Kleine Zalze Nectar and the Delights of Demi-Sec Fizz

Lafras Huguenet

The advent in popularity of fruity, demi-sec Champagne and Cap Classique has been met with derision and eye-rolling snorts by the self-proclaimed knowledgeable wine sect. This includes the editor of the website you are now reading, who states that semi-sweet Cap Classique and Champagne is the preferred drink of “camel-jockeys”, implying the enjoyment of these elixirs is limited to a wealthy robe-clad gentleman of Middle Eastern nations.

As the editor should know, wit and culture do not necessarily go together.

Of course, brand-owners of those producing the demi-sec style of bubbles ignore such ignorance, instead laughing all the way to the bank as the world goes crazy for sweetish fizz. From the hallowed Champenoise of Mumm, Deutz and Veuve, to South Africa’s Cap Classique stalwarts Graham Beck and Simonsig, the sweetish sparkling wine, made in the traditional Champagne manner, is being rolled out at a rate of knots as consumers wish their palates to be enchanted by this playful style of blossom-scented wine.

I was just going to impart a bit of knowledge as to the historical relevance of demi-sec Champagne when the charming Lizemari Geldenhuys, maker of Cap Classique at Stellenbosch’s Kleine Zalze winery, beat me to it. By offering a communiqué stating that the original drink of Champagne was, in fact, sweet. And far sweeter than today’s demi-sec’s going out into market.

At the advent of the Champagne craze in the 19th century, wines of between 110 and 330 grams of residual sugar were all the rage. Far sweeter than the demi-sec Champagnes and Cap Classiques that bear in the region of 40 grams. In those early days of Champagne production, the turnip-riddled and vodka-clad palates of the Russians demanded the most sugar in their bubbles, around 300 grams. The Yanks preferred about 150 grams, and it was only the British who began wanting a bit of zip and tang in the bubbly, as anything sweeter would slacken the upper-lip. For their palates, sparkling wines were shipped at between 22 and 66 grams of sugar.

It was only in 1846 when the house of Pierre-Jouët punted-out a Champagne with no added sugar, which was met with about as much approval as a bacon sandwich in a take-out in Jedda. These dry Champagnes were initially labelled as “severe” and “brute-like”, with the term “Brut” sticking. Although “Champagne Severe” does have a certain swagger and charm to it.

Lizemari Geldenhuys, Cap Classique doyenne at Kleine Zalze.

It would be decades before the world’s palates accepted a dry Champagne which, let’s face it, remains one of the greater gifts to man-kind.

Thus, as young Lizemari says, today’s growing offering of demi-sec sparkling wines is not a new thing, just a re-looking at a style of wine that has been a part of vinous history. One providing another offering to the regal stable of bottle-fermented sparkles.

Kleine Zalze’s two new demi-secs go by the name of Cape Nectar, the Blanc a 70%-30% blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir respectively, while the Cape Nectar Rosé – the colour of a sunset being stitched into the sky by an Egyptian seamstress – is 70% Pinot Noir, the balance Chardonnay.

Making these Kleine Zalze wines, Lizemari goes the pure Cap Classique route of whole-bunch pressing, astute base-wine fermentation, and then sending this to bottle for the magical secondary fermentation process. Here it stays in bottle for 48 months, dispelling any assertions that just because this is demi-sec, it is not going to get a diligent and attentive approach.

The sweet hit comes at the dosage, bringing the wines’ residual sugar to 42grams a litre – still dry enough to make an old-time Russian choke on his borscht and throw a vodka bottle at his son’s poster of Vladimar Putin hanging above the coal-stove.

As a keen imbiber of all things bubbly, and having had my share of demi-sec Champagnes during a recent visit to Riems and an almighty party in La Coupol in Paris hosted by a French film-producer, the Kleine Zalze Cape Nectars were finding me in the right mood when I first met them.

The Blanc and the Rosé are both enormously fine wines, bringing together the refined classic structure of traditionally made sparkling with a sunny, almost tropical glow among the coolness they offer. Riveting and bracing, yet underscored by a colourful and pulsating heart-beat.

I enjoy Cap Classique and Champagne anywhere, anytime. But with these Kleine Zalze Cape Nectars, I curated experiences to bring out the very best in cold glasses of demi-sec fizz.

First, the Cape Nectar Rosé, showing heartfelt love as it paired with a slab of foie gras. This is really a magisterial combination. The vibrant freshness of the wine slits through the overwhelming unctuous fat of the foie gras, upon which the Nectar’s honey-suckle and tangerine bond with the goose-liver to dance an intimate tango of extreme heavenly deliciousness. Sauternes is still seen as the obvious match with foie gras, but in future I will be converting fellow-gourmands to the liver’s two-step with Kleine Zalze Cape Nectar Rosé.

The Cape Nectar Blanc caught me by surprise at the end of a meal. There was a piece of unassuming vanilla sponge cake, which I enjoy with an espresso strong enough to – perhaps – evoke a response at government corruption from Cyril Ramaphosa. Instead of deploying water to clear the coffee-clad palate, I took a draught of the Cape Nectar Blanc. The slight sweetness of the wine and its bracing mousse instantly freed the mouth from the black coffee with delightful runs of bitter-orange, candied lemon and sherbet. And before I knew it, another espresso and two more glasses of Cape Nectar Blanc were requested.

Happily, I join the throng of people discovering the fun and cheer of demi-sec sparkling wine, and if I need to learn how to ride a camel to do so, well, preferably make it the two-humped version.

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One thought on “Kleine Zalze Nectar and the Delights of Demi-Sec Fizz

  1. Ek is bly dat Lizemari Geldenhuys van Kleine Zalze jou tot effe soeter vonkelwyn kon bekeer ! Ek is hoofsaaklik ‘n rooiwyndrinker, maar sukkel met die droë Champagne Bruts


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