There are Michelin star chefs renown the world over for their excellence in what they can put on a plate, but few have the interest, let alone the commitment and drive to challenge themselves to understand the wines they can match with them. Roger Jones is a breed apart as he reports from South Africa on the sparkling wine competition he set up that pitted local sparklers up against the best of the rest of the world.
There will be many Michelin star chefs taking new year breaks around the world. But few would turn a trip to South Africa in to a series of high profile wine and culinary events, the most recent of which was his “Sparkling Sunday” competition, held at the Vineyard Hotel in Cape Town, in which he put the best South African sparkling wines up against the best of the rest of the world.
We have all become accustomed to the fine still wines coming from South Africa but their ‘Sparkling Wines’ better known as MCC (méthode cap classique) are certainly making an impact, and therefore I decided to really see at what level they could achieve and set up a ‘Sparkling Sunday’ at The Vineyard Hotel in Cape Town, brining together not only the best from South Africa, but the rest of the world.
The tasting was set up non blind in groups starting each category from Non Vintage to Vintage, ie; Rosé, Brut, Blanc de Blanc, Prestige. Over 60 wines were set up in an air conditioned room with some 30 guests including winemakers (from California, France, USA as well as the local big guns) press, trade and international guests.
I was recently appointed the Ambassador for The Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships, with a specific roll to encourage more South African, Australian and New Zealand winemakers to enter, so this was an ideal opportunity to showcase wines from these countries and see where they stood.
There were many highlights and it was also great to hear Pieter “Bubbles” Ferreira give so much praise to the non South African sparklers on show. I was, however, blown away by the sheer depth and quality South Africa can produce especially in the Blanc de Blanc and Prestige category.
Blends of Brut
The Taittinger Brut Reserve showcased well and gave the tasters a classic style and level to compare the others to, there were many plus points in this section with Graham Beck’s Zero showcasing how good zero dosage can work.
Highlights here included Le Lude Brut, Villiera Monro Brut 2011 and the richly textured Krone Borealis 2012, this was perfectly balanced despite its richness and would be perfect with game. The Kleine Zalze Chardonnay/Pinot Noir 2011 had aged gracefully and was a lovely balanced, gentle wine that oozed class, perfect for Shellfish, this had a lovely delicacy.
Blanc de Blancs
The UK was finely represented in this category by both Gusbourne BdB 2013 and Hattingley BdB 2011, and I am delighted to say that the Gusbourne is even available for sale in Cape Town, both great examples of the quality that we produce.
My highlight, however, in this category was the Charles Fox Blanc de Blancs 2013, pure elegance, gently citrus peel, soft orchard fruit, clear minerality, delicate white flowers a beautiful wine that will live a long time. Another highlight from South Africa was The Silverthorn Greenman 2015, named after the delicate green/yellow hue, this has fine bubbles, crisp apples, delicate brioche notes, acacia flowers, fresh purity and leaves a wonderful palate.
I was certainly not going to take any prisoners in this category and sourced some gems including Krug 1996. England was represented by Dermot Sugrue with his critically acclaimed Cuvée Brendan O’Regan which received great praise. Australia were represented by Arras 2008 and Jansz 2005, The Jansz showcasing how well it ages with a palate packed with stone fruit. Arras demonstrated why this continues to highlight the excellence quality that Tasmania can provide.
New Zealand were represented by No1 Family Estate, with three entries with my favourite being the elegant and superb Cuvée Virigine 2009, a beautifully balanced wine that oozes class. The Krug 1996 highlighted how the great Champagnes of France age so gracefully, and this 1996 was in top condition.
South African Prestige highlights
And now to South Africa. How would they stand the ‘Prestige’ tag, they were a delight with two clear winners for me Cuvée Clive 2012 from Graham Beck and Charles Fox Cipher RM 2012. The Cipher is a marvel, a classic Vintage Champagne style, creamy, nutty, citrus peel, mouth filling, so good that I am off to see Charles and Zeren Fox later this week.
Silverthorn Jewel Box highlighted why this wine is held in such high esteem, by the likes of Tim Atkin MW. It is a classic rich full sparkling wine that is balanced with bright berries, white cherries, nutty elegance, creamy texture and toasty brioche. I have got to know John Loubser and admire the dedication and quality that he produces across the board.
Other highlights included the Simonsig Cuvée as well as Steenberg’s Lady R 2012. Young blood to look out for as future stars include Paul Gerbier of Le Lude and his extraordinary Agrafe style (where bottles are stored in cork not crown caps). Both the Brut and Vintage Agrafe are wines that exceed expectation and without question will become legends in due time.
So in conclusion the sparkling scene is pretty exciting in South Africa and I look forward to seeing more of the prestigious and vintage styles in the UK soon.
Sparkling Sunday – Full List of Wines
L’Avenir Brut Rose
Pongracz Rose NV
Kleine Zalze Rose
Graham Beck Rose NV
Silverthorn – The Genie Rose
Simonsig Pinot Noir Vintage Rose – Woolworths – 2015
Allee Blue Rose 2014
Graham Beck Vintage Rose 2012
Jacques Bruere Rose 2011
Dainty Bees Pinot Noir 2014
Blends of Brut
Graham Beck Zero
Taittinger Brut NV – Champagne, France
Graham Beck Brut NV – Pinot Noir/ Chardonnay
Kleine Zalze Brut
Thelema Brut 2014
Allee Bleue 2013
Villiera Monro Brut 2011
Jacques Bruere Reserve 2010
Andy Mitchell Pinot Noir/Chardonnay 2011
Klein Zalze Chardonnay Pinot Noir 2011
Krone Borealis 2016
Le Lude Vintage 2012
Blanc de Blancs (Chardonnay)
La Bri – Sauvage 2012
Rickety Bridge Blanc de Blancs
Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs 2013
Charles Fox Blanc de Blanc 2013
Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs 2013, England
Hattingley Blanc de Blancs 2011, England
Jacques Bruere Blanc de Blancs 2010
Silverthorn – The Green Man
Villiera Brut Nature Chardonnay
Colmant Blanc de Blancs NV
Charles Fox Cipher RM 2012
Lourensford 89 Cuvée 2007
Krone Twee Jonge Gezellen 2001
Number One Family Assemble, N.Z
Cuvée Adele, New Zealand
Cuvée Virginie, 2009, New Zealand
Arras 2008, Australia
Jansz 2005, New Zealand
Dermot Sugrue Cuvée Dr Brendan O’Regan, England
Graham Beck Cuvée Clive 2012
Krug 1996, Champagne, France
Simonsig Cuvée Royal Blanc de Blancs 2011
Steenberg Lady R 2012
Silverthorn Jewel Box
Singular grapes (Other than Chardonnay & Pinot Noir)
Ken Forrester Sparkle Horse Chenin 2015
Delaire Graff – Sunrise Brut MCC