UK drinkers can be forgiven for not having tried much Cap Classique before. The South African traditional method bubbles has a flagship producer in Graham Beck, with stock listing in Waitrose and Majestic Wine, amongst others, but going up against the classic Champagne or Cava, the marketing drives from Franciacorta and Crémant, and the burgeoning English bubbles scene, it’s not all that easy. But to a certain extent that doesn’t hugely matter, the local market doesn’t leave much left over for anyone!
I met up with RJ Botha, winemaker at Kleine Zalze, at the London Wine Fair yesterday. I’d met RJ a couple of years earlier, and tried through really well made South African classics like Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and the mighty (in my humble opinion) Pinotage. I always take any opportunity to try their Family Reserve Range if it’s around.
But this year RJ was keen that me and my friend Serena (winemaker at English vineyard, Gusbourne) try out their Cap Classique for the first time. I’ve never visited South Africa, but the stories of the all the different micro climates all over Stellenbosch ring true when RJ explained they started the idea in 2009, just to see if it would work.
We tried the Brut, a 60:40 Chardonnay:Pinot blend. 12 months on the lees in bottle, really vibrant fruit, and that slightly off dry finish (bit of residual sugar) really gave the fruit an extra punch. That’d start your Braai off well enough!
So has the experiment worked? Well RJ is only showing it at the London Wine Fair to garner opinions on it. They actually have nearly no stock left. The 100,000 bottles of Brut they make per year are snaffled up by South Africans. The 70,000 bottles of Rosé the same.
Obviously those numbers are a drop in the ocean when you look at the 170m bottles a year produced by Cava giant, Freixenet, alone. But it was clearly a shock to RJ at how high the local demand is for quality bubbles, and if guys like that are realising the business that’s there to be had, a boom in Cap Classique is sure to follow in the years to come.