South Africa produces a wide range of wine, & although I've tasted some crap from there, I've found I rather enjoy many of their wines. Although I usually prefer Champagne, I do enjoy other sparkling wines for sure, and a last minute business trip to South Africa was a perfect chance to try an array of them. I'm pleasantly surprised with both cheap and good sparklers and some less cheap but wonderful wines. Several tasting notes follow, and I'm actually sitting in Johannesburg, just back from Capetown, and having a lovely Blanc de blancs as I type.
Update: On my second South African trip now, May 2013 - you'll see a bunch of additional tasting notes, which simple reinforce my opinions. Some outstanding wines and a lot of extremely pleasant and very fun to drink wines around US$10-12 dollars local max.
South African Sparking Wine, occasionally incorrectly referred to as South African Champagne, is usually called Method Cap Classique (often abbreviated MCC), their term for Methode Champenoise. They also produce some wines using the cheaper Charmat method which Prosecco and Asti use (secondary fermentation in bulk tanks instead of in each bottle). And some of the cheapest just pump CO2 into the wines.
Unless otherwise stated, all the wines below are made by the Method Cap Classique a.k.a. Methode Champenoise.
Although Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc were commonly used in the past, today more commonly traditional Champagne grapes are used: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. Traditional types of sparkling wine are produced including, Bruts, Roses, Blanc de blancs and more. You might also run across Pinotage based red sparkling wine. In general, the Roses are NOT South Africa's strong point, although most are pleasant enough.
The quality is surprisingly high and the prices low for SA sparkling wine, perhaps reflecting the lower costs in South Africa than, for example, California or France. Sparkling wines are produced in several wine regions in South Africa. Wine regions are officially named via the "Wine of Origin" or WO program, roughly similar to the French Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) system. We won't go into details here, but many sparkling wines are made near Capetown (a great area to visit).
One may wonder the wisdom of writing about wines that are not widely available. For example, as of this writing 2012, with 2013+ updates) I believe that only Graham Beck wines are available in the USA, and just a few more in the UK. However, the quality and variety speak for themselves and South Africa is going rapidly from an ignored wine region to one that is getting more notice, and more wines are being exported. Someday, perhaps not too long off, we will see a wider variety available far more globally. Besides, I'm having fun drinking and writing, although ostensible in South Africa on business as a computer hacker (I'm one of the good guys).
Tasting Note: Colmant Brut Reserve - March 2014, rated B-
Bought about 12 months ago in South Africa and brough home. Half Chardonnay and half Pinot Noir. Matured on its lees 24 months minimum in Franschhork.
The nose had some minerals and earth, bright citrus, fresh cut delicious apple, and baked apple with air. Very nice.
The palate had spicy lemon-lime, some pineapple, pretty big and mouthpucking. Apple in the mid palate.
The palate was just too much intense citrus, to rate a higher score. It was good, and maybe it would have been better with perhaps a spicy chili shrimp dish. It was so strong that when I had a sip after eating some peanuts, I could feel it scouring away the peanut remenants from my teeth like a chemical reaction!
Tasting Note: Graham Beck 2005 Brut Zero - May 2013, rated B+/A-
I was looking forward to finding a better bottle or two of Graham Beck, some non exported bottles, and was happy to find this zero dosage (no added sugar) wine in Johannesburg.
I'm not always a zero dosage fan, and think some wineries do it because it is fashionable, but I like what they wrote on the bottle - how zero dosage is "like walking a tightrope without a safety net: there is no margin of error." Yup, indeed.
The nose is very nice and delicate with lovely fresh apple. Slightly creamy lemon.
Very dry on the palate as expected. Man I like this a lot. Reticent yet lovely apple. A slight sparky spicy quality, toasty and little bit of lemon.
A little stark, some may use the word "transparent," and despite liking it a lot, it's not a wine for everyone. I can't help but wonder if it might be better with a very few grams of dosage?
Still, they set out to make a zero dosage and made a damn good one - I respect that! I'll be very glad to drink this again if I get the chance.
Tasting Note: J.C. LeRoux La Vallee Rose - May 2013, rated B-
J.C. Leroux only makes sparkling wines, and this rose (see the La Vallee non Rose review below). This wine is described as both "off dry" and "Demi-sec." It is sweet with 35 grams per litre of residual sugar, similar to the non-rose version, and similarly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Tastes much sweeter than the non rose version as well.
A medium pinkish color.
The nose has red fruits and chalky minerals. Some strawberry.
