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South Africa’s Sparkling Wine Is Versatile, Affordable, and Joyous

South Africa’s Méthode Cap Classique wines are turning heads for a reason

L.M. Archer By September 16, 2021
Steenberg Farm, established in 1682, Constantia Valley
Steenberg Farm, established in 1682, Constantia Valley. Photo courtesy of Steenberg Farm.

South Africa ranks among the oldest winemaking regions in the world. It’s also one of the most overlooked — especially when it comes to sparkling wine

If you have never tasted South African Méthode Cap Classique sparkling wine, for example, it’s definitely time. 

“Cap Classique is a beautiful alternative when you don’t want to do Champagne on the day,” says Pieter “Bubbles” Ferreira, cellar master at Graham Beck Wines.

First released in 1973 as Kaapse Vonkel, Cape Sparkle, by the late Frans Malan of Simonsig Estate in Stellenbosch, Cap Classique producers employ the same méthode champenoise, or traditional method, of in-bottle fermentation developed in Champagne.

Cap Classique Producers Association devised the moniker Méthode Cap Classique in 1995 after the Comité Champagne restricted the term Méthode Champenoise. CCPA started in 1992 with 14 producers, including Ferreira, who joined Graham Beck in 1990. Now, there are more than 240 producers throughout the Western Cape who are members.

Today, Cap Classique ranks among South Africa’s greatest wine success stories.

For consumers seeking alternatives to cava or crémant, Cap Classique delivers not only quality fizz at affordable prices, but versatility. 

A wide variety of grapes

“Cap Classique is the fastest growing category in the South African wine industry,” says Elunda Basson, CCPA vice chairperson, and cellar master of Steenberg Vineyards. She adds it’s also the most exciting, producing wines from “fruit harvested from 28 different geographical areas.”

Elunda Basson, Cellar Master, Steenberg Wine Farm

Elunda Basson, Cellar Master, Steenberg Wine Farm. Photo courtesy of Steenberg Farm.

Unlike Champagne, Cap Classique applies no restrictions on grape varieties used. Most producers prefer traditional varieties like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Meunier. Other blenders include Pinotage, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, and Shiraz.

Aging requirements for Cap Classique hold at nine months on lees. However, CCPA producers age their wines for a minimum of twelve months. Some producers also opt to age their wines three years or more to fashion Prestige or Icon ultra-premium wines.

As a group, we aimed to position ourselves as amongst the best producers of bottle- fermented sparkling wine in the world, and time on the lees became an important factor,” says member Jeff Grier of Villiera Wines, a family wine business that formed a joint venture with Jean-Louis Denois of Champagne for the Cap Classique side of their business.

Villiera vineyards with Helderberg Mountain in the background

Villiera vineyards with Helderberg Mountain in the background. Photo courtesy of Villieria Wines.

What happens next?

Fresher styles growing in popularity include Blanc de Blancs, rosé, the slightly sweeter Demi Sec, and lively non-vintage sparklers.

“There is a trend toward Cap Classique with a touch sweeter dosage commonly known as nectar,” observes Ferreira; dosage is the wine used to top off the bottle after disgorgement of the dead yeast cells that collect at the neck during fermentation. “I think this is a follow on the successful Moet & Chandon Nectar Impérial that sells in South Africa.”

“These subtrends are likely to become more mainstream as the market matures, and the awareness of Cap Classique grows,” concludes Grier.

3 Cap Classique sparkling wines to try:

bottle of Villiera Wines Stellenbosch Tradition Brut MCC NV

Villiera Wines Stellenbosch Tradition Brut MCC NV ($23)

This unusual bubbler boasts 50% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir, and 20% Pinotage; the red label denotes Villiera’s use of red grapes, unusual for sparkling wine makers at the time of its joint venture in the 1980s. 

Tradition Brut can age for at least two years from date of purchase, as evidenced by its burnished golden hue and plethora of pinpoint bubbles. Vivid acids, coupled with complex lemongrass, brioche, and golden apple notes, confirm its timelessness.

bottle of Haute Cabrière Pierre Jourdan Franschhoek Belle Rosé MCC NV

Haute Cabrière Pierre Jourdan Franschhoek Belle Rosé MCC NV ($29)

This food-friendly sparkler fashioned from 93% Pinot Noir and 7% Chardonnay beckons with its alluring oeil de perdrix robe, silky mousse, bright acids, toasty aromas, and notes of crisp red apple, stone fruit, and florals.

bottle of Steenberg Constantia 1682 Brut Chardonnay NV

Steenberg Constantia 1682 Brut Chardonnay NV ($30)

This sedate stunner from 100% Chardonnay proffers a luxurious, cashmere-like mousse and delicate notes of rusk, citron, acacia, white and yellow flowers, and sunshine.