At the 2007 Australia Day Tastings in London , a sizeable line-up of the country's sparkling wines was shown, ranging from entry-point fizz and brands to the top names in Aussie sparkling from such cool climate areas as Tasmania.
The showcase demonstrated Australia's intent to lead the New World charge in the category and move up the premium ladder, with one or two players from New Zealand hot on its heels.
Driven by branded offerings, especially from Jacob's Creek and Hardys, Australia's sparkling wine performance grew 23 per cent by volume in 2006 (Nielsen MAT to Dec 3 2006) compared with 4.2 per cent for Spain and 13 per cent for Italy.
Tesco is particularly bullish about New World sparkling wines and is one of the few multiples to make listings above the £10 mark (£9.99 tends to be the ceiling across most of the off-trade).
Phil Reedman MW, who recently resigned as Tesco's buyer for Australian wine, believes there is a lack of quality sparklers at the £8-£12 mark.
He said: "Consumers are beginning to understand New World sparklers and they can fill a niche for 'other' celebrations."
Recent additions from Australia include Green Point (£12.99) and the even more ambitiously priced Petaluma Croser at £14.99, which Reedman believes offers "great quality and good value for money in the context of sparkling wine and Champagne". Another New World addition at Tesco is the Montana Brut sparkler, Pernod Ricard's lastest launch from New Zealand (£8.99).
Over at Sainsbury's Melissa Draycott, buyer for all sparkling wines, reports strong sales for branded sparklers including Jacob's Creek (and its rosé sibling), though one New World offering that has come and gone is the Argentinian Balbi. Draycott plans to refresh the sparkling range this year and is "open to good quality appropriately priced New World offerings".
In the meantime, the selection tilts more towards Europe for those higher premium wines, including the recently introduced Taste the Difference Cava (£9.99) and the English sparkler Chapel Down Century Extra Dry . At £14.99 this is Sainsbury's highest-priced bubbly outside Champagne.
Majestic's New Zealand sparklers have seen "excellent growth", along with cavas, and the entire sparkling category saw 14 per cent value growth in 2006 after 12.5 per cent in 2005, according to buyer Matt Pym.
He believes the category is performing well "on the back of New Zealand's success generally", because the wines are "very good, clean and crisp" and go down well with Majestic's customers, and because of the strength of brands such as Lindauer (£7.99).
Majestic also lists Pelorus NV and vintage sparklers by Cloudy Bay, which pitch in at more than £10.
Pym has listed Montana's new sparkling wine, Moët Hennessy's Australian Green Point rosé (£11.99) and Knappstein Sparkling Shiraz (£12.49), "a monster of a wine". The Knappstein , introduced in response to enthusiasm from the shop floor, is a parcel offering and Majestic's first sparkling Shiraz for some years.
Emma Nichols at Oddbins is optimistic about premium sparklers, ahead of "the inevitable price increase on Champagne".
She recently listed two Australian bubblies with crown cap seals - Deakin Estate (£6.99) and Green Point Rosé - which are prov ing popular "once the shock of a crown cap has worn off" .
And there are a couple of sparkling Shiraz wines in response to the style's growing popularity - Deakin Sparkling Shiraz (£8.99) and Majella Sparkling Shiraz (£17.99).
She adds: "I think sparkling wine is a category which can be more inventive as it doesn't have the restrictive history and perception of Champagne . People are willing to experiment with something that won't set them back as much as a Champagne ."
Pernod Ricard covers all angles
If there is one player intent on conquering the sparkling wine category, it has to be Pernod Ricard.
Already an active player in the Champagne sector with Mumm and Perrier Jouët, it has put together a portfolio that covers all key price points, from £5.99 for Balbi to £12.99 for the Californian Mumm Cuvée Napa.
The portfolio also includes four rosé sparklers following the introduction of Gran Campo Cava Rosé, enabling Pernod Ricard to fully exploit opportunities in this buoyant area too.
Sparkling rosé sales grew by 78 per cent last year and this segment now has a record 18 per cent share of the sparkling category (Nielsen MAT to Jan 27 2007).
The new Montana Brut sparkler arrives with the force and credentials of the leading New Zealand brand . Bottle-fermented and aged on the lees for 18 months, Montana Brut is predominantly a Chardonnay blend, in contrast to the established Lindauer wines in which Pinot Noir plays the leading role.
