Méthode Cap Classique under the spotlight 

It’s not often I get the opportunity to taste a range of Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) sparkling wines, so I was delighted when Roger Jones invited me to join him and friends for a tasting of around 30 bubblies.

Roger and his wife Sue are the owners of Michelin star restaurant The Harrow at Little Bedwyn, England, where Roger is also the chef. He’s a recognised wine taster too, judging on Decanter Awards and their various monthly tastings; somehow, he also finds time to write, contributing to Harpers and Glass of Bubbly, a magazine devoted to sparkling wine.

It was with the idea of reviewing South African MCC for the latter publication that Jones initiated this event. Held at The Vineyard, a hotel where wine enjoys much support thanks to MD Roy Davies and Food & Beverage Manager David Wibberley, the tasting was sighted with eight tasters going through the wines at their own pace before selecting their best three.

Despite the difficulty of sourcing wines over the Christmas holidays, when many winemakers are away, the line-up was a pretty good representation of the category.

Several wines were submitted by major MCC producers such as Graham Beck, Villiera and Simonsig; smaller, specialist producers Silverthorn and Colmant were represented, as were other non-specialist producers, where MCC is one wine within a broader range – Stellenrust, Waterford and Domaine des Dieux among them.  

The good news is that both Roger and Sue were generally very positive about what they tasted. Roger suggested a similar line-up of English sparkling wine wouldn’t leave him feeling so positive.  There was an English wine in our line-up, thanks to Jones: Sugrue Pierre 2010 was chosen as having out-performed some Champagnes. Regrettably, this bottle was not as it should be.

Tasting through different wines from the same producer, as well as across a range of producers, it was clear that, unlike some white and red table wine flagships, the quality of Villiera’s Monro Brut, Graham Beck’s Cuvée Clive and Simonsig’s Cuvée Royale really uphold their flagship status and are on another level than the other sparkling wines in their ranges.

Villiera also submitted a very unusual bubbly, one from 100% Pinot Meunier; this 2010 is probably the only one in South Africa. A pale beige colour with a hint of pink, the flavours turn from floral to raspberry and finish on a note of Turkish delight, all within its dry style. A true individual with lovely balance and we felt an ideal wine with desserts.

Villiera cellarmaster Jeff Grier explains this limited release: “We wanted to offer customers the opportunity to taste the variety and to test the market. Pinot Meunier is an important Champagne variety but relatively unknown. With its lower acid, it allows for quicker maturation. It also contributes a lot of flavour and adds to the creamy, yeasty element.”

Although the majority of these sparkling wines are made from the classic varieties Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and sometimes a little Pinot Meunier, not everyone feels the need to stick to them. Charles Back’s Fairview Méthode Cap Classique Brut blends Viognier with Grenache Blanc and Noir in a friendly, fruity and brisk bubbly.

But the wine that really intrigued us was the Stellenrust Clement de Lure NV. Firstly, we were surprised it was pink; surprised, as there was no indication of colour on the label. This required some enlightenment. Winemaker Tertius Boshoff obliged: “We decided to build our MCC around our strong points, which are Cabernet Franc on the Helderberg and Chenin Blanc from the Bottelary Hills. We experimented for several years but always the Cab Franc was too leafy, until in 2008, when lack of tank space forced us to ferment it in old red wine barrels. This slower, more controlled fermentation removed a lot of the upfront leafiness.”

Boshoff also credits the help he receives from the Heidseick family, which shares Stellenrust’s German importer. He admits one of the best lessons learned from this Champagne producer is that perfect bubbles derive more from what goes into the bottle for the second fermentation than how long it’s kept on the lees. Now, Boshoff’s focus is on improving the base wine.

And the colour? “We are guided by flavour rather than colour. Some years the Cabernet Franc gives more colour, other years less. It’s very vintage dependent and that is why there is no indication on the label.

That 2008 was released in 2010 and, although we tasted an NV, Boshoff says it’s a 2013. Limited stocks have kept the wine under the radar but with its charm, soft pink hue, delicate fruity flavours, creamy bead and brut finish, it deserves wider recognition.

The bubblies made from non-traditional varieties are different from the majority blending classic grapes but the quality of both can only help South Africa’s image as a producer of excellent MCC.

– Angela Lloyd

Left to right: Roy Davies MD The Vineyard Hotel, Sue Jones, Roger Jones, David Wibberley, Food & Beverage Manager, The Vineyard Hotel, with the 10 best wines from the tasting