A sparkling Christmas
The head sommelier at Sydney’s Aria restaurant, Alexander Kirkwood, has poured more bubbles than most wine professionals. He shares his favourite Champagnes and local sparkling wines for festive season celebrations – plus a top tip on glassware.
With the continuing rise of quality sparkling wine across the country, many of Australia’s top producers are crafting wines that outshine those of the custodians of the bubble just outside Paris. This progression has also given rise to many new and interesting styles through continued experimentation. Some makers get it right, some have more lessons to learn, but most importantly, we aren’t just sitting on our hands and staying ‘true to style’. That said, those who are keeping with the méthode traditionelle, the traditional method, are shining. The French, a lot of the time, they get it right – spot on, even. But others who have the right intentions and who are delivering the goods deserve our love too. How to drink it? Your call, but sunshine and dim lighting are equally appropriate – although maybe it’s time we looked beyond the flute? Let’s give sparkling wine some air and wiggle room in the glass while still appreciating its bead, or bubble size, as a lot of work goes into making it. Here are a few of my favourites for Christmas this year.
NV Frederic Savart Expression Rosé
From the small town of Écueil, second-generation farmer Frédéric leans more towards growing quality grapes than crafting them later. This is zero dosage 100% pinot noir fermented in barrel with 10 months on lees. Fred chases depth and complexity, and the results are highly engaging and thought provoking – something to sip and ponder. Incredible precision and electric acid through to the finish make that pondering a mouth-watering experience. There’s not much made and very little is imported here but it’s well worth getting your hands on it when it lands.
NV Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru
This continues to be one of my favourite Champagnes from a favourite producer. There’s a real love for it in the sommelier community and it’s easy to understand why. Egly NV demands attention, with its generous ripeness of fruit, spice and a toasty brioche tone contributing to its numerous layers. Pinot noir focused (70%, plus 30% chardonnay), it’s taken from Grand Cru vineyards, predominantly in Ambonnay. More of a treat then a Tuesday bottle, Egly pays dividends on what you spend, more so than many others in the class. It just seems to get better and better.
NV Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve
In recent years this has been my go-to NV. The growth and improvement of Charles in the past decade has been remarkable and its entry-level offering showcases pure class. This is the complete package. A huge investment in reserve wines (40%) and four-plus years on lees results in an abundance of character and charm. Featuring fresh citrus through ripe pome fruit and baked goods, this is my pick for large groups and parties as it offers something for everyone who loves Champagne.
It’s rare for me to pour anything by the glass for more than a few weeks at Aria, and these incredible bottles of bubbles have had more airtime then anything on pour in my four years at the restaurant. Local competition continues to improve, but this was my benchmark for an evening kick-off for a number of years. Chardonnay and pinot noir in harmony offer an abundance of freshness, zest and mineral with a light, creamy mid-palate. Stunning length to savour!
This is the surprise package of the year. The king of Tassie fizz, Mr Ed ‘Midas Touch’ Carr, once again delivers something remarkable. Arras’s first NV Blanc de Blancs offers a level of value for money that is rarely seen. Picked from across Tassie, it has all the hallmarks of Arras, with a depth of secondary complexity stretched out via fresh citrus and a beautiful long acid line.
NV Quartz Reef Bendigo Estate, Central Otago
I’ve included this one not just because we miss our friends over the ditch so much, but because New Zealand is rather nifty with a bottle of bubbles too. Quartz Reef founder Rudi Bauer for me is the benchmark. He takes a classic approach here, but that cool, crisp, fresh air seems to do something special. He delivers a vibrant mix of our favourite combo in chardonnay and pinot noir (from Bendigo), with loads of vitality intertwined with crunchy Granny Smith, white florals and a lovely layer of marmalade toast. It almost speaks of breakfast wine if you dare treat yourself over the festive break!
By Alexander Kirkwood, head sommelier, Aria restaurant. Image by Eatable.