South Australian fizz lovers will know the name, James Smith. A former winner of the Vin de Champagne Award, Jim, a local wine educator, has written the definitive guide to the evolution of sparkling wine in this country – “Bubbles, Bottles & Colonial Bastards: A Short History of Sparkling Wine in Australia 1840-1990”. It is a must-have publication for all interested in wine in this country, especially sparkling wine.
I will not attempt to replicate it, but if I may, a few personal thoughts. Aussie fizz has a fascinating history. We’ll leave aside sparkling reds – a story unto themselves – and look solely at ‘normal’ sparklers.
In the early days, there were various champagne winemakers brought out here, achieving various degrees of success, but in general, this was not an illustrious sector of the market. In fact, described Aussie fizz as bog average would be to lay undeserved garlands before some very ordinary wines, utterly lacking in merit. Basically, this sector was little more than an afterthought, although there were times when they brought excellent money to the makers – somewhere, in the dusty old files in rotting boxes in a dark room, I believe I have a clipping from an old newspaper showing “Minchinbury Champagne” (all our sparklers were called ‘champagne’ back then) on a price par with Grange, give or take – oh, how things have changed.
The wines were made in the cheapest manner – certainly not in the traditional champagne method which is now the hallmark of our best. Honestly, I doubt you could have found a racing car driver who would have tolerated these wines being tipped over him, no matter what he might have won. They were made with grapes which were basically leftovers who could not find a home in a decent wine. So household names, such as Trebbiano and Ondenc, were our sparkling varieties, not Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. You can imagine…
The name of the producer who transformed things will surprise younger drinkers. Yellowglen. Today, Yellowglen is a producer of terrific value bubbles, hugely popular, but I doubt even its makers would claim it sits at the very pinnacle of our fizz. It is hugely successful targeting its market, providing great value, simple and easy drinking fizz, selling truckloads.
They have a stranglehold on the category. But in the 70’s, things were different. A gentleman called Ian Home, with assistance from a Frenchman called Dominique Landrigan, decided that we could do so much better. It must seem bizarre to call Yellowglen one of the early cult wineries, but they certainly were. Small quantities (including a few reds, if I recall) and fascinating wines. The wine geeks who today like to fill their cellars with Bindi, Clonakilla, Mt Mary and so on, were scrambling for Yellowglen. Not sure how many would admit it but I assure you, it happened.
Ian Home loved champagne and wanted to see what we could do here. In 1971, he planted 12 acres at “Yellowglen”, a site at Smythesdale, around 20 kilometres to the south-west of Ballarat in Victoria. The property (and the wine) was called ‘Yellowglen’ as a tribute to an old, abandoned gold mine, originally dug back in the 1850s, on that very property. The early wines might not have challenged the best from champagne but they were a revelation, both in comparison with other locals and as evidence that perhaps we could eventually make world class fizz.
Of course, being a lot cheaper than the top champagnes didn’t harm their popularity. Yellowglen has gone through several guises over the years. It was not long before it joined the corporate two-step, as part of Mildara Blass, offering a range, from the cheap and cheerful through to sparklings designed to challenge our very best (it did not take long for other wineries to realise what could be done and soon we had all manner of top sparklers flooding the market – a very good thing). Most came from either the Adelaide Hills or the Yarra Valley. Tasmania emerged a little later. Now part of Treasury, they have settled, most successfully, on dominating the bargain bracket of the market. No one is going to mistake a Yellowglen for a Krug, but nor will anyone have to mortgage their children for a bottle. Two recent additions to the empire which are exclusive to ALDI.
Yellowglen ‘Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and Prosecco’ NV
I love the way that the Yellowglen team have labelled this – ‘Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and Prosecco’. They will not be intimidated by the Italian authorities. Thumbs up for that alone. For those not familiar, most will be aware that European regional names are no longer permitted to be used on Aussie labels. As is right (would we want wine from some dodgy French or Italian district called Barossa or Margaret River?). We are, of course, allowed to use varietal labels, calling wines by the name of the grape. Prosecco is a grape. The wine itself? There is an immediate marzipan character on the nose. Spices. Desiccated coconut notes, reminiscent of an iced vo-vo biscuit. Musk and raspberry. Bright, crisp, refreshing. This is pretty much as advertised. Some sweetness, less than you might think. This is simply easy and fun. And at a mere $8, well, you’ll spill more than that at Friday night drinks.
Yellowglen Sparkling Rose NV
The marketing team describe this as ‘ballerina pink’. I have no idea if that is a real colour but it sums the wine up perfectly. Again, a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Prosecco. Some biscuity notes. Strawberries. There is a little more sweetness here than on the ‘standard’ but that seems appropriate. Just an easy drinking fizz with ripe flavours. At eight bucks, who would dare complain?
This 100% independent content was published with support from the winery.