Much like Jewish humour, good sparkling wine is a bit quick for me. To analyse that is. Reason being, when partaking in a glass of fizz, the elixir tends to go down the hatch quicker than an ANC tender-preneur does upon receiving a call from the Hawks.
But last week it was all work and no merry glugging. The Amorim Cap Classique Challenge announced this year’s top South African sparkling wines made to the original method of Champagne. That is, secondary bottle-fermented with some time for the wine to not only give birth to the 50 million awesome bubbles found in one bottle, but also to add those spell-binding flavours and that creamy texture featuring in the sparkles I like.
Lo and behold, this year’s Cap Classique Challenge was won by a winery situated in Plettenberg Bay. That’s right: Newstead Wines Blanc de Blanc 2015 whipped all-comers to be adjudged the top-scoring Cap Classique among the 121 wines entered into this year’s competition.
Rumours of wine-making from vines planted between the polo patches in Plett began circulating ten years ago. And although some passable Cap Classiques and Sauvignon Blanc hit the scene, tentatively, the Plettenberg Bay wine world kept to itself. And the Western Cape-based wine industry sure as hell was not really taking this patch of terroir 550km east of Cape Town seriously.
Until now. Trumping at the Amorim Cap Classique Challenge, the leading arena for judging Cap Classique is a big deal. With a history of 19 years committed to fizz, its reputation rests on rigorous judging solely focussed on bubbles, as well as the competition’s official endorsement from the Cap Classique Association. Just as Plett is the place in which to hoof a couple of chukkas of polo, so the Amorim Challenge is the place to go if you want your bubbly judged.
So, onto the winning wine.
Newstead’s vines are set on flat, undulating soils east of Plett. Sandy loam is shallow, and underneath this a severe clay bed. Vines are planted north-south, ensuring the south-easter – the only feature more synonymous with Plett than the Beacon Isle Hotel – blows true and cool through the vineyard rows.
The Newstead Blanc de Blanc was made by Anton Smal, he of former Villiera Estate fame, who allowed the wine to lie for 42 months in bottle – a time-frame conducive to spending downtime riding the left shore-break off Keurbooms.
It is a wonderful glass of Cap Classique. One exuding both craftmanship in the cellar as well as Chardonnay ripening to a point of precise and accurate focus, the base-wine racing with acidity as well as complexity resulting from the fact that Plettenberg Bay’s weather allows a longer, slower ripening period than out west, Cape Way.
On the nose, Newstead Blanc de Blanc offers crushed green almond shell with a nostril-prickling hit of wet sherbet and wild oyster shell. The attack on the palate is confident, thunderous and with more foam than a bachelorette party at the Beacon Isle. Once the roar of bubbles subsides, the front palate picks-up Granny Smith apple, lots of it, as well as loquat and lime. As the bracing wine heads to the finish, the fruit becomes sunnier, followed by a tantalising salt-lick umami jet, all ending gorgeously brisk and clean, inviting a follow-up glug. Which must be done, as the next chukka is about to get under way.
The message is clear: no more horsing around. Plett wine is a thing. And a welcome addition to the Cape winelands. Neigh-sayers be gone.
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