Did you know that they make amazing sparkling wine in South Africa? Well they do! I first discovered bubbly from South Africa when I was living in Chicago back in 2007. It was a bottle of Graham Beck and I was so impressed with the quality and price! I grab a bottle every time I find it. Here are 10 facts that’ll convince you to start drinking South African sparkling wine, too.
Quality South African Sparkling Wine is Called MCC
We all know by now that only sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France can be called Champagne, right? Well, in South Africa, to distinguish their quality sparkling wine from the vast majority of the carbon dioxide injected swill, they call the good stuff Méthode Cap Classique, or Cap Classique. Sounds French, right? Give credit where credit is due, I guess.
South African Sparkling Wine is Made in the Traditional Method
Cap Classique is made in the traditional method of sparkling wine production. This means that the second fermentation happens in the bottle, just like in Champagne. If that seems a little confusing, let me break it down. Traditional method sparkling wine is made by creating a still wine, then adding more sugar and yeast to the wine, closing it with a crown cap, and a second fermentation will occur. During fermentation, yeast eats sugar and one of the byproducts is carbon dioxide. In a closed bottle, the CO2 has no where to go and carbonates that solution. Bada bing bada boom sparkling wine! You can read about it extensively here.
Cap Classique Uses the Same Grapes as Champagne
Cap Classique sparkling does not have restrictions on what grapes are used to make the delicious bubbly stuff. At first there was a lot of Chenin Blanc, but now there is more South African sparkling wine made from the same grapes as Champagne; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.
The Term Cap Classique Has Been Used Since 1992
Some South African wineries have been producing very low quality sparkling wine. That wine is artificially carbonated instead of being carbonated by a second fermentation. This is nicknamed the Coca-Cola method. In 1992, in order to differentiate the good stuff from the cheap stuff, winemakers formed an organization called the Cap Classique Association. They encompass sparkling wine producers in the Cape Winelands.
Over 80 Wineries are Members of the Cap Classique Association
The Cap Classique Association started as a small group of winemakers in the Cape who were passionate about bottle fermented sparkling wine but has grown to over 80 wineries. In order for a wine to be considered with the Cap Classique labeling, it must be from the highest quality grapes and must age a minimum of 12 months. There are tasting panels to ensure quality. As a consumer, if you see Cap Classique on a label, you are guaranteed the high standards have been followed. You can find a list of producers here.
2021 Celebrates 50 Years of Cap Classique in South Africa
The first bottle fermented, or Methode Cap Classique, sparkling wine was released in 1971. On the Cap Classique Association’s website they write this great story of how MCC began in South Africa. They are planning lots of events so be sure to check out their website. Hopefully some will be virtual so we can all participate.
Although carbon dioxide-injected sparkling wine had been made in South Africa for decades, it was not until legendary Stellenbosch winemaker Frans Malan visited the Champagne region of France in 1968 that any producer had considered giving their wine a sparkle through the age-old classical method of Champagne. Malan, owner of the famous Simonsig Estate in Stellenbosch, was infatuated by the processes he saw in the Champagne cellars. Especially as he was an expert in chemistry, finding the magic of secondary fermentation in the bottle and the creation of bubbles nothing short of magic.
Upon his return to South Africa he procured rudimentary equipment, built his own riddling racks, and from the Simonsig harvest of 1971 single-handedly made a natural bottle-fermented sparkling wine. The grape variety? Chenin Blanc, at that time by far the most prolific white variety to be found in the Cape vineyards.
This first Cap Classique, released in 1973 by Simonsig under the name Kaapse Vonkel (“Cape Sparkle”) was the catalyst for a movement that today has over 250 South African producers throughout the Cape winelands crafting this exuberant wine style.
Cap Classique Association
The Obamas love South African Sparkling Wine
Okay, okay, so what I’m about to tell you may not be something I can prove but it’s very real to me. As I mentioned above, I was first introduced to South African sparkling wine in Chicago in 2007. One of the most amazing women in the world owned the wine shop and she was classmates and great friends with the Obama’s long time personal chef. He would come in ask me about wines to serve at his catering events. I didn’t know at the time that I was picking wines for the Obamas. That’s probably a good thing because I would have been so nervous. I recommended a bottle of Graham Beck when he asked me about a sparkling. I mentioned that Nelson Mandela had drank it at his inauguration (this was part of the sales pitch when I tasted it with the salesperson). Apparently, Michelle Obama loved it! They served it on the night Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008. Do not burst my bubble if you find any contradictory stories about the Graham Beck-Obama connection. It was me. I was the one.
Méthode Cap Classique Is Relatively Inexpensive
One of the greatest things about MCC South African sparkling wine is that it is so inexpensive in comparison to its quality! We’re talking 15 to 20 bucks for this amazing stuff! Like, how is everyone not drinking Cap Classique on the daily! Now, you know that I’m obsessed with Champagne, but I’d buy 2 bottles of MCC over Moet any day.
3 Million Bottles of Cap Classique Are Made a Year
Production of Cap Classique is relatively low. Only 3 million bottles are produced a year as opposed to over 300 million in Champagne. Don’t fret, you can still find it in most wine shops and you can definitely find it online.
Celebrate Cap Classique Day on September 1st
I’m a sucker for a wine holiday. In 2019, the Cap Classique Association started this holiday. The social media hashtag used is #capclassiqueday. Make sure to pop a bottle of Cap Classique on September 1st but don’t wait until September to get your hands on this bubbly goodness!
Tell me. Do you like sparkling wine from South Africa? Who is your favorite producer? Let me know in the comments below.