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The Sparkles of Stellenbosch

by Lucinda Beeman - May 22, 2017

Oak-lined roads, incredible blooms and the lush, green lawns of the Lanzerac Estate – the South African wine region of Stellenbosch has long been considered one of the world’s most beautiful wine regions. It’s also an excellent producer of sparkling wine, as the bottle of Lanzerac Blanc de Blancs Méthode Cap Classique in May’s Bubble Box proves!

 

While the sparkling wines of Italy and Spain may be more familiar, true fizz connoisseurs have another go-to region when they’re looking for brilliant bubbles: the beautiful South African escape of Stellenbosch, just a short drive from central Cape Town.

“The Stellenbosch wine region has a long history of vineyards and winemaking,” says Zia van Rooyen du Toit of Lanzerac. “The region has the ideal climate and soil to make excellent quality wines, which can be enjoyed around the world.”

While many styles of wine are produced in this versatile region, Stellenbosch is the ancestral home of its own style of sparkling wine: the Méthode Cap Classique. When French Huguenots fled religious persecution in the early 17th century, they settled in the Cape – and brought their winemaking skills with them from the Old World.

It’s this same technique, which has many similarities to the traditional Méthode Champenoise used to make Champagne, that the winemakers of Lanzerac followed to produce the beautiful bubbles in May’s box.

“This Méthode Cap Classique is expressive, lively and layered,” Zia says of the Lanzerac Blanc de Blancs Brut MCC in this month’s Bubble Box. “It’s lovely and refreshing.”

It’s also part of a rich heritage of winemaking in South Africa – as, indeed, is the winery behind it.

The City of Oaks

In 1690, the town of Stellenbosch was a mere two decades old. But, with its spectacular gardens, bustling economy and rows of old oak trees, its population was booming.

A community of French Huguenots – Protestants who had fled religious prosecution in their strictly Catholic home country – were the latest arrivals. With their Old World French winemaking knowledge, they took one look at the landscape and knew that their new home would be ideal for growing wine grapes.

Governor Simon van der Stel apparently agreed; in 1692 he granted a considerable tract of land in the neighbouring Jonkershoek Valley to Isaav Schrijver, who immediately set about planting grape vines. That land has been used to grow wine grapes ever since, under a variety of names.

Lanzerac as we know it was started by an enterprising woman by the name of Elizabeth Katherine English. In 1914, she purchased the vineyard – then called Schoongezicht – for the handsome price of £18,000 pounds. Her first order of business? Changing the name to Lanzerac. But she didn’t stop there.

Elizabeth was the first to start making wines with the grapes grown on her land, which at the time boasted an astonishing 21 imported varietals. She would also foster a culture of innovation at Lanzerac Winery, which would go on to be the first to bottle the local Pinotage grape, a Shiraz-like red grape that produces inky wines with vibrant fruit flavours. And, by bringing wine production in-house, she paved the way for the brilliant bubbles in May’s Bubble Box.

Magnificent Méthode

Chardonnay isn’t a native South African grape, but Lanzerac’s centuries of experience with imported varieties made it a natural choice for the Blanc de Blancs in May’s Bubble Box. And, just as the Cava accompanying it is a wonderful study in how this variety takes to Spanish soil, Lanzerac Blanc de Blancs Brut is an impeccable expression of how Chardonnay grows and develops in the Stellenbosch region.

This wine is made of Chardonnay grapes grown in three different plots, which are then harvested by hand and pressed in full bunches. After resting for two days, the juices go through the famed Méthode Cap Classique – fermenting once in steel tanks, then a second time in the bottle, with added yeast and sugar.

This is the South African version of the ‘Traditional Method’, and produces the same toasty notes you’ll taste in Cava and Champagne.

As Zia says of this wine: “Every day becomes a celebration with this fine MCC. It’s creamy, and biscuit notes give texture to the lively citrus and apple fruit flavours.”

Gorgeous with smoked salmon and summer salads, this wine is also enjoyable on its own – whether you’re basking on the lawns of the Lanzerac Estate, which has now been converted into a luxury hotel and spa perfect for wine lovers, or stretching out your living room sofa. It’s a versatile South African sparkler, indeed – so enjoy!

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