Cape Town - ‘Tis the season to celebrate, to plan festive family fare, to relax during holidays as the year draws to a close.
Bubbly is called for, and whether you choose dry or sweet, white or pink, alcoholic or not, there is a huge selection to contemplate, in Hypers and supermarkets, in liquor stores and directly from cellars in a dozen or more Cape wine regions.
While price may largely dictate your choice, there are a couple of points to remember when faced with shelves of sparkling wine. The cheapest bubblies are simply carbonated wine, carbon dioxide having been injected into the tanks before bottling. Nothing wrong with these, particularly if you are going to add chilled orange or peach juices to transform them into sparkling appetisers for brunch.
Bubblies that are made in the classic way, as champagnes are in France, are called cap classiques in South Africa, or the label may say MCC (for méthode cap classique). Producing these involves time, constant attention and skill, as selected wine is bottled and sealed to undergo a second fermentation, producing the tiny bubbles we love – up to 49 million per bottle, according to producer Simonsig. You can expect more than bubbles from classy bruts (dry) – such as flavours of green apple, newly baked bread and an elegant creaminess.
Website information records more than 100 Cape cellars are making classic bubblies today, with retail prices starting at around R100.
Rosé cap classiques are increasingly popular, with good reason: not only do they look festive, but even the brut pinks offer delicious fruitiness, making them great partners for berry desserts as well as festive appetisers. More cellars are responding to this trend, one of the latest being a delightful rosé cap classique from Wonderfontein estate in Robertson. Called Paul René, it’s a blend of pinot noir and chardonnay that will add pizzaz to seasonal celebrations.
Staying in the pink, another option is a non-alcoholic rosy sparkling wine called Zari. Produced in association with the Van Loveren Family Trust, this is the brainchild of business partners Silvana Dantu and Shareen Parker of African Equations, who developed an alcohol-free drink for consumers who choose it for religious or health reasons.
Several well-known wine brands offer alcohol-free sparkling wine in their range, so designated drivers and teetotallers have a wide choice.
It was the popular Simonsig estate in Stellenbosch that launched South Africa’s first cap classique back in 1971, and Kaapse Vonkel continues to be the choice of many happy fans. Another perennially popular Stellenbosch brand is Villiera, whose range includes a delicious rosé and sulphur-free choices.
The Graham Beck cellars put Robertson on the map as a region for great bubblies, along with roses and fast horses. Their non-vintage Graham Beck brut was the wine of choice for both Nelson Mandela’s inauguration and US President Barack Obama’s presidential win, while recent royal visitor Prince Harry enjoyed this classic at a fundraising dinner in Joburg.
It pays to be adventurous – when touring wine country, ask tasting room staff if the cellar makes a cap classique and unearth exciting treasures to take home. To mention just a couple, Saronsberg in Tulbagh makes an admirable all-chardonnay charmer which has attracted a string of awards. And in Stellenbosch, when wining and dining at Ken Forrester’s don’t miss out on Sparklehorse, his all-chenin cap classique – the bottle gets the party going even before the cork is popped.
No bubbly story is complete without mention of Franschhoek, home to cellars renowned for great sparkling wines, from the original Haute Cabrière to many newcomers. The valley hosts a Magic of Bubbles Festival every December and visitors can get a free MCC map from the tourism office and chart their own sparkling route throughout the year.
Whatever bubblies you open this festive season, may they add exuberant enjoyment to your celebrations.
Myrna Robins, Cape Argus