Six great sparkling wines from Hunter producers

Picking winners: Daniel Honan offers six great sparkling wines by Hunter producers for upcoming festivities.
Picking winners: Daniel Honan offers six great sparkling wines by Hunter producers for upcoming festivities.

Like it or not, festive season is upon us. The silly season will be here faster than 1990 Melbourne Cup winner Kingston Rule.

There'll be plenty of moments to pop the top off a bottle of bubbly to celebrate the end of year in style and sophistication, or, perhaps just good old-fashioned inebriety.

Take, for instance, this Tuesday's celebration, as approximately 8 per cent of the nation's population stop to watch a field of thoroughbred horses run around a grassy, pear-shaped racecourse. If you're like me, you will be using the Melbourne Cup to take full advantage of the authorised, nation-wide stop work “meeting”, in order to burst some bubbles and drink delicious, fizzy and fun, effervescent wine.

However, just like the fashions on the field (or in the pub), not all fascinators are made the same. Some sparkling wines are more fizza than fizzy. With an entire wine country on your doorstep, it's crucial to know how to spot the form in the field and choose the right cuvée class to get your nose in front this year. To ensure you don't end up backing a fizza, the Weekender's Sparkling Form Guide has the hot tip for what you should be frothing on during the final furlongs of 2017.

From the most fun to the most fine, sparkling wine is all about the fizz, and there is more than one way to spark a still wine into a life of froth and foam. Back, back, back in the day, the bubbles in your sparkling wine would come from yeast, which, through the process of fermentation, convert grape sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2 for short). When CO2 is trapped, say inside a bottle, it will, eventually, infuse with the liquid, thus animating it with bubbles.

There are four methods used to introduce fizz: the traditional method, the tank method, the ancestral method, and carbonation.

The simplest way to get bubbles billowing from your bottle is to inject a jet of CO2 straight into the wine itself - kind of like making SodaStream. This technique - carbonation - takes a still wine and carbonates it in a pressurised tank. It's an easy way to instil a bit of fun into a still wine.

For instance, when a jolt of CO2 and a dash of framboise (raspberry juice) are shot into Tamburlaine's Scarlett Bubbles ($22), it causes this otherwise serene rosé to bubble and blush pink, like a sweet, 16-year-old Molly Ringwald. Likewise with Oakvale's Bellini ($32), a playful blend of white sparkling wine and fresh pureed peaches that's a whole lot of summertime fun. Both bubblys are punter friendly with low alcohol, perfect for fillies and colts that prefer their pop sensibilities to their classical overtures.

Long ago, before old Dom Pérignon began tinkering with different blends, stronger bottles and better stoppers to perfect the production of Champagne, French winegrowers would bottle up their fermenting wine, mid-way through the process, which meant the wine would finish fermentation inside the bottle. The bottled yeast then ferments the remaining sugar and the CO2 they produce unites with the liquid inside, thus creating bubbles. This is the ancestral method – a tricky thing to get right.

Thankfully, M&J Becker have nailed it with their 2017 Pétillant Naturel ($32). Rose petal pink with a delicate sparkle, it'll be strange for some, but for those who love to back a swooper, you'll adore the blood orange and rose petal perfumes in this crisp, bright, dry, and fantastically delicious, ancient sparkling wine.

More than a few centuries later, thanks to the modern advancements of industrial technology, the Italians invented the tank method, otherwise known as Charmat, which sounds way more fancy. Rather than using individual bottles to change a still wine into a sparkling one, this technique uses an entire tank, which pressurises during fermentation incorporating CO2, released by the yeast, into the wine.

Bimbadgen's non-vintage Sparkling Semillon ($18) is made using the Charmat method. Combining the reputation of Hunter semillon with the joyfulness of bubbles, this sparkling wine is made for a whole lot of effervescent carnival fun, bursting with fresh scents of lemon, melon and lime.

The finest and best sparkling wines are made using the traditional method, or, méthode traditionelle. It is often incorrectly referred to as Champagne (unless it's from the Champagne region in France). During the second fermentation, CO2 gets trapped inside the bottle, thus carbonating the wine, enlivening it with an elegant bead of delicate bubbles. The wines are then left to age for at least 15 months, on lees (dead yeast cells), which, over time, introduces delicious biscuit and sweet bread flavours, as well as soft and creamy textures.

Peterson House produces a sterling sparkling in the form of their 2011 Pinot Noir, Chardonay, Meunier ($42). The wine is bottled aged for five years to truly coalesce all the toasty, baked and roasted characters and fresh citrus complexities into the final wine, making it the ultimate indulgence.


Finally, a quick bit of late mail: Krinklewood's sparkling Shiraz, The Gypsy ($50), is made using the traditional method and is all blood plums, black cherries and spice. Come Christmas, it will be an absolute pearler on the dinner table.