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Tasting & matching: New World Sparkling

With most Brits firmly off splurging and back to counting the pennies, there has probably never been a better time to consider adding some extra New World fizz to your list. Andrew Catchpole joins a panel of sommeliers to see what’s on offer and work out how you could sell it.


All that glitters may not be gold, and all that sparkles certainly isn’t champagne. But with the UK’s legendary thirst for fizz being squeezed by harder times, Imbibe set out to discover whether the New World can offer a stepping stone between the vats of cheap cava and prosecco and higher-end champagne.

We asked our panel if these wines could offer a better deal to both the restaurant and punters than the cheaper champagnes which, despite their often patchy quality, still find customers willing to pay for the name.

However, this wasn’t simply an exercise in finding good champagne alternatives. The panel was also directed to look for merit in the wines as stand-alone offerings from various wine-producing corners of the world, with expression of local terroir weighing in as a crucial point of difference when making a sale.

Qualitative comparisons with the world’s most famous – and consistently priciest – fizz were, though, hard to ignore. Especially given that the overwhelming majority of fizzes tasted were Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blends made in the traditional method.

Our tasting team found a mixed bag of wines, but also a good number of high points (and scores) that suggested we should pay more attention to the mix of value and quality emerging from the New World.


HOW IT WORKS

We invited 45 leading suppliers to the UK on-trade to submit their suggested wines, from which list we then drew up our 45-strong tasting selection for the panel. All wines were tasted blind, in flights by country, with the price shown, and each marked out of 20, with our tasters encouraged to use the full range of marks. Each taster’s score was then collated to give an average rating out of 100 for every wine. Results are listed by country, in descending order of average score. Only wines scoring over 60 are included here. All wines are available to the UK on-trade and all prices are approximate ex-VAT trade, except where noted as RRP.


TASTING PANEL

Andrea Briccarello, Galvin Restaurants  Andrew Catchpole, Imbibe
Mark Deamer, The Marylebone Hotel  Mike Harrison, Hotel du Vin, Henley
Roberto Loppi, Hakkasan  Ashraf Saleh, Galvin at Windows
Thomas Sorcinelli, The Ritz  Rupert Taylor, The Boundary


Results

Canada
Average score: 76
Average price: £16.16

76 Peller Estates Ice Cuvée NV
‘Poised, with lovely concentration of sugars, this is a superb pairing wine for light fruit desserts,’ RT. ‘Ice-wine nose with hints of flowers, honey,’ AB.
£16.16, Enotria,
020 8961 4411

Australia
Average score: 74.5
Average price: £13.61

85 Deviation Road NV, Adelaide Hills
‘Persistent mousse and fine bubbles, an elegant nose, hints of ginger and coconut, dry, fresh, very balanced and great lime notes on finish,’ RL. ‘Delicate nose, soft citrus palate, great length, balanced acidity, champagne-esque,’ MH.
£17.95, Berkmann,
020 7670 0972

81 Taltarni Brut Taché Rose NV
‘Lovely onion-skin pink colour and a delicate nose with some sherbet, followed by soft red berry fruit on palate. A well-made, interesting wine for the money,’ MH. ‘Very pale colour, some red fruit and elegance on finish,’ TS.
£10.82, Boutinot,
0161 908 1300

78 Jansz Tasmania Premium Rosé NV
‘Fresh, strawberryish notes on both the nose and palate; dry, refreshing and has a lovely finish,’ RL. ‘A delicate rosé, with a soft mousse and subtle red fruits,’ RT.
£10.96, Negociants UK,
01582 462859

78 Petaluma Croser Brut 2007, Adelaide Hills
‘Fresh, tight, mineral nose, a palate hinting at depth and complexity, some good persistence on fresh finish,’ AC. ‘Showing restraint and youth, dry, high acidity, needs more time,’ RL.
£17.09, Bibendum,
0845 263 6924

76 Rococo Blanc de Blancs NV, Yarra Valley
‘Powerful nose, fruity and long. Golden Delicious apples and some yeastiness on palate, plus a touch of sweetness,’ RL. ‘Soft, rounded, uplifted nose, floral and citrus throughout, with a hint of sweetness but balanced by acidity,’ AC.
RRP £16.99, De Bortoli UK,
01747 830962

76 Patricia Pinot Noir & Chardonnay Brut 2005
‘Good yeasty hints on nose and palate, some nice elegance and good length, a refreshing aperitif,’ RT. ‘Good, ripe, rounded nose and palate, with some yeasty depth balanced by fresh acidity and evolved, long finish,’ AC.
£17.75, PLB
01342 318282

