Method Cap Classique and Leeu

By Jamie Goode | 3 August 2016

Leuu, wine, sparkling wine, champagne, South Africa, MCC, Method Cap Classique, Colmant, Le Lude, Black Elephant Vintners, Moreson, L'Ormarins

I was back in South Africa again. It was winter, but it didn’t feel like it as I arrived in Franschhoek on a gorgeously sunny day, with a sky that seemed bluer than it ever gets in summer. There’s a quality to winter light that’s quite special. Everything seems laser sharp and vivid.

 

One of the advantages of travelling to South Africa from the UK is the lack of any jet lag. Yes, an 11 hour flight is an 11 hour flight, and it’s a long time to be on a plane. But as long as you get more than just an hour or two of sleep, you can land and hit the road running, without conking out mid-evening as so often happens with jet lag.

 

The purpose of my visit was to judge the Standard Bank Top 10 Chenin Blanc competition, but I’d tagged on some extra time for two reasons. The first was to research South Africa’s very own sparkling wine style, known as Methode Cap Classique. The second was to check out the new addition to the Cape’s luxury accommodation and dining scene, the Leeu Collection in Franschhoek.

 

Just a word on the Leeu collection. Owner Analjit Singh fell in love with South Africa after visiting for the 2010 world cup, and has since invested serious money in his various ventures here, including the Mullineux winery.

 

I stayed at the lovely Leeu House, on the main drag in Franschhoek. It’s a classic old-school Cape Dutch building that has been beautifully restored, and it’s one of the best places I’ve stayed at. I also got to visit the newly opened Leeu Estates in Franschhoek, which began receiving guests just a couple of weeks earlier. This is a five-star 17 room boutique hotel in a stunning setting, backed by mountains and with an unparalleled view of the Francshhoek Valley.

 

Leeu Estates started in 2013 when Singh bought three adjoining Franschhoek farms -Dieu Donné, Von Ortloff and Klein Dassenberg. These have been merged, and as well as vineyards, the main manor house has 6 bedrooms, with the remaining 11 split among cottages. There’s also a spar. This is one of the most impressive luxury hotel projects I’ve seen, and it rivals the breathtaking Delaire Graff in its opulence, class and style. 

 

Franschhoek is also emerging as the centre for MCC production in the Cape. I met with some of the stars of the MCC world at Colmant: Paul Gerber (Le Lude), JP Colmant (Colmant), Kevin Swart and Jacques Wentzel (Black Elephant Vintners), Clayton Reabow (Moreson) and Gary Baumgarten (L’Ormarins). Unfortunately, Pieter Ferreira of Graham Beck, who is probably the leading driver behind the category, was off on travels so I missed him.

 

The tasting was an eye opener. There were several flights, and we really got to see some of the highlights of the category. MCC is made in the same way as Champagne, with a second fermentation in the bottle. First, a base wine is made, just like a white or rosé wine, ending up at around 11% alcohol. Usually, lots of components (known as ‘lots’) are produced and then blended and then bottled. To this bottle a dose of sugar and some yeast is added and the bottle is sealed. A second fermentation is carried out, and the yeasts use up the sugar producing a bit more alcohol and some carbon dioxide, which produces the fizziness in the wine. The yeast cells then die, and form what is known as lees, and the wine is then left in contact with these lees for a while: at least a year, but sometimes much longer. This adds complexity and weight to the wine. Then the dead yeast cells are moved to the neck of the bottle through a process called riddling, and then are expelled from the bottle, to be replaced by a liqueur that often consists of wine with a dose of added sugar to balance the acidity (known as dosage). The cork is then popped in, and you have traditional method sparkling wine. In Champagne, only six varieties are permitted, and three commonly used: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. In South Africa, more varieties are employed, including Chenin Blanc and even Pinotage, but the emphasis is increasingly on the three classic Champagne varieties.

 

The MCC scene is very bright indeed. ‘There’s a lot of excitement around the category,’ says Gary Baumgarten. ‘It’s one of the fastest growing categories in South Africa,’

 

‘Producers are getting much more accurate in what they are doing,’ says JP Colmant. It’s also an expanding scene. ‘There is an incredible number of newcomers, most from very small producers, sometimes with one-off releases.’ This dynamism creates problems for the MCC association who are trying to regulate this category. ‘We are planning to have a levy per bottle to fund marketing,’ says Colmant. ‘We are discussing cultivars: there are those for and against including Chenin Blanc and Pinotage. And we need to address the vintage problem. There is no category yet.’

 

Kevin Swart thinks that in terms of marketing, MCC is still punching below its weight, and that there’s a potentially massive local market that drinks Champagne. He thinks a proposed levy of 20 c a bottle would give MCC a decent marketing budget.

 

So what were the wines like? This was a selected bunch of MCCs and they were consistently good. This is important: if you are to build a brand around the category, then it needs to be consistent. I was really taken especially by the new wines from Paul Gerber under the Le Lude label: both the rosé and white are superb. Graham Beck, as expected put in a strong showing, and this was my first experience of Colmant, whose wines are superb. Môreson, from Franschhoek, put in a very strong showing, as did Silverthorn and Charles Fox. And then there was a delicious outlier: Filia, an MCC Chenin Blanc from the Swartland. Opinions were divided on this but I really loved it.

 

I think with the growing popularity of bubbles in general, that MCC has a very bright future indeed. 

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From Jamie Goode

Jamie Goode

On a recent trip to South Africa, I was treated to a remarkable, one-off tasting. It was of Mèthode Cap Classique (MCC), which is the South African name for bottle-fermented sparkling wines. Canadian wine journalist Treve Ring, who I was travelling with, has a keen interest in sparkling wine, as do I, and so we were thrilled when WOSA managed to get word out that we wanted to do a serious, in-depth deep-dive into MCC, to see how things are going with sparkling wines here.

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In Susan's glass

I fell in love with South Africa and the wines a few years ago. The recent MasterChef UK final took me right back to a holiday I had there. They went to the same Game Reserve that we stayed at and we also went to Reuben Riffel's restaurant in Franschhoek the night before my friends wedding - it was great to see Reuben as a guest judge too! Watching that episode seemed like the perfect excuse to open this beautiful bottle of Semillon from Boekenhoutskloof. What a delicious wine! 

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