Wine / The chilled and fizzy taste of summer

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“Sparkling shiraz is the quintessential Australian wine to drink in the summer… just right for a barbecue where it has the capacity to cut through fatty meats and clean the palate in the best possible way,” writes wine columnist RICHARD CALVER

COVID-19’s impact induces a strange feeling. I have discovered a word that describes the feeling: torschlusspanik or “gate shutting panic”. 

Richard Calver.

This is a sense of panic at the passing of life’s opportunities: will I keep my job? When can I travel again? When can I visit the wineries in South Otago, which produce world-class pinot noirs, that I had planned to visit last month? When can I go to Canada and drink ice wine around a campfire after canoeing in the rivers of a national park, something I had paid for in May but which was cancelled? I feel that at my age the gate isn’t quite shut but it’s banging away in a high wind. 

So, on a more positive note, this means trying to grab life with both hands. That decision often leads to the opening of a bottle of wine to go with meals at home, something that is usually viewed as a celebration but which has now become frequent. 

And that process often also generates conversations that you wouldn’t have as a norm. The other night to go with a first course of a delightful smoky hummus dip, I cracked a bottle of Cofield 2017 vintage sparkling shiraz from Victoria and great value at $28 a bottle. It was almost chewy in the mouth with a high level of tannin yet balanced by a brambly black-fruit depth. The fizz accentuated the complexity. 

The Cofield 2017 vintage sparkling shiraz… almost chewy in the mouth with a high level of tannin yet balanced by a brambly black-fruit depth.

My daughter shared a glass and said: “I don’t get this wine. Why would you want to put bubbles in such a full-bodied shiraz? Even though I like it, it seems just wrong.” 

So, I called the winemaker Damien Cofield. He laughed with slight initial bemusement but then opened up: “Well, the short answer is we have a market for it. 

“It’s level pegging for sales of the shiraz table wine and the sparkling. We have been making the shiraz sparkling since 1988 when my dad, who used to work for Seppelts, continued the Australian tradition of making a sparkling red.”

“Are there other reasons to add the bubbles?” I asked.

“It’s methode traditionelle so we get to add a judicious amount of predetermined liquor, which is a mixture of port wine and sugar to balance the alcohol and the tannins. The art is to get that just right so that the wine sings.”

I must say that I like a good sparkling red, especially with foods that have a matching richness and weight, like a slow-cooked beef casserole. It’s like a heavyweight championship for your tastebuds. Sparkling shiraz, too, is an Australian icon, alluded to by Damien Cofield. 

As Simon Thomsen wrote in 2013: “The first sparkling burgundy, as it was known, was made in 1881 by the Victorian Champagne Company and just three years later, the Seppelt Great Western legend was born.” 

Seppelts still makes a sparkling shiraz, some of outstanding quality with the 2008 Show Sparkling Limited Release going at $100 a bottle. 

Sparkling shiraz is the quintessential Australian wine to drink in the summer. You still get the wonderful, full expression of a complex wine but it’s chilled and fizzy and just right for a barbecue where it has the capacity to cut through fatty meats and clean the palate in the best possible way. 

Good-quality sparkling red wine is the portent for summer that we need, the hope that comes with waiting for the sun to shine, the outdoor opportunities to be embraced. 

Frankly, I hope summer portends that life’s gate will swing open and the medical profession will have produced a vaccine so we can go back to normality.

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Richard Calver
Richard Calver walks, talks, thinks, drinks and writes passionately about wine, especially the wines of the Canberra region.

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