Blanc de noirs Champagnes can be polarising. On the one hand, blanc de blancs are familiar enough, so it’s only reasonable that there would be blanc de noirs, made only from the red grapes, pinot noir and meunier. Nevertheless, the fact that blanc de noirs are rarer suggests there’s a reason.

The red grapes in sparkling wines provide the flesh and breadth in the mouth with weightier flavours and textures, but often at the expense of the crispness and delicacy that chardonnay provides in the blend. They are tricky wines to make, but where blanc de noirs come into their own is with food, where the extra flavour and light tannin grip are complementary.

My own preference is for the regular red/white blends. While I love blanc de blancs, particularly with age, it took this tasting to open my eyes to blanc de noirs.

It’s sparkling wine, but not how you know it.
It’s sparkling wine, but not how you know it.

And so to sparkling reds – but why you may ask as, other than red grapes and some fizz, these two wine styles might be seen as unusual partners. The reason was simply the
opportunity. Our panel didn’t expect either of the wine styles to give us enough meat for a full tasting, so the sensible decision was to do them together.

While Australia likes to think of sparking red, originally ‘sparkling Burgundy’, as an Aussie invention – the first likely being made by Edmond Mazure in Adelaide – there is a true red sparkling Burgundy, albeit less common than the white. There are also a host of sparkling reds almost throughout Italy, and not just Lambrusco, but few reach our shores.

Our ‘spurgles’ were traditionally made from shiraz, occasionally grenache, that had been aged in large oak casks for several years. After blending this would go through the traditional method and some indeed still do, but most are either tank- or bottle-fermented and then disgorged by transfer. The object is still the same, however; to make a generously flavoured wine with the tannins balanced by subtle sweetness.

Our panellists who assembled this time were regulars, educator and writer Peter Bourne, fine wine consultant Andrew Caillard MW, wine judge and writer Toni Paterson MW and me, winemaking consultant Nick Bulleid MW. David Matthews, sommelier at Sixpenny restaurant, and Andrea Pritzker MW, educator at Wine InTuition joined us. We tasted the blanc de noirs with the countries combined and not identified, the non-vintage wines before the vintages.

While many of the Champagnes showed the body and firm texture we’d expected, some surprised us with their tauter structure and finesse, making them delicious by themselves. In contrast, some were very big and broad indeed.

The Australian blanc de noirs were not in the least shamed, showing good red fruit flavours and textures, albeit usually with less weight than the Champagnes. There were fewer of these wines available for us to taste. All wines declare 100% pinot noir unless stated otherwise. There were many attractive wines among the sparkling reds, with a range of varieties and ages but, frankly, few that matched the richness, complexity and balance of wines in the past. Many of the wines we haven’t mentioned were either too solid, bitter or, for the lighter wines, too simple. My summary reflects the show results of recent years. Pale bronze? Deep red? Pick your sparkles and have a great holiday!

The Champagnes showed great body and texture.
The Champagnes showed great body and texture.

Champagne: Non-vintage

André Clouet Grande Réserve, Champagne, France (A$77) gained top marks from Pritzker, who found: “A beautiful bouquet of toasted brioche, grilled hazelnuts and butter. Round and creamy, with a delicate – almost ethereal – mousse, counterbalanced by chalky lemony acidity leading to a long savoury biscuity finish.” I saw a hint of barrel, too, or was it seriously aged reserve wine? The texture is perfectly balanced by dosage. The website, with its rock ‘n’ roll allusions and entertaining diagrams, is hugely enjoyable.

Charles Collin Extra Brut, Champagne, France (A$80) has a subtle yet complex nose showing pastry and nuts, but this barely prepares you for the rush of flavour that builds through the mouth. Accompanying this is a great line of acidity that supports it well into a long finish. Caillard noted, “Intense grilled hazelnut, Amontillado and crème brulée aromas with hints of red fruits. Well-concentrated flavours with some saline notes, chalky/lacy textures and lovely creamy mousse. Finishes with a fine chalky plume and minerally stone fruit notes. Delicious wine with beautiful balance.”

