Cap Classique Needs to Re-look its Pedigree

There might be 49 million bubbles in one bottle of the stuff, but South Africa’s Cap Classique industry is really in the need of some fizz.

More thrust in the generic export marketing thereof would be nice. The sight of pretty average Spanish Cava and Italian Prosecco making such huge inroads in overseas markets while Cap Classique is really nowhere makes my glass of bracing MCC taste flat. A presence at American presidential inaugurations and cameos in James Bond’s vast drinking line-up might cause MCC marketing babes to get moist between their ice buckets, but one can’t really say that the world has embraced this South African bubbly.

One of the reasons, possibly, is that as a category MCC is so all-over the place it makes Schalk Burger’s on-field presence seem static.


From superb, glorious Cap Classiques made from site-specific Chardonnay vineyards and spending with 60 months or more on the lees we find wines bottled the minute the required nine-month period of bottle-time expires. While Paul Gerber from La Lude and John Loubser from Silverthorn, among others, are committed to developing specialist, focused wines through innovation, vigour and adventure from the classic Champagne varieties, we also have producers bottling wines made from Pinotage, Chenin Blanc and Merlot – to name a few – and sticking the Cap Classique label on.

If the vital elements of the category are all over the place, imagine how fragmented the consumer’s impression of MCC is?

For example, by classifying a Cap Classique made from Chenin Blanc as a Blanc de Blancs it is undermining the pedigree and reputation of not only the category, but also of producers such as Graham Beck and Simonsig who have invested time, money and effort into creating Cap Classiques using 100 per cent Chardonnay, the variety accepted as the right one to bottle under a Blanc de Blancs label.

If the makers wish to follow the “traditional” method of Champagne, as their agreeing on the name Méthode Cap Classique would like us to believe, so too they should stick to the three aforementioned grape varieties. The profile of the fruit is as traditional and as classical as the style of winemaker’s secondary fermentation, degorging and all the magic bits in-between.

Of course there is a place for bottle-fermented bubblies made from the other varieties. Some of them, such as the Chenin Blancs, are rather pleasant, although one can’t argue with a 300 year period in which Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier have proved to be the only real contenders in making a – let’s call it so – Champagne-style wine.

Cap Classique is just that: a Champagne-style wine, including grape pedigree. Anything else deserves another category.

There is a lot of movement in the South African wine industry. The bubbles should start popping, too.



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3 thoughts on “Cap Classique Needs to Re-look its Pedigree

  1. Oohh, I don’t agree!! 🙂

    I don’t think MCC is any more ‘over the place’ than Cava or Prosecco.

    Cava and Prosecco have short memorable (and especially in the case of the latter) attractive names. Cava has spent a long time consolidating its brand, improving quality and slowly raising its prices.

    Neither are made from the Champagne grapes and only Cava is made by the traditional method.

    Why Prosecco has suddenly become so popular I am not clear, but part of it may be that it is unencumbered with the serious mantle of Champagne and imitators. It’s inexpensive and a ‘fun’ drink that you don’t need to take seriously. For the new drinkers it comes without baggage. There are some very good, and more expensive Proseccos, but the sales boom isn’t with them.

    In the UK I don’t see many MCCs, I don’t think consumers are aware of what exactly (if anything) MCC means, but they are in the group of fizz that

    -isn’t Champagne
    -isn’t Cava
    -isn’t Prosecco

    And there’s a lot of fizz in that category, MCC is just another fighting for a place against Australia, New Zealand, California, France etc.

    Does it matter that MCC doesn’t restrict varieties to the 3 main Champagne ones?
    Well, it depends on whether you want to say ‘taste South Africa’ or whether you want to say ‘I’m a Champagne substitute’.

    As the latter it’s going to be a hard slog. I can – and do buy Champagne from ASDA, Sainsbury & Aldi at £10, and its good. There’s more in the sub £15 and lots in the sub-£20 bands. Why buy MCC when the best it can say is ‘I’m identical to Champagne’ when you can get the real thing at the same price?

    RSA has had success with Syrah, Cabernet etc but with fizz the thing that Champagne has is the cachet of the word Champagne on the bottle.

    As to Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay. Well, apart from the fact that they are not the only grapes allowed in Champagne, the real reason they are used is because they wore the ones productive enough in the cold northerly lands of Champagne to replant after phylloxera.

    Why Meunier in 50% of vineyards, a variety almost no-one else grew? Solely because it was more productive than Noir, not any other essential quality.

    (to follow the reasoning of being more like Champagne, RSA is going to have to plant a lot of Meunier!)
    But RSA isn’t a cold wet northerly area which struggles to ripen grapes – the reason they make fizz is because the grapes aren’t ripe enough to make decent still wine.

    So if you want to make the best sparkling wine that RSA can produce, why restrict yourself to these three varieties?

    But if you want to make a RSA ‘champagne’ from just those three varieties why stop there? Why not have all the rest, the same restrictions on where the vines can be planted, same chalk soil for the whites, same planting density rules, same hand picking rule, same production limits, aging routines etc etc?

    And even if you do, it still won’t be Champagne!

    When we’re in the we enjoyVilliera Tradition, which I believe has some Pinotage in it (at the Marine Hotels with Rich Mans Fish & Chips), Kaapse Vonkel of course, and I’ve enjoye dthe Pongrasz one in the gorgeous swirly glass bottle

  2. Great comment Peter, thanks. I will definitely alert my mates in the MCC game to your valued insights. And you can continue telling the Brits MCC is not only Marylebone Cricket Club!

  3. If I lived in the Cape (I wish) I’d want a local Champagne substitute as an aletrnative to expensive imported Champagne, sure.

    And I’d wonder why the rest of the world wasn’t also clamouring for MCC and blame marketing or something

    Where I am, in UK, I am lucky to have a vast choice of wines from all over the world so I’m spoiled for choice for fizz at all price levels.

    So I think we’re looking at this from different angles. But in the future, who knows? When the Chinese hoover up all the Champagne then quality fizz from elsewhere will become more in demand in markets that can no longer afford Champagne.

    I enjoy Cava, but I buy it precisely because it’s not Champagne, it does taste different.

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