75 Rococo Rosé NV, Yarra Valley
‘Good berry fruit nose, raspberry on palate, lovely creamy mousse, a good wine,’ MD. ‘Wonderful bouquet, red fruit on nose and palate, good complexity,’ TS.
£11.50, De Bortoli UK,
01747 830962

75 Jansz Tasmania Premium Vintage 2005
‘Nose a tad simple but palate explodes with hints of limes and a vibrant thread of spicy ginger, with lovely acid on finish that creates great length,’ MD. ‘Ripe, fresh, perfumed nose. Crisp and
creamy texture; quite vibrant,’ AB.
£15.71, Negociants UK,
01582 462859

73 Patricia Pinot Noir, Chardonnay Pinot Meunier NV
‘Fresh mineral nose, lovely soft fruit and cream on palate, good fine mousse and minerality on finish,’ MD. ‘Elegant, lots of citrus, refreshing palate, little short,’ AB.
£11.25, PLB,
01342 318282

72 Yarrabank Cuvée Brut NV, Victoria
‘Lime and lemon notes, floral and nice freshness. More savoury hints on the palate with a zingy finish,’ AB. ‘Very New World: lots of primary fruit,’ MH.
£16.19, Enotria,
020 8961 4411

71 De Bortoli Willowglen Brut NV
‘Fresh floral nose. Nice creamy balance to palate. An easy drinking aperitif,’ AC. ‘Very good value, with fresh floral notes, nice minerality and good balance,’ AB.
£5.99, De Bortoli, UK
01747 830962

71 Pirie Sparkling NV, Tasmania
‘Nice mature developing nose and a biscuit-rich palate make this a good alternative to mature champagne,’ RT. ‘Some good autolysis depth and biscuit notes, but looks too oxidative,’ AC.
£15.87, Stratford’s Wine Agencies,
01628 810606

69 Clover Hill Brut NV, Tasmania
‘Intense, with lots of ripe fruits. Quite complex, but needs more acidity,’ AB. ‘Uncomplicated nose and some nice citrus depth, but not good value,’ RT.
£18.06, Alliance Wine,
01505 506060

69 The Spee'wah Crooked Mick Cuvee Chardonnay Brut NV, Murray Darling
‘Fresh, primary fruit on nose, New World ripeness, high residual and lowish acidity but pleasant,’ MH. ‘Stone fruit character. The mousse goes quickly. but good length and intensity for the price,’ RL.
£7.97, Bibendum,
0845 263 6924

68 Jacob’s Creek Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir NV
‘Fragrant nose, with a pear and golden apple palate, plus refreshing acidity,’ RL. ‘Light nose, simple well-made wine, no great depth but fresh and drinkable,’ MH.
RRP £9.99, Pernod Ricard UK,
020 8538 4484

Chile
Average score: 71.3
Average price: £8.75

72 Cono Sur Los Gansos Sparkling Brut NV, Bío-Bío Valley
‘Citrus notes with stone fruits. Balanced fruit and acidity: a good option by-the-glass,’ AB. ‘Some pleasant delicacy, light and refreshing, with a dry finish,’ RT.
£9.59, Concha y Toro UK,
01865 873713

72 Miguel Torres Pinot Noir Brut Nature NV
‘Zesty, citrus nose, some elegant balance with fresh lime acidity, good aperitif style,’ AB. ‘Good, clean sparkler, citrus and orange, a good competitor to take on prosecco and cava,’ MD.
£7.95, Fells,
01442 870 900

72 Miguel Torres Santa Digna Estelado Rosé NV
‘Nice candied red fruit. Good balance and a refreshing finish: a good value wine,’ RL. ‘Attractive soft pink colour, red fruit and hint of minerality on the palate,’ MH.
£7.66, Fells,
01442 870 900

69 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Brut Reserva NV, Limari Valley
‘Soft mousse, fresh apple and pear nose, rounded good balance,’ RT. ‘Citrus and red fruit hints balancing bready depth, a great value homage to champagne,’ MD.
£9.80, Concha y Toro UK,
01865 873713

Brazil
Average score: 70
Average price: £16.62

74 Cave Geisse Rosé Brut 2006
‘Strawberry and roses on the nose, vibrant appley palate. Ripe with good concentration and length,’ AB. ‘Medium intensity, nice fresh and fruity finish,’ RL.
£18.95, Go Brazil Wines & Spirits,
01473 722999

71 Cave Geisse Terroir Nature 2006
‘Good complexity and balance,’ TS. ‘Floral and yeasty, dry mineral palate, good complexity, body and minerality, a good food wine,’ AB.
£18.95, Go Brazil Wines & Spirits,
01473 722999