Collet Blanc de Noirs Premier Cru, Champagne, France (A$120) also appealed strongly to Pritzker, who told us: “A complex bouquet of toasted marshmallow, dark cherry, hints of chocolate and smoke. Big and powerful, showing excellent concentration. Well-integrated mousse underpinned by racy acidity leading to a long chalky finish.” I found the wine a bit contradictory, as it shows distinct aldehyde boosting its complexity and yet the palate is fresher than expected. It certainly gives a mouthful of flavour and there’s length, too. An intriguing wine.

Devaux Coeur des Bar Blanc de Noirs, Champagne, France (A$75) found support from Caillard. “Fresh nougat, nutty aromas, Amontillado notes, some yeasty complexity and cranberry fruits,” he wrote. “Richly flavoured, creamy textured wine with lovely developed candied fruits, mid-palate density and mineral length. Great balance between complexity and freshness. Dosage perfect!” I thought it fine and fresh, with
red fruit and pastry in its bouquet. The palate has a refreshing acidity/texture balance and I agreed on the subtle dosage completing the flow.

Dosnon Récolte Noire, Champagne, France (A$90) speaks clearly on the nose of its pinot noir base, with distinct, fresh strawberry aromas. In the mouth, however, it is unusually fine for a blanc de noirs – still with good intensity, but also a fresh acid balance. Bourne loved all of it, writing, “Deliciously rich and enticing bouquet of red apples, raspberries and cashew nuts. The palate is high toned with excellent structure, plenty of power and finishes with an energetic flourish. If you want a blanc de noirs as an aperitif rather than with food, this is the wine.”

Drappier Brut Nature Pinot Noir Zero Dosage, Champagne, France (A$117) was also greatly admired by Bourne, who thought it showed “a very delicate nose with bright floral blossom overtones”. He continued: “Fresh nashi pear and red fruits abound with a vibrant, almost shimmering palate, excellent structure and a tangy finish.” I found it a more powerful wine, with aldehyde, toast and a little beef stock adding to the above characters. Matthews suggested, “baked quince, oatmeal and vanilla”. With ‘no added sulphur’ wines, it’s wise to find a fresh bottle so you can enjoy the above flavours and complexity.

Gosset Grand Blanc de Noirs Extra Brut, Champagne, France (A$211) shows intense pastry, development and aldehyde in its highly complex nose. The full flavours follow suit, with grilled nuts and pinot noir weight, yet there’s a wonderfully fresh line of acidity keeping all in check. Paterson thought it: “A bold and expressive wine with baked sourdough notes and intense smoked nut aromas. The flavour intensity on entry is impressive, with the volume amplifying as the flavours travel through the palate. Although richly flavoured, there are some attractive lemon notes which give freshness.” With Gosset, you expect power with balance and you certainly get it here.

Lacourte Godbillon Mi-Pentes Premier Cru, Champagne, France (A$145) provides strong contrast to the Gosset above. Paterson loved it, finding, “A gorgeous nose with intriguing layers. Faint toast and nuts with a touch of oyster brine. An incredibly long palate with pronounced and defining acidity. Tight, tensioned, long, savoury and satisfying.” I found nicely mingling toast and strawberry in its subtle flavours. It’s unusually fine for a blanc de noirs. The label shows the wine was disgorged in June 2019 and has a mere 3g/l dosage.

Philippe Fourrier Carte d’Or Blanc de Noirs, Champagne, France (A$68) found Matthews the strongest supporter. “Heavy yeast character, with nuts, red fruits and mushroom,” he began. “Richly fruited flavours, with apple and saline acidity in the mix at the end.”
I thought it subtle and yet intense, with a toasty, brioche bouquet. The palate is tight, with a strong drive of acidity and phenolic texture.

Vadin-Plateau Blanc de Noirs, Champagne, France (A$75) combines 60% meunier with 40% pinot noir. Paterson thought it, “A full and pronounced style with opulent butter and clotted cream aromas. Cracked wheat adds interest. The mid-palate shows pleasing generosity and intensity. It is a stylish wine with commendable balance, complexity and impressive length. Lingering cashew notes. A satisfying and complex wine.” I found the nose almost perfumed in its fragrance before nutty flavours developed in the mouth. The overall impression is one of freshness, the structure assisted by poised acidity.

Crispness is hard to obtain with weighty blanc de noirs.
Crispness is hard to obtain with weighty blanc de noirs.