It is semi sweet to the taste, and quite mello with no harsh edges. Sweet tropical but not overly exotic fruits.
Tastes much sweet than the La Vallee non-Rose. Not quite my style. I do prefer South African Bruts and Blanc de blancs in general so you may like this more than me!
Tasting Note: Krone Brut Rose 2008 - May 2013, Rated B
Light pink/amber in color.
A reticent although pleasant nose, which with some encouragement has some minerals, a tad of red apple, maybe some spicy pear. Really it's primarily reticent however with some minerals.
A nice mouthfeel with some strawberry tones. Great balance.
This is a fun wine to drink. It's more about mouthfeel than anything
else. A texture wine.
I should retry sometime - enjoyed it but didn't get many flavors from this bottle.
Tasting Note: Bon Cap Organic Brut 2006 - May 2013, Rated B+/A-
Made with organic grapes. Origin Robertson.
A very pleasant bottle of wine! A bit more complexity would have scored an A-.
The nose has apple, a spicy minerality, and a wee bit of chalk.
Palate is creamy with very fresh apple, nicely buoyant acidity, and some spicyness.
This is a beautiful bottle of wine!
Bon Cap Web site
Tasting Note: Villiera Brut "The Black Label" 2007 - May 2013, Rated A-
About US$18 in South Africa.
The nose is lemon, lime, bread dough and some minerals. Nice and warm.
The palate is quite concentrated, initially with primarily lemon and some lime, then primarily lime with a tweak of orange after a few minutes .Creaminess develops as it breathes.
After maybe 45 minutes of breathing a wonderfully creamy with warm orange overtones, some lime, and slightly spicy minerals
This is just going to get better and better with time.
Tasting Note: Pierre Jourdan Blanc de blancs - May 2013, Rated B+/A-
Pierre Jourdan is made by Haute Cabrière in the Franschhoek Wine Valley,. 40% of the base wine is aged in French oak casks, and it certainly shows, and shows well (note the Burgundian notes below).
The nose has earth, a touch of vanilla, and is very Burgundian (as in White Burgundy)
On the palate this is graceful and bordering on aristocratic with a nice is creamy character, earth, lime, a bit of orange and lemon, and once again Burgundian.
Tasting Note: Boschendal, Le Grand Pavillon de Boschendal Brut Rose - May 2013, B+
A light pink color with a good touch of copper
Nose: minerals, some rose petal
Palate: Delicate but with good mouthfeel and grip. Red fruits on the end - berries, strawberries. Undertones of refreshing apple.
Quaffable but not simple!
A delightful drink, although drinking blind I may not have picked it as a rose!
Tasting Note: Jacques Bruere 2008 Blanc de blancs - May, 2013, B+
Bottled by the Bruwer Family of Bon Courage. Aged 36 months on its lees. Origin Robertson.
The nose is creamy with hints of lime. Very elegant. A nice little bit of minerality.
Lime, a bit of vanilla, bread dough, a touch of lemon. Lemon blossoms (is there really such a thing? If so, that's what I'm smelling). Long and classy.
This is about US$12 in South Africa!
Tasting Note: Krone Borealis 2008 Brut - May, 2013, Johannesburg, rated B/B+
The nose has fresh cut apple, some tropical fruits, peach. With air, some cool chalky minerals intersperse with the fresh cut apple.
On the palate, green apple and apple peel. Some tropical fruits: perhaps guava. Nice warm and juicy impression. Orange citrus. Some definite mango.
As it warms and breathes, more a melody of South African tropical fruits, including some I've tasted and do not know the names of.
This is a warm friendly wine with plenty of charm. Very rich and juicy. No one would mistake this for Champagne, and it is a wonderful wine in its own right.
Tasting Note: Klein Constantia Brut 2009 - October, 2012, Johannesburg. Rated A- and I'm serious.
Oh friggin my! I wasn't expecting this level of quality from a sub US$20 bottle of wine!
Quite yellow in color with an abundance of mid sized bubbles.
The nose is simply oozing with lovely minerals, not unlike a Meursault. A saline quality I often find in young Chassagne and Puligy-Montrachets (sort of like dirty gym socks, but good!). Perhaps menthol. Sourdough bread.
Rich and long with plenty of minerals as well. Quite young. Apple. Apple sauce. Undercurrent of mango. Definite tangerine as it warms up.
I bet this would go extremely well with the local crocodile (yes, I am serious).
Klein also makes some other wonderful wines. I've only tried one of their dessert wines and have been impressed.
