Monday, 21 December 2015

Festive Fizz

It is fortunate I am not superstitious, as my first wine tasting event hosted under the Vine to Vintage business was held on Friday 13th November. The delay in recounting the event for you is two fold: firstly, the following week I was off to New Zealand on another wine adventure and secondly, I thought the week leading into Christmas would be good timing to talk about all things bubbly.

The objectives of the sparkling wine tasting evening, which I coined Festive Fizz, were pretty straightforward:
  • sample sparkling wines from Australia and Europe
  • enjoy wines with paired canapes
  • learn how to pick real champagne
  • share tips for puchasing quality sparkling wine on a budget
  • prepare for the party season!
Sparkling wine is just so versatile with food, so it was a delight to work with the venue's chef on the selection of canapés. We tried to select options that were likely to be enjoyed as delicacies at Christmas and New Years. This then guided the format for the evening.  We had two light, crisp wines paired with Entree style finger food, then the richer styles with mini samples of mains and finally some dessert options. 


1. Cherubino Wines, Ad Hoc The Riddler NV Brut, Western Australia

Pairing: Oysters ponzu
Tasting Notes: Clean and crisp, fruit and yeast on the nose, creamy lemon sherbert flavours.

Whilst pouring this classic example of everyday Australian sparkling, I explained that NV means 'Non-Vintage' which indicates that the grapes were not necessarily all harvested in the same year. I also pointed out that this wine showed a typical blend of pinot noir and chardonnay (sometimes pinot meunièr is included too). I also explained that, in traditional sparkling wine production, 'The Riddler' is the person who shakes, tilts and turns the bottles in preparation for disgorging.

2. Canella, Prosecco di Conegliano, Veneto Italy

Pairing: Prosciutto-wrapped melon
Tasting Notes: Fine mousse, subtle melon.

I love prosecco. Perhaps I'm slightly biased due to the fact that my mother is descended from inhabitants of the Veneto region, where the best prosecco is made. It also helps that this wine is never too expensive as it is made in tank under pressure, which decreases production costs due to lower labour overheads. 

I advised the guests to look for DOCG on the label, to ensure they were buying from a quality producer. Alternatively, Australia is doing some excellent prosecco in the King Valley, with my favourites being Dal Zotta and Pizzini.


1. Veuve Ambal, Cremant de Bourgogne, Burgundy, France

Pairing: Seared scallops
Tasting Notes: Pale yellow colour, fine mousse, stone fruits, butterscotch and almond.

This wine was selected to show people that there are other areas in France besides Champagne that make decent sparkling wine (without the price tag). I selected one from Burgundy to highlight the Blanc de Blancs style, where the primary grape variety is Chardonnay. 

I gave everyone a brief rundown on Methode Traditionelle (the traditional method) of sparkling wine production. If you enjoy more complex sparkling wines with the characteristics associated with lees contact (nutty, biscuity, creamy), then it's advisable to check the label to ensure the wine has been made using this traditional method.

If you are interested to find out more about the different production methods for sparkling wine, my article Why is champagne so expensive? has all the details.

2. Louis Roederer, Reims Brut Premier, Champagne, France

Pairing: Glazed duck shank
Tasting Notes: Luxurious mousse, zinging acid (like sour lollies), complex butteriness.

Louis Roederer is one of the few remaining independent family run maisons (7th generation) in Champagne. 

The particular NV style we tasted contained: 56% pinot noir, 34% chardonnay, 10% pinot meunier. This included 10% of aged wines from oak casks (2-6yrs), an average of 3 years on lees and 6 months in bottle after disgorging. 

The result? A complex and luxurious wine destined for a special occasion.


1. Bird in Hand, Sparkling Pinot Noir Rose, Adelaide Hills, Australia

Pairing: Brie and quince paste
Tasting Notes: Salmon colour, floral (lavender, rose blossom), sour cherry.

I just love the beautiful pink colour that can be achieved from skin contact, in this case with pinot noir. 

5. Seaview NV Sparkling Shiraz, South Eastern Australia

Pairing: Chocolate fondant Christmas pudding

Sparkling Shiraz truly is an iconic Australian invention. In 1894 Great Western winery in Victoria started a trend that has now extended to over 60 different producers in Australia, including pioneers Rumball and Seppelt. I had originally selected the 2012 Seppelt Original Sparkling Shiraz  for the tasting, but we had an issue on the supplier's end (tends to happen when you live remote).

Notwithstanding, the 'stand in' option still allowed me to showcase this sparkling style in is typical festive format. It was the perfect way to finish off the evening, served with the added excitement of a chocolate fountain.

Wrap Up 

I feel that the quality of food and wine on offer at Festive Fizz was enough to speak for itself. Therefore, I limited my wine dialogue to when I was pouring each wine, focussing on explaining why the particular pairing had been selected and a snippet of general knowledge about each style, as I have described above.

It was a group of very 'bubbly' people who bade farewell at the end of the evening, but not before they had kindly completed a small survey for me. This greatly assisted me in understanding the demographic I am catering to and will allow me to make future events even better. Some of the interesting results were:

  • Over 70% of the people who attended drink wine once or more per week 
  • The style of wine most people like is full bodied red 
  • Every aspect of the event was rated highly (food, wine, service, presentation)
  • Most respondents preferred the format with canapés to a sit down meal or no food
  • Over 80% of people were interested in a regular wine appreciation group
So basically, people are already drinking wine regularly (tick) and I need to hurry up and get a Wine Appreciation group going! Oh, and obviously my next tasting event will have to include some red wine.