Champagne: Vintage

2009 Maison Mumm RSRV Blanc de Noirs, Champagne, France (A$180) is one of several ReSeRVed wines set aside for late release. Pritzker strongly approved, telling us, “Opens
with a cascade of boulangerie aromas – freshly baked bread, brioche, grilled nuts. Excellent intensity and drive underpinned by fine chalky acidity. Refined and elegant, showing poise, the taut lemony acidity driving the finish.” Matthews and Caillard duetted – “lemon curd”. The wine is still remarkably fresh for a blanc de noirs, with stone fruits showing in the toasty developed complexity.

2005 Paul Bara Comtesse Marie de France Brut Millésime, Champagne, France (A$258) declares its pinot noir origin with its bronze colour. The nose is fabulous, showing brioche and pastry, 10 years on lees helping it extend its youth while developing. Bourne noted, “A rich and deeply complex nose with a bouquet of tarte tatin, quince paste and almond meal. The palate is surprisingly fresh with plenty of acid-etched energy and a complete, harmonious finish.” Matthews thought it “oxidative, but still fresh”. There’s wonderful depth of flavour and the 7g/l dosage allows a nice acid/tannin grip to dry the finish.

Some sparklings were a surprise with their taut structure.
Some sparklings were a surprise with their taut structure.

2014 Pierre Paillard Les Maillerettes Blanc de Noirs Bouzy Grand Cru Brut, Champagne, France (A$159) shows considerable depth on the nose, with toast, pastry, and hints of malt and aldehyde. There’s breadth and texture in the mouth, with complex flavours and a distinctly dry, but balanced, finish. Caillard found, “Attractive roasted hazelnut, crème brulée, sourdough, and Amontillado aromas. Rich and voluminous with lovely lemon glacé, tonic water flavours. Fine, loose-knit al dente textures, lovely mid-palate viscosity and driving, persistent acidity. The creamy mouth-filling and sustained mousse gives suppleness and length. Bloody good!”

2012 Thienot x Penfolds Grand Cru Blanc de Noirs, Champagne, France (A$280) shows the reserve and acidity of this great vintage. Paterson noted, “A complete aroma in a gentle, creamy, harmonious nose. Faint notes of freshly baked bread. The palate is rounded and creamy with pleasing length that is driven by acidity. Nothing sticks out in this wine. Its composure is its main attribute.” The stone-fruit notes are subtle yet distinctive and the pastry flavours of increasing complexity are still confined. The wine will take age on cork beautifully, building flavour. For now, it’s a fine aperitif style.

Australia

NV Centennial Vineyards Blanc de Noirs, Southern Highlands (A$40) appealed strongly to Bourne, who said, “The wine’s very pale blush of pink belies the drive and energy of this blanc de noirs. Aromas of lemon zest, fresh mandarin and a hint of almond skin meld to a super-slinky palate. A lemony tang completes the (pretty) picture. Highly pleasing!” I found fresh cashew and almond combining with rich stone fruits and a layer of toast. Light texture helps dry the finish.

2015 Brown Brothers Limited Release Blanc de Noir, Tumbarumba (A$35) is the first blanc de noirs that Browns have made, driven by the fruit quality from Tumbarumba that year. Pritzker recognised that quality, writing, “An enticing bouquet of freshly baked biscuit and brioche, with chalky undertones. Excellent intensity in an elongated palate supported by chalky minerality. Elegant, with impressive line and length. Delicate biscuity buttered toast to the finish.” It’s fine and fresh, the red fruits and subtle yeast complexity combining beautifully. There’s great balance, too. This would equally serve as an aperitif or with food.

2014 Oakdene Matilda Sparkling Blanc de Noirs, Macedon Ranges (A$35) still displays fresh red fruits with strawberry in the foreground. The balance is relatively soft, but a well-judged tannin texture dries the finish. Caillard was unenthusiastic, telling us, “Bruised fruit, and it’s a bit sweet.” However, Matthews supported it strongly. “Plum, brioche, anise, red apple and fig,” he said. “Toasted-nuts complexity, with rhubarb acidity on the finish.” I thought it best as an aperitif. Macedon grapes contribute to the wine’s freshness.

