Any discussion of South Africa’s Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) would be incomplete without at least a reference to Simonsig, the innovative vineyard that dared to create an authentic African bubbly, Kaapse Vonkel, way back in 1971. Simonsig is one of South Africa’s largest wine estates and its production of MCC today is somewhere around 240,000 bottles a year.
Don’t be fooled, though. Mass production has in no way affected Simonsig’s commitment to quality and innovation. This vineyard continues to push the boundaries and improve its products, a work ethic which has earned Simonsig numerous international accolades for its wines.
Simonsig’s rich heritage also includes an enviable list of firsts. Frans Malan, Simonsig’s founding father, was the first vintner to produce Méthode Champenoise in South Africa. His landmark Kaapse Vonkel also became the first Cap Classique to use all three of Champagne’s classic grape varieties when Pinot Meunier was added to its 1997 production.
In our opinion, Simonsig’s MCCs are still amongst the cream of the crop. These wines are bold, sophisticated and fresh. They are everything you would expect from an MCC whose grapes were nurtured in a young nation of perennial sunshine, and yet the wine still boasts a surprising depth and complexity of flavors.
Simonsig offers a range of three MCCs: their trademark Kaapse Vonkel Brut, Cuvée Royale, and the Kaapse Vonkel Brut Rosé. For purposes of this review, I will limit myself to the two Simonsig MCCs I personally prefer, which are the Kaapse Vonkel Brut and the chardonnay-based blanc de blancs, Cuvée Royale.
Kaapse Vonkel Brut
This elegant wine is a classic blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes. As you pour your first glass, you will immediately be struck by its lovely pale-yellow color and its bold bubbles which (when properly chilled) surface in a seemingly endless stream. As you raise your glass, you will inevitably catch a whiff of the bright citrusy flavors I personally associate with the best MCCs. At first sip, you will notice a bit more complexity than you expected. The lovely fresh flavor of tart green apples erupts in the mouth, and is balanced by a smooth, almost restrained finish that leaves you hankering for more. The Kaapse Vonkel Brut is a versatile wine, whose crisp, tart notes are a lovely complement to smoked salmon, and also go well with the poignant flavors of a good chevre. This would be a great choice to serve with deep-water fish, such as tuna or salmon, because it’s tartness would accentuate the flavor and balance the oiliness of the fish.
The Cuvée Royale, was inspired by a 1990 trip to France’s Champagne region. During this visit, John Malan decided to up the ante by challenging himself to create a world class South African blanc des blancs, using nothing but the highest quality juice from a very gentle pressing of the finest Chardonnay grapes available. This fine wine then spends five years on the lees, where it gains in complexity and develops a highly aromatic flavor profile including interesting nutty notes, along with the classic Chardonnay tartness. In my opinion, this wine is a great success. It is one of my all-time favorite MCCs because the pleasure of its sophisticated flavor profile is enhanced by very fine mousse-like bubbles, giving this wine an ethereal, other-worldly quality. The Cuvée Royale is an elegant wine, whose flavors go well with light, fresh flavors such as those of shrimp, crayfish, fresh salads, and artichokes. Its refined flavors also make it an ideal complement to fresh fruit and sorbets. It is exactly the sort of wine you would expect to find at a royal garden party. A sheer delight.
For more information on Simonsig’s wines, or to plan a tour or a tasting, please visit their website: http://www.simonsig.co.za/
For more information on Méthode Cap Classique, please see our previous post in this series: South Africa’s Brilliant Bubblies