A tasting of Méthode Cap Classique, international bubblies made in the same traditional manner and Champagne, is a great way to start the year.  

Every year for the past four years on their annual visit to the Cape, Roger and Sue Jones, owners and chef extraordinaire at The Harrow in Little Bedwyn, have organised this tasting, held at the Vineyard Hotel in Newlands.

France, Portugal, England, Australia and South Africa were represented in this year’s lineup of 48 wines. Laid out according to style:  Rosé, Brut, Blanc de Blancs and Prestige Cuvée, the wines were tasted sighted, with tasters - many from abroad as well as local, all with different levels of tasting experience - requested to rank their 10 favourite wines rather than score each.  With all the variables associated with traditionally made sparkling wine and the tasting method, choices are inevitably more subjective and personal.

That nearly every wine received at least one vote would seem to confirm that and suggests such stylistic diversity is a positive for both producer and winelovers. What is clear from the top-rated wines, is that experience and specialisation pay dividends. This year’s top six were Graham Beck Brut Zero 2012, the outright winner, with Tasmanian Arras Rosé, Arras Grand Vintage 2008, Graham Beck Cuvée Clive 2012,  Le Lude Reserve Brut 2012 and Villiera Monro Brut 2012 (a Platter 5*) all awarded the same number of votes. As Pieter Ferreira noted, ‘2012 is obviously a vintage to look out for.’

Bubbly makers don’t come more experienced than Pieter Ferreira, and Ed Carr. Ferreira has been crafting the Graham Beck bubblies from the start, in 1990 and involved with making MCC for several years before that. Two years earlier, Carr embarked on making world-class bubblies at The House of Arras in Tasmania. Both are internationally recognised, their wines awarded accordingly. Although Villiera’s range extends beyond bubbly, Jeff Grier and his family have specialised in MCC, with much success, since they purchased the farm in 1983. Le Lude might be a relative newcomer, Paul Gerber’s first vintage being 2012, but his focus and knowledge already sees this bubbly specialist among South Africa’s most highly-regarded.

English sparkling wine has always been part of this tasting, different producers featuring each year, an aspect which allows for a better idea of overall improvement, which undoubtedly there is. Newcomer Ambriel from West Sussex, caused a positive stir with its maiden vintage Blanc de Blancs 2010 from two year old vines and voted 9th favourite (it was in my top 10). All the more remarkable then that winemaker and ex-barrister, Wendy Outhwaite has received no formal training.

Bubblies from the Douro Valley were the most unusual wines of the evening. Made from Port grapes, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Malvasia Fina, Ribeira Santo Excellence 2014 and Murganheira Grande Reserva Bruto showed where there’s a will and demand, there’s a way, much like South Africa’s use of Pinotage.

What this international tasting proved yet again is that South African MCC has the quality; now it needs to find the way to greater international appreciation.

- Angela Lloyd