The great bubbly shoot-out

By , 10 December 2012

France 1st, SA, 2nd, SA 3rd.

From the December issue of Business Day WANTED out last Friday:

The festive season lends itself to drinking bubbles but which bubbles? If you opt for Méthode Cap Classique, there’s always the anxiety that you’re forfeiting quality for economy while if you choose Champagne, then there’s the suspicion that you’re paying for extrinsics rather than intrinsics, branding playing a huge role in the desirability of the French stuff.

Towards ensuring that you serve the bubbles with the best quality relative to price these holidays, WANTED put 10 examples of Cap Classique up against 10 Champagnes and these were tasted blind by a panel of three experts.

A couple of provisos: the examples of Cap Classique were selected on the basis of generally being considered best in category while the Champagnes were the non-vintage offerings of some of the bigger houses, not usually the finest but widely available and priced to be within reach of most WANTED readers.

For the uninitiated, the point also needs to be made that MCC is necessarily something that Champagne isn’t – thanks to fundamentally different climates, Cap Classique is typically significantly lower in residual sugar but also lower in total acidity than Champagne.

Even so, Cap Classique in the same line-up as Champagne doesn’t happen that often as both sets of producers have much to lose if there particular offering were to be shown up.

Based on this particular tasting, South Africa’s best offerings are now starting to run non-vintage Champagne close. The Laurent-Perrier Brut emerged best overall but was not that far ahead of the Monro 2007 from Villiera and the Blanc de Blancs 2008 from Graham Beck, both from South Africa. Moreover, out of the nine wines to rate 4 Stars or better, five were Cap Classique and four were Champagne.

Winemaking technique among local producers is now so sophisticated that discerning a sense of place with any real sense of confidence is almost impossible. Of the three panel members, I managed to correctly identify the country of origin for 10 out of 20, Carrie Adams 11 out of 20 and James Pietersen eight out of 20.

The panel was unanimous on country of origin in the case of the Graham Beck Brut Blanc de Blancs, only to be spectacularly wrong in that we all thought it was French. We did however all agree that the Krone Borealis Cuvée Brut 2009 was South African. And other than that, there was no consensus…

Regardless of the ratings below, WANTED readers should be aware of two basic styles across both Cap Classique and Champagne, these being: 1) freshness and elegance; and 2) richness and creaminess. The top performing Laurent-Perrier for instance is very much an example of the first while Ruinart typifies the second – Adams gave this wine a rating of 18/20 (equivalent to 5 Stars) whereas Pietersen and I found it had too much yeasty character.  Read the tasting notes carefully and perhaps try a few of the more highly rated wines towards working out what best suits your palate.

I chaired the panel and was joined by Carrie Adams and James Pietersen. Adams is co-owner of liquor retailer Norman Goodfellows and is also involved in distribution with Panniers and Hook & Lambert, shuttling wine to consumers and restaurants all over the country. Pietersen is beverage manager and head sommelier for Belthazar and Balducci’s restaurants in Cape Town. He also tastes for Platter’s and judges widely.


Four and a Half Stars
1. Laurent-Perrier Brut
Citrus and a subtle bread-like note. Clean and pure with driving acidity and a fine mousse. Extremely elegant.

Four Stars
2. Villiera Munro Brut 2007
Price: R176*
Complex nose showing citrus blossom, lemon and brioche. Palate is relatively rich and full with a creamy mousse and bright acidity. Appealing marzipan undertone.

3. Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008
Price: R237*
Lemon and green apples, some smokiness. Good palate weight, well integrated acidity. Somewhat unusual but very rewarding.

Four Stars
Bollinger Special Cuvée
Price: R756*
Golden delicious apple, honey and some biscuit-like character – shows pleasant secondary character. Has good depth and length.

Boschendal Grande Cuvée Brut 2007
Price: R124*
Citrus and some attractive yeasty character. Rich and full with a fine mousse and tangy acidity.

Bon Courage Jacques Bruére Brut Reserve 2008
Price: R145*
Yellow and red apple, some yeasty character. Concentrated fruit, good line of acidity, creamy mousse.

J.C. Le Roux Scintilla 2003
Price: R179*
Lemon, green apple as well as some evolved, nutty character. The acidity is quite pronounced while the mousse is soft and creamy.

Pol Roger Brut Réserve
Price: R513*
Subtle nose showing apple, almond and marmite. Good flavour intensity, bright acidity, fine mousse. Classy.

Veuve Clicquot Brut
Price: R379.90*
Citrus, green and red apple, some yeasty character. Medium bodied with tangy acidity and a creamy mousse.

Three and a Half Stars
Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve
Price: R560*
Rich and full. Brioche and liquorice flavours – shows some evolution. Moderate acidity.

Colmant Brut Chardonnay
Price: R167*
Shy nose. Green apple and a slight savoury edge on the palate. Very tight with prominent acidity and a fine mousse.

Krone Borealis Cuvée Brut 2009
Price: R192*
Peculiar in that it shows an oxidative quality (“bruised apple”). Also some nuttiness and tangy acidity.

Piper-Heidsieck Brut
Price: R497*
Lime, green apple and some smokiness on the nose. Relatively lean with bright acidity and a fine mousse.

Ruinart Brut
Price: R599.95*
Very secondary with notes of nuts and honeyed toast. Some rancio. Rich and broad with a moderate acidity and soft mousse.

Taittinger Brut
Price: R399.50*
Shy nose. Lem-lime fruit, bracing acidity, energetic mousse. Clean and fresh – quintessential Champagne.

Three Stars
Louis Roederer Brut
Price: R579*
Overtly nutty on the nose and palate. Rich and round with fresh acidity lending balance but seems overly developed.

Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial
Price: R349*
Fruity nose. Sweet on entry with an explosive mousse and soft acidity. A crowd-pleaser.

Silverthorn Jewel Box 2009
Price: R183*
Pleasant secondary character – biscuit and liquorice. Rich but balanced by vibrant acidity.

Simonsig Cuvée Royale 2007
Price: R208*
Citrus and lots of yeasty, savoury notes. Energetic mousse, zesty acidity.

Two Stars
Pongrácz Desiderius 2001
Price: R286*
Caramelised sugar and pronounced leesy (“stinky cheese”) character on the nose and palate. Past its best.

* Prices exclusive to Norman Goodfellows Fine Wine and Spirits Merchants and correct at time of going to press. To order, contact Carrie Adams on tel. 011 788 4814 or email


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