Chandon Brut Rosé

Indian sparkling wine courtesy of Moët Hennessy. I’ve had a dreadful run of Indian red wines, with many exhibiting wild technical faults that render them basically undrinkable. Whites and rosés, however, have fared better. When I saw this on a restaurant wine list, I didn’t hesitate to give it a go, assuming (correctly) that it would, at least, be free of egregious winemaking faux pas.

Chandon’s Indian operations are new, with the first wines having been released in late 2013. Grapes are sourced from the Nashik region of Maharashtra, and the varieties that contribute to this sparkling rosé are Shiraz and Pinot Noir (an inadvertent nod to the Australian micro-tradition, I like to think).

To be clear, this recalls little of Champagne. Its hue is deep and tends towards a burnished red rather than the vivid pink or salmon one might expect. Mousse is lively and coarse, and the whole thing looks totally frivolous. Flavours are also quite unlike cool climate sparkling. These are robust, ripe fruit flavours with little of the lees influence that characterises many sparkling styles. There’s certainly no neutrality of fruit here.

All of which adds up to a shockingly enjoyable wine and one that goes well with food. It’s quite clever, really. This isn’t an aperitif style. Rather, it’s a wine that seems designed to pair with pungent, rich food. Forget notions of complexity and elegance, this doesn’t possess or require such things. Instead, it’s balanced to local food and has the acid cut required to wipe the palate clean after a mouthful of spiced deliciousness.

I’d do this again.

Chandon India
Price: ₹4000
Closure: Cork
Source: Wine list

Mitchell Harris Sabre Vintage 2010

The second release of Mitchell Harris’s sparking wine, this has credentials that stretch back far beyond the establishment of this label. Indeed, John Harris brings a wealth of experience as former winemaker at Domaine Chandon to this wine, and it’s important to remember Western Victoria was once renowned for its sparkling wines above all other styles. So, quite a pedigree.

The style here, as with the 2008, places an emphasis on freshness and generosity. It’s an absolute crowd-pleaser, in fact, but still retains a range of complexities of flavour that reward closer tasting. What I like about this wine in particular is how its lees-derived, savoury notes creep their way in softly, adding interest to a core of citrus fruit and creating an edge of sophistication without robbing the wine of its fundamental deliciousness.

Acid and texture, the bugbears of many an Australian sparkling, are well-handled here. The palate has a creamy mouthfeel that complements its fruit and spice flavours well. There’s ample spritz which means the wine is lively in the mouth, yet it has a softness to its textures that is pleasing. Some nice, chalky phenolic pucker brings up the rear.

While it’s possible to approach this wine analytically, that would be somewhat missing the point of a style that seems designed, first and foremost, for drinking.

Mitchell Harris
Price: $A40
Closure: Diam
Source: Sample

Stefano Lubiana Vintage Brut 2005

As I sit here jet-lagged and generally puzzled to be back in my study in Brisbane, I resort to sparkling wine to inject levity and the spectre of some kind of celebration into my evening. This wine is from always-interesting Stefano Lubiana in the Derwent Valley in Tasmania. I was fortunate enough to visit Steve earlier this year and saw a most impressive new winery and cellar door facility in the last stages of development. I believe it’s all up and running now, and I suggest it would be well worth a visit to anyone in the area.

To the wine, then: quite a rich nose that mixes lees-derived aromas with weighty fruit and edges of caramel. This seems a much riper wine than the 2004, though its tendency towards savouriness and off-the-wall flavours remains consistent. There’s a lot to enjoy here if one isn’t terminally prejudiced against fuller, more powerful sparkling styles. Personally, I miss a certain lightness of touch that, for all its muscularity, this doesn’t quite manage to retain.

In the mouth, predictably full and rich. Acid, the curse of Australian sparkling wines, is fine and controlled, and benefits from the fruit’s weight. Mouthfeel isn’t quite as creamy as a top Champagne, but it’s far from coarse and, to the extent that it’s a little rambunctious, is well matched to the wine’s weight and intensity. An impactful mid-palate leads to a clean, fresh after palate that extends well back into the mouth. Indeed, this is a long wine.

Not the last word in refinement, then, but a truly interesting wine for its range of flavours, power and outright generosity.

Stefano Lubiana Wines
Price: $A58
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

Laherte Frères Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature NV

Disgorged 04/2012.