Sparkling red: Non-vintage

Fox Creek Vixen Sparkling Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc, McLaren Vale (A$29) gained top points from Caillard, who wrote: “Intense dark plum, blackberry, praline aromas with shellac and roasted walnut notes. Generously concentrated and classic with rich dark fruits and panforte. Continuously vibrant creamy mousse, sinuous fine-grained tannins and excellent mineral length. Very stylish wine.” Unusually, the wine shows some new oak maturation, but this is subtly handled, and the dark plum and chocolate flavours carry it well. The cabernet component provides a distinct chew.

Jones Winery Sparkling Shiraz, Rutherglen (A$38) shows impressive opulence, with red plums, spices and in particular ginger combining to give a perfumed mixture of characters. After the nose, I found the palate a little leaner but balanced, with light dosage matching the tannins. Matthews spoke of “Blackberry, pomegranate and a nice dose of panforte. Cedar and vanilla, too. The palate’s boosted by charcuterie, with nutmeg and cassia prominent. The mousse is fine and the finish soft.”

O’Leary Walker The Great Eastern Sparkling Shiraz, Adelaide Hills (A$35) may be cheekily named, but the wine has serious qualities. Matthews enjoyed this also, noting, “Raspberry and blackberry notes, red liquorice and a herbal underlay. A firm body with dry tannins and a zippy finish.” I liked the age it was showing, giving intriguing flavours but with the rich, red plum shining through. Slight sweetness helps balance the tannins and a touch of acidity helps add to that zip’.

Turkey Flat Sparkling Shiraz, Barossa Valley (A$45) starts with fragrant dark fruit – berries and plum. The flavours are rich and the tannins nicely balanced, and a touch of reduction lends complexity without offending. Pritzker reported, “Cherry choc-top aromas, cedar and nutmeg. Round and deeply fruity, showing generous, bright blackberry intensity and a gentle mousse. Well balanced, showing well-defined blackberry to the finish.”

Many of the blanc de noirs would work well as aperitifs.
Many of the sparkling reds would work well as aperitifs.

Sparkling red: Vintage

2019 Rockford Black Shiraz, Barossa Valley (A$130) pleased Bourne greatly. He nailed the style well, telling us, “Distinct aromas of boysenberries, star anise and roasted meat. The palate is quite savoury with hints of balsamic soaked figs. There’s plenty of power and earthy complexity. This is an old-school style and all the better for that.” The mature elements in the blend are contributing to the developed leathery bouquet, yet there’s an overall impression of seamlessness. It finishes on the dry side with lingering complexity.

2010 Anderson Durif, Rutherglen (A$40) starts a little closed on the nose, but opens to show plenty of richness and Black Forest cake flavours. The tannins are on the chewy side, but this is durif! Bourne reported, “A generous ruby red mousse. Lots of rich aromas – mocha, ripe plum and cranberry with a whiff of liqueur cherry. There’s some sweetness on the palate but it’s nicely balanced with dried fig and savoury spices. A power-packed finish.”

2009 Castagna Sparkling Genesis, Beechworth (A$95) is highly complex, as its age would suggest, with cedar, earth and berries combining beautifully on the nose. Caillard found, “Classic lifted blackberry, dark cherry and panforte spice aromas, with aldehyde and tawny-like complexity. Richly flavoured with dense blackberry and panforte flavours. Fine, plentiful chalky/dense tannins and integrated acidity.”

2018 De Bortoli Rutherglen Estate Sparkling Shiraz Durif, Rutherglen (A$30) is very rich and sweet-fruited on the nose, with distinct berry jam. Blueberry flavours then come through strongly. The tannins are firm, yet in balance. Pritzker found, “A sweetly fruited bouquet showing an assortment of red orchard fruit – cherry, red plum with a hint of red liquorice. Fresh, lively and buoyant. Finishes just slightly sweet.”

2017 Grampians Estate Rutherford Sparkling Shiraz, Victoria (A$35) has fresh raspberry aromas leaping from the glass, followed by juicy fruit flavours. Bourne said, “The bouquet is of a rich summer berry pudding. Hints of mushrooms, dried herbs and all-spice. The palate is distinct and colourful with quince paste and poached plum flavours and a bold, power packed finale.” Rather than aged characters, the wine shows youthful exuberance and it works.

