Q: You have $50 to spend on sparkling wine. Do you:
a) Buy a bottle of discounted, ‘big house’ NV Champagne?
b) Spend the dollars on a premium, likely vintage Australian sparkling?
It’s a pretty stark choice. Industrial, mass-market Champagne vs handmade Aussie fizz – I know what I’d drink.
Sure, I’m generalising, and the reality isn’t that straightforward (plenty of generic Aussie sparkling and smart, affordable Champagne at that price). But the point stands.
And this Adelaide Hills sparkling masterclass only fuelled that belief. Here is a collection of artisan, bottle-fermented sparkling wines of the highest calibre. Fizz that can contend with Champagne on a pure quality basis AND often presents better value.
But there’s a challenge – the value equation only goes so far, and post $70/bottle fine Champagne starts kicking in. Hard.
Conversely, the boon of these wines is that they’re typically handmade, terroir pieces. Grower fizz, given the care and detail you’d expect.
Though that begs the question – what do you want in sparkling wine? Character or perfection? Brand or vinosity?
Currently, Champagne dominates the >$50 pricepoint, which suggests the Champenoise have the edge in super-premium wines, But consumption of Australian sparkling in the $14.99-$49.99 price bracket is growing consistently (according to IRI figures). And below $15 Australian sparkling is in structural decline as imported Prosecco dominates.
That $45 sweet spot, however, is Adelaide Hills sparkling hunting groud.
In fact, the only other problem with these wines is tracking them down. Tiny production, typically available direct from the winery (only).
Adelaide Hills Sparkling Masterclass
All these wines are bottle-fermented, a defining condition of the masterclass.
For my palate, Chardonnay is the king of Adelaide Hills sparkling, and for the most part, Blanc de Blancs were the winners. That said, there were many highlights in this lineup. Notes are as written on the day and treat scores as a rough guide, particularly with NV fizz without a disgorgement date. Also note I haven’t put in drinking windows, purely because I’m not a massive fan of ageing sparkling post disgorgement.
Bracket 1 Pinot Chardonnay blends
Petaluma Croser NV
There is as much of this wine produced as there is sparkling wine from the Adelaide Hills, period. Sparkling is now 60%+ of what Petaluma produce, so its an essential part of the business too. A blend of 65 % Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay. A massive 65% is handpicked, which is madness for the price. Spends 12 months on lees with partial malo. Numbers: pH 3.25, TA 6.8g/L. Dosage 10g/L.
More fruit than lees, this has a fleshiness and a vague tinniness. Entry-level fizz, so what do I expect? That said, the quality of the bead is excellent – you feel the calibre of the winemaking is top shelf, but the wine itself is a bit simple. Appley, generous, straightforward, but not quite the depth to go beyond that (and with obvious sweetness). Pleasant enough. Best drinking: now. 16.5/20. 88/100. 13%, $25. Would I buy it? No.
Mt Lofty Ranges Methode Traditionelle 2016
From a plot at Lenswood, 500-550m asl. Picked from the coldest part of the vineyard – the bottom 15%. Just 220 dozen made, with 45 dozen in 2019! That’s very similar numbers to 2011 vintage apparently, with a bit of frost the main issue. 65% Pinot, 35% Chardonnay. Spends 30 months on lees. 7g/L dosage. Full malo. All handpicked. Numbers: pH 2.92, TA 7.7g/L.
Clean and crisp style. Lovely delicacy. Quality. Long lees ageing and looks the part. Finessed, leesy style has that apple juice Hills character, Pinot dominant and looks it. Custardy lees. Such lovely delicacy and a blend of appley fruit and acidity. 17.7/20, 92/100. 11.5%, $45. Would I buy it? Yes.
Lobethal Road Maja Late Disgorged 2011
From Mt Torrens, 475m asl. Disgorged in 2017. 52% Pinot, 48% Chardonnay. 72 months on lees. 3g/L dosage. Full malo. Numbers: pH 3.1, TA 6.5g/L. Full malo.
Really cheesy, almost distractingly so. Autolysis to the max. Is it too yeasty? Palate is broad and full too – you’d almost expect this to have seen some oak (but it hasn’t). A fraction overt – almost sweaty, beery and a bit stinky. I like the yeasty push and complexity, but not sure if the balance is there. Complexity abounds though. 17/20, 90/100. 12%, $45. Would I buy it? I’d like another glass to see if resolves.
Bracket 2 – Pinot Chardonnay blends (continued)
Daosa Natural Reserve NV
All Piccadilly Valley fruit, 550m asl. 82% Chardonnay, 18% Pinot. Spends 18 months on lees. Includes reserve wine which is kept in old oak. Full malo, and 7.5g/L dosage. Numbers: pH 3.05, TA 6.8g/L. Full malo.
