Tasting Amorim Cap Classique Trophy Winners

Lafras Huguenet

I had barely returned from Her Majesty’s funeral when the Editor put me to work. But if he was looking for someone to taste five Cap Classique sparkling wines for a bit of a subjective opinion, well, he had picked the right fellow.

My palate is still Champagne sharp after the stay in London and Hampshire, for is this not the most apt wine with which to embrace death and to celebrate life? During the Queen’s funeral, thus, our black cuff-links and jacket-sleeves were made darker by the copious glasses of Champagne myself and my chums were holding and sipping from with solemn respect.

Back in the Cape, the five wines I had been tasked to taste were the trophy winners from this year’s Amorim Cap Classique Challenge, a festive competition that has been held for 21 years, celebrating the class and quality of South Africa’s Champagne-styled wines. By the looks of things, the event was quite a bit of alright, too, sadly missed, but I’ll be back next year. Unless another royal pops his or her clogs somewhere around September, of course. One is never quite off-duty, am I?

The overall winner for Best Wine on Show at this year’s Cap Classique Challenge was from a cellar that has been a consistent performer at the event, namely the Claudia Brut from Domaine des Dieux, a boutique bubbly specialist out Hemel-en-Aarde way. Made from the 2016 vintage, the Claudia is led by Chardonnay, the brightness somewhat restrained by a dollop of Pinot Noir.

As previous vintages of Claudia showed, this wine has a definable finger-print, and if I had it poured blind, I would spot it from a mile. The mousse is vivacious, effervescent and loud, while the bead is as bold as the first small drops of spring rain on the polished window of a new Range Rover. The nose is slick, aromas of ripped rhubarb, rose-petal and sourdough crumb affirming the presence of a wine made to a confident, bold style.

My goodness what an assured palate. First, a comforting creaminess coating the mouth, immediately followed by a roar of vigour as the miniscule bubbles crash on the tongue, explode against the inside of the cheeks and flatten the throat. This action lets slip an array of flavours, including lime-zest, nectarine, green apple and suurvytjies, with just a hit of breadiness, a classic good fizz feature that will increase as the wine ages.

The balance between Chardonnay zip and the more berry, floral tones from Pinot Noir is quite perfect, as perfectly pitched as a tuning fork. A wine that is going to take some beating.

How interesting was it to see Constantia Uitsig on the winners’ rostrum, taking the trophy for Best Blanc de Blancs with Constantia Uitsig Méthode Cap Classique 2018. I do like the label, I must say, although the dramatic darkness of it somewhat belies the delight and charm of the bottle’s contents.

This is Chardonnay Cap Classique at its finest, and I already liked this wine as I gazed dreamily at the glass, that pale gold hue the colour of a Hampshire chalk stream against the rising sun. The wine’s aroma is somewhat restrained, but a hint of oyster shell and arum lily did come through with some intense searching.

True to the requirements for a good Chardonnay fizz, the Constantia Uitsig had a sherbet, sabre thrust and lusty onslaught on the palate, lightning quick and profound. Loquat, Sicilian lemon and salt-lick drove the taste sensation, but it was texture and poise that made me almost stand-up with respect for the creator of this wine. Sure, Constantia geography ensures coolness which gives acid, but the base-wine was crafted to perfection, a trait extending to the lees-exposure in bottle. There is a lot of vivaciousness in this wine, but this is well-mannered and charming, resulting in pure beauty.

On the pink side of the spectrum, trusty Simonsig took the trophy for Best Rosé for Kaapse Vonkel Brut Rosé 2020, proving that the pioneering Cap Classique estate still runs with the best of the producers of this style of wine.

Led by Pinot Noir with a dose of Pinotage, the wine has berries on aroma and taste, but not of the coy and teasing variety. There is a lot of succulence here – more dark berry than red – present from aroma right through to taste, obviously the result of the brief exposure the juice had to the grapes’ dark skins.

The charming Megan Mullis of Domaine des Dieux.

The mousse is generous, lifting and enhancing the fruit while creating that life-affirming sensation caused by a fine bottle-fermented sparkling wine. Fruit is complemented by a riveting stony edge and slight prickles of fynbos and lavender. Flirtish in colour and fabulously fun to drink, this wine has the hallmark of craftmanship and Cape countryside at its heart. You can see the mountains bloom.

This year saw the Amorim Cap Classique Challenge changing the Museum Class to one termed “Extended Ageing”, this be for wines of seven years or older from vintage. And once again, Newstead from Plettenberg Bay came to the fore at the contest, winning the Extended class with its Blanc de Blancs 2015.

Now, if there is one wine I would have chosen to have with me beside the Queen’s gun-carriage it would be this one. It is classically traditional sparkling wine, but with distinct South African personality.

The Chardonnay is ripened on the coast of Plettenberg Bay under a wild African sun within spray’s distance from the southern Indian Ocean. Once the still wine is made, it lies on raw, firm clods of lees, sucking-in flavours that are assured in their refined density. Think a good Champagne, and turn the volume up… and this is Newstead Blanc de Blancs 2015.

Toast and a slight smokiness rise from the glass, with a score of Seville marmalade. The mousse is all ripped silk, loose and fleshy and lithe, while there is a lot of the taste of grapes, citrus and apples about. Once it has played itself out in the mouth, the wine finishes long and cool, tremendously satisfying, but satedness of the kind that calls for more, just should some pleasure have been missed the first time around.

Unfortunately, I do not do the syrupy nectar-stuff, I’ll leave that category to the camel-jockeys and Russian oligarchs, so one did not try that winning wine from Simonsig. But the standards set by the judges in selecting the other four trophies has me taking their word. Truly.

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