Age shall not weary them: 2020’s best sparkling wines

Posted on Dec 21, 2020

No Country For Old Men, the Coen brothers’ 2007 thriller, recasts the American Western genre as a grisly modern intrigue of drugs, stolen money and psychopathic murderers.

The movie’s menacing tone is set by the superbly cast Javier Bardem whose opening scene involves the use of  gas-powered bolt-gun to the forehead of a passing Good Samaritan motorist.

The film goes on to highlight the truth of its title as bodies pile up in the arid and otherwise empty surrounds.

But the value of youth – or old age – isn’t quite as clear when it comes to sparkling wines. That’s because most bubbles hide their true age – an average of the blended base wines that make up the final product – under the mascara of a “non-vintage” or NV designation. Only wines which are made up of a single vintage can claim a particular year.

Of course, a single age – like a single vineyard or a single block of vines – can add price if the consumer can be persuaded that the supposed exclusivity deserves a premium. But are they necessarily better?

It would appear so if the Australian and NZ wine show system is any guide. Vintage bubbles were very much the flavour of the year in 2020 with single-year cuvees elbowing out their non-vintage pretenders by 4:1 in our list of this year’s 10 best sparkling wines.

But the theory isn’t borne out by the only local show that looks at champagnes. The NZ International Wine Show judged 24 labels from the aristocratic French region this year. Of the 18 that were awarded gold medals, only two were from a single vintage. Then again all the silver and bronze medals went solely to NV labels.

The NV classification can be misleading. Many think that without a single vintage the underlying wine is young or has an indifferent heritage. But it is worth remembering that the base wines used in champagne are often five and sometimes up to eight years-old. It is that age, and the time spent on lees (the yeasty remains of the carbonisation process – or methode champenoise/traditionelle), that typically provide the complexity that finds favour with wine show judges.

Locally, the twist in the 2020 show year was the reinstatement of Tasmania as Australia’s premier sparkling producer. This time last year we reported that Victoria has stolen the Apple Isle’s crown largely on the back of Yarra Valley labels.

However Tasmania, famous for its Arras, Jansz, Clover Hill and Pirie labels among others, reclaimed the title from Victoria with five of the top 10 and a dominant share of the top 20.

Wine show judges assessed 461 sparkling wine exhibits across 338 different labels this year. These are the top 20:

1 Pirie Sparkling Vintage 2013
2 Deviation Road Beltana Blanc de Blancs Sparkling White 2013
3 Pirie Sparkling White NV
4 Arras Grand Vintage Sparkling White 2009
5 Arras Vintage Sparkling Rose 2008
6 Coldstream Hills Sparkling Pinot Noir, Chardonnay 2015
7 Domaine Chandon Chandon Late Disgorge Sparkling White 2008
8 Printhie Swift Sparkling Rosé NV
9 Heemskerk Sparkling Chardonnay, Pinot Noir 2014
10 Mosquito Hill Blanc de Blancs Sparkling White 2016
11 Deutz Sparkling Rosé NV
12 Hunters Marlborough MiruMiru Reserve Sparkling White 2015
13 Cinzano Prosecco DOC Spumante Dry NV
14 Deutz Prestige Sparkling White 2017
15 Bandini Prosecco Extra Dry DOC NV
16 Graham Norton’s Own Prosecco NV
17 Church Road Blanc de Blanc Sparkling White 2016
18 Sittella Grand Vintage Marie Christien Lugten Sparkling White 2015
19 Morton White Label Brut Sparkling White NV
20 Pommery Brut Royal Champagne NV

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