2020 Hentley Farm Black Beauty Sparkling Shiraz, Barossa Valley (A$65) is quite composed and ready in spite of its great youth. It starts with rich sweet fruit and spice aromas, and continues with youthful berry flavours. The tannins are on the dry side, but nicely balanced by sweetness. Pritzker noted, “A very forward bouquet of liqueur cherry with hints of nutmeg and freshly cracked pepper. Foamy, fresh and buoyant, showing excellent intensity of bright black cherry fruit, spicy peppery complexity and a long finish. Great balance. A crowd-pleaser!”

2014 Magpie Estate The Tight Cluster Sparkling Shiraz, Barossa Valley (A$48) found Paterson enthusiastic. “A wine of great style with bright strawberry and raspberry top notes,” she began. “The palate has excellent concentration with focused red fruits entwined with gentle spice and a touch of earth. It finishes with pleasing and appropriate dryness. The beauty of this wine is its freshness and life coupled with fruit intensity and structural integrity.” There’s an intriguing honey/smoke overtone to the flavours, which have plenty of red fruit and spices and a little development appearing.

2018 Majella Sparkling Shiraz, Coonawarra (A$40) combines berry fruits, including blackberry, with chocolate and oak. Paterson noted the oak, too. “The oak tones are strong at first, though once the fruit aromas grow, the wine shows balance. It’s a medium-weight wine with gentle red fruits and underlying savouriness. The raspberry and cranberry flavours on the palate are focused and attractive, and the sweetness is synchronised with the fruit weight.” Matthews added, “balsamic figs”. The lasting impression is one of ease.

Top Blanc de Noirs

★★★★★
96 NV Charles Collin Extra Brut, Champagne, France, A$80
95 NV Devaux Coeur des Bar Blanc de Noirs, Champagne, France, A$75

★★★★
94 NV André Clouet Grande Reserve, Champagne, France, A$77
94 NV Gosset Grand Blanc de Noirs Extra Brut, Champagne, France, A$211
94 2014 Pierre Paillard Les Maillerettes Blanc de Noirs Bouzy Grand Cru Brut, Champagne, France, A$159
93 NV Lacourte Godbillon Mi-Pentes Premier Cru, Champagne, France, A$145
92 2015 Brown Brothers Limited Release Blanc de Noir, King Valley, A$35
92 NV Centennial Vineyards Blanc de Noirs, Southern Highlands, A$40
92 2009 Maison Mumm RSRV Blanc de Noirs, Champagne, France, A$180
91 NV Philippe Fourrier Carte d’Or Blanc de Noirs, Champagne, France, A$68
91 2012 Thienot x Penfolds Grand Cru Blanc de Noirs, Champagne, France, A$280
90 NV Dosnon Récolte Noire, Champagne, France, A$90
90 NV Drappier Brut Nature Pinot Noir Zero Dosage, Champagne, France, A$117
90 NV Vadin-Plateau Blanc de Noirs, Champagne, France, A$75

★★★
89 NV Collet Blanc de Noirs Premier Cru, Champagne, France, A$120
89 2014 Oakdene Matilda Sparkling Blanc de Noirs, Macedon Ranges, A$35
89 2005 Paul Bara Comtesse Marie de France Brut Millésime, Champagne, France, A$258

Top Sparkling Reds

★★★★
92 2014 Magpie Estate The Tight Cluster Sparkling Shiraz, Barossa Valley, A$48,
92 NV O’Leary Walker The Great Eastern Sparkling Shiraz, Adelaide Hills, A$35
91 2017 Grampians Estate Rutherford Sparkling Shiraz, Victoria, A$35
91 NV Jones Winery Sparkling Shiraz, Rutherglen, A$38
91 NV Turkey Flat Sparkling Shiraz, Barossa Valley, A$45
90 2010 Anderson Durif, Rutherglen, A$40
90 2009 Castagna Sparkling Genesis, Beechworth, A$95
90 NV Fox Creek Vixen Sparkling Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc, McLaren Vale, A$29
90 2020 Hentley Farm Black Beauty Sparkling Shiraz, Barossa Valley, A$65
90 2018 Majella Sparkling Shiraz, Coonawarra, A$40

★★★
89 2018 De Bortoli Rutherglen Estate Sparkling Shiraz Durif, Rutherglen, A$30
89 2019 Rockford Black Shiraz, Barossa Valley, A$130