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Simonsig is an example of a high-quality Cap Classique producer. Its sparkling wines in the USA start at about $20.
Simonsig is an example of a high-quality Cap Classique producer. Its sparkling wines in the USA start at about $20.

by Andrew Chalk

I love Champagne, the sparkling wine from France that virtually defines the act of celebration. However, with prices now north of $35 per bottle, it is also the most expensive style of sparkling wine. In fact, I have already stopped using Champagne in my bath to soak in.

So what do you do? Is there a ‘drinkalike’ that costs less? It turns out there are actually several contenders and pretenders from around the world. What prompted this article was a sample from a part of the world that, too often, flies under the radar: South Africa.


In South Africa, they produce sparkling wine…

-- using the same grapes as Champagne (chardonnay and pinot noir);

-- using the same method as Champagne. Secondary fermentation in the bottle to produce the bubbles. The South Africans call this method méthode cap classique. The champenois call it méthode traditionnelle (but used to call it méthode champenoise).

-- the packaging, under a champagne cork wrapped in a soft wire cage (known as an agraffe in French).

-- most is non-vintage, like Champagne. At the very high end, vintage wines are made as well;

-- the minimum time the wine rests in the bottle for the second fermentation and aging is twelve months, but the good producers often age it longer;

-- rosé versions are also made and in the same way (red wines are mixed with the white)

-- each producer is aiming for a house style, so they hold wine back in plentiful years to blend into the years with shy harvests;

Since South Africa is warmer than Champagne (the most northerly grape-growing area in France) grapes for méthode cap classique wine are grown on southeasterly facing slopes, ideally with altitude and maritime breezes. Careful leaf (canopy) management is important as well.

There are differences of course. Chenin blanc, steen in the South African argot), is used in the whites and pinotage in the rosé There are some other bit-player blending grapes as well. And meunier (32% of Champagne plantings) is MIA.


What does that all mean? A wine with striking Champagne characteristics but, due to fundamental economic and currency exchange rate reasons, sells for about half the price.

Now that is something to celebrate!



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