With the new year upon us, Cap Classique is our drink of choice. The pop of a cork is the soundtrack to summer at Haute Cabrière, and it’s a wine style we have always held dear. But where does it come from? How is it made? And what makes a Cap Classique so special anyway? Well, we’re shedding some light on the style and how we honour its French roots at Haute Cabrière.
THE ORIGIN STORY
Cap Classique first became a reality in the Cape Winelands exactly 50 years ago, in 1971. Frans Malan, after visiting the Champagne region in France, had the vision to establish a Champagne-style wine in South Africa. The Champagne region is home to the world’s naturally fermented sparkling wine method, and it was this technique that was then applied in South Africa and became known as Cap Classique.
So here’s the question – is Cap Classique the same as Champagne? Yes, and no. Yes it’s the same method, no it’s not the same wine. Champagne has, in later years, restricted use of the term ‘Champagne’ to only apply to those wines produced in the region with this method. While South African Cap Classique is made in the same traditional method (Méthode Cap Classique), the grapes of origin are South African making Cap Classique unique to our wine region. Since the style was brought to South Africa 50 years ago, the industry has seen enormous growth and quality from Cap Classique producers, and a lot of love from sparkling lovers.
GROW | The character of a wine starts with grapes from a well-tended vineyard – a recipe is only as good as the ingredients, right? Cap Classique therefore begins in the vineyards and is differentiated in the cellar.
FERMENT | Like Champagne, Cap Classique is all about a second fermentation in the wine bottle. Once the first fermentation is complete, the Cellar Master adds a bit of fresh yeast and a few grams of sugar to every single bottle before bottling with a ‘crown cork’ (essentially, a bottle cap which can be easily removed). The bottle then rests to allow this fermentation to happen. This combination creates (a bit of extra alcohol – score!) and the all-important distinguishing bubble, or “mousse”.
MATURE | After the fermentation in the bottle, the yeast is left in the bottle for a minimum of 15 months so that the unique flavour of the yeast evolves the character of the wine for richness, and a slightly buttery taste as well as the warm ‘golden’ hue. The longer the yeast stays in the bottle the better, more classic the taste. For the French, maturation with yeast has to be a minimum of 3 years to classify as the more exclusive ‘vintage’ Champagne.
DEGORGE | De-gorging is the action to remove the yeast from the bottle. The bottles are gently shaken while upside down, which moves the yeast behind the cork. Once upside down, the bottle neck is then frozen in a cold liquid ‘bath’ and the crown cork is removed. With the great pressure that has built up in the bottle, the frozen yeast is forced out and only pure Cap Classique remains.
DOSAGE | With the yeast gone, the bottle is no longer full. Each bottle receives a dosage – or a ‘top up’ – traditionally with a sweet, late-harvest wine to return a bit of fruity sweetness to the otherwise bone try Cap Classique. Depending on the sweetness of the dosage, the CC is classified as Brut (dry), Brut Naturale (very dry) or Nectar (sweetish).
ENJOY | Finally, the bottle will be corked with a natural cork that is tied down with a metal ‘string’ and cap, labelled and enjoyed! Store it upright in a cool spot with no direct sunlight. To serve, Cap Classique should be cold at 7 degrees. A 10-minute period in the deep freeze works wonders because the colder it is, the more refreshing. Open a bottle for special occasions, or for no reason at all, in the morning or at night – you see, Cap Classique is the perfect wine to enjoy no matter the weather, occasion or time of day.
PIERRE JOURDAN CAP CLASSIQUES
At Haute Cabrière, our Pierre Jourdan Cap Classiques are made from varying blends and percentages of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (the traditional French Champagne varietals). We find that Chardonnay contributes elegance, while Pinot Noir contributes complexity and structure – the perfect blend. In fact, we love these two varietals so much that our entire portfolio of wines is dedicated to them.
CO2 = the mousse (or the bubbles) has a relaxing effect on a stressed or tired consumer making Cap Classique a great ‘welcoming drink’ – relaxing guests from the moment they arrive (also perfect after a stressful week). It’s no wonder we love it at New Year’s after a long and busy year!
Cap Classique is also much more than a welcome drink. Depending on the vintage and character of the wine, Cap Classique makes for wonderful food and wine pairings – especially dessert to lift the spirits and end on a happy note.
Our own range of Cap Classiques, Pierre Jourdan, was in fact the first wines produced by Haute Cabrière and Achim von Arnim. Achim was the first Cellar Master to create a Cap Classique from the traditional Champagne varietals of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – now seen as the staple blend of the Cap Classique industry.
The original owner’s land which produces Champagne wine is typically honoured by having the Champagne named after them. Haute Cabrière continued this French tradition by naming the Pierre Jourdan range of Cap Classiques after Cabrière’s French Huguenot proprietor.
Achim believes the bigger the occasion – the bigger the bottle. Cap Classique can be found in magnums and salmanazars – perfect for a momentous memory!
Haute Cabrière is the home of sabrage in South Africa with Achim having reintroduced the art to the Cape Winelands in the 90s. Armed with traditional French sabres, you can find the von Arnim family deftly removing the top of a bottle to mark special occasions, sunsets, and to open special events.