At the tasting the other night, we tried 19 wines in total, all sparkling, and generally all very good to excellent. With 19 wines though, I hope I can be forgiven for not writing up a detailed note about each region, the grapes used, the producer and the wine itself. I love drinking and writing, but I have my limits. So instead, I’m going to go into a bit more detail on one of the wines.
I think Ross Gower Pinot Noir Brut 2007 is worthy of a bit more attention. It gets to my love of the novel and obscure, which is also why I brought it to the tasting. The Champagnes are popular and well distributed enough that they’re likely available anywhere in the world, and I just recently wrote about an Australian sparkler, so that leaves me to choose between the English sparkling wines from Nytimber or this Cap Classique. I hope to write about Nytimber at some point, as English sparklers are an interesting and relatively new phenomenon, but Cap Classique is at least as rare in these parts, and since I was the one who brought it to the tasting, having carried it here from South Africa, I can’t let this opportunity go to waste.
So, this is a wine of South Africa. The very first post of this blog was about a South African wine, and while I’ve only been to South Africa a couple of times, I’m very fond of it as a country and as a country of origin for some very interesting wines. Unfortunately, while they’re very easy to find in places where locals consume more wine than they produce, such as London, South African wines aren’t as common around here, and in fact there are precious few that make it to our fair shores. South Africa is generally considered a New World wine region, but it’s a bit more complicated than that in that wine has been produced there since the 17th century, with a dessert wine from near Cape Town, Vin de Constance, internationally regarded as a particularly fine wine at that time.
The complete history of wine in South Africa is beyond the scope of this simple blog, but suffice it to say that in recent history the wine was not internationally widely available nor well regarded during the Apartheid era. However, over the last twenty years things have been changing rapidly for the better. International markets opened, investments were made in viticultural and oenological technology, and flying winemakers brought international expertise into the local industry. South Africa has much in common with Chile and Argentina, in that land and labour costs are relatively low, certainly compared with Europe. French barrels and European presses cost the same pretty much everywhere, so South Africa enjoys the competitive advantage found in much of the New World. However, generally speaking they don’t have the history/prestige that can command the high prices of their Old World rivals, so their wines, particularly their quality wines, can often be very good value.
Elgin is a region within South Africa I have not visited, but looking at the map I’m fairly certain I drove through parts of it while travelling between Franschhoek where I was staying and Hermanus where I visited a few Walker Bay wineries. I’ve seen it described as the coolest wine region of South Africa, and for those people who haven’t been there and who think of South Africa as a warm country, I have one word: penguins. OK, so not in Elgin, but not far. Elgin is more properly known as Elgin Valley, and it’s a plateau bordered by mountains, about 10km from the ocean. It has an altitude of 300 metres, with cold, wet winters, and cool sea breezes in the summer. Shale is the soil type most often referenced with regard to the region.
Pinot Noir is the sole grape in this wine, and it has a long history in sparkling wine. As one of the three cornerstone grapes of Champagne (along with a few other minor grapes often overlooked), it does well in cool climates, and like most red grapes has pale flesh and clear juice (unlike the Saperavi I recently tried). I’ve written about Pinot Noir enough that there isn’t a whole lot more I can say, other than that there are a few excellent Pinot Noirs from South Africa, with two neighbours just outside of Elgin toward Hermanus, Hamilton Russell and Bouchard Finlayson, producing two of the best.
A quick note about the winemaking – this is a Méthode Cap Classique. If something is Champagne, it means it is from Champagne and conforms to a certain set of requirements in terms of which grapes are used, how they are grown, harvested, what yields are permitted, how the grapes are pressed, fermented, aged, bottled, what have you. It’s much more than just a region – it’s a whole set of rules, but with the name Champagne comes a great brand and expectations of a certain quality level from the product. The winemaking method used is termed méthode traditionnelle, and while no one outside of Champagne can call their wine Champagne, they are free to use that term if they conform to the required techniques.
South Africa went one step better, in my humble opinion, in that they came up with their own term to describe sparkling wine from South Africa which conforms to the méthode traditionnelle, and have branded it Méthode Cap Classique. Many other countries fumble with saying sparkling wine and then having to also specify which country, but Cap Classique speaks to both country and method.
Ross Gower, the producer, passed away in 2010 between when this wine was made and when it was enjoyed, but the business is still in the family and his two sons are carrying on in his place. He was educated in winemaking in South Africa, but worked in the wine trade in Germany and New Zealand. He returned to South Africa and was recruited to recreate the Vin de Constance I mentioned at the top, which had disappeared as a product. He set up his own company in 2003 and Ross Gower the company has a range of seven wines, with this sparkler, two reds, a rosé and three whites.
As to this wine, I must apologize for the photo. This wine has a beautiful color, but I didn’t get around to the photographs until after it had been poured to everyone at the tasting. It’s a very pale rosé, but not pink. It’s in the salmon to onion skin range, which the winery describes as “eye of the partridge”. I have not been eye to eye with a partridge, but it’s quite lovely.
On the nose were classic yeasty and biscuity notes, but underpinned with some citrus and a hint of strawberry. I have to admit though that I tend to pick up red fruit characters from rosé and from Pinot Noir based wines even when they’re not there. On the palate the citrus character came to the fore, with zingy acidity. While this is a sparkling wine with no dosage, the fruit was still strong enough to balance out the acidity without requiring sweetening. A very nice wine, and I wish I had another few bottles.