Good champagne is irreplaceable, but if you cannot get one due to restraints on supply or economics, don't settle for an inferior substitute. Instead, run to where they rack the red wines and choose a sparkling Shiraz.
I drank my first glass at a South Australian media gathering, a breakfast at a farmhouse where the produce of the region was put on display to impress visiting food and wine writers. It was a deep dark ruby red, wafted a tempting bouquet of currants and berries and it had bubbles!
The label on the bottle said "sparkling Shiraz", and fighting down prejudice against the memories of Cold Duck (sweetened fizzy burgundies produced for the college circuit), I took another glass, and did not need further persuasion.
Sparkling Shiraz is Australian-produced, and has become a celebratory tipple that goes very well with the style of cuisine that has emerged Down Under, which in itself is a melting pot of immigrant influences, largely Asian.
The spicy, fruity Shiraz with bubbles can be very good indeed. Estate-bottled vintages are not uncommon, depending only on how much you want to pay.
The sparkling reds are made the same way as champagne, but red base wines are used instead of the usual Chardonnay and Pinot blends. What places the Australian ruby sparklers apart from the cheap fizzy wines out of France is simply the attention to quality that Aussie vintners invested.
My personal favorite comes from the McGuigan vineyards in Hunter Valley in New South Wales, where the warmer weather pampers the Shiraz grapes and ripens it to delicious depths when it is stored in oak.
Make no mistake. This is still very much a full-bodied red. The bubbles just make it very easy to go down, especially since it should be drunk chilled. All the usual characteristics are there including the first fruity, chocolate flavors on the tongue, followed by faint oak and slight tannin at the back of the throat and cheeks.
Sparkling Shiraz has become the festive bubbly in Australia, and it has such a devoted following that it even has its own website (www.sparklingshiraz.com.au).
In China, Australian wines are making major inroads as genuine wine lovers gradually forsake prestige buys of chateau vintages for bottles they really enjoy. Indeed, since Aussie wine-makers produce vintages with an eye on food-matching, their wines are much better suited to Asian palates.
Most reputable cellars will stock sparkling Shiraz, and you can also contact the Australian Wine Club (firstname.lastname@example.org) to arrange for delivery.