bottles in 2007 and disgorged in 2019, it’s an example of how long lees aging can impact a wine that hasn’t undergone malolactic fermentation. Light gold in colour, the nose opens up with floral honey notes and nougat. This wine is all about autolysis, with flavours of lemon curd, marzipan, fuzzy apple notes and chewy nougat.