65 Casa Valduga Gran Reserva Brut 130 NV
‘Good persistent mousse, soft stone fruit on nose and palate, dry and well balanced,’ RL. ‘Quite complex nose, rich palate, ripe fruit and mouthfeel,’ MH.
£11.95, Go Brazil Wines & Spirits,
01473 722999

New Zealand
Average score: 68.2
Average price: £12.76

72 Hunter’s MiruMiru NV, Marlborough
‘Fine mousse, clean, creamy, persistent floral notes, dry,’ RL. ‘Some complexity and a touch of autolysis, OK finish,’ RT.
£11.88, Jeroboams,
020 7288 8850

69 Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc Brut NV
‘Clear Sauvignon Blanc expression, with fresh, grassy hints,’ AS. ‘Fruity, some mineral, like Cloudy Bay with bubbles – interesting and unusual,’ AB.
RRP £9.99, Pernod Ricard UK,
020 8538 4484

68 Quartz Reef Methode Traditionelle NV
‘Red fruit character on nose, more champagne-style, elegant with good length,’ MH. ‘Yeasty notes, not too fruity, dry, medium intensity, refreshing acidity,’ RL ‘Good value,’ RT.
£11.72, Enotria,
020 8961 4411

67 Trinity Hill ‘H’ Blanc de Blancs NV
‘Cheesy and mineral, good fruit and acidity balance, fresh and reasonable length,’ AB. ‘Crisp, clean, lean, well-balanced and long delicate finish,’ RT.
£13.23, Enotria,
020 8961 4411

65 Cloudy Bay Pelorus NV
‘Better complexity, showing well-balanced, rounded fruit,’ TS. ‘Very floral and fruity, dry and zesty, crisp, refreshing palate, pricey but good quality,’ AB.
RRP £16.99, Moet Hennessy UK,
020 7235 9411

Argentina
Average score: 67.3
Average price: £10.52

75 Familia Zuccardi Vida Organica Sparkling Chardonnay NV
‘Floral and perfumed, hints of elderflower and lemon on the palate, lovely spicy white pepper on finish, great length,’ MD. ‘Fresh mineral nose, ripe palate, good acidity and very good value,’ MH.
£9.01, Alliance Wine,
01505 506 060

72 Alma 4 Sparkling Pinot Chardonnay 2007 NV
‘Mineral with bready, custard depth,’ RL. ‘Expressive nose, rounded, evolving palate, some nice yeasty character and good, balanced, dry finish,’ AC.
£13.95, Liberty Wines,
020 7720 5350

71 Tapiz Extra Brut NV
‘Elegant mineral nose, zesty and citrusy. A well-balanced, concentrated palate; ripe style,’ AB. ‘Palate showing pear and mango, very good if quite pricey,’ RL.
£15.49, Hispamerchants,
020 8740 4556

70 Valentin Bianchi Extra Brut NV
‘Citrus and yeast, good fresh toasty palate, nicely balanced and good value,’ AB. ‘Fresh with a hint of smokiness and well balanced acidity,’ TS.
£8.66, Liberty Wines,
020 7720 5350

66 Polo Amateur Extra Brut NV
‘A simple wine that’s very easy drinking but lacks concentration and complexity,’ RT. ‘Light mousse, with citrus notes and light on palate. Good value.’ AS.
£6.20, World Wine Agencies,
0117 986 8435

64 Tapiz Sparkling Malbec Rosé NV
‘Intense, fresh, citrusy nose, Black Forest fruit, interesting wine – if pricey,’ AB. ‘Intense pink-purple tones, violets and blueberries, dry with balanced finish,’ RL.
£15.49, Hispamerchants,
020 8740 4556

63 Luigi Bosca Extra Brut NV, Mendoza
‘Quite complex and pleasurable; balanced wine,’ TS. ‘Palate could be riper,’ RT.
£11.60, Bancroft Wines,
020 7232 5440

63 Michel Torino Extra Brut NV, Cafayate
‘Floral with hints of citrus and orange peel. A soft palate,’ RL. ‘Fresh nose, well-knit palate, needs a little more time,’ MH.
£7.57, Hallgarten Druitt,
01582 722538

62 Bodegas Pascual Toso Sparkling Brut NV
‘Dry, a touch of vanilla and hint of creaminess. OK at the price,’ RL.
£6.75, Stratford’s Wine Agencies,
01628 810606

