Since the release of his first Champagne Guide in 2011, Tyson Stelzer has been making a name for himself as Mr. Champagne of Australia. We spoke with him about Australia's obsession with champagne, and his tips for what to drink over the festive season.
by Erin Ogilvie
Since the release of his first Champagne Guide in 2011, Tyson Stelzer has been making a name for himself as Mr. Champagne of Australia. He was named the International Wine & Spirit Communicator of the Year 2015, the Australian Wine Communicator of the Year 2013, and the International Champagne Writer of the Year 2011. His fans include Huon Hooke, Jancis Robinson and James Halliday, for whom he works as the sparkling reviewer for the James Halliday Australian Wine Companion.
In an article written for delicious. magazine earlier this year, Tyson said that, “Of all the world’s most famous and celebrated wines, less is written about champagne than any other. There is no beverage that speaks of celebration more universally than champagne, traversing cultures and languages to toast everything from christenings to coronations… But there’s more to my love of champagne than this.”
Australia is one of the world’s biggest consumers of champagne. What are we drinking?
Our little country Down Under registered the fastest champagne growth last year of any year in history. We are now the fastest-growing champagne market on the planet and we’re popping almost three times as many bottles as we were six years ago.
Of Champagne’s top markets, Australia ranks highest in proportion of non-vintage champagne consumed, highest in dominance by the large houses, lowest in rosé, and second-lowest in prestige champagne. Our per-bottle spend is dropping, and remains one of the lowest among Champagne’s biggest markets.
For all this record-smashing growth, there’s a great deal of untapped potential for champagne in Australia. Globally, we’re way behind in embracing the diversity of styles, producers and price points that Champagne has to offer.
Why do you think this is?
While this recent announcement took me by complete shock, champagne remains the most affordable and most accessible of all flagship global benchmark wine styles. When was the last time you found a mature First Growth Bordeaux or Grand Cru Burgundy for $300?
Often people drink champagne only as a toast, but is champagne a good wine for food?
Once the quintessential aperitif reserved exclusively for special occasions, champagne is now an every Friday night tipple and a refreshing match with many cuisines.
I have the privilege of hosting scores of champagne tastings and dinners each year, under talented chefs across the country and around the world, or winging it myself in my own kitchen. Matching champagne with the right dish can be one of the most thrilling culinary experiences of all. But getting it wrong can completely destroy the wine and the food.
Champagne is one of the most elegant and subtle of all beverages. In aligning food to match, the most important rule is that less is more. Less intense flavour, less cooking, less sugar, and less ingredients that might confuse the experience.
What’s been a standout champagne for you in 2016?
The most profound champagne I’ve tasted this year Krug Clos du Mesnil 2002. Its concentration and sheer persistence rival Le Montrachet itself, yet it is charged with an acid line and mineral backbone that will sustain it for a century.
And how about Sparkling Wine?
Last year, House of Arras Blanc de Blancs 2006, from Tasmania, made history as the first sparkling wine to win Champion Wine of Show at one of the major capital city wine shows. And not just any capital city show: it won at The National Wine Show in Canberra, the grand finale of all Australian Wine Shows. And this was no fluke, as it was backed up this year by House of Arras Grand Vintage 2007, which eclipsed every still white, red and fortified wine to win Best Wine of Show in both the Sydney Royal Wine Show and the Royal Queensland Wine Show. Tasmanian sparkling has come of age.
Best Champagne for around $100?
The sublime vintage of 2008 is landing on our shores. This is the champagne vintage not to be missed. Under $100, Gatinois Aÿ Grand Cru Brut Millésime 2008 is a brilliant find from a tiny grower, and Veuve Clicquot Rosé Vintage 2008 is a sensational offering from one of the largest houses.
Best Champagne for around $60?
Silly season always delivers all the best champagne deals. For around $60, you can often find the non-vintage cuvées of many of the greatest houses like Bollinger, Billecart, Louis Roederer, Pol Roger, and Taittinger.
Best Sparkling Wine for around $30?
This year I published my inaugural Australian Sparkling Report, and featuring all my sparkling wines of the year in every category and price point. $30 will get you into one of the great estates of Tasmania, Bay of Fires Tasmanian Cuvée Pinot Noir Chardonnay Brut NV.
What will you be drinking on Christmas day?
Champagne vintage 2008.
Want to make sure you’re using the right glasses for your champagne? Check out our blog on the history of champagne glasses and which one’s right for you.