Peter Ranscombe celebrates 50 years of South Africa’s flagship sparkling wine.
IF YOU went to a party and all the guests were sparkling wines then you’d be able to spot the usual suspects.
There’s Champagne over there, holding court, and hogging the limelight.
Then there’s Prosecco in the middle of the dance floor, causing trouble again.
But wait – who’s that cool dude that’s just walked in the door?
He looks familiar, but he has that exotic air about him too.
Get ready to meet – Cap Classique, South Africa’s answer to Champagne.
Just like Champagne or Cremant or Cava, it’s made using the traditional method, so the second fermentation – the one that creates the bubbles – takes place inside the bottle, not a big pressurised tank, like Prosecco.
Unlike Champagne, Cap Classique producers have more freedom.
They can grow their grapes in regions right across the Western Cape.
And they can use whichever varieties they fancy, although the classic Champagne trio of chardonnay, pinot meunier, and pinot noir is now gaining ground over South Africa’s adopted chenin blanc.
Many producers choose to age their base wines in oak barrels before it goes into bottles to become fizzy, a technique used only occasionally in Champagne.
That oak influence brings with it a touch of smoke on the nose and – for me – enhances the buttery and biscuity flavours on the palate.
What really sets Cap Classique apart though is its mind-blowing value for money.
As South Africa’s bubbles celebrate their 50th birthday – marking the half century since producer Simonsig pioneered the style – it’s time to explore these southern hemisphere sparklers.
IF YOU LIKE: Picnics in the park
THEN TRY: Pierre Jourdan Belle Rosé (£17.99, Hard to Fine Wines)
My pick of the pack from today’s online tasting. Fresh, floral, and fruity on the nose, with strawberry, raspberry, and peachy notes, before more savoury redcurrant and cranberry join the red fruits on the palate. Surprisingly textured too, with enough heft to balance its acidity.
IF YOU LIKE: Something slightly sweeter
THEN TRY: Anthonij Rupert Wyne L’Ormarins Rosé Brut (£22.07, Bancroft Wines)
One for fans of Prosecco or Moet Rosé. There’s a touch of sweetness to balance the acidity, with an interesting mix of sweeter peach and lemon sherbet notes on the nose, contrasting with redcurrant. There’s a butteriness to the finish too.
IF YOU LIKE: Sun-drenched ripe fruit
THEN TRY: Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel Brut (£14.20, Wine Line Scotland)
The bubbles that started it all. Simonsig still calls its sparkler “Kaapse Vonkel”, as a tip of the hat to the name used before “Cap Classique” was introduced in 1992. Clean sheets, apricot, and red apple on the nose, then crisp acidity off-set by more red apple and apricot on the palate.
IF YOU LIKE: Sauvignon blanc’s freshness
THEN TRY: Klein Constantia Brut 2016 (£15.69, Wine Direct)
Klein Constantia is best known as a sweet wine maker, but the company is also carving out a name for itself making refreshing sauvignon blanc. Although this single vineyard brut is made with chardonnay not sauvignon, theres’s a similar crispness to its acidity, balanced by lemon and more savoury lemon rind flavours, plus a whiff of wood smoke on the nose, and some biscuit developing on the finish.
IF YOU LIKE: Big, buttery Californian chardonnay
THEN TRY: Krone Kaaimansgat Blanc de Blancs 2016 (c£35, stockist to follow)
A step up in price, but also a step up in precision too, with its chardonnay coming from the first named single-site for Cap Classique. Heavy cream and butter on the nose lead into a butter bomb on the palate, full of buttered popcorn flavours. The acidity is still nice and fresh to provide balance though, and there are biscuit notes developing on the finish, reminding me of the way my Grandma would smother digestive biscuits in butter as an after-school snack.
IF YOU LIKE: A bargain
THEN TRY: Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs 2016 (£18.45, Exel Wines)
Made using grapes grown in Graham Beck’s own fields, the producer’s fizz is full of biscuit, wood smoke, red apple, and peachier aromas. Those heavier biscuit and butter flavours balance the acidity on the palate, but what’s most interesting is its texture, a mix of lemon rind and chalkier notes.
Read more of Peter Ranscombe’s wine, whisky, and beer reviews in his drinks blog, The Grape & The Grain.