A photograph of soil underpinned by chalk on this wine’s label certainly makes the point; Laherte Frères positions as a grower-maker wishing to express terroir in its Champagnes. As part of this, dosages are low and, in the case of this wine, zero. To compensate, fruit is allowed to ripen further than is customary.

This technique comes through clearly on the nose, which communicates an impression of slightly candied citrus one might mistake for added sugar. It’s certainly not a bone dry experience, all technicalities aside. On the nose, quite pretty and citrus-driven, with undercurrents of baked bread and overtones of florals. Moderately complex and willfully refreshing.

The palate is lively and fresh, showing a level of effervescence that, for my taste, is a little over the top. A strong line of grapefruit juice drives down the line and, as with the nose, it shows fruit sweetness that is both fun and a bit simple. Some savoury complexities edge in but this is a fruit-forward expression of Champagne. Acid is firm and zingy. As such, it’s a highly appropriate celebration style and one I’d be happy to serve to a mixed crowd looking for something a bit different. For my tastes, though, I’d like to see more finesse.

Laherte Frères
Price: $A60
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

J.L. Vergnon Brut Conversation NV

A blanc de blancs made from Grand Cru fruit, this is one of a series of reasonably priced grower Champagnes I’ve been having of late, and one of the tastiest, too. Fruit comes from three villages — Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger and Avize — and the wine spends three years on lees.

The mousse is quite coarse and dissipates quickly, leaving behind an enthusiastic bead. The aromas are very much in the yeast/bread/brioche spectrum, sweet and pungent, leading into soft, pastel fruit notes. Fruit is in the citrus spectrum, and is delicately pretty.

The palate shows a wonderfully soft, creamy mouthfeel, with fine acid and well damped spritz. Flavours are again in the citrus spectrum, grapefruit mostly, with mellow peel notes, quite rounded and soft. If I’ve a criticism, it’s that fruit becomes a little blunt here, losing its lightness of touch and showing too much relaxation. Some may find this broadness delicious. Dosage seems right to me, with some sweetness evident but nothing over the top. Flavours are persistent and complex enough, especially through the after palate, where there are hints of honey alongside fresher fruit notes. A delicate finish.

With the exception of slightly too broad a countenance through its mid-palate, this is a fine and delicious wine.

J.L. Vergnon
Price: $A50
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque 1985

The bottle is indeed very pretty.

To the wine’s appearance first, there’s little mousse apparent on pouring and a reticent bead thereafter; this certainly looks an aged wine. Colour is honey-gold with a pleasing richness of hue. Immediately a range of tertiary notes emerge from the glass, including a prominent browned apple note that is the clearest sign of age. The influence of oxidation isn’t overwhelming, though, and beneath it there is a complex aroma profile of citrus, mushroom, bread and an attractive nuttiness. Certainly one to smell at length.

The palate is surprisingly fresh, with good spritz in evidence and a fascinating tension between still-firm acid and a decidedly tertiary flavour profile. Cut apple is less obvious in the mouth, and the wine’s butterscotch note takes centre stage from the middle palate onwards. It’s rich and unctuous, mouthcoating in intensity and impressive in length, all the while freshened and firmed by spritz and acid. The elegance of its finish is especially fine, and I love the way caramel lingers on the tongue, becoming softer and a mere echo of itself some time after swallowing.

A nice start to an evening’s entertainment.

Price: $N/A
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Stefano Lubiana Vintage Brut 2004

This makes an interesting companion piece to the Mitchell Harris Sabre tasted recently. Similar ballpark in terms of pricing, but utterly different expressions of Australian sparkling wine. Where the Sabre is rich with a certain unctuous quality, this sits on the side of angular purity.

The aroma is crisp and savoury, making less concessions to fruit than the Sabre while matching it in terms of expressiveness and complexity. This certainly sits on the funkier end of the spectrum, showcasing lees derived notes ahead of its pure citrus and red fruit components. This smells quite classical in the manner in which it puts forward each note with poise and clean articulation. Intellectual more than hedonistic, but also rich and multi-layered, with fuller bass notes underlying the spectrum of high toned aromas.

In the mouth, it’s worth noting how achieved is this wine’s texture. It has none of the coarseness of mouthfeel that can plague lower priced sparkling wines. Acid is fine and crisp, effervescence even and luxurious. It’s very much what I feel a good sparkling ought to feel like. Flavours are as per the aroma, a bready note taking the lead, backed up by a range of fruit notes from citrus through to fleshier red berries. This tastes coherent from top to bottom, texture and flavour operating in concert to create a wine that is both chiselled and satisfyingly flavoursome.

