A Méthode Cap Classique, A Pinot Noir, and a Chenin Blanc to put a spring in our step.
If you subscribe to convention and require a reason to pop a bottle of sparkling wine, then the advent of spring should surely do. For me, however, wine of the fizzy, bubbly type is something I can drink any day of the year as well as at any time. A life-affirming freshness and the crisp edge makes bubbly a true any-time wine to be sipped free from the shackles of convention.
Champagne is, of course, the King, Queen and King’s Mother of all sparkling wines. Besides the great names such as Dom Pérignon, Bollinger, Moët and Veuve Clicquot, the wines fame lies in its origins in the Champagne region of France. Anything not made in ‘Champagne’ is simply not Champagne, and the regional trademark is protected by the French with a Gallic fierceness that would make Napoleon proud.
Down here in South Africa a number of brilliant sparkling wines are made in the same manner as which the Champagnes are crafted. This means the gazillion tiny bubbles found in each glass are the result of a natural fermentation process undergone in the bottle. We call it Méthode Cap Classique (MCC), and since the legendary Frans Malan made the first wine of this kind at Simonsig in 1971, the South African Cap Classique industry has boomed. Over a hundred different brands of Cap Classiques are found on the market, the consumers love it and the prices are laughably modest when compared to the French stuff. And all-round quality is great, one of South Africa’s strongest wine categories for sure.
There might be many Cap Classiques to choose from, but one that has grabbed my attention recently is the Brut Rosé Non-Vintage from Stellenbosch-based producer Kleine Zalze. The guys and girls at Klein Zalze have an extensive range of wines and never seem to put a foot wrong, with this gorgeous sparkling wine being another example.
Kleine Zalze’s Brut Rosé is made from Pinot Noir (60%) and Chardonnay (40%), which along with Pinot Meunier are the classic Champagne grape varieties.
Once poured and the mousse has subsided, the glass holds a salmon-coloured hue with tiny reams of bubbles streaming to the surface. The nose is floral and summery, and in the mouth you experience a burst of red berries, a run of citrus and a hint of freshly baked bread – the result of the process of bottle-fermentation.
This Cap Classique is given an individual character by the edge of fruit-sweetness backed by the riveting alertness of a fine sparkling wine. If you need a spring in your step, this’ll do.
Just mentioning Pinot Noir makes me want to grab a bottle, especially one of the wines made in a lighter, summery style. Pinot Noir comes with all sorts of talk of mystery and regal pedigree and drama that makes one feel you need to don a dark suit just to look at a bottle. Truth be told, it is a real fun wine to drink due to the relaxed tannins and its alertness on the palate.
Newton Johnson from Hemel-en-Aarde out Hermanus way are iconic Pinot producers. In their range of site-specific, terroir-motivated wines there is a cute Felicité Pinot Noir made for the only kind of drinking I like, which is every day.
The bulk of the grapes for the Felicité Pinot Noir 2015 are sourced from Eilandia out Robertson way, with a dollop of Hemel-en-Aarde fruit to fill-out the profile.
The Robertson origins and the fact that the wine was matured in older barrels allow the price to be half that of what you’d expect to pay for your average Pinot Noir, whilst over-delivering in terms of quality.
Silky tannins lead to delicious notes of ripe strawberry and sour cherry, complemented by that haunting spiciness and slight mushroom character for which Pinot Noir is known. I don’t know what all those serious Pinot Noir disciples think of this, but this truly is a bottoms-up bottle of wine. Slightly chilled and enjoyed with a spot of braaied fish or a spicy Oriental dish, your enjoyment of Felicité will know no bounds.
This is also the time of year when the white wines from the 2016 barrels begin to hit their straps. It was a horribly hot, dry and windy year, yet nature held firm in delivering a crop of whites that have exceeded expectations in terms of balance and structure.
For Chenin Blanc, look no further than the Breedekloof Valley, out Rawsonville way. This is the traditional homeland for this variety and the range of fine Chenins is astounding.
Mia Chenin Blanc 2016, made at Stofberg Family Vineyards, is a terrific example of what is on offer and is worth stocking up on by the case-full for summer.
The Breedekloof is known as a slow-ripening area with cool nights off-setting the warm days. The Chenin Blanc grapes gain a lot of complexity in these conditions allowing winemakers to keep the process of turning juice to wine simple and practically non-interventionist.
The Mia Chenin is unwooded, fresh as a daisy and pure as one of the Breedekloof’s gushing mountain streams. Notes of pear and apple jump out of the glass, with that wonderful stony, mineral grip on the palate for which good Chenin is known. Pure as driven snow, right in the middle of spring.