Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas bubbles

Majella Sparkling Shiraz, one of my favourites
Christmas is a time to break out from our regular patterns and try some fun or celebratory alternatives to drink. Friends drop in, we entertain more and perhaps such entertaining takes on a different flavour?

Drinking standing up and nibbling on finger food is always quite a different proposition from sitting over a table or lingering over a meal.  Finger food is rarely intended to be the main event, so neither should be the wine. Look for wines that will keep your palate alert to enjoy the many different flavours the finger food will offer.

There is always a role for champagne. As Madame Lily Bollinger, said “I drink it when I¹m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I am alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I¹m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it - unless I¹m thirsty.” (Daily Mail, 17 October, 1961).

Champagne is a term which should only be applied to wines produced under strict regulations from a carefully delineated area in northern France.  In Australia, we have many superior sparkling wines, especially since (and often with the assistance of Fresh champagne houses) we started using a similar technique and the classic French grape varieties of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier. We also have other value-for-money sparkling wines. So there is something to please at every price point.

The romance begins in the cellar. Here still wines are made and then carefully selected for blending: from different years and vineyards to make the Non-vintage champagne which should maintain a consistent house style every year; and wine or wines all from one year to produce a special, Vintage champagne identified by year on the bottle. Once blended, for traditional “methode champenoise” the wine is put into champagne bottles with sugar and yeast to create the second fermentation, the sparkle - hence the term “bottle fermented”.

After some time the bottle is placed in a rack and the process of “remuage” begins. The bottle is gradually tilted and turned into a more and more inverted position so that the dead yeast cells which have done their job gradually move to the neck of the bottle. This is then “disgorged”, by freezing so that a solid “plug” is pushed forth by the gas now formed within the bottle and a “dosage” of sweetened wine added to fill the bottle and finish the champagne. When a champagne is referred to as late disgorged or having spent time on yeast lees, this means it has stayed in the bottle, perhaps for many years, with the yeast cells until disgorgement just before release. This gives the champagne a highly desirable yeasty, bready character. French vintage champagnes spend a miminum of three years before disgorgement and Non Vintage champagnes one year. For an Australian wine to be called Methode Champenoise it must have spent at least six months maturing on lees.

The method is the same for different styles of champagne, just the  ingredients vary. Rose champagne or tache is made by adding a shot of  red wine to the dosage liqueur.  Or it can be made entirely from pinot noir with the juice left on the skins for a short time after they grapes are crushed, to give a pretty pink hue. Brut is the driest of all champagnes those with a  higher sugar level are Demi Sec and Sec, this being achieved by adding a  sweeter dosage after the second fermentation. 

Sparkling reds, ideal for Christmas drinking, are not simply the coloured cousins of white sparkling wine.  The base wine needs some bottle age first and may be matured in large oak. Sparkling red can be made from different red base including cabernet, pinot noir, malbec and durif, though the favourite is shiraz. Christmas to me says sparking red whether it be accompanied by turkey,  pork, ham or new age salmon, with a light red fruit or berry dessert or  even the Christmas pud. However, my all-time favourite is duck of any description, but preferably Peking duck! Then again, it's great as an  aperitif ... or just a drink!

There is something just so special about real champagne.
Taittinger NV - $95 I’ve been drinking this for years. It is distributed by my friends at McWilliams.
Bollinger NV – $90  James Bond’s favourite – but I still prefer Sean Connery and Roger Moore to Daniel Craig!

White Sparkling
Clover Hill Vintage Cuvee 2008 is a consistently good premium wine from Tasmania $49.99
Tempus Two Pewter Sparkling Pinot Chardonnay $31.99 is worth drinking for the stylish bottle and label alone. But the inside is just as good!

Rose sparklings
Chandon Brut Rose 2008 is a blend of chardonnay and pinot noir. Chandon were one of the first to make premium sparkle in the Yarra Valley and they still do it with style.
Taltarni Tache 2010 this has been a favourite ever since we drank it for my daughter’s Christening in 1985. It’s still as good!

Red Sparkling
Peter Lehmann Black Queen Sparkling Shiraz $42. Peter Lehmann is one of my dearest old mates and this is one of the best going.
Majella Sparkling Shiraz 2008 $29 per bottle in a pack of 6. Thanks to Majella for their support of Cheese Alley at the Good Food and Wine Shows in 2012. We’ll do it all again in 2013!
Peter Rumball Sparkling Shiraz $26.99 from my fellow Libran, but he now also has a sparkling Merlot too which is a little more savoury and so complements different dishes.

Just for fun
Mini bottles of Brown Brothers Vintage Sparkling  Moscato, Moscato Rosa,  Moscato and Cienna all in mini bottles from 200 – 275mls perfect for summer parties. RRP 4 bottle fridge pack $19.90; single bottle $5.90 

Note these are all recommended retail prices so they can often be bought for less.
Happy festive bubbles to you and your family

No comments:

Post a Comment