Fascinating to see the apple juice character here. I’ve never noticed that in Hills fizz. The reserve wine gives an extra edge of complexity to what is otherwise a quite delicate style. Definitely some Croser DNA in the process here. I wonder if it’s just a little lean? Pretty though. A pretty, and well-handled NV just looking for a little more complexity. 17.5/20, 91/100. 13.1%, $45. Would I buy it? Sure would. Spot on.
Petaluma Croser 2013
From the Piccadilly Valley also, 450m-550m asl. 59% Pinot Noir, 41% Chardonnay. 5 months in oak. Minimum 42 months on lees. 6.5g/L dosage. Partial malo. Numbers: pH 2.84, TA 7.5g/L.
A singular wine. A singular flavour of toast, the acid gentle, the mouthfeel broad. It falls away a fraction through the finish, but has such lovely generous flavour too, which is helped by the barrel ferment, I wonder if it’s not getting any better (and needs a bit more vitality). 17.5/20, 91/100. 13%, $38. Would I buy it? A bargain in the scheme of things.
Lofty Valley Altitude 2011
Summertown/Ashton fruit, 480m asl. 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir. 24 months on lees. Zero dosage. Partial malo. From a plot across the road from Barrett’s. Five years in bottle now. A ‘cold, wet and problematic site’, apparently. 60% of the wine is still on lees to be released as an LD.
Another chunky style, though here it’s more about bottle age than as much about yeast ageing. I quite like the broad and toasty palate, but it gets a bit broad through the finish. Edgy acidity and I think makes it. Long too. I find this quite interesting, even if there is a faint earthy bitterness. Intriguing. 17.7/20, 92/100. 11.5%, $50 . Would I buy it? Worth a glass or two.
Bracket 3 – Blanc de Noir and rosé part 1
Greenhill Wines Pinot Noir Rosé Brut 2016
From Paul Henschke’s cold, sparkling friendly spot at Summertown, 585m asl. 100% Pinot Noir. 30 months on lees. 5g/L dosage. Numbers: pH 3.02, TA 7.2g/L.
Pretty pink strawberries, but with acidity. This has the riper pink fruit, but the acidity is delicious. Great appeal, mouthwatering, with red apples through the middle, the acidity well up to the task of delivering a fresh wine. High-quality fizz, exceptional price. 18/20, 93/100. 12.7%, $27. Would I buy it? Absolutely.
Bird in Hand Joy Sparkling Pinot Noir 2015
From a plot at Woodside, 400m asl. 100% Pinot Noir, spends 30 months on lees. 6g/L dosage. Full malo. Numbers: pH 3.27, TA 5.5g/L.
Almost candied pink fruit here – I would have picked this as being much riper and sweeter than the dosage and acidity suggests. Fuller, richer, and chunkier wine that is halfway to table wine territory. Ripe middle. Less Champagne, more Pinot with bubbles. Attractive, but I think it’s a bit of a blunt object. 17/20, 90/100. 12%, $75. Would I buy it? A glass.
Ashton Hills Vintage Rosé 2016
Piccadilly Valley fruit, 575m asl. Colour is from 5% Pinot table wine blended back in. 100% Pinot Noir. 24 months on lees, no malo. Numbers: pH 3.26, TA 5.6g/L.
The highest dosage (11g/L), but not meant to be sweet. No malo, but riper grapes make for a different acid profile, but I find this lingers with real grip. Long, if maybe too vinous to be perfect. 17.5/20, 91/100. 12.6%, $40. Would I buy it? A glass or two.
Bracket 4 Rosé part 2
Greenhill Wines Late Disgorged Pinot Noir Rosé 2011
100% Pinot Noir. 78 months on lees. 4.5g/L dosage. Full malo. Numbers: pH 3.1. TA 7g/L.
15-year-old vines. Winemaker Paul Henschke says that ‘the colour has faded a bit over time, a bit like the winemaker’. The latest pick ever from the vineyard. Such a complete wine. A beautiful high acid style. Has that charismatic bready Pinot note. Champagne-leaning rather than table wine. Has a lovely balance between yeast, a whisper of pink fruit and then a perfectly dry and defined finish. Close your eyes and go to Champagne. Standout wine. 18.5/20, 94/100. 11.8%, $44. Would I buy it? Would I ever.
Sidewood Isabella Rosé 2014
From a plot at Oakbank, 380m asl. 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay. 48 months on lees. Partial malo. Dosage 9g/L. pH 3.01.
