Beyond celebration

I know I’ve written at some length about bubblies recently but a subsequent and unusual (for South Africa) tasting of sparkling wines made in the same way as Champagne and, in most cases from chardonnay and/or pinot noir, deserves attention.

packagingThe event elaborated on one held last year, where local MCCs were tasted blind against English and Welsh bubblies. This year, the range was extended to include highly-respected wines from Australia, Spain, Germany, New Zealand, France and the UK: a total of 37 wines, all tasted blind by a mix of South African and English palates.

This considerable effort was put together by Roger and Sue Jones, owners of Michelin-star restaurant, The Harrow in the UK. In the four years they’ve been visiting South Africa, they’ve become great ambassadors for our wines, also buying significant quantities, including MCCs, to offer on The Harrow’s excellent wine list.

If the tasting itself wasn’t held under the strict competitive conditions that, say, the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show or Decanter Awards are, it was still a good test of the several experienced local tasters, including Graham Beck’s Pieter Ferreira, Le Lude’s Paul Gerber, MW Cathy van Zyl (UK-based Lynne Sherriff, MW was also there), Allan Mullins, as well as others (myself included) who have judged both locally and internationally.

Lynne Sherriff MW & Allan Mullins CWM discussing 'how good is that?'
Lynne Sherriff MW & Allan Mullins CWM discussing ‘how good is that?’

The styles were separated, with Rosés coming first, then blends and Blanc de Blanks.
Just a few of the main points that struck me. Read the results as you will, South African MCC can mix positively with top wines from the rest of the world. I don’t have prices for all the local wines, just Cuvée Clive 2011, five years on lees, which sells for R620, Le Lude Brut NV (but these first releases based on 2012 and three and a half years on lees) R195 and Rosé R199. It is more difficult for the consumer to gauge value when an MCC is Non Vintage and many might query why five years’ on lees is beneficial to a wine such as Cuvée Clive, but this is all part of the marketing MCCs deserve. They are, as I’ve written before, the most technical of wines to produce. That Pieter Ferreira and Paul Gerber are focused on MCC alone shows in the quality of their wines: both Le Ludes scored were among my highest ratings, while the Beck Blanc de Blancs 2012 – always a favourite which develops so well in that style – proved a favourite yet again.

The rosés revealed
The rosés revealed

I was much more impressed with the English sparkling wines than last year; they were better balanced and more interesting, though clearly older vines and wines will increase this. They were also clearly from a cool climate, with green apple aromas, flavours and marked acid. Denbies, a large property in Surrey and one of the earliest to produce sparkling wine, was particularly impressive, as was Dermot Sugrue’s Sugrue Pierre South Downs 2010. The word ‘delicacy’ often crops up in my notes both for the English sparkling and the Australian quintet, all from Tasmania, fast establishing itself as this country’s premium area for sparkling wine. They differed from the English examples in greater breadth of flavour.

Roger Jones (L) owner & Michellin-star chef of The Harrow, celebrating Graham Beck's Cuvée Clive 2011 win with Cellarmaster, Pieter Ferreira
Roger Jones (L) owner & Michellin-star chef of The Harrow, celebrating Graham Beck’s Cuvée Clive 2011 win with Cellarmaster, Pieter Ferreira

For those doubtful about the potential of rosé beyond looking pretty, Arras 2006 (current release!) is utterly convincing. Strangely, I was very much less enamoured by the Arras Late Disgorged 2003 but was well out of line with the other tasters. As I was with the New Zealand Nautilus NV, which I’ve enjoyed on previous occasions. I was obviously wrong on those two but it’s a good stage to remember that every bottle of bubbly made in the same method as Champagne has the potential to taste different.

The German wine from riesling and made by Bollinger’s former winemaker as well as the Spanish Cava selection including the traditional Cava varieties kept our taste buds alert. Apart from the Juve y Camps Reservation de la Familia, the rest of the Spanish contingent didn’t excite.

Something that can’t be said of the tasting as a whole, a fantastic experience for those of us who don’t get such an opportunity to taste such range of international bubblies and compare with our own. Just to re-iterate, our best can and do mix with top wines from other countries; what more incentive to better promote MCC as a serious rather than just celebratory style.

Pieter Ferreira, Paul Gerber (Le Lude Cellarmaster) presenting Roger Jones of The Harrow with a SA rugby tie.
Pieter Ferreira, Paul Gerber (Le Lude Cellarmaster) presenting Roger Jones of The Harrow with a SA rugby tie.

Below is the list of wines tasted with the ranking of the top 11 (the last two sharing the same rating).

MCC – South Africa
Pongracz Brut NV
Pongracz Rose NV
Desiderius 2009
Plaisir De Merle Brut
Durbanville Hills Sparkling (3)
Durbanville Hills Blanc de Blancs
Avondale Armilla Blanc de Blanc 2009 (9)
Klein Constantia Brut
Kleine Zalze Chardonnay/Pinot Noir MCC 2011
Simonsig Cuvée Royale
Delaire Graff Sunrise
Ken Forrester Sparklehorse (10)
Klein Constanta Brut
Stellenrust Clement de Lure NV
Graham Beck Brut Rose NV
Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs Vintage 2012
Graham Beck Vintage Rose 2011
Graham Beck Brut Zero 2010
Graham Beck Cuvée Clive 2011 (1)
Le Lude Brut NV (7)
Le Lude Rosé NV


Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve (2)

Arras Rosé 2006
Arras Late Disgorged 2003 (5)
Josef Chromy Tasmania NV
Pipers Brook 2009 Chardonnay/Pinot (8)
Jansz Premium Cuvée (6)

New Zealand
Nautilus NV Brut

Spain CAVA
Juve y Camps Reservation de la Familia
Gran Juve y Camps
Juve y Camps Rose

Britagne Coates & Seely Brut Reserve NV
Wiston Rose 2011
Sugrue Pierre South Downs 2010 (10)
Denbies Sparkling NV


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