Tasting Note: Boschendal, Grand Cuvee Brut 2008 - Nov 2012, Rated B+
Light straw yellow with a tinge of orange.
The nice has apple, minerals, and chalk. A touch of pear.
Palate is immediately impressive with apple and spice. Primarily mineral driven. Lots of fun.
Interesting that it is a 2008. I don't know SA vintages, but that is
Tasting Note: Pongrancz Rose - Nov 2012, Rated B-, not bad but not enough stuffing!
Wild candy-ass pink color! Festive, but clearly not from Champagne!
The nose is a bit of raspberry and light red fruits. Some minerals
Pleasant and lightly fruity on the palate. Some raspberry. Not much complexity but fun.
Tasting Note: Meerendal 2007 Blanc de Blancs - Nov 2012 - Rated A-, but too young right now. Improved greatly as it breathed and warmed!
Very expensive by South African standards at about US$45 locally.
A light yet rich yellow with a medium amount of mid sized bubbles
The nose has peaches and minerals. A touch of spearmint. Some lime. This nose just gets classier and classier and more Burgundian (that means Burgundy like, there is no Burgundian Tribe here although that does sound African and tribal to this layman) as it breathes.
The palate is rich and elegant. Peaches, a touch on pineapple, a smidgen of honey (but not as in old). Lemon and lime as it warms and breathes.
Tasting Note: Steenburg 1682 Chardonnay - Rated B+ almost B+/A-. Just lovely and only about US$15 in South Africa.
Light Yellow. A Blanc de blancs although not labeled as such.
The nose starts with maritime notes and deep minerals. Similar to the Klein Constantia Brut 2009 above. Hints of orange citrus and papaya. A spicy and lively nose.
Fruits - some apple with underlying orange citrus. Lemon custard. Very smooth and lovely. Minerals.
Tasting Note: J.C. LeRoux La Vallee - Rated B+ and a steal at the (local South African) price!
J.C. LeRoux only makes sparkling wines and their wines were suggested by a whiskey drinking shared cab driving Zulu in Capetown. A more wine knowledgeable local wine aficionado described it as cheap wine. I decided to find out, and note, at slightly less than US$10 it IS cheap! LeRoux makes both "carbonated" (CO2 injected - the real cheap stuff) and Method Cap Classique wines.
This is a Method Cap Classique wine made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir they describe as "off dry" and "Demi-sec." It's very slightly sweet to my palate while cool despite 35 grams per litre of residual sugar (their Brut, for comparison, has 8.1 grams per litre). and as it warms it does take on a much sweeter, but just "off dry," characteristic to my palate.
Light golden in color.
The nose has apple and fresh pear and perhaps a touch of minerals. Light colored flowers.
It starts off as apple, perhaps fresh apple juice, to the palate and with air and white pear. A touch of orange citrus as it warms.
Not overly complex yet very well balanced and seamless. A steal for the price.
Tasting Note: J.C. LeRoux Naturally Lively White - Rated C, why bother! JC LeRoux makes much better stuff for a mere few bucks a bottle.
This is their "cheap stuff" - injected with CO2 to make bubbles, with a screw cap.
The nose is confectionary sugar and mango. It's sweet and fruity. Not sickly sweet, and it doesn't suck, but why bother when there are such better things to drink. I'm sure it serves its price point in the market well (maybe US$5 or so a bottle in South Africa).
Tasting Note: Graham Beck NV Brut - October, 2012, Johannesburg. Rated B
Medium yellow with lots of bubbles. A perfectly lovely bottle for about
$10 in South Africa and under $15 in the USA - a steal really.
53% Chardonnay and 47% Pinot Noir.
The nose has apples, a hint of pineapple, and perhaps a touch of yeast and minerals
On the palate it's slightly tart with ripe apples. Well balanced, and fun. A simple wine that is enjoyable. Most others seem to enjoy it somewhat more than do.
Tasting Note: Graham Beck NV Brut Rose - November 2012, Johannesburg. Rated B
A light to medium pinkish berry color - it looks like it will taste fruity.
The nose has berries - strawberries and raspberries. Some minerals.
Tastes of some berries with an undercurrent of apples, maybe some minerals on the palate. Pleasant enough but quite simplistic. I like the nose much better than the palate.
A great deal at the price, maybe US$10-12 in South Africa.
Also Tasted: Pierre Jourdan Cuvee Belle Rose - B, pleasant but not overly exciting.