Features Tasting

FIZZ AND POP

Let the corks fly! The Cheers magazine tasting panel twisted off the wire cages, popped the corks and assessed a lineup of local dry cap classiques.

The past two pandemic-influenced years saw public events suspended due to health concerns but in late 2022 the highly anticipated bubbly festivals came storming back – and Franschhoek almost burst at the seams with consumers intent on chasing the elusive bubble. The same held true for Gauteng where multiple cap classique, Champagne and bubbly festivals were held in both Johannesburg and Tshwane.

CHEERS has written many articles about méthode cap classique – or MCC – over the past 10 years. It’s a category of wine South Africans can be justifiably proud of because it continues to improve and gain greater popularity. Head of Amorim cork in South Africa, Joaquim Sa, said at the Amorim Cap Classique challenge awards event held in September that bubbly exports were up 20% and there had been a 50% increase in local sales! People love the sparkling wine which is made the same way Champagne is, with a secondary fermentation in the bottle. All those carbon dioxide bubbles are trapped behind glass, just waiting to burst forth once the cork is removed.

There’s been a concerted move away from the use of MCC – the abbreviation for the style that sets it apart from other sparkling wine. As the Cap Classique Producer’s Association state, if you do a Google search for MCC you get everything from the Marylebone Cricket Club to motorcycle clubs and others! So to remove confusion it’s known as simply cap classique.

The naming convention has done nothing to change the inherent quality of the bottle-fermented sparkling wine which has been part of the local winemaking fraternity for more than 50 years now.

A small cross-section of some of the most popular and well-known cap classiques were lined up for tasting. The typical toasty, yeasty and lees notes from both fermentation and time in bottle were noted, but the interesting observation was in the fruit spectrum. With chardonnay dominant wines the fruit was citrussy while those with more pinot noir showed red fruit or berries. Regardless of whether raspberry or orange, lemon and lime flavours were front and centre, refreshment, overall quality and enjoyment were the lasting impression.

After all, what would a celebration, graduation, wedding, engagement, birthday or simple gathering of friends around a braai or dinner table be without the pop of a cork and the fizz of bubbles?

Tasting panel: Fiona McDonald, Elvina Fortuin, Dee Griffin, Guy McDonald and Kelly Hill

Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel Brut 2020

The original! The bubbly that kicked the category off more than 50 years ago. Biscuit, lemon zest and crisp citrus flavour (Elvina) with lively bubbles and vivacious energy (Guy) with a long, persistent finish (Kelly). Good complexity.

 

 

 

Steenberg 1682 Chardonnay NV

Appealing whiff of salt-laden sea air, cream cracker and marmalade (Fiona) on this Constantia fizz. Buttery richness (Kelly), orange and big citrus flavour (Elvina) and refreshing acidity (Guy) in the mouth. Dee enjoyed the wine’s panettone notes with lovely dryness on the finish.

 

 

Villiera Tradition Brut NV

Another pioneer of the category under enthusiastic Champagne lover Jeff Grier. Rich and ripe with vivid lime cordial flavour, tangy freshness and taut zip said Fiona. Honey and elderflower flavours (Dee). Subtle raspberry and caramel nuance Guy found. Lively and bright with impressive purity and focus.

 

 

 

Boschendal Chardonnay Pinot Noir Brut NV

Preserved lemon, baked bread and honey aromas give way to chalky limestone flavour and grip (Elvina and Fiona). Pistachio nuts and cranberry chunk biscuits (Dee). Guy found the palate balanced and rich, poised, with a deliciously dry tail.

 

 

Boschendal Grand Cuvée Brut Pinot Noir Chardonnay 2015

Equal parts pinot noir and chardonnay in this vintage statement bubbly. Fiona noted ginger blossom and green apple. The palate was broad, layered, rich and creamy with toasty, sourdough livened by tangy, fresh red fruit flavours. Elvina loved the macadamia nougat notes she found while Guy appreciated the dried apple ring fruitiness on the refined, smooth palate.

 

 

Krone Borealis Vintage Cuvée Brut 2020

Dee and Elvina were both in the apple orchard with this wine! Impressive marmalade, yeast and toast with creamy breadth and length, said Fiona. Kelly loved the tangy crunch and zippy fresh acidity reminiscent of a Granny Smith apple. “Great brunch bubbly,” said Dee who endorsed the producer’s food recommendation of curried poached egg on roti, having tried it recently.

 

Boschendal Jean Le Long Prestige Cuvée 2009

Having spent 10 years in the bottle before being released to market, this is a special bubbly. That maturity comes across in the complexity of the refined palate. Stylish and elegant but with impressive lively acidity still in evidence. Dee found green/lime jelly babies while Elvina commented on the spicy caramel richness and toasted brioche nuances. Both Guy and Kelly said it was impressive in its summer fruit and honey notes but still very easy to drink.

 

 

Graham Beck Brut Rosé NV

The salmon pink colour is easy on the eye while Dee loved the strawberries and cream flavour in the mouth. Descriptions ranged from Turkish Delight (Elvina) to pot-pourri (Kelly), red apple and guava (Guy). Lipsmacking acidity with good lees breadth balanced by the tangy freshness, Fiona said. Soft, poised and delicious.

 

 

Villiera Tradition Brut Rosé NV

Eye-catching gentle pink colour (Elvina). Aromas of toffee apple caramel which then become baked tarte tatin, said Fiona. Rich with subtle yeast, sourdough and even meat extract notes. Guy commented on the freshly-squeezed cloudy apple juice flavour which remained fresh and lively to the end.