The South African Sommelier Association is set to become a significant force when it comes to shaping the debate around fine wine in South Africa if its monthly tastings are anything to go by – I signed up as a “Wine Enthusiast” member earlier in the year (R300 to join, precluded from voting at the AGM) and so far have attended “sweet wines of the world” in February and yesterday an exploration of the effect of autolysis on sparkling wine hosted by Simonsig’s Johan Malan.
Key take-out was once again what an extraordinary number of variables there are in the Méthode Cap Classique production process which go towards determining the quality of the end-product: the role of different varieties in the assemblage, the impact of different ripeness levels at picking, the use of oak, disgorgement and dosage and of course time on the lees versus time on cork.
What makes matters even more complicated is that the outcome of applying any one technique is not readily predictable – a Kaapse Vonkel 2003 disgorged in 2006 (pleasantly honeyed) was in much better shape than a 2003 disgorged in 2013 (overly autolytic) but it was the other way around when we came to the 2000 vintage, the wine disgorged in 2013 (really complex) outshining the wine disgorged in 2004 (oxidised).
Wine of the day was the Kaapse Vonkel 1999, which spent 150 months on the lees, before being disgorged in 2013. Intense citrus, honey, a lively mousse and bright acidity – still very much intact. Score: 91/100.
This wine, which originally won the inaugural Amorim Cap Classique Challenge in 2002, included 51% Chardonnay whereas Kaapse Vonkel is usually Pinot Noir led. “I started out thinking that the red varieties of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier were best suited to this area but our stand-out vintages tend to see Chardonnay feature strongly. This is a business with very long-term time horizons,” says Malan.