Australian wine has won global renown for range of wine styles since its founding in the 18th century. From fortifieds through to the early, blockbuster table wines from Australia's classic regions and on to today's refined, elegant styles from emerging, often cool climate areas, Australian wine has come, changed and conquered. There has, however, traditionally been one area of the wine market where Australian wine has been, if not absent, then less conspicuously successful as it has been in other styles: sparkling wine. In common with much of the Australian wine scene though, that is changing and Australian fizz is taking it's place amongst sparkling wine's elite
Australian sparkling wine and the birth of cool
To the layman Australia's relative deficit in terms of sparkling wine excellence may seem a little odd. Why hasn't a nation which has given the world such an array of sublime wines in so many styles done the same with fizz? Is it a lack of domestic demand, the foundation of almost all wine markets? Unlikely: according to Wine Intelligence's 2015 Market Report, Australia has the 10th largest fizz market in the world. Could it be the lack of winemaking expertise then? Again this is doubtful. Australia's winemakers are famous globe trotters and ones such as Kate Laurie have not only been trained in Champagne but have returned there to advise winemakers on making sparkling wines as their traditionally cool climate region warms. All great sparkling wines hail from a cool climate as acidity is key. Champagne has historically been positively marginal in its ability to ripen black grapes and were it not for its chalky soils the area would be better known for it's somewhat over-racy still red and whites and its litany of military conflicts. For a long time such marginal sites were not thought to be something that sun-soaked Australia had to offer, but as winemakers, notably those of the artisan movement, have sought out cooler sites and 'new' regions such as Tasmania have come on-stream so seismic shifts have been occurring in Australian wine. Owing to their altitude and aspect and the relative difficulty of these sites - especially for producing the old-style behemoth wines - many were shunned historically. But with a growing interest in crafting Australian wines that were based on elegance and nuance rather than power and exuberance from vines such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay so cool climate sites came into vogue. The fruit from these exciting new areas has unlocked the door to Australia's sparkling potential and wines from regions including Adelaide Hills, Tasmania and Mornington Peninsula offer wines that are challenging the best in the world. Indeed, in the 2016 World Sparking Wine Championships, Australia won 9 Gold Medals and 9 Silver Medals, underlining its position as a world-class producer.
Australian sparkling wine stars
Despite the relative youth of this sector, superstar estates are already starting to emerge. From Tasmania, one of the darlings of the Australian fizz industry, there is Ed Carr's House of Arras whose Gold Medal winning wines are borne of fruit drawn from across the island and which enjoy between 3 and 10 years' ageing before being released. Adelaide Hills' Deviation Road, brainchild of husband and wife team Kate and Hamish Laurie, are heavily influenced by Kate's time in Champagne and exude elegance, purity and complexity. Moet (of Moet & Chandon fame) have been making good quality sparkling wine in Australia for a number of years now, but with their Chandon Brut Reserve, a Yarra Valley based wine, they have upped their game to Gold Medal winning standards. Full, ripe and complex, it has that typical Moet weight yet is imbued with balancing acidity thanks to the cool climate in which the grapes were grown.
Sparkling wine: a £1bn opportunity
That Australia is making such a success of sparkling wine is not just a good news story for wine lovers; it has significant commercial potential too. In the UK the sparkling wine market is now worth over £1bn according to the Drinks Business, is a sector that is seeing fantastic growth year-on-year of around 20% and has quadrupled in size since 2011. The market is also maturing and as consumers look to more premium wines so the margins become more attractive too. Champagne prices have steadily risen in the UK so that in 2015 the average price, according to the Wine Spirit Trade Association stood at £26.17 which, given many Australian sparklers can match them for quality at a much lower price, offers a real opportunity to both the on and off-trades.
Australian sparkling wine - the next big thing?
With demand on the rise, winemakers gaining ever deeper knowledge of suitable cool climate sites and their stocks of reserve wines growing and maturing with each vintage, the outlook for Australian sparkling wine is indeed bright. And as Kate Laurie discovered when she returned to Champagne, it may not just be consumers who are beating a path to Australia's sparkling wine door, but producers too...
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