Named after Owen Inglis’s daughter Isabella. Vinous. A riot of red apples. Phenolic and chunky, more table wine. Has a nice fruit-driven middle, the finish long too. But maybe a bit blunt and sweet and sour. 17.5/20, 91/100. 12%, $32. Would I buy it? A glass.
Honey Moon Vineyard Rosé Brut 2015
From a plot at Echunga, 420m asl. 85% Pinot Noir, 15% Chardonnay. 43 months on lees. 75% malo. Dosage 9g/L. Numbers: pH 2.9, TA 7,38g/L.
Includes a portion of juice that had some carbonic maceration. Pinot from this vineyard is known for its ‘violet component’. Includes 15% reserve Piccadilly Chardonnay that was barrel fermented and matured in magnum ala Bollinger. Composed and quite complex style. Red fruit, the lees giving this a richness and roundness too. Grippy, complex, the barrel ferment again gives this a creaminess. It’s a lovely mouthful of creamy chunkiness. Layers of flavour, acid meets pink strawberry and lees. Very nice. 18/20, 93/100. 12%, $50. Would I buy it? Worth sharing a bottle.
Bracket 5 Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay) part 1
Marble Hill Viceroy Blanc de Blancs 2017
From a plot in the Basket Range, 517m asl. 10 months on lees, Full malo, 3g/L dosage. Numbers: pH 3.3, TA 6.0g/L.
Nutty and maybe a bit mousy. Vinous, bone dry and grippy almost to the point of excess bitterness. Has some interesting nuttiness and there’s some complexity here, but it feels just a bit incomplete and lean. 16.5/20, 88/100. 12.5%, $40. Would I buy it? No.
Piccadilly Circus Blanc de Blancs 2016
Piccadilly Valley fruit, but at 470m asl. 24 months on lees. Full malo. 4.5g/L dosage. 25% barrel ferment. Numbers: pH 2.91, TA 8.0g/L.
Lovely mouthful of honeyed marzipan nutty richness to it. So plump and chunky. Leesy, lovely creamy mouthful of finessed fruit, but all backed by acidity What a wine! A broad mouthful of marzipan. Nails the acid/fruit balance too. 18/20, 93/100. 12.5%, $40. Would I buy it? Sure would.
Lobethal Road Maja Blanc de Blancs 2012
Mt Torrens fruit, 475m asl. 84 months on lees. Full malo. 4g/L dosage. Numbers: pH 3.08, TA 6.4g/L.
Well made, pristine fruit and made with a delicate touch. Full leesiness fills out the palate so nicely. I like the ease of this wine – it pulls through the middle so nicely. Attractive and pretty. 17.8/20, 92/100. 12%, $45. Would I buy it? Worth sharing a bottle at least.
Bracket 6 – Blanc de Blancs part 2
Sidewood Cassandra Blanc de Blancs 2015
Oakbank fruit, 380m asl. 42 months on lees. Full malo. Ferment in old oak and 95% in oak for 9 months. 1.5g/L dosage. pH 3.1.
Oak a dominant character here. Pineappley too. It’s all a bit forced and I feel like it needs more delicacy and vinosity, though no doubting it makes a big statement. Table wine with bubbles. Sour. A big statement, though. Long too. Not my style, but I can see the intention. 17/20, 90/100. 12%, $50. Would I buy it? Not for me.
The Lane Vineyard Cuvee Helen Blanc de Blancs 2013
From a block at 400m asl. 60 months on lees. Full malo. 30% ferment in barrel. 60 months on lees. 3g/L dosage. pH 3.04, TA 7.02.
Quite an explosive personality. Aldehydes aplenty. Leesy. Tangy. Another vinous wine. I don’t mind it at all, but I do wonder if it might be a fraction divisive. Super dry wine too and looks it. Acidity feels very firm. Complexity, but perhaps uncompromising. 17.7/20, 92/100. 12.5%, $65. Would I buy it? Worth a few glasses.
Daosa Piccadilly Valley Blanc de Blancs 2015
Piccadilly Valley fruit, 550m asl. 30 months on lees, fermented and matured in barrel. Full malo. 7g/L dosage. pH 3.01, TA 7.9g/L.
Appley, finessed style. Piccadilly all the way! Apple pie, a little vanilla bean, a pretty and pure wine. Maybe I want a little more leesy richness, but so attractive. Vanilla cream and white flower delicacy. Delicious really. 18/20, 93/100. Would I buy it? Several glasses.
(I travelled to the Adelaide Hills as a guest of the Adelaide Hills sparkling wine community).