Posted 17th December 2012        

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Christmas is a time for celebration. Many a wine glass or Champagne flute is clinked to toast the festive period and bottles of sparkling white wine fly off the supermarket and off licence shelves in the weeks approaching Christmas and New Year.

Most of us enjoy a glass or two of Champagne or sparkling white wine at Christmas. But wouldn’t it be fun to try something different, to find an appropriate and yet alternative celebratory drink to the ubiquitous Champagne?

Perhaps we should take a lesson from the Aussies. As we know, the Australians love both producing and drinking wine. Most Australian wines can give the European wines a run for their money and the majority of European wine styles are replicated with success by producers Down Under. However, one wine style which has been embraced by Australians is virtually unheard of in the UK and that is a sparkling red wine.

Be honest – how many of us wine drinkers would prefer to move on to a glass of big, hearty red wine once we have made our Christmas toasts with the obligatory glass of Champagne? Perhaps the Australians have provided the solution to this dilemma with their sparkling red wine.

If the thought of drinking red wine with bubbles in it makes you feel queasy then read on. Fizzy red wine isn’t a best seller in Australia for nothing. Many of the top producers include a bottle of sparkling red amongst their range and whilst it will probably never be able to compete with the best Champagnes there are many who argue that red bubbly has a rightful place amongst the range of celebratory wines.

The most popular red wine grape used for sparkling wine in Australia is Shiraz. Many Australian producers use the wine making techniques that have made Aussie Shiraz legendary to produce this lovely, heady, fizzy red wine. All the familiar Shiraz characteristics of blackcurrant, pepper, spice and chocolate are present but without the weight – sparkling Shiraz is a surprisingly light and refreshing drink.

Whilst almost every Australian bottle shop will stock a selection of bottles of sparkling red wine it is more difficult to seek out here. Perhaps the most commonly found example is a sparkling Shiraz produced by Jacob’s Creek. Some of the major supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Tesco sell it for around £9.99. Waitrose also sell Brown Brothers Cienna Rosso, a lower alcohol Australian sparkling red wine, for the same price. Other Australian brands which have been spotted on supermarket shelves at various times include Banrock Station and Peter Lehmann.

Australian sparkling Shiraz should be served slightly chilled which is perhaps why it seems rather more refreshing than still Shiraz. However, as you can still detect all those wonderful Shiraz characteristics it could make a great choice to accompany a Christmas dinner of turkey with all the trimmings. After all, most experts agree that Shiraz is the perfect match for turkey but making the Shiraz fizzy adds an extra celebratory sparkle to Christmas dinner.

Australian sparkling Shiraz is not the only sparkling red wine produced around the world. Italy is another wine producing nation which has seen the potential of adding a few bubbles to red wine. Many of us will have sampled red Lambrusco in the past when this slightly sparkling or frizzante wine style from the Emilia-Romagna region was popular in the UK. Red Lambrusco is worth exploring as good examples are bright and zingy with lots of berry fruits and like most Italian red wines it is excellent with food.

Also from Italy – from Piedmont in the north – is Brachetto d’Acqui. Like Lambrusco its bubbles are more frizzante than Champagne-fizzy and the red wine’s slight sweetness is balanced by its bright acidity resulting in a lively and fresh drink.

If you happen to be on a Christmas shopping trip to France keep an eye out for Vin du Bugey-Cerdon. This sparkling red wine hails from France’s Jura region and is produced primarily with the Gamay grape with a few other local grapes sometimes added to the blend. The wine is not the deep red of a sparkling Shiraz or the Italian red fizzes but could almost be taken for a dark rose. Once again it is a delicious sparkling red wine which makes a good food accompaniment.

Some of these sparkling reds may be a challenge to seek out but all would make an interesting and enjoyable alternative to Champagne on Christmas Day. Make an early New Year’s resolution to be more adventurous and try them out on your family and friends over the Christmas period. You never know – you might find you prefer them to Champagne!

Image by Rhys Moult.


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