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Aahhh, the finer things sure are hard to get used to. At least that’s what David Pike is suggesting, as he sips a champers and looks at some of the quality product coming out of Australia.

ONE of the traditions I was introduced to last week was the opening of a bottle of champagne at the end of the harvesting of the white grapes.

Well, I don’t know if it was tradition or just an excuse to open and discover the exquisite delights of one of the wine world’s most respected champagnes. Our end-of-white celebration was marked by the opening of a magnum of Krug Vintage 1988, a completely decadent way to enjoy a Tuesday (or was it a Wednesday) afternoon.

As we sat back enjoying this magical champagne the discussion headed around to Australian sparkling wines, or to be honest, Australian champagne styles. While I can not yet bring myself to argue that Australia is making fizzy wines comparable to the French, over the few years we have been making enormous headway into a style, and for that matter lifestyle, that remains almost untouchable to other wine types around the world. No single wine style has even begun to create the image the ‘champagne’ has done over the past century.

While never matching the French for the glamour surrounding champers, Australia does produce a number of fantastic wines. Moet and Chandon recognised the potential in Australian sparkling when it set up Domain Chandon in the Yarra Valley in the mid 1980s and has been producing arguably some of Australia’s most consistently better sparkling wines. However, you also could argue that Seaview has done an enviable job with sparkling wines across a number of price points. Without doubt, however, the ‘champagne’ guru who seems to have a magic touch is BRL Hardys group sparkling wine maker, Ed Carr.

With the number of gold medals, trophies and headlines Mr Carr has produced over the last few years, it is a wonder he hasn’t been knighted. After heading across to Hardys from, amongst others, Seaview Wines in 1994, he has overseen an amazing transformation of the company’s sparkling production. Interestingly, “Sir Ed” won every sparkling wine trophy on the Australian show circuit during the 1999/2000 season … encouraging results for any employer.

Each year the Comite Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) runs a competition that encourages the public to drink champagne, purely for educational purposes (and pure enjoyment of course). The CIVC competition has three separate categories – student (wine-hospitality), professional (wine industry) and the consumer (Joe Punter). The competition requires entrants to write about a few related topics and sit an assessment involving tasting champagnes. It is a national competition but there are State winners and, interestingly enough, Western Australia has had the most national winners per capita over the past decade. I will bring you more details in a few weeks but you can get a foot inside the door next week at the following venues.

Mr Lorson from the CIVC, along with Peter Forrestal (editor of Wine Magazine) will host a structured champagne tasting on Tuesday April 16 at Frasers Restaurant, Kings Park, from 6pm-8pm. Tickets $80 per head including GST for a selection of canapes and a comprehensive tasting of the world’s greatest wine, champagne. Contact Kate Flower on 9482 0111.

Hospitality students and upcoming trades people can join Mr Lorson at a special champagne tasting earlier the same day (Tuesday April 16, 10am-12pm). For venue details or further information contact the Champagne Information Centre on (02) 9555 8891.

Sir James Vintage 1997 Pinot Chardonnay, rrp $19.99, rating 19/20

Seriously one of the best valued sparkling wines in the Aussie marketplace. I was stunned to see how well this wine stacked up against other wines three times its price. Again, fruit sourced from Tassie and Yarra Valley and again looking for low yielding and intensely flavoured fruit. You find some wonderful lees-like aromas with a touch of buttery, almost croissant, nuances. The palate delivers more than your $20 worth with a touch of nuttiness with some citrus and a complementary oyster-like mineral complexity. Fantastic finish with plenty of length and very good persistence. Available through Houghton Wine Company, 9274 5100.

Krug Vintage 1988 rrp $ best to ask your preferred liquor outlet, rating 19/20

You will find plenty of wow factor in this stunning example of why the French claim champagne as their own. A slight straw tinge developing, with aromas that evolve around slight coconut, brioche and caramel complexity with an underlying lime or citrus character. Once you have slid down a mouthful and recovered, there are lime, lemon citrus flavours with amazing freshness and zing, with a length of palate that that seems to just keep going.

This is a very complex wine that shows an amazing amount of finesse and structure. Just one more power-ball … Available through Negociants Australia, 9350 5544.

Arras 1997 Chardonnay Pinot Noir rrp $54.99, rating 19/20

One of the best Australian sparkling wines I have ever tasted. With the ability to source fruit from the vast regional resources of BRL Hardys, Ed Carr has ensured that only premium fruit was selected from the Yarra Valley and Tasmania, regions both typified with low yields producing some quite intense fruit. The 1997 shows a slight green tinge, with aromas that show a great deal of refinement and complexity, some toasty bread characters with an underlying touch of citrus, but primarily a white peach and nectarine. The palate is powerful yet shows refinement and is accentuated with depth of flavour and the length of palate. Without doubt a wine worth supporting. Available through Houghton Wine Company, 92745100.

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