Tyson Stelzer has many awards to his name, but he is most universally known as an expert in Champagne. His wine writing career has spanned 15 years which has resulted in the publication of 16 books ranging from home cellaring, regional guides, screw caps to food and wine matching. The first edition of Tyson Stelzer’s Champagne Guide was written in 2010, and won him the International Champagne Writer of the Year in 2011. From there, he has steadily put out successive editions of a comprehensive Champagne Guide that has delighted readers and Champagne fanatics.
But even with all his accolades, Tyson Stelzer remains a true and genuine appreciator of wine and Champagne. With his second visit at The Flying Winemaker hosting his annual Champagne Masterclass, we saw it as an opportunity to quiz him. So here is our interview with Tyson Stelzer.
1. What are your go-to food and wine pairings?
Champagne with gougères, red Burgundy with confit duck, white Burgundy with chicken and Margaret River Cabernet with lamb cutlets!
Champagne is my favourite food wine because it achieves freshness and elegance from its cool climate fruit and chalk mineral structure and yet the complexity, depth and texture derived from age on lees.
2. What are the rules of thumb for choosing: Aperitif, Christmas Turkey/ham or dessert Champagne choices?
Aperitif – Acidity is the key to refreshing your palate and gearing up for a meal. Acidity is the signature of cool regions, so it is these to which I look for aperitifs. Champagne is the quintessential choice, and my favourite aperitif champagnes are blanc de blancs from the Côte des Blancs. Chardonnay provides tension and chalk soils contribute a salty mineral structure that partners magically with light seafood canapes. Otherwise: Tasmanian sparkling if you don’t want to push the boat out quite so far. Or Riesling from Germany or one of the cool, dry styles from Australia like Clare or Eden Valley.
Turkey/ham – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the classic matches with Christmas fare. Either in sparkling or still guise! Go with a champagne or lighter Chardonnay for cold meats or a full-bodied Chardonnay or a Pinot with hot meats. Or for the ultimate Christmas decadence, pop an Australian sparkling Shiraz!
Dessert – The key with dessert is that the wine needs to be sweeter than the dish or it will taste dry and weak. The sweet wines of Germany and Sauternes are versatile dessert options. Even sweet champagnes are not nearly as sweet, and hence are better matched with a cheese course (particularly hard cheeses like gruyere, parmesan or comté).
3. What is the most unorthodox champagne and food pairing that people should try?
Krug with fish and chips!
4. What are your thoughts on sparkling red wine?
Sparkling reds are one of Australia’s strongest sparkling categories right now. Well crafted, the subtle sweetness, creamy effervescence and rich fruitiness of sparkling shiraz is quite decadent. It’s also particularly versatile with a wide variety of foods and is a rare wine style that effortlessly bridges everything from cold white meats to hot red meats – making it the ultimate go-to for the maelstrom of flavours of Christmas lunch! Look to the Barossa, McLaren Vale, Clare Valley and Great Western for the best examples.
5. When you are not drinking Champagne, what are you drinking?
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are my favourite grapes, still or sparkling, but always from cool regions. Burgundy is king! Riesling is the perennial bargain of the wine world.
6. What is your most memorable wine experience of 2017?
I have the privilege of hosting small groups for intimate tours of the top houses in Champagne. We spent the first week of harvest this year tasting champagne at every stage – grapes, juice, ferments, vins clairs, reserves and vintages back to the 1970s. The ultimate immersion in the wonderful journey of champagne from start to finish!
7. How would you describe the wine culture in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong is a remarkable and unique wine market of mature and discerning drinkers, with an affection for the finer things in life and a love for vintage champagne like no other market on earth. Hong Kong spends more per bottle of champagne than any market other than the US, and it is a very strong market for prestige cuvées. However, like Australia, Hong Kong is yet to fully embrace the grand diversity of champagne. Champagne growers and cooperatives are very weak categories in Hong Kong. Rosé is also an under-performer, though its versatility with Hong Kong’s cuisine should make it a natural choice. In the years to come, Hong Kong and Australia will follow markets like Japan and the UK in embracing a wider diversity of champagne producers and styles. It’s always a privilege to visit Hong Kong and showcase the diversity of champagne at tastings with Eddie. Our guests always discover wonderful cuvées that they’ve never tasted before.
8. Do you order Prosecco and Cava in restaurants?
Never. Both have risen in popularity globally thanks to their affordability during an era of economic crisis. But no grapes can match the finesse, complexity and texture of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier in sparkling wines made using the ultimate production regime of méthode traditionnelle. This is why champagne, Tasmania and now also the UK punch far above prosecco and cava.
9. What is the best Champagne style producing region outside of Champagne?
I recently had the opportunity to take 22 of my favourite Tasmanian sparkling wines to New York, for the first ever dedicated showcase on US soil. Australia’s cool island state has come a long way in the sparkling stakes in just a few decades, and its wines reflect the finesse of champagne and usually at a more affordable price. We wowed the US press and wine trade! Tasmania is a world away from Champagne geographically, and its wines are different in style, too. Tasmania doesn’t share Champagne’s chalk, so its wines are structurally distinctive. Incidentally, southern England does share Champagne’s chalk, and its sparkling wines are ones to watch. With a couple more decades of vine age, wine age and expertise, there is potential for the UK to rank among the sparkling greats.
10. What are your Top 5 champagne houses?
Bollinger, Charles Heidsieck, Egly-Ouriet, Krug and Billecart-Salmon.
Tyson without a doubt is a respected wine writer. But he delivers his knowledge and experience with ease and in a way, that feels very natural. A class with him is more like a conversation rather than a lecture. We are very fortunate to have him as a host. To find out more please visit tysonstelzer.com.