Tasmania may be the current darling of Australian sparkling wine and Yarra Valley has its league of fans, but the Adelaide Hills – a key region in fostering elite Australian sparkling wine from the late 1980s – is making a determined bid to ensure its best contemporary sparklings are mentioned among the nation’s best.
An extraordinary wine trade tasting was organised recently in the handsome Greenhill Wines cellar door at Summertown, bringing together 13 Adelaide Hills sparkling wine producers to show off their wares, with 21 wines presented across five style categories. It was a serious statement of intent, taken seriously by the top tier of Australian wine observers. James Halliday flew in on his 80th birthday to participate, underlining the importance and merit of the showcase.
Sitting beside Halliday at the table of honour was Brian Croser, one of the sharpest minds and most studious practitioners in Australian wine, and the first to identify an Adelaide Hills site ideal for Chardonnay. He planted the Tiers vineyard in 1979 beside his home at Piccadilly, which effectively established the modern Adelaide Hills wine region, encouraging hundreds more to plant vineyards. Croser is still producing wine under the Tapanappa label – still earnestly examining every vintage, and still adamant that the Adelaide Hills’ great asset is the fruit complexity that comes from vineyards in so many tiny micro-climates and at various elevations.
Such points of difference, says Croser, make for more interesting wines, which was the intention of profiling so many boutique sparkling producers by tasting organizer Xavier Bizet. In addition to being Croser’s son in law, and working with him on Tapanappa wines, Bizet is also co-creator, with wife Lucy Croser, of DAOSA sparkling wines. This new Piccadilly label struck the loudest chord among the assembled critics, sommeliers and producers, with two exceptional sparklings noted for their finesse and pristine fruit expressions – DAOSA Piccadilly Valley Blancs de Blancs ($55) and the even more impressive DAOSA Natural Reserve Piccadilly Valley ($40).
Curiously, Croser’s name remains attached to the most prolific and famous Adelaide Hills sparkling wine, now made by Petaluma. The name was bought by big winery interests decades ago, and recently tied to an acquisition by American-based asset managers The Carlyle Group. Regardless of such changes, Petaluma winemaker Andrew Hardy (who worked under Brian Croser’s gaze for many years when he still owned the label), remains true to the original quality vision, even when turning out 70,000 bottles of non-vintage sparkling wine a year. Croser NV ($25) remains a model of consistency, but the brand’s triumphs are its vintage release (currently vintage 2013, $45) and 2005 Vintage Late Disgorged (extraordinary value at $55).
The enduring popularity and prestige of Croser sparkling has provided the impetus for the Adelaide Hills to rise as a region that demands to be taken seriously for its sparkling wines – and there are now many more spokes to the wheel, as this elite tasting proved.
Central to this activity is freelance sparkling winemaker Michael Sykes. His Lodestone winery at Charleston is a facility that specialises in traditional sparkling wine production methods, which has made micro-scale excellence of sparkling wine production possible. This is significant; 18 of the wines presented at this tasting have production of less than 1000 dozen bottles, which would be far too costly for any individual winery to contemplate as an in-house project.
Under the careful custody of Sykes, however, almost a dozen Adelaide Hills producers now make sparkling wine. While no wines under Michael’s own brand was presented at this tasting, those that he had a hand in producing show profound advances in refinement and sophistication.
The other great benefit is that Sykes’ facility is encouraging a raft of Adelaide Hills winemakers to experiment with small-batch sparkling wines of idiosyncratic style. This is evident in Rob Moody’s Somerled label making a wonderfully intense 100 per cent Sparkling Pinot Noir (current vintage 2015, $42), Hylton McLean and Jane Bromley’s Honey Moon Vineyard making a moreish, bone dry brut rose style ($45), and Lobethal Road’s 2011 Maja Late Disgorged Chardonnay Pinot Noir ($45), still lean and sprightly despite significant ageing of the base wine.
There are other significant Adelaide Hills champions taking control of their own affairs, most notably Kate Laurie of Deviation Road. Having gone to Champagne to learn traditional production methods, she has become a stickler for detail in her fruit selection, fermentation and processing regimes, reflected in the points of difference between Deviation Road’s four sparkling wines – Loftia (chardonnay dominant, framed by a portion of pinot noir, $45), Altair (rosé style with pinot noir being dominant, and some chardonnay adding vibrancy, $35), Beltana Blanc de Blancs (made with only chardonnay grapes, $100) and 2016 Southcote Blanc de Noirs (rich and fleshy, using only pinot noir grapes, $55).
Sparkling wine continues to be a significant growth sector in global wine trends, so it’s worth looking closely at significant new additions to the Adelaide Hills sparkling portfolio to find surprising expertise and delicious drinking satisfaction.