MCC: An Epic Tasting of South African Methode Cap Classique wines

MCC: An Epic Tasting of South African Methode Cap Classique wines
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Tasting 93 traditional method SA sparklers

Methode Cap Classique (MCC) is the South African name for bottle-fermented sparkling wines, and it is one of the most exciting categories in South African wine, currently growing at 15% per year. Here I'm publishing notes from an epic tasting of MCC with two of the top experts: Pieter Ferreira of Graham Beck, and Paul Gerber of Le Lude. Both Pieter and Paul are specialists, and I have the impression that if you want to make great sparkling wine, it has to be a real focus, not something you do on the side. We had 72 wines to taste, which were broken into five flights, and I have added some other recent notes on MCCs tasted elsewhere for the sake of completeness, bringing the total to 93.

MCC is an official designation, and currently the rule is that the wines must be bottle fermented with a minimum of 9 months on the lees. There are moves afoot by the MCC association - of which Pieter is the chair - to make the authorities change this rule to a minimum time on lees 12 months. And there's talk of creating a new, high-end vintage category. Currently, any wine from a single year can be called vintage, but in Champagne it's an elite designation and vintage Champagnes are only released in good years, and they attract a price premium. It would be good to see this second tier for exceptional MCCs from good years.

One of the problems for MCC is the large number of cheap sparklers being made in South Africa which are tank fermented and then injected with carbon dioxide: there are around 12.5 million litres of these sparklers produced each year. And there are also non-MCC bottle-fermented wines that spend just 3 months on lees which can also confuse consumers, because they can still claim to be bottle fermented.

We began with a flight of 11 'others'. These were wines made from non-classic varieties, or with these non-classic grapes in the blend. The classic varieties of Champagne – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – are used the world over for making fizz because they just seem to work so well. In this flight we saw some Chenin Blanc, some Sauvignon Blanc and even Pinotage. 'I have my doubts that some of these varieties are suited to express the magic of secondary fermentation,' says Pieter Ferreira. I agree, but I quite liked three Chenin Blancs:

  • Winery Brut Reserve Chenin Blanc 2012 Paarl
  • Sparklehorse Chenin Blanc 2014 Stellenbosch
  • Filia Chenin Blanc Brut Nature 2014 Swartland

Then it was time for one of the star flights: 23 Blanc de Blancs. 'Chardonnay is the ultimate grape to make sparkling wine from,' says Paul. 'In this flight, its purity and elegance were seen often.' Pieter agreed. 'I believe that Chardonnay has a great future in sparkling wine production in South Africa. There is diversity across the different wine regions and Chardonnay expresses this diversity well. It is the style of Cap Classique that we can take anywhere and it will find a good audience.' He finished by stating, 'At the end of the day, Chardonnay should speak elegance and finesse.' 

Some of my favourites:

  • Colmant Brut Chardonnay NV
  • Waterkloof Moon and Stars Astraeus Chardonnay NV
  • Saronsberg Brut 2014 Tulbagh
  • Cederberg Blanc de Blancs Brut 2012 Cederberg
  • Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs 2012 Robertson
  • Simonsig Cuvee Royale Blanc de Blancs 2012 Stellenbosch
  • L'Ormarins Blanc de Blancs 2012 Western Cape
  • Genevieve Blanc de Blancs 2012 Overberg
  • La Bri Sauvage La Bri 2011 Franschhoek

The third flight was 21 blends, usually of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but sometimes also with Pinot Meunier in some cases. 'There's a wonderful diversity,' says Paul Gerber. 'It's good to see terroir differences and also a variety of philosophies.' Pieter thinks that while the Blanc de Blancs were wines that could develop in the future, these blends were more market ready. 'This is the time to drink them.'

My picks were:

  • L'Ormarins Brut Classique NV Western Cape
  • Thelema Brut 2013 Elgin
  • Graham Beck Brut NV Western Cape
  • Kaapzicht Celebration 2011 Stellenbosch
  • Le Lude Brut Reserve NV Western Cape
  • Longridge Vintage Reserve Brut 2009 Western Cape
  • Tanzanite Brut NV
  • Spier Signature 2014 Coastal Region
  • Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel 2012
  • Colmant Brut Reserve NV 

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