Like a pink glittery unicorn, it’s not supposed to exist.
When we think of sparkling wine, we tend to think of Champagne, Prosecco or Cava. If you’re hooked on the natural wine movement, you may well start fantasising about a pétillant naturel (pét nat, if you want to be down with the kids) or a metodo ancestrale.
For the most part, these wines tend to be white… even if they’re made from red-skinned grapes.
(Remember that “Blanc de Noirs” in French literally means “White from Blacks” and refers to a white Champagne made from the red-skinned Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.)
In Europe, we are quite used to seeing sparkling rosé wines too. In the UK at least, they are targeted towards the female demographic for 364 days of the year and towards porters of Y chromosomes specifically on Valentine’s Day.
This brings me to the elephant in the room: a sparkling red wine.
I’m not talking a deep pink colours, as you might get from a Gamay Teinturier grape in France or the Salamino grape used for Lambrusco in Italy; no, I mean as red as robin red breast or a papal gown.
JULIAN CASTAGNA (Beechworth, Victoria, Australia) Sparkling Genesis 2008 Shiraz, Viognier (13.5%)
With a timid pop, the cork is dislodged and immediately starts to release its secrets.
“single-vineyard, estate-grown shiraz with a touch of viognier…”
It’s an enchanting wine – and it starts to spin its spell with a rich, dark garnet colour and a fine mousse.
The bouquet is very typical of Julian’s still Shiraz – generous fruity and herbaceous primary aromas. It bewitches with jammy red fruit and ripe berries and with spices (in particular, sandalwood and musk.)
“two years on lees… disgorged October 2011…”
It is a méthode traditionnelle, meaning made according to Champagne techniques. However, it bears little resemblance to the wines that I have tasted coming from northern France.
I was curious as to how a sparkling shiraz – especially one from Australia, historically known for its abuse of oak barrels – would turn out but it was a very pleasant surprise. It is, of course, original. The wine has some residual sugar which causes the mouthfeel to be a little more slack than the type of bubble that I normally drink… but it’s intriguing. The marriage of fruit and spice continues ethereally until the final drop whilst the soft tannins provide the structure and backdrop.
I’d searched Google high and low for some more information about this wine but besides the Castagna website and one other tasting note, there was nothing particularly forthcoming. As a result, this lonely bottle has sat in my cellar since early 2012, collecting dust, while waiting for an occasion to be consumed.
As I saw it, the problem with sparkling red wines is that they call out for food and aren’t generally as accepted as their white counterparts as an apéritif. In the same way, apart from anolini and lambrusco, when has sparkling red wine ever been invited onto the dinner table?
Fortunately, just before Christmas, an open-minded fellow wino was only happy to help resolve this dilemma. I made a North African tagine – heavy on the harissa – with butternut squash and chick peas. It turned out to be a very successful wine-food pairing (even if I say it myself!) and a very acute reminder that Julian Castagna is producing some of the finest wines coming out of Australia.
Tasted 18th December 2016
Rating : *****