Australian Christmas lunches (or dinners) are strange. We’ve kept all the traditional heavy foods — roast ham and turkey and chicken and potatoes and gravy and all that good stuff — but we also eat it in up to 40 degree heat. With all that meat you’ll want to pair a red wine, but in hot weather we’d much rather have something to cool us down. This is why chilled sparkling red wine is the traditional — but recently neglected — wine pairing for a perfect Aussie Christmas meal.
Sparkling red photo via Shutterstock
So what is it? Sparkling red wine is uniquely Australian, first coming about as something called ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ in the late 1880s. While the old world wine regions over in Europe had centuries of tradition behind their sparkling whites, no one had ever created a sparkling red like they were making in Australia. While its popularity surged during the first half of the 20th century, the 1970s saw sales of Sparkling Burgundy die off almost completely, after it got a name for being cheap and nasty. Thankfully, a handful of dedicated boutique producers are bringing it back in a big way.
Shiraz could be called Australia’s favourite grape — so it’s no surprise that the early sparkling reds were all made from Shiraz, and even today you’ll find that it is the most popular variety for this style. Some producers choose different varieties and even blends for their red sparklings, however, such as Peter Rumball’s Sparkling Merlot or d’Arenberg’s Sparking Chambourcin. Many of the boutique wineries who have been responsible for giving this wine style a good name again are even more experimental, blending Shiraz with trendy varieties such as Tempranillo for truly top-class wine.
Unlike most red wines, sparkling reds are served chilled. This changes the taste and characteristics of the wine, and even those who don’t like Shiraz or even red wine at all will potentially enjoy a good glass of the sparkling variety. They tend to be more fruity than a regular red, and both the bubbles and the temperature will help them go down easily — you can drink these reds both on their own and with food.
Looking for a good sparkling red to go with your Christmas meal? Here are some of my favourites:
Grant Burge Sparkling Red, $23.75
Grant Burge’s sparkling white wine is one of the best Australian sparklings to be found for under $40, and the red is no different. A blend of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine is deliciously fruity and perfect both with a meal and by itself.
Peter Rumball Sparkling Merlot, $20.89
Peter Rumball was one of the winemakers responsible for bringing the sparkling red back to prominence, and thus it’s no surprise that he makes one of the best sparkling Merlots on offer. This one is for those whose tastes run to a softer variety of red.
Seppelt is the go-to name for sparkling reds — there’s a reason their Sparkling Shiraz is called the ‘Original’. Continually scored highly for this classic wine, Seppelt knows how to do a good Sparkling Shiraz — and they’re doing it.
You may not have heard of this variety before, but Chambourcin is especially well-suited to producing sparkling wine, as this offering by renowned McLaren Vale winery d’Arenberg proves.
Even in the Hunter Valley, a region largely known for its whites, sparkling reds are thriving under the careful hand of Peterson House, a winemaker specialising in sparkling wines. One of my favourite sparkling reds — a Shiraz and Tempranillo blend — was from Peterson House, although it doesn’t look like they still offer it. Still, any of their offerings will provide quality drinking, from the Chambourcin to the Shiraz Viogner — and you won’t find these in any bottle shop, besides!