The Bubbling Elegance of South African Méthode Cap Classique
27th September 2023
A Journey Through Its Key Regions. South Africa, a land of breathtaking landscapes and diverse terroirs, has firmly established itself on the global wine map. While the country is renowned for its bold reds and elegant whites, one category that has been quietly stealing the spotlight is Méthode Cap Classique (MCC). MCC is South Africa’s sparkling wine made in the traditional method, akin to France’s Champagne as we’ve previously expanded on. This time I’d love to embark on a sparkling journey through the wine regions in South Africa where MCC is crafted, discovering the unique attributes that make each region special.
Western Cape: The Heart of South African MCC
When it comes to wine production in South Africa, the Western Cape reigns supreme. The province encompasses a range of diverse wine regions, each contributing its distinct character to the sparkling win. There are, of course, different reasons for this, some of these include:
1. Perfect Weather
Imagine a place where the sun shines, but it’s not too hot, too often and there’s just enough rain. Well, that’s the Western Cape! This place has a climate that’s just right for growing special grapes used for sparkling wine. In some parts of the Western Cape, like Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and of course Walker Bay, it’s not too hot because they’re close to the ocean. The ocean breeze keeps the grapes cool, and that’s great because it makes the grapes taste super good.
2. The Right Grapes
For sparkling wine, you need special kinds of grapes, like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Guess what? The Western Cape has these grapes growing in its vineyards. These grapes are like the magic ingredients for sparkling wine!
In the Western Cape of South Africa, including regions like Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Paarl, and others, various grape varieties are used to make sparkling wine, particularly Méthode Cap Classique (MCC). The choice of grape varieties can vary depending on the winemaker’s style and the specific terroir of the vineyard. However, some grape varieties are more commonly used than others. Here are the primary grape varieties used for making sparkling wine in the Western Cape:
• Chardonnay is one of the most important grape varieties used for MCC production. It contributes to the wine’s structure, acidity, and citrusy and apple-like flavours. Chardonnay is often the dominant grape in Blanc de Blancs MCC, which is made entirely from white grapes.
• Pinot Noir:
• Pinot Noir is another key grape variety for MCC, especially when making blanc de noirs. It adds red fruit flavours, body, and complexity to the wine. Pinot Noir is often used in combination with Chardonnay to create a well-balanced blend.
• Pinot Meunier:
• Pinot Meunier: While less common in South Africa, Pinot Meunier is sometimes used to add complexity and fruitiness to MCC blends. It’s one of the primary grape varieties used in Champagne production.
• Chenin Blanc:
• Chenin Blanc is a versatile grape that can be used in MCC production. It contributes acidity, green apple, and floral notes. Chenin Blanc-based MCCs are often known for their freshness.
• Pinot Blanc:
• Pinot Blanc is occasionally used in MCC production to add a touch of elegance and floral aromas to the wine.
• Semillon is less common but can be found in some MCC blends, providing a unique character with flavours of lemon and honey.
• Viognier is an aromatic grape variety that adds floral and stone fruit notes to MCC when used in small proportions.
• Sauvignon Blanc:
• In some MCCs, especially those from cooler coastal regions, Sauvignon Blanc may be used to contribute zesty citrus and herbal notes.
• Other Varieties:
• Some MCC producers in the Western Cape experiment with other grape varieties like Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and even red varieties like Shiraz or Merlot to create unique and unconventional sparkling wines.
It’s important to note that each winery may have its own blend and style, often guided by the region’s terroir and winemaker’s expertise. The choice of grape varieties, as well as the proportions used in the blend, allows winemakers to craft a wide range of MCC styles, from fresh and zesty to complex and rich, ensuring that there’s something to suit every palate among South African sparkling wine enthusiasts.
3. Soil Secrets
The soil in the Western Cape is full of minerals that make the grapes happy. When grapes are happy, they taste better. The soil here has special stuff like limestone, which gives the wine a unique flavour.
The Western Cape region of South Africa is known for its diverse terroirs, and it boasts a range of soils suitable for sparkling wine production, particularly Méthode Cap Classique (MCC). Here are some of the notable soil types found in the Western Cape that are great for growing grapes used in sparkling wine production:
• Limestone and Chalk Soils:
• These soils are found in various sub-regions of the Western Cape, including parts of Stellenbosch and Robertson. Limestone and chalk soils provide excellent drainage, which is crucial for growing high-quality grapes for MCC. They also contribute to the minerality and complexity of the wines.
• Granite Soils: Granite-based soils are common in regions like the Paarl, Swartland, and parts of Stellenbosch. Granite soils are well-draining and can help produce grapes with good acidity and mineral character, which are essential for sparkling wines.
• Clay and Clay-Loam Soils:
• Some areas in the Western Cape, such as parts of Franschhoek and Elgin, have clay and clay-loam soils. These soils retain water better than sandy soils, helping vines withstand dry periods. Careful vineyard management is essential to prevent waterlogging.
• Sandstone Soils:
• Sandstone-based soils can be found in regions like Walker Bay and Cape South Coast. These soils offer good drainage and are often associated with MCCs that have a distinct sense of place due to the influence of the unique terroir.
• Slate Soils:
• While less common in the Western Cape, there are areas with slate soils, such as parts of the Cape South Coast. Slate can contribute to the minerality and flavour complexity of the grapes used in sparkling wine production.
• Schist Soils:
• Schist soils, similar to slate, are not widespread but can be found in some Western Cape regions. They can provide good drainage and promote deep root growth.
• Table Mountain Sandstone:
• In regions around the iconic Table Mountain, you’ll find Table Mountain sandstone soils. These soils have unique properties that can influence the characteristics of MCC wines produced in this area.
