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Noosa Food and Wine festival - a guide to sparkling wine

05 May 2014

Wine is about family, friends and should be fun and delicious.  It’s always been a way of connecting people in my life and one of my biggest sources of passion and enjoyment, says Mel Chester, Seppelt winemaker (pictured below). 

Mel Chester Winemaker Crop

"If I didn’t work in the wine industry, I know I would probably find it a little hard to pick the perfect bottle off the shelf. With so many different brands, varieties and vintages, wine can sometimes be a little intimidating. What food should you pair it with? Vintage or non-vintage?

In particular a lot of people seem to be confused about sparkling wine and Champagne and when to drink them. It’s often assumed that sparkling wine (or Champagne from France) should only be served as a celebratory drink. But I want to talk about how it’s actually fantastic to enjoy with food.

With my winemaker’s hat on for a moment I’ll give you some of the background. Good quality sparkling wine gets its bubbles from yeast fermenting in the bottle – the gas is a by-product of fermentation and is captured under pressure and dissolved into the wine. The best sparkling wine is often aged in the bottle with the yeast to create bready, brioche, nougat characters that make sparkling wine rich and creamy.

Those creamy characters, combined with light, fine bubbles and delicate fruit flavours mean that sparkling wine pairs brilliantly with food. It also helps to wipe the palate clean when paired with oily or fried foods. For example, try pairing a nice dry sparkling wine, such as a pinot and chardonnay blend, with a rich dish such as smoked salmon gravlax with crème fraîche; the bubbles will help lighten the food and cut through the density and oiliness of the fish.  Sweeter-style sparkling wines are better matched with dishes that are equally as sweet; for example you can really liven up a dessert such as crème brûlée with a semi-sweet (or Demi-Sec) sparkling wine.

Although Champagne in France is considered the home of bubbles, Australia makes some incredible wines that shouldn’t be overlooked: they’re home grown, taste fabulous, and can be significantly cheaper. When you’re on the hunt for a good bottle, look out for words like “method traditional”, “bottle fermented” or “aged on lees” on the front and back label. These terms indicate that the wine has been made in a similar way to how sparkling wine has been made in Champagne for over 300 years. Lesser quality sparklings tend to be fermented in large tanks, as opposed to in the bottle.

Then there’s the choice of vintage versus non-vintage or NV sparkling wine. A vintage wine is one made from grapes that are harvested in the one year, and therefore their flavours and quality can vary from one year to the next. In good years they are amongst the most revered. On the other hand non-vintage wines contain a mixture of base wines from different years and tend to be blended to a house-style to achieve taste consistency each year. Some people assume that vintage sparkling wine must be better, but it’s not always the case and often comes down to personal taste.

Secretly, my ultimate passion for sparkling wine lies with sparkling red wine – especially sparkling Shiraz. It’s a uniquely Aussie wine style – we invented it. I’m fortunate to be a winemaker at Seppelt, based in Western Victoria in the Grampians wine region, where sparkling Shiraz was developed 120 years ago and we’ve been making it in a similar way ever since. The Grampians region lends itself to spicy, bright fruit that is well suited to this wine style.

My introduction to sparkling Shiraz was on Christmas morning with my family over bacon and eggs. It also goes beautifully with Christmas lunch. However there are so many other occasions that are suited to this unique wine style.  It’s a great aperitif on the warm days for those of us who prefer to drink reds. It’s also fantastic with richer, gamey meats like duck and pork belly. Take a bottle next time you head to your local Peking duck place with friends and thank me later!

I often enjoy sparkling Shiraz with desert –the spicy and juicy fruit flavours lend themselves well to chocolate and berry based desserts.

So when you’re next choosing a bottle of wine for dinner, consider a bottle of Australian sparkling.  For lighter meals such as fish, oysters, and subtle vegetable dishes, pick a sparkling white such as Seppelt Salinger; for medium to full flavour meals, such as stews, duck, pork belly or lamb opt for a bottle of sparkling red; my favourite is the Seppelt Original Sparkling Shiraz – it won’t disappoint!"

Both Seppelt Salinger and Seppelt Original Sparkling Shiraz will be available for tasting at the Seppelt stand and Seppelt VIP Hospitality Marquee at the Noosa International Food and Wine Festival, at which Westpac is the Presenting Sponsor. Seppelt is the Principal Event Wine Sponsor. The Festival runs from 15-18 May.


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