Jean-Philippe Colmant is an unlikely vintner. Only a few short years ago, he and his wife owned a stone cutting business in their native Belgium. Despite their financial success, the couple was growing increasingly concerned about Europe’s economic future and were looking for another option. Around this time, they visited and fell in love with Cape Town, South Africa and, specifically, the Franschhoek area.
The Colmants made a bold decision. They sold their assets in Europe and immigrated to Franschhoek with their five children. Initially, the couple weren’t planning to farm or enter the wine industry; but, as fate would have it, that was the option that seemed most promising at the time. So, Jean-Philippe Colmant, armed with a few books on winemaking, a parcel of land, and a lifelong passion for fine champagne, became a vintner. Today, he is living the life of his dreams, while producing some of South Africa’s finest Méthode Cap Classique (MCC).
So, What Sets Colmant Apart?
Jean-Philippe Colmant has always been very clear about his objectives. He runs a boutique operation, which will never produce more the 40,000 bottles of top-quality MCC per year. By limiting his output, Colmant is able to be personally involved in each and every step of the wine-making process, from monitoring the vines to tasting sessions with prospective clients.
The other thing that makes Colmant unique is his approach to the terroir. He believes MCC should embrace its individuality and its African identity, rather than striving to imitate Champagne. South Africa’s history, soil and climactic conditions are different from those in Champagne. These variances are reflected in the best MCCs, which have the fresh, clean flavors one would expect of wines made from grapes grown under South Africa’s perennial sunshine and kissed with the Cape’s sea breezes.
Colmant’s personal touch, and his respect for Franschhoek’s unique terroir, have paid off in a big way, earning two of his wines (the 2011 Brut Reserve and 2011 Brut Chardonnay) a coveted rating of 92 from American wine expert Robert Parker. This impressive rating is reserved for the world’s very finest wines, and is the highest rating received by any South African MCC.
Colmant has three terrific MCCs to choose from this holiday season. Having tasted more than a few bottles of each, I can honestly tell you they’re all great. If I had my way, I would drink one or the other of these MCCs every day of the year, because these fine wines make any day a celebration.
Made from 100% Chardonnay grapes, and aged on the lees for a full 48 months, this wine has a lovely edginess to it. It has a very different character from a traditional bottle of MCC. The color is light-straw, with just a hint of spring green, and the flavor is a delightfully refreshing blend of green apple and citrus. I like this wine because it is well-balanced, with an extremely nuanced flavor. It is a delicate wine, with flavors that are still interesting enough to make it pleasant to drink on its own. The Brut Chardonnay really comes into its own when it is served with oysters Rockefeller, a delicately-seasoned fish — such as sole meunière, or (my personal favorite) artichokes.
Based on a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, of which 10% is reserve wine from the previous vintage, this wine is aged on the lees for 28 months. Colmant’s Brut Reserve has the most delightful bubbles — very fine, and they just keep coming! At first sip, you will notice the crisp, refreshing lemony notes. Then, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by a full-bodied, sophisticated panoply of earthy flavors that give this MCC an unusually nice structure. The Brut Reserve is definitely the wine I go for most often, because it is versatile, goes well with light starters, and can also be fully enjoyed on its own. The Brut Reserve is, hands down, my favorite MCC. Experts will tell you this would be a good wine to keep, as it will improve with age. However, I haven’t yet mastered the necessary self control for such a step.
Based on a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, of which 8% is reserve wine from the previous vintage, the Brut Rosé is aged on the lees for 24 months. This is a Rosé that forever altered (and greatly improved) my concept of “Pink Champagne”. It’s color is simply stunning — a light cranberry pink that is perfect for the holidays. As it’s name suggests, the Brut Rosé is a dry wine. However, it’s got lots of lovely berry notes, which make it a perfect complement to chocolate-dipped strawberries, a handfull of warm, sugared nuts, or (for that matter) your Bûche de Noël.
For more information on Colmant’s wines, or to organize a tasting, please visit their website: http://www.colmant.co.za/
For more information on Méthode Cap Classique, please see our previous post in this series: South Africa’s Brilliant Bubblies