Sparkling Shiraz: So Australian!
30th November 2023
The Rhone Valley grape of Syrah has made a new life for itself on the other side of the globe, where it has made its mark as Shiraz on the Australian wine market. Shiraz is now considered to be the signature grape of Australia. Shiraz is a very heat and drought resistant grape that develops lush aromas of blackcurrant, spiced plums, and black peppercorn.
Even more unique to Australia is the production of this vary same Shiraz into a sparkling red! Even though the sparkling Shiraz finds its origin in South Australia, the first move in the process of producing sparkling red was made in Melbourne. There, French pioneers were experimenting on creating a sparkling Burgundy, made of Pinot Noir grapes. A logical thing to do as Pinot Noir is a red grape that has been used to produce Champagne for many centuries. After the style Blanc de Noirs, where white sparkling is made of red grapes, a sparkling red or Noir de Noirs if you may, seems like the logical next step. However, the result had a very rose colour and hence did not offer anything innovative, since rosé Champagne had been made in France for several decades at that time.
It was not until French winemaker Edmond Mazure in 1893 started to experiment with the Methode Traditionelle and the use of Shiraz in South Australia, that sparkling Shiraz was born.
The sparkling Shiraz I have tried for you today is the ‘Battle Axe’ from Mr. Riggs. The winery of Mr. Riggs lies within the larger zone of Fleurie in South Australia, beginning just below the city of Adelaide and stretching all the way to Kangaroo Island. More specifically in the region of McLaren Vale, 40 km south of Adelaide. The climate of McLaren Vale is strongly influenced by the ocean. It creates a cooling effect and lets sunshine alternate with rainfall. Also, the terroir is one of the most complex in all of Australia. We find sand over limestone along the coast and the flats, the hills have soil structure containing a lot of iron. So much so that the iron in the wines coming from these hills would have a positive effect on the blood. Most red grape varieties are Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, followed by Grenache and Merlot. For the whites, we find a lot of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling. But also, Rhone varieties such as Marsanne and Viognier.
Mr. Riggs ‘Battle Axe’ is made up of different selections of Shiraz grapes and vintages from different premium vineyards. The wine from this selection of Shiraz has been aged on old oak barrels, to protect the fruit characters. A selection of older Grenache has been added as well, to ensure spice and riper red fruit flavours. According to the Methode Traditionelle, the wine must age at least 9 months on its lees after the second fermentation. After that a small batch of fortified Shiraz gets added, to create a subtle sweet note in the wine. These grapes come from a separate vineyard called ‘Piebald Vineyard’.
The wine has spice, fruitiness, and a touch of sweetness, with a creamy and luscious texture. This sparkling is traditionally ideal for aperitif, but due to the complexity can be beautifully matched with certain types of red meat, game, cheeses, and desserts.
To put it in the words of winemaker Ben Riggs, this sparkling Shiraz is not just for special occasions, but for any occasion.
Anthony Mulders – De Beir
Wine expert, wine writer, sommelier and above all enthusiast- sharing passion and knowledge from the world of wine. Founder of www.gettinghotforwine.com