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The gap between Australian fizz and the best Champagne from France may be narrowing, but David Pike doubts we will ever match the masters.

THE French are without doubt the masters of fizz but Aussie producers have certainly given the Europeans a little something to think about. I say a little something because, if the truth be told, the French probably think more about what they are going to have for dinner than they would about Australia gaining ground on the wines of Champagne.

Nevertheless, two wines really stood out at a recent tasting that included a couple of Australian sparkling wines and half a dozen French wines. Their finesse, structure and elegance, in my opinion showed why the wines of Champagne are so highly regarded. The gap maybe closing with Australian styles such as Hardys Arras, Pirie, Clover Hill and Stefanio Lubiano, however it is the wines such as Salon, Gosset, Pol Roger Winston Churchill, Billecarte Grande Cuvee that offer rewards that I hesitantly suggest Australia will never be able to reach.

Billecarte Salmon Grande Cuvee 1990 rrp $230 19.5/20

Billecarte Salmon has been around since 1818. It sold the vineyard holding in the mid-1920s to finance growth of the business. Billecarte Salmon sells around a million bottles a year and is still family owned and controlled. Much of Billecarte’s success here in Australia could be attributed to its resolve to use modern winemaking techniques completely shying away from oxidative handling

The 1990 is a stunning wine that is not showing any signs of development; it is still as fresh as a daisy. Enticing brioche and lemon citrus aromas, with depth and complexity. The palate displays those same rich characters you find on the nose with touches of red berry fruits, a delightful acidity through the finish, which is long and persistent.

Salon Magnum 1988 19.5/20            currently available 1990 bottles rrp $280

This wine could be the future Mrs Pike. A desirable pleasure. Salon was founded in 1914 and it has been suggested was the first Champagne house to market a blanc de blanc wine. Wines do not undergo malolatic fermentation, and each wine under goes the ‘a la volee’ disgorgement method where each bottle is sniffed by the degorgeurs.

The 1988 showed a tenacious mousse with little colour development. The nose explodes lemon, lime citrus, with touches of apples and pears, and delightful walnut brioche notes. The palate has an amazing vitality, expressive acidity combines with a mineral note, great palate weight and awesome finish. This might not be everyone’s cuppa tea but it is certainly mine.

The last few weekends have proven a little trying for wine producers, and in particular viticulturists down in the Great Southern and Margaret River and Geographe regions. While many of our farmers are beaming smiles wider than the Nile after finally getting some decent rain, grape growers are a little more reticent to discuss the precipitation. Most reports are that everything is working out just fine, however the rain with moist, humid conditions would have been increasing the risk of vineyard diseases and starting to have an effect on the ripening berries.

Reports of gauges filling with between 10mm and 48mm across various sites in Margaret River may be cause for concern, with growers from Mt Baker and the Porongurups reporting a similar story.

Ferngrove Vineyards 2002 Cossack Riesling has taken another major gong. Following its successful results at the Qantas Mt Barker Wine Show, the wine was last week awarded the prestigious ‘Macquarie Bank Perpetual Trophy’ for Best Wine of Show, at the 2003 Macquarie Bank Sydney Royal Wine Show. It is a remarkable win given the hype surrounding the 2002 riesling vintage in South Australia’s Clare Valley, which has been widely regarded as one of the great vintages for that variety.

Winemaker John Griffiths has once again helped wave the flag for the Great Southern Region, and in particular the Frankland sub region. A great start to the wine show calendar for Western Australia, now lets nab the Jimmy Watson again – it has been awhile.

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