Sparkling reds, once largely known as Sparkling Burgundy or even Spurgles, are seen by many as simply a curiosity. Even a fun drink, but rarely a serious one. Once prevalent in the Burgundy region, they largely disappeared from there. Australia has been a solid home for them, although that has wavered, but there are examples around the globe.
In Australia, they almost disappeared a few decades ago, reputedly down to only three examples. Winemakers like Ian McKenzie from Seppelt and Robert O’Callaghan from Rockford brought the style back from the edge of extinction, and have made some terrific wines while doing so.
Gradually, numbers increased, one might say they even exploded, and you could find many examples from the traditional regions like the Barossa, using Shiraz, the most popular variety for this style locally. There are, however, sparkling reds bottled from almost every red variety and every wine region country.
Even a Merlot from Coonawarra!
Merlot has had a tough time, ever since that movie, ‘Sideways’, trashed its reputation and put a halt on its upward trajectory.
Zema Estate, who we recently encountered with their ‘Family Selection’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (the 2015 should hit the shelves any time soon), have a new wine in their line-up. Their Sparkling Merlot 2018 ($35), from Coonawarra, spent 18 months in French oak before its was made into this sparkling style. The ‘dosage’ was a little dollop of a vintage port, an old trick but a very effective one.
The result is a thoroughly enjoyable wine. Inky purple with notes of mulberries, florals, black cherries and old leather. Plush and soft with some sweetness on the finish and notes of cassis. Good length. 90.
To be perfectly honest, a sparkling Merlot from Coonawarra did not inspire any great expectations, but this wine has more than exceeded them.
If you are wondering just how exalted this style of wine can be, and how seriously it was once taken in Burgundy, Hugh Johnson’s wonderful book, ‘The Story of Wine’, mentions Domaine de la Romanee-Conti making a sparkling red from their famed Romanee-Conti vineyard. It does not get any better than that.