South Africa’s Top Ten Sparkling Cuvées in 2020

Our just published report on South Africa’s Outstanding Sparkling Wines noted the high quality of the champenoise méthode (Méthode Cap Classique–MCC) bubblies made in the country. We also provided reviews of the many MCCs we tasted earlier this year. In this article, we focus on the best of the best—the top South African sparkling wines we tasted in 2020.  Our reviews are given below.

The Crème de la Crème

This list is our favorite sparkling wines from among those we tasted.  Three wines bubbled to the very top of our list:

  • Graham Beck 2014 Cuvée Clive
  • Colmant NV Absolu
  • Pieter Ferreira 2013 Blanc de Blancs

These three wines are notable for their elegance and complexity.  They’re Extra Brut in style with low residual sugar and have had extended time on the lees in bottle.  Like many luxury cuvées in Champagne (e.g., Dom Perigon), these are wines that will become still more expressive with some additional time in cellar.

The Crème 

Another seven MCCs rank just below the crème de la crème selections.  These are delicious, refined blends of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (and 10% Meunier in the case of the Charles Fox Cipher) except for the all Pinot Noir Pieter Ferriera Rosé and the all Chardonnay Krone Kaaimansgat Blanc de Blancs.  The Krone Kaaimansgat is also notable for being a single vineyard MCC sourced from one of the few South African vineyards that can see snow.  

  • Bon Courage 2011 Jacques Bruére Cuvée Brut Rosé
  • Charles Fox 2013 Cipher
  • Krone 2016 Kaaimansgat Blanc de Blancs
  • Le Lude 2013 Vintage Cuvée Brut
  • Pieter Ferreira 2013 Rosé
  • Saltaré NV Brut Nature
  • Silverthorn 2015 The Jewel Box

The tasting of wines is, of course, subjective, and one could argue that many other wines belong in the list of top South African sparklers.  Other very impressive MCCs we tasted include:  Avondale 2011 Armilla Blanc de Blancs, Graham Beck 2015 Blanc de Blancs and 2014 Vintage Rosé, Colmant NV Blanc de Blancs, L’Ormarins 2013 Blanc de Blancs, Simonsig 2014 Cuvée Royale Blanc de Blancs, Tanzanite NV Brut, and Villiera 2013 Monro Brut.  

The Wines

Graham Beck 2014 Cuvée Clive Western Cape 94 Cuvée Clive is Graham Beck’s prestige cuvée and one of the best MCCs made, in our opinion. It’s 100% Chardonnay sourced from two blocks on the Madeba farm, and it’s 100% barrel fermented.  It’s an elegant wine that combines finesse with outstanding freshness. The bouquet is graceful with a fine perfume of minerals, almonds, and flowers. The sense of refinement and freshness continues on the palate. The Cuvée Clive spends a minimum of 5 years on the lees and has less than 5 g/L residual sugar.  Delicious now, it should age and evolve beautifully. 

Bon Courage 2011 Jacques Bruére Cuvée Brut Rosé Robertson 93 Light bronze apricot color. Scents of tangerine and strawberry cream.  Bright on the attack with pure flavors of citrus, berry, cherry skin accented by a light toasty note on a well-balanced, voluminous palate, finishing dry with a lingering hint of sweet fruit.  An excellent, fruit driven sparkling rosé. A blend of 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay aged in bottle sur lie for 5 years with 6.6 g/L RS and 11.7% alc. 

Colmant NV Absolu Western Cape 94 All Chardonnay from Franschhoek and Robertson, Absolu sees extended time on the lees and less than 3 g/L dosage. It reveals a stony, mineral like nose with touches of citrus and toast and a super fine mousse. The bone-dry palate continues the theme with a dry, chalky texture, lemon and brioche notes.  Intense and focused, it’s surprisingly light on its feet. 15% of the base wine is fermented in neutral French oak barrels, and the final blend includes 15% of reserve wines. Spends 85 months on the lees. Not yet imported to the US.     

