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Sparkling wine and other Christmas drinks


Whitey stretches the boundaries to recommend some favourite Yuletide delights.

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Twenty-five years ago Stefano Lubiana triggered a considerable rift in his tribe when he suggested to his father that the vineyards they’d slaved away establishing in South Australia’s Riverland were not exactly in the best place to produce wines of finesse. He sold up and moved to the banks of the Derwent in south-eastern Tasmania, and set about building that fair isle’s first and only certified biodynamic vineyard.

Stefano makes three brilliant sparklers. The NV Brut ($34; 12.5% alcohol) is a Chardonnay (60%) Pinot noir blend of two- and three-year-old reserve wines kept on lees for two years. The wine has an alluring honey richness which never seems to interfere with its delightful capacity to satisfy and refresh: while you may not, the wine remains elegant and refined to the end of the bottle.

That end, I warn you, is far from dead, but comes rather quickly, even if you’re flying solo.

Go 10 bucks up the ladder and you’re in the pink: the Brut Rosé 2010 ($45; 12.5% alcohol) is 100% Pinot released after four years on lees and 10 months on cork. It has that lovely fleshy character that reminds me of the best smoked salmon from those parts, and makes the perfect accompaniment to that fine fish on toasted rye with chèvre and capers; maybe a sprig of fennel. I don’t know of any French pink for less than twice this price of a similar supreme quality.

But it’s when you stretch another tenner from the wallet that you really see stars. The Stefano Lubiana Grande Vintage 2007 ($55; 12.5% alcohol) is another 60-40 Chardonnay/Pinot, but it’s had seven years on lees and 10 months on cork. What I see as elegant honey in the NV here becomes a dreamy cinder toffee, like the heart of the old Violet Crumble. To add edge and focus, there’s a whiff of ironstone soil like you’ll smell in that drought-prone vineyard on a hot summer’s day.

But forget the sniffing: it’s not really going to make much difference until you tip it into yourself, which is a very easy thing to do. Scrumptious stuff! Unless you’re really driving high into the sparkling wines of that part of France they call Champagne, like Krug realms, this bargain beauty is guaranteed to make you feel very happy about sticking to Australia. While you’re at it, give your glasses a chink to the pluck of Stefano, a man with a true gastronomic vision.

While this vicious heat riles on, however, the full bottle of fizz is not always the most sensible hydration vehicle. If you prefer the right to manage the strength of your holy water at this sacred time, the smart folks at Bickfords have just the tincture. While regular readers will know of my affection for the efficacious nature of ginger, this product makes me think somebody at Bickfords has been reading me too. It’s called Honey Lemon Ginger Cordial, and if you slosh it in a tumbler of Absolut with soda and ice, a slice of lemon and a shaving of fresh Zingiber officinale root, I’m sure you’ll feel properly blessed in a casual sort of way.

Now for some real torture. Forget the Exmess pudding. You can drink it. It’s called Chambers Rosewood Vineyards Rutherglen Rare Muscat ($350-$400 for 375 ml, 18% alcohol; screw cap). It’ll change your brain forever. It’s prickly to sniff: spicy and packed with all that rich fruit mince and suet and whatnot that grannie would pack in her steamy pud. It’s dangerously fluffy of texture, never cloying, and its impossibly dense royal fruit is balanced perfectly by staunch natural acidity.

From a solera commenced by the Chambers family in the 1890s, this is quite simply a mouthful of the history of Australian winemaking. It’ll make you go all runny in the middle. Exquisite!

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