The feeling of friendship is like that of being comfortably filled with roast beef; love, like being enlivened with champagne.
– Samuel Johnson
At our house, festive occasions are never complete without a glass of bubbly. Even the kids indulge (in the virgin variety, of course), and we all look forward to corks popping, toasts, and the sensory pleasure of sparkling wine’s refreshing, elegant flavors, complemented by crisp, cool bubbles.
So, naturally, the end of another year, Christmas, Hannukah, and even Pancha Ganapati merit a bottle or two. That is why I feel compelled to share one of my very favorite African traditions with you — that of popping the cork on our very own, regional bubblies.
Purists may cringe at the idea, but the truth is, South Africa’s finest premium bubblies, known as Méthode Cap Classique (or MCC, for short) could give a number of well-known French Champagne houses a run for their money. Of course, MCC is not Champagne. It is even illegal to refer to MCC by that name, as “Champagne” is a moniker reserved for sparkling wines whose grapes were grown in a very specific (and incredibly small) region of France.
Unlike Champagne (which has been around since at least the 5th century), MCC has only been produced in South Africa for the last 41 years. South Africa does have a rich viticultural heritage, dating back to the French Huguenots who settled in the Cape wine region 400 years ago. However, MCC is a relatively new addition to its portfolio. The very first bottles of this festive treat were produced by Simonsig Wine Estate‘s Frans Malan in 1971.
Despite its youth, the industry has rapidly evolved since then, and, in recent years, its quality has been a pleasant surprise to even the most discerning connoisseurs. The launch of the Cap Classique Producers Association in 1992 undoubtedly contributed to this success, because it has supported unprecedented collaboration amongst participating vineyards to improve consistency and quality standards in South Africa’s MCC industry.
Thanks to the Association’s advocacy efforts, the vast majority of premium MCCs are now prepared in accordance with traditional French methods and use a similar grape profile, (a mixture of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay grapes). Nonetheless, MCC producers continue to benefit from greater flexibility in choice and ratios of grape varieties, which permits each winemaker significant leeway for creativity and artistic expression.
MCC, like other South African wines, tends to be consumed much younger than its finest French counterparts, making even the best MCC noticeably less complex than the finest, aged French Champagne. However, for those of you who are buying the big, name-brand Champagnes, I think you will be surprised to discover that the finest MCCs are actually better than the champagnes you have been drinking. What these wines lack in complexity, they more than make up for in fresh, green flavors, whose fruity notes are accented by the sea breezes and ancient granite terroir of South Africa’s beautiful Franschhoek wine region.
Please join us every Wednesday this month for the inside scoop on the very best MCCs South Africa has to offer.
Other Posts in this Series