Right now, I'm in a house by the beach in New Zealand with some good music playing and the sun slowly creeping down below the horizon behind me. Sadly, the only thing missing from my life at this particular point is--you guessed it--a decent glass of wine!
Thinking about what would complete my relaxed mood now, I really don't have to look any further than the local supermarket. On my return to New Zealand after two years away, I have been greeted by a vast array of sparkling and semi-sparkling wines, often with a touch more sweetness and fruitiness than traditional dry Champagne-style wines. This style is particularly popular in New Zealand and Australia at the moment and it may surprise many of you in Taiwan that these two countries are no strangers to leading global wine-making and drinking trends today.
So how are these wines different from the sparkling wines of Champagne? First, let's deal with grape varieties. Champagne can only be made from three grape varieties--Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The latter two are red, whereas a new breed of sparkling wines are being made from fruitier white grape varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Mosacto (Muscat). These wines aren't relying on yeasty, savoury bread and biscuit flavours adding to the fruit, as Champagne does to give depth and complexity and the acidity to age well. These newer styles are all about today: fun, fizz and fruit. In the case of Moscato wines, which are mainly coming out of Australia, there is typically a fair amount of residual sugar and therefore sweetness in the wine.
Certainly these kinds of wines couldn't interest someone like me who claims to know good wine when he tastes it, right? Far from it. It's all about the time and place. Right now, I'm not looking for something incredibly complex that is going to match, highlight or even enhance the nuances of the food I'm eating because I'm not eating. I'm looking for a pleasant, fruit-filled, refreshing glass of something to help me relax, tasting like something made for having a "sundowner".
Many top New Zealand and Australian producers are making these styles in semi-sparkling versions that will feel slightly heavier in the mouth, but also slightly fuller in flavour, too. There aren't too many of these on the market in Taiwan yet, so book your air tickets!