The beautiful bottle of Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel Brut in this month’s Bubble Box is made using the Méthode Cap Classique. But what is this mysterious method, and how does it differ from more common ways of making sparkling wine? Here are three things you need to know about this South African style.
1. It’s basically how Champagne is made
The Méthode Cap Classique approach to making sparkling wine has more in common with the Méthode Champenoise than it has differences. In both production methods, the grapes undergo a second fermentation ‘on the lees’, or with yeast, in the same bottle you’ll eventually open.
This second period of fermentation can last for two years or longer, and ends with disgorgement – the ejection of the yeast – followed by a rapid recorking.
2. The term has only been in use since the 1990s
So why the different designations for two processes that appear so similar? It’s simple: for a sparkling wine to be called Champagne, it must be produced in the French region with the same name.
When it became clear that this rule would come into force in the 1990s, South African winemakers decided to find a similar name for their own traditionally produced wines. They settled on Cap Classique Kaapse Vonkel to describe their region’s sparkling wines.
The term is a nod to the fact that the classic art of winemaking was introduced to the Cape by French Huguenots, who fled to South Africa to escape religious persecution in the 17th century, and that the first bottle-fermented sparkling wine produced at the cape was called Kaapse Vonkel.
Can’t be bothered to say Méthode Cap Classique over and over again? Call these wines by their nickname: MCC.
3. Simonsig Winery is behind the whole thing
The first bottle of sparkling wine made using the Méthode Cap Classique was produced by Simonsig Wine Estate, the same winery behind the beautiful bottle of Kaapse Vonkel in September’s Bubble Box.
Produced in 1968, it was released in 1971 and contained the same grape varieties used to make Champagne: pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier. While the grapes may be the same, South Africa’s warm climate bestows a uniquely fruity flavour to these delicious wines, setting them apart from their Old World compatriots.
Since then, a number of other wineries have started using the Méthode Cap Classique to produce sparkling wines. In 1992 they came together to form the Cap Classique Producers Association, which strives to improve the quality standards of its 60 member wineries. It’s serious business: the winemakers even meet once a year to taste each other’s base wines and blends, just to make sure the resulting fizz will be up to scratch.
The effort has paid off: MCC wines are now frequently judged to be of equal or even greater quality than Champagnes in blind taste tests.