When it comes to sparkling wines, Europe has a strong hand. But of its Cava, Prosecco, Moscato d’Asti and Sekt, the continent’s reigning fizz is undoubtedly Champagne. Turn to the southern hemisphere and there’s a strong contender for the effervescent crown. South Africa’s sparkling wine is largely made in the traditional Méthode Cap Classique, which is the same technique used in Champagne. Rather than adding gas, it allows for a second fermentation in the bottle to create the bubbles organically.
The annual Franschhoek Cap Classique & Champagne Festival, situated an hour’s scenic drive from The Twelve Apostles, is a celebration of South Africa’s sophisticated sparkling wine. In tribute to the festival at the start of December, here we explore what makes the country’s Méthode Cap Classique wines so appealing, and where to sample the finest.
Nearly 50 years of history
Famous for its beautiful vineyards rolling out from the foot of the Simonsberg mountains, Stellenbosch is the Cape’s prime wine country. Simsonsig was the first in the area to experiment with Méthode Cap Classique, releasing its first bottle of fizz in 1971. A successful blend of the same Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier and Noir grapes used in Champagne, Simonsig’s Kaapse Vonkel soon inspired others to follow suit. Now there are nearly 100 producers of sparkling wines in South Africa, but it remains a niche product. Compared to Champagne’s hefty annual production of 350 million bottles, there are a humble 7.5 million bottles of Méthode Cap Classique released every year.
Like Champagne, fresh, light citrus flavours and a fine biscotti or blush colouring are the defining features of a sophisticated Méthode Cap Classique sparkling wine. The bubbles are fine and give a refreshing pétillante crunch on the palate. For an easy crowd-pleaser, look for Domaine Des Dieux’s award-winning Claudia.
The sparkling wine route
Stretching out from Franschhoek, home of the Cap Classique & Champagne Festival, are a number of notable Méthode Cap Classique producers. Colmant is the first estate in South Africa dedicated exclusively to sparkling wine and offers an enjoyable tour of its elegant farm. Don’t leave without a refreshing sip of its crisp Brut Chardonnay, judged to be one of the top 10 sparkling wines in South Africa.
An enjoyable lunchtime visit for its chic Orangerie Restaurant is Le Lude. Sample its indulgent tasting menu with a fruity flute of its Rosé. Those with a sweet tooth will enjoy Anthonij Rupert Wyne Estate’s ingenious Méthode Cap Classique and nougat pairing.
For a refreshing aperitif in exquisite surrounds, enjoy a stroll through Babylonstoren’s enchanting gardens followed by a cool spritz of its prettily bottled Sprankel. And no wine route would be complete without a stop at Boschendal, whose elegant Cape Dutch farm buildings, beautiful surrounds and excellent wines make for a very rewarding visit.
Image credits: lead image © Anthonij Rupert. Simonsberg mountains © Simonsig. Sparkling wine © iStock/Mariana Mikhailover. Colmant sparkling wine © Colmant.