Adrian Atkinson, wine development director at Pernod Ricard UK, says: "The two brands complement one another since the new Montana Brut is clearly an extension to the well-established premium still wine brand, whereas Lindauer operates in the specialist premium sparkling wine areas which we believe will become significant in the future."
Innovation continues for the all-important Jacob's Creek sparkling portfolio - the latest arrival, Jacob's Creek Reserve (£9.99) vintage 2004, is a Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend made from grapes sourced from prime cool-climate areas, including Tasmania, Mt Gambia and Adelaide Hills.
It is being aimed at specialists along with Lindauer Special Select (also £9.99), New Zealand sparkler Deutz (£11.99) and Mumm Cuvée Napa.
To get both established wine and new offerings noticed by consumers and to drive impulse purchase, Pernod Ricard is developing educational shelf barkers, premium display cases, POS and, of course, encouraging retailers to chill wines ready for purchase.
Atkinson concludes that future opportunities for growth in sparkling wine include driving penetration through new branded wines and offering super premium options in the £9.99-£14.99 category.
Many of Australia's finest and higher-priced sparkling wine s can be found in the independents.
They include Jansz Tasmania (relabelled to emphasise the switch to 100 per cent Tasmanian fruit) as well as fellow Tasmanian sparklers Arras and Bay of Fires Tigress, from Constellation's Cellar Door portfolio, and Kreglinger, represented by Boutinot.
South Australian names carving out a niche in the independents include Yarra Burn (Yarra Valley, Victoria), also from Constellation, with a sparkling and a new rosé at £12.99, and Yarrabank from the Upper Yarra Valley/Mornington Peninsula, the fruit of a joint venture between Yering Station and Champagne Devaux (Swig/£18.50).
Martin Strachan, managing director of Negociants UK (which supplies Ang as Brut, Hightide Vineyards' sparkler and Jansz Tasmania) says: "The top end is looking good and cool-climate wines are in demand - there are good opportunities.
"Our focus is the premium area, so positioning and the right stockists are important."
Strachan agrees that £10 is "a critical point" for premium sparklers (Jansz retails at £9.99-£10.99) but he also identifies a different group of customers at the £10-plus level, including those prepared to buy speciality Champagnes.
"Sparkling wines have an equal right to the growth of speciality Champagnes and there's an opportunity to move with that trend," he adds.
Noel Young Wines has one of the most comprehensive selections of premium Australian sparklers, including Jansz Tasmania, Kreglinger and Yarra Burn.
The company's Jamie Harrison notes interest from "customers disappointed with big Champagne brands", and says that styles such as the new Jansz Rosé are proving particularly popular, while Angas Brut (£6.99) remains popular thanks to its value-for-money proposition.
There is certainly value for money in the New World sparkling category, as savvy consumers are discovering.
Brown Brothers NV , a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier from Victoria, with 18 months on the lees and traditional method ageing, is an interesting comparison to equivalents from Champagne.
It retails at £9.99 in the likes of Waitrose and Booths - well below entry-point Champagnes - and has seen "steady and consistent growth", according to Kathy O'Shannessy, marketing manger for Brown Brothers in the UK.
She concludes: "France will always own the category, but Australia is now better understood for sparklers and people are prepared to pay more for them."
Welcome to the party: new sparklers in the off-trade
Codorníu continues to focus on premium cavas over £5. It has recently introduced Teresa Rosado Brut, a blend of Pinot Noir and Monastrell (rrp £7.49).
United Wineries is releasing two cavas - a brut and a rosé - under its Berberana brand in May. They will be positioned at £6.99.
Sparkling 1917, a new wine from Belarus (rrp £19.99), was recently unveiled by importer Iron Wolf. It is made from Chardonnay and Aligoté grapes grown in Mo ldova. The winemaking process is completed at Minskaya Zavodvin in Belarus. For more details call Mark Pursy on 07867 900809.
Duchy Originals has teamed up with English winemaker Will Davenport, of Davenport Vineyards, East Sussex, to make the first wine in its range - Duchy Originals Sparkling Wine. It debuts with the 2004 vintage and is a traditional method organic wine made from the Reichensteiner grape. The wine is listed on www.bakersandlarners.com (£19.49).
Premium English sparkler Balfour Brut Rosé has also made its debut with the 2004 vintage. A blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, it comes from Richard Balfour-Lynn's Hush Heath Estate near Tenterden in Kent. A parcel of the wine is being offered on Tesco.com and to the Tesco Wine Club. See also www.hushheath.com.