As is the case with most sectors of the South African wine industry, the making of sparkling wine is but a youthful endeavour. Only 50 years ago – a cork-pop in the history of wine – did the first Cape wine farmer take-up the challenge of creating a bottle-fermented bubbly to the tradition of France’s Champagne. That was the late Frans Malan, patriarch of Simonsig in Stellenbosch, who used a splash of his 1971 Chenin Blanc vintage and some rudimentary machinery to create the first Kaapse Vonkel, which sparkled onto the market in 1973.
A lot of Cap Classique – as this style of South African wine is known – has foamed under the bridge since those days. Half-a-century later it is a sexy part of the local wine category with over 150 wineries making this sparkle. These range from the ubiquitous Cap Classique houses such as Simonsig, Graham Beck, Krone and Villiera to various estates and cellars crafting a couple of thousand of bottles of sparkle a year to brighten-up their wine portfolios.
The beauty of a young industry, however, is that here good things can happen quickly. And in the world of Cap Classique it would be difficult to find a better example of this than Le Lude, the boutique winery in Franschhoek exclusively committed to making bottle-fermented sparkle. Le Lude was only established 12 years ago, with its first vintage being that from 2012. Yet in all aspects the brand has leapt to the very top of the Cape’s impressive range of Cap Classique offerings in terms of quality of wine and the dedication to sparkling wine culture, with a bit of French-inspired flair, at the bottom of the Franschhoek Pass.
The primary reason has been the focus, taste and drive of Nic and Ferda Barrow. With a history ranging from pushing paper in the legal world to creating stylish hotels and guest-houses in Oudtshoorn as well as various contributions to the worlds of art, music and culture, the Barrows hit Franschhoek with the aim of establishing a winery. The land they had bought only has space for six hectares of vineyard, so buying-in fruit was going to be a non-negotiable part of whatever this newly acquired spread would turn out to be. The importance of sourcing grapes, together with a taste for Champagne and sparkling wines led Nic and Ferda to push focus on Cap Classique. A bit of Barrow panache, style and flair also contributed – in bounds.
Appointing Paul Gerber as first cellarmaster was a step in the right direction. While this brilliant Cap Classique specialist ensured a high standard of wine quality from the outset, an aesthetically pleasing tasting-venue was established. Together with the Orangerie Restaurant, where Barrow-daughter Nicolene offers some of the best French-inspired cuisine one could hope for south of Marseille.
Le Lude’s range of Cap Classiques, now made by Francois Joubert, are broad for a smallish set-up, but this underscores the marque’s restless creativity – a Barrow feature, by the way – to do a number of things, and do them well.
There are non-vintage bruts and rosés, a couple of vintage cuvées, and the agrafe wines. Agrafe, where lees-maturing occurs under cork instead of metal crown-cap, was pioneered by Le Lude in South Africa, heralding a new era for quality of Cap Classique.
During a recent tasting of non-vintage Cap Classiques it was apparent that Le Lude is in the progress of developing a true house-style for its wines. There is something so very true about these wines, a purity among the sparkle that makes them sincerely individual and classy offerings.
Le Lude Brut n/v is driven by 91% Chardonnay and 9% Pinot Noir, the wine spending 36 months on lees in the bottle – three times more than the required minimum time for Cap Classique. A solid Robertson Chardonnay element is present here, the quality of the fruit polished to a seamless and direct slice of vinous perfection, providing drama, beauty and energy through the life-affirming presence of bubble, sparkle and mousse.
Typical Cap Classique notes of green apple and brioche lurk in the background. The focus is, well, on focus. Bright, buttery fruit sliced with a silver thread of stone, soil and wilted wild-flower. Refreshment is massive, as the finest of these wines should be. Taste is long, texture is moreish and evocative.
Onto the pink, and the Le Lude Rosé n/v is 71% Chardonnay to 29% Pinot Noir. Colour is that of wild Irish salmon, poached. It is a drier wine than the Brut, not due to sugar but because of the savoury and lick of salt the Pinot Noir element brings to the party. With the attack, there is a slight floral tickle, quickly brushed aside by sterner flavours of plum, fresh kelp and fynbos. These flow on a tide of unfettered purity, long and cool runs of elegant sparkling wine offering pleasure and goodness, memories that will last forever. And a day.
- Emile Joubert
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