Kids can say “South African champagne” because it’s really hard to sue children. As for adults… anyway in 1929, South Africa signed the Crayfish Agreement with France. This meant that any sparkling wine South Africa produced via ‘method champenoise’ could not legally include the c-word – what with Reims being more protective of its IP than Disney and all. Simonsig Estate produced the first bottle-fermented South African sparkling wine in 1971 and by 1992, its legal moniker became MCC/Methóde Cap Classique. Now, almost 90 SA vineyards have followed, using the French methods and the classic trio of champagne grapes along with some local types like chenin and pinotage. On the 50th anniversary of creation, Cap Classique is a new world wine with old world integrity. “Making champagne is very restrictive. These rules aren’t hard but these guiding steps to produce great quality in totality make a product that is respected,” says Peter of the South African vineyard Pierre Jourdan.
The “President’s Choice” was served at both Nelson Mandela’s inauguration and to celebrate Barack Obama’s presidential nomination
With Brexit affecting EU imports, now is a good time to opt for local English Sparkling – or Cap Classique which has European bones. South Africans like to taste sweet but drink dry – they like a lot of flavour but not a lot of sugar – which means these wines are made for modern palates. Most of these bottles are available online but the effort is worth it. For the impatient, Waitrose or M&S stock Graham Beck. The Brut NV, a fresh, citrus sparkler dubbed the “President’s Choice”, was served at both Nelson Mandela’s inauguration and to celebrate Barack Obama’s presidential nomination. Graham Beck Pinot Noir Rosé 2015 is jewelled-salmon colour with light lashings of tart blueberries, raspberry and honeysuckle. Both pair well with all types of Lockdown chow. Harder to find are Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs 2016 – fresh lime and ripe apricot – and Bliss Nectar, honey and praline notes with a 27g/l dosage, a sweet trip for those who fear acid. My pick here is Graham Beck Brut Zero. It smacks of cherries, blueberries, almonds and spice. I dig the slightly salty finish.
Less costly than a pair of Woolford tights, Môreson Solitaire is a tantalisingly crisp Blanc de Blancs with light biscuit and marzipan wafts, a really fine mousse and no blistering acidity. The lush Sauvage La Bri 2013 Blanc de Blancs is 100% Chardonnay, natch. Five years on the lees and 2.2 residual sugar (none added) make this singularly refreshing – and only 1444 bottles of this 3rd vintage were made. The luscious rosé Des Dieux Claudia MCC 2013 has only 3.6 residual sugar per litre but spending 57 months on lees gives it delicious deep creamy citrus and red berry flavours. Likened to a youthful Krug, Aristea’s MCC 2015 has had three years of lees ageing before disgorgement – three times longer than Cap Classique requirements and twice as long as champagne. It’s biscuity and finely moussed but, at this point, a prime bottle for the cellar (or that dark cool cupboard you can’t reach, the one with all the pots and pans).
South Africa is the New World with a long tradition of Old World winemaking. From a vineyard established in 1691, LaBorie makes wine of confidence and quality. La Borie Blanc de Blancs 2014 Le Traditionnel took a Double Gold at the South African Sparkling Wine Championships of 2019. It also scored 91 in Tim Atkin MW’s 2019 report of the Best of South Africa. Think biscuit, citrus and melon – it’s all there. If you want it fruitier, the LaBorie Brut Rosé has bushels, along with biscuits and a hint of oak. One of the oldest producers is Boschendal, founded in 1685. Boschendal Brut NV Rosé is gem-like pink, a tiny-bubbled sparkler studded with redcurrant, pomegranate and citrus. And yes, it did score 91 points in Tim Atkin’s 2020 South African wine report and a silver in the Decanter 2020 awards.
We all know parents aren’t supposed to have favourite children, but they do. And so do I: Black Elephant Vintners. Black Elephant Chardonnay Pinot Noir Brut MCC tastes of citrus, red apples then cherries and cream. Black Elephant Chardonnay MCC, Simonsberg-Paarl, 100% chardonnay from one vineyard, is ripe citrus – nothing sharp – with toasted nuts and ripe melon with lingering ginger, brioche and peach.
Black Elephant Zero Dosage is the nearest I’ve tasted to champagne, although it doesn’t wannabe champagne. It is Cap Classique in its purest form. From a single vineyard in the Elgin Valley, this 100% chardonnay spends 100 months fermenting on the lees in the bottle. Peach, almonds and exotic spice matched with stone fruits, hints of brioche and tons of mad galloping bead. I’ve gifted this bottle, taken it to dinners in ‘my bubble’. I’m wowed every time I pop its cork and taste those banging tones of citrus and oak and that a long creamy finish. Comparable in quality to Tarlant Cuvee Louis or Bollinger RD, the modestly priced high quality Black Elephant Zero Dosage is wine old money would buy. I actually bought a case of this.
TLDR: when you see a bottle marked Cap Classique, buy it. It goes cheerfully from aperitif to food to dessert. Drink it alone – you know I often do – or with people. Drink it crying, laughing or feeling totally numb. Keep it and feel smug or give it as a gift and feel magnanimous (as long as you have another bottle for you). It’s the perfect Lockdown sparkling while we wait for the world to open up once more. C