Pieter Ferreira 2013 Blanc de Blancs Western Cape 94 The 2013 Blanc de Blancs is the most elegant sparkling wine we’ve yet tasted from South Africa. This Extra Brut (RS 3.9 g/L) offers an abundant mousse of pinpoint bubbles with a lively bouquet of precise lemon citrus accented by a note of freshly baked bread. The palate is a marvel, creamy in texture with striking depth and purity and lovely fresh citrus, apple and pastry cream flavors complemented by a rich shortbread note. Finishes long, rich and pure with lemon notes kicking in again. As good as it is now, this is a youthful wine that should acquire additional levels of complexity with more time in bottle. All Chardonnay sourced from vineyards in Robertson and Darling with 72 months sur latte and an additional 12 months on the cork after disgorgement. 12.2% alc  Pieter Ferreira 2013 Rosé Western Cape 93 The rosé is especially lively and refreshing. Pink grapefruit and a hint of Turkish delight appear on the nose, while the palate is brisk and dry with light red cherry/berry and a touch of mandarin.  The finish is particularly clean with a laser-like focus. All Pinot Noir sourced from vineyards in Elgin and Slanghoek with 72 months on the lees in bottle.

Charles Fox 2013 Cipher Elgin 93 Cipher is the flagship cuvée at Charles Fox, first made in the 2011 vintage.  It reveals a fine perfume of roasted nuts, shortbread and citrus.  There’s striking depth and brightness on a full, broad palate with rich flavors of brioche and lemony citrus and a hint of tart tatin. Priced like French Champagne and a very worthy competitor. A vineyard and barrel selection blend of 60% Chardonnay (30% barrel fermented), 30% Pinot Noir, and 10% Meunier with 5+ years on the lees. RS 6.3 g/L, 12.5% alc.

Krone 2016 Kaaimansgat Blanc de Blancs Elandskloof 93 The Kaaimansgat is the first single vineyard MCC to be produced in South Africa, and 2016 is its debut vintage; it’s a 4 ha, cool climate (above the snow line) parcel of 31 year old vines located at 700 m in Elandskloof.  Fermented in 25 hl foudre, it’s made in a more oxidative style than most South African sparklers. It reveals a complex, terroir driven nose of citrus and herbs, while the palate shows notes of roasted grain complementing orchard fruit flavors with a steely mineral accent.  An original sparkling wine with 36 months sur latte.  Whole bunch pressed with only the free run juice, the first 500L per ton, used for the MCC; fermented with ambient yeasts in upright wooden vats with no malo. RS 3.3 g/L,  11% alc.

Le Lude 2013 Vintage Cuvée Brut Franschhoek 93 The 2013 Vintage Cuvée is a refined and balanced sparkler that shows exceptional freshness. It’s a youthful wine with a muted bouquet of lemon flowers, but it shows a nice mélange of citrus and orchard fruit on a dry and focused palate. A blend of 64% barrel fermented Chardonnay and 36% Pinot Noir sourced from several areas and matured 72 months sur latte.  RS 6.0 g/L, 12% alc. Disgorged March 28, 2019.

Saltaré NV Brut Nature Western Cape 93 Our favorite zero dosage MCC, the Brut Nature reveals a very appealing and open nose of nougat, citrus and fresh baked baguette.  Chalky dry in the mouth, the palate has notes of toasted almonds, dried stone fruit, and honeycomb.  Finishes very long with excellent finesse. Quite Champagne-like in character. A blend of 59% Pinot Noir from the Helderberg and 41% Chardonnay from Robertson, about 20% reserve wine. Spends 18+ months on the lees with no added SO2. RS 1.7 g/L, 12% alc. Disgorged January 2019.   

Silverthorn 2015 The Jewel Box Western Cape 93 This is one of South Africa’s most refined sparkling wines offering a lively, precise bouquet of almonds and citrus, a finely textured mousse, and a fresh, creamy palate with good mid-palate depth and overall finesse. There’s bright acidity, good structure, and a beautiful, lingering finish. A blend of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir (from Darling). The Chardonnay was fermented in a mix of stainless and old barrels, and the final blend included a portion of reserve Chardonnay matured 12 months in old French oak. Spends a minimum of 38 months on the lees.  RS 4.5 g/L, 11.8% alc  Just 250 cases made.

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