Miguel Chan, Group Sommelier of Southern Sun Hotels, will be one of the judges in this year’s Amorim Cork Cap Classique Challenge. The competition aims to identify South Africa’s top Cap Classiques and is an annual highlight on the wine calendar. This year the results will be announced by Wine magazine on 18 August at Bosman’s, the Grand Roche.
What are the non-negotiable characteristics of a good M√©thode Cap Classique (MCC)?
‚Ä¢ Diversity has its place, but quality MCC should be vintage in style: South Africa benefits from ample sunlight to ripen grapes and obtain full fruit flavours, as well as express the characteristics of a particular year.
‚Ä¢ Freshness; one of the main reasons one will find an excuse to pop the cork is MCC’s ability to invigorate and elicit a spirit of celebration. The bubbles and the resulting mousse ought to be fine and consistent, rising rapidly and lasting for at least 45 minutes after having been poured in the glass.
‚Ä¢ It should be made from classic, traditional Champagne varieties, i.e Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and one should not overlook Pinot Meunier in a South African climate context. There are one or two out there that have Pinot Meunier in the blend and certainly add to overall complexity.
‚Ä¢ Character should not driven by oak or fake yeasty / autolysis character, which can be imparted. Clean fruit flavours, with just the right amount of subtle oak integration, fresh and vibrant, ripe acidity is key; a persistent clean leesy, brioche character.
Are there any inherent characteristics/ features embodied in SA MCC that distinguish it from other countries’ bubbles?
Compared to Prosecco from Italy and Cava from Spain, where they use regional varieties, South African MCC has the edge in that most producers use the classic or traditional Champagne varieties. This is very important, however, it’s a fact that on the whole the rest of the world is not aware of this. As with most factors in wine, when the foundation is good, great things can be expected going forward.
The other main advantages of the majority of MCC wines is the price/quality ratio in relation to similar bottle-fermented offerings from around the world. South Africa offers amazing value, again a kind of best-kept secret of the wine world. However, a word of warning: here a few producers of late are getting quite ambitious in their pricing strategy, which is not justified and when the cost of an MCC is more than landed Champagne, this could potentially hurt the category’s image. It is just too early to embark on this high-end marketing strategy.
You judge an array of wine styles. As a judge, what do you look for in MCC. For example, is aroma as important as it is when judging something like Pinot Noir?
As enumerated above, besides cleanness, freshness, subtle oak integration and good clean leesy character and persistent length, what I look at when judging various wine styles is their relation to a benchmark style. In this instances, the benchmark for judging MCC should be Champagne, the great Franciacorta’s, and other classics from Champagne houses. When they are made outside Champagne, there are some very good examples from USA or Australia.
Yes, aroma is important especially in relation to the variety use, as well as the age of the wine. An advanced /aged aroma in a young vintage, for example, is a definite fault. However, I always support restraint rather than showiness or overt, extrovert aromatics. One has to simply look at the benchmark wines to understand this.
When judging what is the ideal temperature for MCC?
I would say the most important aspect is more to do with the timing of pouring prior to assessment, as we are not dealing with Champagne here, which tends to have a more consistent bubble (245 million per bottle!) and is longer lasting in the glass. Therefore smaller flights are welcome, and yes, temperature is key when one is enjoying a full bottle. But when assessing wine, 1 or 2 degrees warmer than the advisable serving temperature is better as not only does it highlight and broaden both the olfactory and organoleptic complexity but it also reveals any possible faults that might be masked by lower temperatures. To my mind a temperature of 8 to 11 degrees Celsius is perfect.
Is this ideal serving temperature?
6 to 8 degrees Celsius and ideally in a chilled white wine glass (sherry style) rather than a flute, it releases more complexity, the aromatics are way too compressed in traditional flute.
The category is growing locally among producers and consumers. Why do SA consumers go for MCC?
Indeed it is one wine category I, as sommelier, have personally experienced to be consistently growing ‚ year-on-year over the last eight years. This is very good indeed, for the wine industry and for South Africa on the whole.
I believe one of the main reasons is the affordable price vs quality ratio, (that’s why I raised the concern about ambitious pricing of late). There is certainly a great amount of MCC expertise out there.
One should also remember quality bottle-fermented sparkling wine is not only a celebratory wine, but can be enjoyed anytime from breakfast to bedtime. As such it has versatility hard to match by other styles and can be enjoyed with or without food.
Can you name major areas of improvement in MCC wines that you have noticed over the past, say, 10 yrs?
Certainly the emergence of a cleaner, fresher style with finer more consistent bubbles, better oak management where relevant, and the near expert handling of dosage. Also, most label information is clear and informative, which is great for building a strong relationship with the consumer.
Is there a style popular among consumers, but neglected by producers ‚ i.e. fruity, semi-sweet?
A style popular with consumers but not well marketed by producers is a Demi Sec or higher dosage wine.
It is great for the uninitiated and novice drinker, but a hit too with the more seasoned and demanding palate – as long as they are not told it is Demi Sec, otherwise the comment then is that the wine is suddenly too sweet!
The Demi Sec style is great as an aperitif or paired with rich food and dessert. I’m In no way suggesting it’s the main route to go for a future MCC style, which is more than sufficiently available. Better communication with the customer will lead to a greater appreciation for these wines.
Is there merit in aging MCC’s?
It is a young category in itself and South Africa does not have the depth of vintages from which to draw. One also has to bear in mind that the style made in earlier days was not necessarily the very best example of quality bottle-fermented sparkling wines. However, I have come across some vintage 1989, 1990 Pinot Noir (JC Le Roux) and magnums of Chardonnays that were in perfect condition after 19 and 21 years.
I can only guess the new wave of traditionally made MCC with classic varieties kept under the right condition will show the most potential to improve over the years.
What are your ideal food pairings for MCC?
Fun pairing rather than fine pairings is my advice. Do not be afraid to experiment as there is no rule for a perfect pairing. Wine should be fun to discover as such. I suggest Sushi or Sashimi, Tempuras, hearty breakfasts, seared tuna steak, crab, quail, puff pastries, Wellington style beef, Coconut base curries, most Asian dishes such as Indian, Thai and Vietnamese, egg dishes (notoriously difficult to paired with wines) and soups. As the above are fairly generic guidelines, the most important factor when it comes to pairings is the method of cooking, which is often ignored. I would recommend three main types that do well with MCC: steaming, frying and roasting.