- “Wine is bottled poetry” - Robert Louis Stevenson
- “Drink wine in Winter for cold, and in Summer for heat” - H G Bohn
- “The juice of the grape is the liquid quintessence of concentrated sunbeams” - Thomas L Peacock
- “Let us drink to have wit, not to destroy it” - Panard
- “Champagne: the great civilizer” - Talleyrand
DURBAN - The start of a new a new year is the time for celebration and new beginnings. Liz Clarke chatted to a KZN based wine connoisseur whose career journey is about celebrating the good times in style.
Who can argue that a glass of bubbly brings that special something to any occasion? That’s why you need to meet Yegas Naidoo, who embraces all there is to know about classic “bubblies” and shares her knowledge and expertise locally and around the globe.
Chatting to her at a recent wine tasting in Hillcrest, she explains that hers is not the journey of someone born and bred into a long tradition of wine production and champagne style sparkling wines.
“In a way it was all about the choices you make along the way and the opportunities you are given to reach for the stars.”
Born and raised in Port Shepstone on the KZN South Coast, Naidoo says it is thanks to her family insisting that education was a priority and getting a degree, almost a must that she was able to follow a formal academic path as well as pursue a diploma in Wine & Spirits through the Wine and Spirit Education Trust in the U.K.
After finishing her schooling, she went on to study Biochemistry at London University followed by an MBA in Marketing at City University London choosing the dissertation topic “The British Wine Profile”.
“That’s when I literally fell in love with the history and legacy of beautiful wines, particularly the classic Champagnes and French style sparkling wines.”
But there was always the knowledge, she says, that whatever she learnt she would bring back home.
“South Africa has been my nurturing ground. Yes, it also has a very long tradition of wine making , but the beauty is that the Global wine industry is evolving and that means you never stop learning, which is what I love. True we can’t call our classic sparkling wines champagne, because they don’t originate from France, but believe me strides are being made to ensure they are right up there with the very best produced anywhere.”
And quality is something that she is very familiar with, having spent more than a decade as a wine judge, invited to some of the most prestigious wine tasting events and competitions in the world spanning London, France, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland and Canada where judging is conducted “blind” under strictly audited regulations.
A frequent visitor to the Cape, which is home to the country’s top wine makers and wine cellars, Naidoo says that promoting the whole Method Cap Classique culture in KZN is pretty much up there as one of her priorities.
Explaining more about Method Cap Classique or MCC, she says the name is used when referring to sparkling wine fermented , bottled and processed in South Africa, a terminology coined in 1992.
“We are not allowed to use the word champagne, even though the processes used in both fermentations is for the most part the same. In other words champagne must come from the region of Champagne outside Paris and nowhere else. The same goes for MCC, which must originate in South Africa.”
While she accepts that KZN has taken perhaps more time than other regions to embrace the culture of sparkling wines, output and consumption in this category are rapidly growing and with informed awareness consumers are becoming choosy about what they drink.
“I suppose like anything, when the trend starts, it just takes on a life of its own, which is what is happening here. As a wine favoured for celebratory events, you will find that the toasting will now done with a carefully selected MCC wine, which is really exciting – they are no longer reserved for presidential inaugurations only!
As a point of interest, she says Graham Beck brut was served at Mandela’s inauguration in 1994 and then at Obama’s inauguration in 2008.
When you think about it, she points out, KZN has the wonderful climate throughout the year, which means that even on a crisp sunny winter’s morning, sparkling wine is not out of place.
“You can’t get away from it. A quality sparkling wine adds so much to the ambience of good times and hip vibes.”
So what makes some sparkling wines more special – and a lot more expensive?
“It’s the process ” says Naidoo. “If you inject CO2 into wine it becomes sparkling. The MCC process goes much, much further It involves not one but two fermentations with the second involving a mixture of yeasts and sugars that produce the tiny iconic bubbles. It can take three to six years and up to 10 processes to produce a bottle of quality MCC wine.
Of course there are “secrets”, now shared, that add to the fairy-tale legacy of sparkling wine MCC style.
For example, when the sediment is ready for extraction after a process called remuage, it accumulates at the lip of the bottle the neck. It is quickly frozen and as soon as the bottle is opened the iced sediment pops out leaving the rest pure and clear.
There are things that are absolute essentials when it comes to a quality bubbly, says Naidoo, extended ageing being one of them and prior to that fastidious quality control throughout the entire process vineyard to bottle.
“Surprisingly your glasses do need to be detergent free but do not have to be crystal clean , as the trapped CO2 molecules need a seeding or nucleation point - a scratch or a piece of lint fibre - to start cumulative bubbles rising to the surface. As a word of advice it is therefore best not to let your glasses near a dishwasher. And remember flutes and coupes are out, standard wine glasses only, especially for aged and premium MCCs. It’s better for the bubbles!
SOME OF HER FAVOURITE QUOTES:
- BUSINESS REPORT