• Alluvial Soils:
• Some river valleys in the Western Cape have alluvial soils, which are rich in nutrients and can support healthy vine growth. However, careful vineyard management is necessary to avoid excessive vine vigour.
• Kimberlite Soils:
• Kimberlite soils are found in various parts of the Western Cape, including parts of Stellenbosch and the Breede River Valley. They contain volcanic materials and offer good drainage, making them suitable for MCC production.
It’s important to note that the Western Cape is known for its diversity in terroirs, and many MCC producers carefully select vineyard sites based on soil composition, climate, and other factors to achieve the desired style and quality of their sparkling wines. The combination of these diverse soils, along with the region’s unique climate, contributes to the complexity and character of South African Méthode Cap Classique wines.
4. Skilled Winemakers
People in the Western Cape have been making wine for a long, long time. They know all the tricks to turn grapes into sparkling wine that makes your taste buds dance. With a new world outlook, they
When all these good things come together – the weather, the grapes, the soil, and the skilled winemakers – you get sparkling wine that’s full of bubbles and flavours.
Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) is like the fanciest sparkling wine. It’s made with a special method that takes a bit longer, but it’s worth the wait. This method makes the bubbles tiny and super fizzy, making the wine feel extra special.
So, there you go! The Western Cape is like a treasure chest for making sparkling wine, and that’s why it’s such a good place for Méthode Cap Classique. It’s like a magic land where everything comes together to create a sparkling wine that’s full of joy and yumminess.
Some of the Areas in the Western Cape that are renowned for great bubbly are:
1. Stellenbosch: The Sparkling Gem
Stellenbosch often hailed as the epicentre of South African winemaking, is no stranger to crafting exquisite MCC. Its cool climate and fertile soils provide the ideal conditions for cultivating Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. These are the two principal varieties in MCC production. The result is sparkling wines with crisp acidity, citrusy notes, and a delightful mousse.
Examples of bubbly from Stellenbosch:
2. Franschhoek: A French Flair
Franschhoek, with its rich Huguenot history, has a unique French influence on its winemaking culture. This is reflected in its MCC, which often exhibits a fine balance of fruitiness and complexity. The region’s picturesque vineyards are often adorned with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines, ready to create sparkling magic.
Some of the most well-known MCC producers are:
• Le Lude
• L’Ormarins from the Antonij Rupert Wines Collection
• Haute Cabrière
3. Robertson: The Hidden Gem
Robertson, nestled in the shadow of the Langeberg Mountains, is slowly becoming known for some of the best MCCs in the country. Its limestone-rich soils and warmer climate are perfectly suited for producing MCC with a distinctive character. Expect MCCs from Robertson to display ripe fruit flavours and a touch of minerality.
• Graham Beck
• Silverthorn Wines
Cape Winelands: Diversity in the Bubbly
The Cape Winelands region, which encompasses areas like Paarl and Wellington, is another crucial hub for MCC production. Here, you’ll find a wide range of MCC styles, thanks to the diversity of microclimates and soils.
4. Paarl: Sunshine in a Bottle
Paarl’s Mediterranean climate and sun-kissed vineyards make it an excellent locale for crafting MCC. The wines from this region are often generous in fruitiness, with a perfect balance of acidity. The Chenin Blanc and Pinotage grapes here contribute to MCCs that are uniquely South African.
5. Wellington: The MCC Enthusiast’s Delight
Wellington is a hidden gem for those in the know. Its terroir offers a blend of soils and microclimates, allowing winemakers to experiment and create distinctive MCCs. Expect to find MCCs here with a wide spectrum of flavours, from stone fruits to subtle nuttiness.
• Bovlei Wines
Coastal Delights: MCC by the Sea
The coastal regions of South Africa, with their proximity to the ocean, bring a refreshing twist to MCC production.
6. Walker Bay: A Coastal Marvel
Walker Bay, located in the Overberg region, is famous for its cool maritime climate. This unique setting allows for extended ripening of grapes, resulting in MCCs with exceptional complexity. The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes from this area contribute to sparkling wines known for their elegance and finesse.
• Hamilton Russell
• Domaine Des Dieux
• Beunguela Cove
Cape South Coast: A Wild Beauty
The Cape South Coast region, which includes areas like Hemel-en-Aarde and Elim, is gaining recognition for its MCC production. The combination of cool sea breezes and varying soils creates MCCs with a distinct sense of place. You’ll find MCCs here that exhibit lively acidity, minerality, and layers of complexity.
7. Elgin: The Cool-Climate Secret
Elgin, located on a plateau surrounded by mountains, is a cool-climate haven for MCC production. The region is gaining acclaim for its MCCs, which are marked by high acidity, delicate fruit flavours, and a fine mousse. Elgin’s unique terroir sets its sparkling wines apart.
• Charles Fox Wine Estate
In conclusion, South Africa’s Méthode Cap Classique is a sparkling success story that continues to impress wine lovers around the world. From the traditional heartland of Stellenbosch to the coastal delights of Walker Bay, each region contributes its unique character to the MCC tapestry. Whether you’re a seasoned wine enthusiast or a curious newcomer, exploring South Africa’s MCC regions is an adventure filled with sparkling surprises and delightful sips. So, raise your glass to the bubbling elegance of South African Méthode Cap Classique – a toast to tradition, innovation, and terroir.
Gerhard Perold & Michelle Cheyne
They have a passion for sharing South African wine and bubbly as well as stories and culture that are so closely tied with the people and wine. They do this through their events as the Time to Wine Down, by importing wine through Perold & Co and general retail through Gerhard's online shop for Perold Wine Cellar.