Summer has officially arrived in South Africa! Days ahead will be filled with sunshine, braai’s, beach trips and Christmas holiday celebrations. In other words, the time has arrived to break out the bubbly!
I must admit, I wanted to blog this month about something relevant to my Diploma studies. With an exam fast approaching on sparkling wines of the world, I thought I could combine my research with a post.
Specifically, I want to talk today about the rising fame and popularity of sparkling wines in South Africa as well as some labels and people that are pushing the envelope and growing the industry. Every year, producers are raising the bar in this country for sparkles and it’s a truly exciting time in SA. I hope I can encourage all of you to delve (if you haven’t already) into the wonderful experience that is Method Cap Classique (MCC)!
What is MCC?
The word “Champagne” can only be used for sparkling wines made by the traditional method and produced in the Champagne region of France. Champagne’s controlling body, the CIVC, objected to the use of the work “Champenoise” by other producers. As a result, Cape producers had to come up with an alternative name and in South Africa, this prestigious wine category became known as Cap Classique.
The Cap Classique Producers Association is an organization formed in 1992 that promotes South Africa’s premium MCC wines and the common interests of the producers. According to the group the classic art of winemaking was introduced to the Cape by the French Huguenots, and the first bottle-fermented sparkling wine produced at the Cape was called Kaapse Vonkel or Cape Sparkle.
The first méthode champenoise (called Méthode Cap Classique in South Africa) sparkling wines were made in South Africa only 30 years ago. MCCs are now on the rise and are produced in different regions ranging from cooler areas like Constantia and Elgin to the warmer parts of Franschhoek and Robertson.
Back up…what exactly is Méthode Champenoise or the Traditional Method?
Simply put, Traditional Method is wine that has completed its second fermentation in bottle.
This method was once known as the champagne method and is now known in a few forms such as traditional method, classical method, classical traditional method, méthod traditionnelle, and méthod classique. It is a meticulous, time consuming way of making sparkling wine.
Wine folly has a fantastic, straightforward infographic explaining the process of traditional method:
Countries that specifically utilize the Traditional Method are:
France (outside Champagne)(Cremant)
South Africa (Méthode Cap Classique)
As far as I understand, other countries may choose to use the traditional method, but this is more of a winemakers choice and they are not be held to the same rules and standards as the above mentioned countries (who have regulating bodies in place).
A brief chat about other sparkling wine production methods
Other popular production methods include:
- Tank Method
- Transfer Method
- Ancestral Method
I think I’ll let Wine Folly break this down for you guys with her awesome infographics:
The importance of looking at your label
So how do you know if you’re drinking a sparkling wine made in the traditional method? A good giveaway will always be your label. For example, if it says “Cava” you know you are drinking a traditional method sparkling wine from Spain. If it says “Prosecco” you’re drinking Italian sparkling wine that was most likely made via Tank Method. If it just says “sparkling wine”, it was probably injected with CO2 (like a soda machine). Sometimes you’re lucky and they tell you everything on the label, however, sometimes it’s left a mystery. In that case it’s up to the consumer to know more about the country’s background and regions. So depending on what you feel like and prefer (fruit forward, autolytic character, etc) and how much you want to spend determines what kind of sparkling wine you end up with at the till. In the world of sparking wine there is something for everyone and the flavors and quality can be so drastically different, it’s a fun journey to experiment with.
More on MCC
The Cap Classique Producers Association currently has over 70 members. Working together, those involved strive to improve the quality standards of all the members’ wines made according to this classic bottle-fermentation method. Part of achieving this goal is the establishment of technical criteria and organoleptic approval of base wines. They also share a common objective of cultural and educational upliftment of their surrounding communities.
Some notable, established producers on the SA scene include: Graham Beck, Villiera and Simonsig. But let’s talk more about heavy hitter Graham Beck.
It is impossible to talk SA sparkles without discussing Graham Beck and their talented cellar master, Pieter Ferreira. His endeavors in the industry have really helped put this country on the map for sparkling wine. Just last week the Graham Beck Cuvée Clive 2011 was selected as Overall Sparkling Wine of the Year (97 points) by Tim Atkin, award-winning British journalist and Master of Wine, in his South Africa 2017 Special Report. Tim Atkin recently turned the worlds attention to SA’s top wines and winemakers and he singled out Cap Classique as a noteworthy and exciting category.
On top of this exciting score, the Blanc de Blancs 2012, Brut NV, Brut Zero 2012, Brut Rosé NV and Brut Rosé 2012 also all scored above 90 points.
Over the past 5 years many wine producers have been jumping on the sparkling bandwagon and producing MCC’s of their own. One of my favorite labels and MCC producers at the moment is Le Lude. Established by the Barrow family, Le Lude is a wine farm based in the Franschoek valley. About 4 years ago Le Lude began producing Cap Classique wines and they now have thousands upon thousands of bottles sitting on the lees in their impressive cellar. I was fortunate enough to spend some time with wine maker Paul Gerber in July touring and tasting the location. Alongside our tasting of the Le Lude Brut NV and Rose Brut NV we sipped and swapped notes with a bottle of Le Mesnil Champagne. It was a lovely afternoon.
For me, probably one of the most exciting things about Le Lude is that they are the first cellar in South Africa to utilize the Agrafe method with some of their wines, meaning that the wines will ferment under cork instead of crown cap. The resulting wines have shown more complexity, cream and layered characteristics. The word Agrafe literally means “staple”, and it is this staple that secures the cork to the bottle during the process, as well as after the final process of disgorgement where it gives the wines of Le Lude a distinct feature.
The next few years show great promise for Le Lude as their offering and popularity will surely grow. Paul’s passion for sparkles remains a bright light in the industry. I’m sure he will only but continue to push the envelope and keep the creativity alive in South African bubbly.
Most recently, I went to a tasting hosted by The Wine Cellar in Joburg. We tasted wine from a group of energetic winemakers that go by the name MEOW (Movement of Extreme Overburg Winemakers). Winemakers included: Chris Alheit, Marelise Niemann, John Seccombe and Peter-Allan Finlayson. This lively bunch presented a lot of exciting wines, including one sparkling. This was the Gabrielskoof MCC (Peter-Allan Finlayson) called “Madame Lucy”. Madame Lucy is a Pinot Noir/Chardonnay sparkling wine made from Elgin grapes. The wine spent 9 months on the lees. I love how it is often described as “cheeky”. Makes sense really…the dog…the fizz…it is after all named after the familys’ chocolate poodle, Lucy.
This is just another example of more and more wine producers experimenting and exploring MCC wine production. It’s a really exciting time!
My tasting notes on the Madame Lucy:
Nose & Palate: White flowers, citrus (lemon/lime), sweet peaches & slight sweet biscuit (thinking zoo biscuit).
Acidity was high and mouth watering, the wine is dry and alcohol on the medium minus side. This entertaining sparkle is light bodied with a medium finish. It’s a fun wine!
Keen to try? You can purchase a bottle of Madame Lucy HERE
I hope I’ve encouraged some of you to get your hands on a bottle (or two) of South Africa’s one and only Methode Cap Classique. Send me an email or insta-message and let me know which one you tried and what you thought!
Cheers for now!