My liver and I have news. During London Lockdown 2.0, we had so much fun that we can’t wait to pry you away from that trusty bottle you always buy. Remember when you used to take risks? That was back when you called everything champagne. That was wrong, as we know now that “it’s only quarantine if it’s from the quarantine region of France. Otherwise, it’s just sparkling isolation.” Now that you know the difference between champagne, cava, crémant, sekt, pat nat, method ancestral, carbonation and prosecco, it’s time for you to go beyond standard French quarantine to a bottle or two of exceptional sparkling isolation, South African style. South African Cap Classique is – you’re absolutely right – sparkling wine made by the traditional methode champenoise as brought to the Cape by the French Huguenots. If you haven’t heard of Cap Classique, don’t worry. I went into my local Whisky Exchange and they hadn’t either. Strange, because next year is Cap Classique’s actual 50th anniversary. I’ve opened many bottles to prepare for this event. Many.
This is very much a crowd-pleaser. It needs to come in a much larger bottle, like a double magnum
Spawned by the steel ‘fruit chute’ fun ride at Simpsons estate in Kent, my new theory is that the best winemakers have built-in laugh mechanisms. The risks are so high that they have to. Fitting the theory, the first bottle-fermented sparkling wine made at the Cape was called Kaapse Vonkel, or Cape Sparkle. How cute is that? Carrying on this tradition is respected SA winemaker Ken Forrester who named his sparkler after, “a colourful fairground pony — every child’s first pony.” Children’s ponies aren’t always fun though: I remember the lasting bite marks left on my arms by the two adorable little shits my uncle kept in his paddock. Completely delightful is Sparklehorse 2017, with its bright carousel horse label and 100% chenin blanc composition. It’s a great example of how Cap Classique doesn’t always stick to the holy trinity of champagne grapes. Sparklehorse’s intense green apple aroma leads to a crisp, bright, green apple taste that brightens up everything. The Green Man is one of several sparkling wines made at Silverthorn, a vineyard of Afropean synergy. Fewer than 20,000 bottles of this intriguing wine exist, which is a shame as its chardonnay grapes were aged in French oak and pinot noir fermented in stainless steel to bring out berry flavours. On the lees for 21 months, its relatively low 5.3 g/l residual sugar lends a deep smoky citrus flavour. Your glass will stay near these bottles until they’re gone.
The name Pongranz was completely new to me. Founded by a Hungarian who survived the gulag, many of this vineyard’s expertly-crafted wines are award winners. The Brut and the Brut Rosé both have truly world-quality vibrant bead – lively, small bubbles racing to the surface yet very long lasting. This alone shows the mastery at work in South Africa. Three more you must try are Kleine Zalze, Krone and Dainty Bess. Kleine Zalze Brut (60% chardonnay and 40% pinot noir) has tons – I mean rivalling tons – of tiny, streaming bubbles in pale golden, sweet aroma. There is a Granny Smith tart sweetness to the finish and mouthfuls of strawberry, blackberry and lavish long honey. Krone Borealis Vintage Cuvée Brut 2018 tastes all honey, fig and dark berries with tangerine/satsuma taste about halfway through. Named after a rose, Dainty Bess brings hints of apricot, honey, stone fruits, a small bead galloping through its rose gold colour. It’s got a surprising length of flavour – flinty blackcurrant – at the end. This is very much a crowd-pleaser. It needs to come in a much larger bottle, like a double magnum.
Overwhelmed already? Ok, start with Simonsig. They’re one of the big producers and they also made the first Cap Classique in 1971. By buying them, you will have already out-wined your friends when 2021’s big anniversary comes. Buy whatever you can: Brut or Rosé (as recently recommended by Will Lyons) and definitely the 2014 Cuvée Royale Blanc des Blancs. The taste is tonnes of white peach, biscuit and citrus, fully-integrated into a voluptuously-beaded 100% chardonnay. The Cap Classique Producers Association has, so far, about 84 members and despite everything (the wine industry is suffering along with us, and more) all of these wines are available in the UK and elsewhere. But the big secret is – and I’m whispering this – they’re affordable. We’re looking at a lot less than your usual budget, so you can buy twice the amount. Only you and your liver need to know this, along with your mouth. Your snobby friends? Nah. C