Sweet success: the rise of demi-sec in South Africa

If, like me, you like your wine as dry as your humour the rising popularity of demi-sec sparkling wines can seem a bit puzzling, but there’s no denying the category’s power in the marketplace. Producers have taken notice and are gamely producing these sweet sparklers—and are battling to keep up with demand.

Not that this style is anything new.  “Actually the French Champagnes were originally much sweeter than is the case with the dry bruts of today,” says Johan Malan, cellarmaster of Simonsig.

“The first dry champagne only hit the market halfway through the 19th century. So we aren’t inventing something new, but making a style of bottle-fermented sparkling wine [aka Méthode Cap Classique] that’s been around for centuries.”

Don’t know your demi from your doux? The term demi-sec refers to a medium-sweet Champagne or sparkling wine. The scale from driest to sweetest is: Brut Nature, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra-Dry (or Extra-Sec), Dry (or Sec), Demi-Sec and Doux.

The maiden Kaapse Vonkel Demi Sec 2015 is made from the classic Champagne varieties of Pinot Noir (49%), Chardonnay (48%) and Pinot Meunier (3%). “The 16 months lees-contact gives it the structure and elegance you expect from the category. The difference is the fruitier, more floral flavour.”

Simonsig produced South Africa’s first Cap Classique, way back in 1971—so what prompted them, almost 50 years later, to create this sweeter style of bubbly?  “Consumers in the contemporary, fashion-conscious wine-drinking markets are displaying a penchant for sparkling wines that are not afraid to show the full, rich fruit notes and somewhat more intense perfume than the drier brut styles. Our experience in the market over the past few years has shown us there is a need for this style of Cap Classique, and since launching it in April this year there has been no looking back.

“The demi sec has been doing very well and has been exceeding our expectations, especially in Gauteng. The more people try it, the more they seem to like it. It’s also great with desserts!”

Another historic producer seeing success in the demi sec market is Krone Méthode Cap Classique of Twee Jonge Gezellen. They make both Krone Night Nectar Demi Sec (72% chardonnay 28% pinot noir) as well as the Night Nectar Rosé Demi Sec (74% pinot noir 26% chardonnay).

“We’ve seen a massive growth with our demi sec in the market, especially in the Johannesburg, and even Durban area,” says winemaker Stephan de Beer. 

“For the Night Nectar MCCs we use the traditional cultivars of chardonnay and pinot noir, and we keep it on the lees for 12 months in our underground cellar.”

It’s clear demi sec is all the rage. Yet another leading Cap Classique producer, Graham Beck has also come out swinging with the Graham Beck Bliss Demi Sec N/V.  Winemaker Peter Ferreira puts it simply: “For people who are afraid of drinking dry.” 

-Malu Lambert