Excellent sparkling wine.

Stefano Lubiana Wines
Price: $A53
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

Mitchell Harris Sabre Vintage 2008

This has been a long time in the making. I remember talking with John Harris about it a couple of years ago and, even though it was a long way off release, I sensed his excitement. And I feel excited too, because his tenure as sparkling winemaker at Domaine Chandon creates what I feel is a reasonable expectation of quality to this tasting. Mr Harris should know what he’s doing, a fact his still wines have amply demonstrated to me, but to which this wine brings an extra frisson of anticipation.

The nose keeps me excited and shows evidence of the wine’s three years on lees. There’s a clean, pure vibe to the aroma that absorbs bready notes into a matrix of bright fruit, clear juice and the sort of lean florals that aren’t heady so much as piercing. It’s the integration of notes that impresses most – this aroma profile is quite coherent. In the mouth, good texture and relatively fine spritz pave the way for a surprisingly generous set of flavours. The aromatic citrus fruit is as much pulp as rind, and there’s a sense of weight that carries this wine through a few levels of complexity. It’s not the most aggressively savoury wine I’ve ever tasted, and there’s enough sweetness to soften and swell the palate. The sweetness is never intrusive, though, and does not mask an inherently funky streak to the flavour profile. Notes of crusty bread and tropical fruit alternate, vying for first place. Neither wins, but it’s awfully fun to taste them fighting it out.

A very impressive first sparkling release for Mitchell Harris. The maker is serious about this style, and I look forward to the next release.

Mitchell Harris
Price: $A40
Closure: Diam
Source: Sample

Stefano Lubiana Brut Reserve NV

The world of moderately priced Australian sparkling wine can be mouth-puckering in its disappointment, so I’m always on the lookout for good wines at prices cheaper than low-end Champagne. My go-to wine for a while has been the regular Brown Brothers NV, but this slightly more expensive wine is also an attractive proposition.

On pouring, an alarmingly abundant mousse that settles quickly to a subdued, spare bead. The nose is initially savoury, with hints of mushroom and yeast, though this could never be described as a style that is heavy on these elements. Rather, they are an accent to fine, crisp fruit notes, part apple and part strawberry, delicate and bright. The palate is stirring while, thankfully, avoiding the edgy acid that can plague our affordable sparklings. Entry is lively and surprisingly full, rounded fruit flavours becoming more prominent as the line progresses. This fullness does come at the expense of defined incisiveness; whether this is a good or bad thing is, I imagine, a matter of taste. For me, it robs the wine of that last ounce of freshness. No matter; there’s plenty of flavour and a well-balanced amount of spritz. Dosage seems restrained. The after palate is brighter, tilting towards a citrus sharpness that becomes bleached as the wine moves through its ultra-clean finish.

This is a cleverly made wine that privileges drinkability above clarity of articulation. A real crowd-pleaser.

Stefano Lubiana Wines
Price: $A34
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample

Château de Sours Réserve de Sours Sparkling Rosé NV

I’m not sure how active the market is for French sparklers at this price point; certainly, I don’t remember ever setting out to purchase a sparking wine from Bordeaux made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. And yet here we are.

What’s really nice about this wine is that it’s defiantly different in aroma and flavour profile from Champagne and its many imitators. There’s no mistaking the Cabernet at its heart; the aroma shows characteristic leafy overtones and a cool, red fruited core. It’s savoury at heart, though lacking the sorts of complexities that are par for the course in even moderately good Champagne. This is quite a different beast, simpler and fresher-smelling. The defining characteristic of the palate is its relatively soft acidity, something that one can’t take for granted in local sparklers at this price point.

Entry is immediate and fresh, again with leafy Cabernet notes dominating the flavour profile at first. Light, crisp berry juice glides over the middle palate with ease, if not intensity. It’s fairly light on the spritz as these things go; what there is contributes to a lively mouthfeel that is only one or two steps removed from a bright Riesling. A nice, fresh, leafy finish.

One of the more different sparkling wines I’ve had of late; certainly, I prefer this to some of the aromatic white sparkling wines that are becoming more common. There’s something jarring about a recognisably Cabernet rosé sparkling – I like it.

Château de Sours
Price: $A28
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample