He’s gone daft, you’re thinking. That’s because the notion of sparkling red wine—and I’m not talking about sparkling Rosé here—probably triggers a gag reflex that you can trace back to the Reunite Lambrusco you drank in high school. Let’s set aside for the moment the fact that Reuinte NV Lambrusco has been the No. 1 imported wine in America for the past 25 years. If you’re reading this column, you probably don’t drink the stuff, which is roughly equivalent to low-alcohol soda pop. Wine expert Josh Wesson once said about Reunite, “It’s a wine with a message, and the message is, ‘Run.’”
But don’t let the bad rap Reunite has given sparkling red wine deter you from trying out some really good fizzy reds. They are perfect for summertime and an interesting alternative to the wine and beer you’d normally drink with grilled hamburgers or steaks.
Australia has been at the forefront of the sparkling red-wine movement, dedicated to turning “still” Shiraz into bubbly. There are a couple of examples of this surprisingly food-friendly sparkling Shiraz from Down Under available locally. I really like Hill of Content Sparkling Red NV ($14.15), from Padthaway, South Australia. It’s made predominantly from Shiraz, but I think there might be a skosh of Grenache or Pinot Noir thrown into the mix. And like Hill of Content’s still Shiraz, the sparkling version has lots of luscious strawberry and raspberry flavors. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a sweetish dessert-style wine, though. It’s remarkably dry, earthy, rich, lush and complex, like still Shiraz on uppers. Interestingly, the bottle is sealed not with a cork, but with a beer bottle-style cap. Put some on ice for your next barbecue.
McGuigan Black Label NV Sparkling Shiraz isn’t put together quite as well as the Hill of Content and is not as well balanced. But for $8.40, it’s another fun red bubbly to have on hand next to the grill. There are some earthy leathery notes present, along with cherry and chocolate aromas. In the mouth, soft tannins give way to fruity cassis flavors and dark chocolate. I never thought I’d recommend a hot dog wine pairing but McGuigan Black Label NV Sparkling Shiraz might be the ultimate Ball Park franks companion.
That loud pop you just heard was me opening a bottle of Marenco Pineto Brachetto D’Acqui 2006 ($20). I’m sipping some even as I write this column because, frankly, it’s become a mainstay of my summer diet. Ooh la la, this stuff is yummy. Now that you’ve recovered from that Lambrusco incident of 1974, it’s time to get back up on the Brachetto horse. The Brachetto grape is grown in the Piedmont area of Italy, and this specific Brachetto wine is from the town of Acqui (hence D’Acqui). The wine is sweeter (less dry) than the Australian Shiraz-based sparklers, but oh, my heavens, does it ever taste great when I’m out in the hot sun. This is a marvelous picnic wine as well as a good wine to serve with or for dessert or as an aperitif.
Since I’ve sung the praises of Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto D’Acqui ($21.50) before, I won’t spend a lot of time repeating myself here. Simply put, it’s a party in a bottle and one of my favorite all-time wines—certainly the sexiest I’ve ever encountered.