Wine varietals and styles

Sparkling wine

Discover the premium Australian regions for fizz and the world’s famous sparkling wine styles, from Champagne to prosecco and cava.

    Of all the wine styles, sparkling perhaps intrigues the most. There’s so much to know about its various grape varieties, methods of production and places of origin, making it a fascinating style.

    While sparkling wine is the ultimate party-starter and celebratory style, you don’t need a special occasion to enjoy it. Sparkling wine is an all-round crowd-pleaser and fits comfortably in a range of situations and events. Learn about the different types and premium Australian regions ahead.

    Go to: Australian sparkling regions | Sparkling wine characteristics | International sparkling wine styles | The history of sparkling wine | Pairing sparkling wine with food | Choosing glassware

  • Australian sparkling regions

  • The traditional grape varieties used for sparkling wine production, which include chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, thrive in cool climates. It was the cool climate of Victoria’s Yarra Valley that led French Champagne house Moet & Chandon to establish Chandon Australia in the 1980s. Other regions with similar climates and soils followed: the Macedon Ranges and King Valley in Victoria, Tumbarumba and Orange in New South Wales, the Adelaide Hills in South Australia, and Tasmania, which today is widely considered Australia’s home of fine sparkling wine.

  • Yarra Valley, VIC

  • The Yarra Valley is a pioneering region for sparkling wine in Australia. Its climate draws parallels to that of northeastern France, and the region’s finest grapes are chardonnay and pinot noir – two of the classic varieties used for sparkling wine. You can find a range of high-quality styles from the Yarra Valley, from crisp and fresh to textural and savoury.

  • Tasmania

  • Off the mainland, Tasmania is arguably the leading sparkling wine region in Australia. According to James: “The clear majority of the best sparkling wines are now solely sourced from Tasmania.” The island produces pristine cool-climate fruit that goes into first-class sparklings.

  • Adelaide Hills, SA

  • Just 20 minutes from Adelaide, exceptional, traditional method sparkling wines are found in the Adelaide Hills, which is in large part thanks to its high-altitude vineyards being ideal for sparkling wine. The styles from this region are elegant and refreshing.

  • King Valley, VIC

  • The King Valley is famous for its Prosecco Road, with the first grapevines for producing this fizzy Italian style planted here in 1999. The winery responsible for bringing prosecco to Australia is Dal Zotto, a small, family-run outfit with roots in Valdobbiadene, an area of Italy known for producing high-quality examples.

  • Orange, NSW

  • The Orange wine region has some of Australia’s highest altitude vineyards, which, in turn, produce outstanding sparkling wines. Complex blossom aromas and bright citrus flavours are among the characters noted from the region’s sparkling styles.

  • Sparkling wine characteristics

  • Sparkling wine comes in many colours and styles, dependant on factors such as the dominant grape variety, the sugar level (dry, semi-dry, or sweet), and whether it’s a vintage or non-vintage style (it’s popular to puzzle together several vintages in places like Champagne, which is why you often see these wines labelled “NV”). Below describes the characters to expect from some of the major sparkling styles available in Australia.

  • Sparkling whites

  • Sparkling white wine characteristics infographic

  • Sparkling rosés

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  • Sparkling reds

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  • Prosecco

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  • International sparkling wine styles

  • Many countries produce sparkling wine, but the most renowned examples come from France (Champagne), Italy (Prosecco), and Spain (Cava). In Australia, the same grapes and winemaking techniques are used as in these countries – we create wines inspired by traditional styles, but with modern twists that express our unique environments. Regulations forbid Australian producers to use the word “Champagne” on labels, and there is a push for the prosecco name to be restricted in the same way. Hence most styles in Australia are simply called “sparkling”.

  • French sparkling wine

  • France is the home of Champagne, which is arguably the most well known and prestigious style of sparkling in the world. Champagne is made using the three grape varieties allowed within the appellation: chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier. You can also find cremant-style wines from other regions of France, but they’re not called Champagne outside the Champagne region.

  • Italian sparkling wine

  • Prosecco from Veneto is the most widely celebrated sparkling wine in Italy, and Australia has been recognised for producing fantastic examples of this dry, refreshing style: James Halliday named pioneering prosecco producer Dal Zotto his 2020 Dark Horse Winery of the Year. Other Italian sparklings include franciacorta from Lombardy, asti from Piedmont, and lambrusco from Emilia.

  • Spanish sparkling wine

  • Cava is a Spanish sparkling style that originates in the Penedes region of Catalonia, around 40 kilometres southwest of buzzing Barcelona. Cava is minerally, citrusy and with high acidity. Aged styles of cava can show creamier, nuttier, and more richly fruity flavours.

  • The history of sparkling wine

  • The first carbonated wine dates back to the Middle Ages, and was initially named a production fault. Winemakers worked to fix the error, and eventually reverted back to still wines. Some time later, carbonated wine made a comeback, and an increase in production was noted – sparkling wine was now an intentional and favourable style. In Australia, sparkling wine arrived thanks to the French winemaker Auguste D’Argent in collaboration with an Australian doctor and parliamentarian. They crafted the first-ever example of sparkling Burgundy in 1881. In later years, Edmund Mazure of Burgundy took over and used pinot noir and shiraz grapes to make sparkling red. It was Hans Irvine, however, who first crafted a sparkling wine comparable to that of Champagne. Upon Irvine’s retirement, Seppelt in Victoria took over, and today produces benchmark sparkling wines.

  • Insights from the Halliday tasting team

  • Tony Love is of the opinion Australian sparkling offers exceptional value. “The top-level styles you can buy for around $30 to $50 or a little more can be awesome compared to French wine in that same price range,” he says.

    James Halliday’s pick of top sparklings shows the dominance of Tasmania. And echoing Tony’s sentiment, his standout Champagnes highlight rising prices.

    That said, many have a soft spot for Champagne. It has a powerful ability to please and an age-old association with occasion. And like most sparkling styles, it’s a versatile match to food. “The contrast of dynamic acidity and the depth and texture of lees age brings wonderful dexterity to partner with a wide diversity of cuisines,“ Tyson Stelzer says, also pointing to the food-friendliness of sparkling rosé.

  • Pairing sparkling wine with food

  • Sparkling is one of the most food-friendly wine styles. Its bubbles and bright acidity refresh the palate, making it particularly well-suited to rich, salty foods. Champagne and Australian sparkling pair well with soft cheeses such as camembert and brie, and shellfish like oysters and prawns. 

    Textural, savoury sparkling rosés can stand up to fuller flavoured seafoods such as salmon, and cheesy red-sauce dishes like pizza. Prosecco makes a great match to antipasti (cheeses, olives and cured meats), quiches and pies. The uniquely Australian sparkling shiraz is fantastic with a glazed Christmas ham, and depending on how sweet the style, can even pair with pastries and desserts. 

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  • Choosing the right glassware for sparkling wine

  • Sipping sparkling wine from a flute has long been the go-to, emphasising the bubbles of the style. However, some advocate for wider-rimmed or tulip glasses to better capture the toasty aromas and flavours. This latter type of glass is particularly recommended for fuller flavoured and vintage styles. Although the coupe glass looks elegant, the wide rim is said to allow too much oxygen into the wine, causing the carbonation to dispense.

    Flute Glass Image