South Africa
Average score: 67
Average price: £9.14

73 Steenberg 1682 Brut NV, Constantia
‘Slightly austere, a clean citrus style, but good flavour definition. Lemon and apple notes. Good value,’ MD. ‘Good fruit, acidity and length,’ MH.
£6.66, Armit,
020 7908 0690

65 Klein Constantia Cap Classique 2007, Constantia
‘Peachy, fleshy fruit, a delicate mousse and some sweetness on the finish. Would work with soft cheeses,’ RT. ‘Tropical fruit, medium finish, good value wine,’ AS.
£9.39, Mentzendorff,
020 7840 3600

63 Graham Beck Brut Rosé 2008, Robertson
‘Medium-deep colour, with red berry fruit notes, a fresh palate and medium length on the finish,’ AS. ‘Lovely salmon pink colour, slightly confected red fruit on nose, soft red fruit palate,’ MH.
£11.36, Bibendum,
0845 263 6924

USA
Average score: 67
Average price: £10.41

67 Domaine Ste Michelle Brut NV, Washington State  
‘Fresh lemon peel on the nose, dry and crisp palate, good balance and length,’ RL. ‘Fresh, lively wine, some biscuit depth and a long, balanced finish,’ AC.
£10.41, Stratford’s Wine Agencies,
01628 810606

CONCLUSIONS
  • While our panel found much to commend, New World fizz remains a tough sell because people still default to cheap champagne.
  • A post-tasting tweet from @hamishdanderson best summed up the conundrum facing sparkling wine producers: ‘Quality is low on the scale of why people purchase fizz in the on-trade.’
  • Australia was seen as the most consistent ‘go to’ NW fizz producer: delivering depth and complexity that can parallel champagne, but generally packing more fruit.
  • South America, including surprise entrant Brazil, is definitely a place to watch as winemakers hone their skills and elegant styles begin to emerge.

  • At the cheaper level, NW fizz can offer more bang for buck with characterful and good value alternatives to prosecco and cava.
  • Wines such as New Zealand sparkling Sauvignon Blanc offer a great point of difference, possibly making them an easier sell.
  • Cool climate fruit is key in delivering greater elegance and complexity, and thus also food compatibility in New World sparkling wines.
  • Elegance coupled with a sense of place makes for a standout fizz that sommeliers can sell on both merit and regional story.

Panel Comments

Andrea Briccarello, Galvin Restaurants
‘We had to sample a lot to find the really good ones. The most difficult point was the prices. The rosés were good: rosés can be a little dry and thin, but today’s were a little off-dry with good intensity, which works well.’

Andrew Catchpole, Imbibe
‘The New World’s Achilles heel, when it comes to sparkling wine, is that the best are made using the same varieties and techniques as champagne, so it is more difficult to sell on individual merit. We need to recognise that some of these individual wines can be enjoyed precisely because they reflect a terroir and style that isn’t champagne.’

Mark Deamer, The Marylebone Hotel
‘Some of the prices were too high, and these producers would do well to look at the market before coming in at such prices. Australia is your best bet for consistency of quality. But the wines have to be cooler climate, so Adelaide Hills, Victoria, Tasmania.’

Mike Harrison, Hotel du Vin, Henley
‘Chile has moved forward in the past five years. Argentina, too. But Australia was the most consistent flight. Given that the UK is one of the leading markets for sparkling wine consumption, we should be guiding our customers to try the best on offer.’

Roberto Loppi, Hakkasan
‘One of the mistakes people make is comparing sparkling wine with champagne. They should be taken as a different category, like prosecco and cava. I was surprised by the Australian wines: there were some good bottles with balance, persistence, even minerality, but then also quite a few that were simply fizzes. So it is important to blind taste to find the bottles that do stand out.’

Ashraf Saleh, Galvin at Windows
‘Those fizzes from hotter climates didn’t work. There was also some clumsy residual sugar and even some with oak involved, which is difficult to get right. I’m not sure that many of these wines would go into fine-dining restaurants, but there are wines here which would suit more relaxed settings, such as pubs and bars.’

Thomas Sorcinelli, The Ritz
‘I was expecting to find more quality at the lower prices but what I found was that the best wines were quite pricey. The customer is less likely to spend that amount of money on a New World sparkling wine. The New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc might be easier to sell, because it’s offering a clear, varietal point of difference.’

Rupert Taylor, The Boundary
‘This was an interesting tasting, with a huge variety of wines, and some real highlights. At the easy-drinking end there are some producers that could corner a market as they offer more interest than a lot of cava and prosecco.’

Many thanks to the team at Tempo Restaurant and Bar in Mayfair, London, for providing an excellent venue and for all of their help on the day.

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – January/February 2012

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