Bubbly for All Time

By Shannon Latimer
Photography by Astrid Skibbe · iStockphoto

The food is ready, the table is set. Where is the bubbly?
“I’ll get the Cap Classy,” says my husband.
“Are we drinking champagne?” my father-in-law asks. 
“Yes … well, sparkling wine,” I reply.
“Oh. What are we celebrating?” he asks.
“Umm, dinnertime,” is the reply.

Times have changed. Bubbly isn’t just hauled out for Christmas, engagements or 50th wedding anniversaries; it has become a ‘lifestyle’ drink. Most events begin with bubbly in hand so that people can unwind and mingle, and it does such a good job of it that it seems unnecessary, even unwelcoming to move on to red wine or G&Ts. Sparkling wine goes well with every dish and then the bubbles—don’t they just lift your spirits? So there is really no need to look for an excuse to drink your favourite Brut.

If you aren’t convinced about bubbly as a regular drink or something to have with your grandma’s lasagne, perhaps you need a trip to the winelands for a real taste of the ‘stars’.

Bubbly is the perfect pairing
If you are ever stuck wondering what wine to serve with your meal, go with bubbly—it is the most versatile companion to food. It has a delicate aroma and flavour, and is soft in the mouth. It’s a great match with good cheeses, salty and spicy dishes, as well as more delicate foods such as seafood and things like asparagus, artichokes and even bacon and eggs. The most popular pairing is with seafood, especially oysters. But it also goes really well with dessert.

Where to go to get your bubbly fix
Most wineries that make a sparkling or a MCC will offer it on their tasting programme, so next time you’re exploring the wine routes why not start your tasting with bubbly.

Cap Classique Route, Franschhoek
Franschhoek has its very own Cap Classique Route with 12 wineries in the area participating, from Boschendal, Graham Beck Wines, Topiary Wines and Môreson as the wine route begins, to Franschoek Vineyards, Chamonix, Dieu Donne, My Wyn in the centre of the village and all the way up the pass to Cabrière Estate, Franschhoek Pass Winery, Colmant and Stony Brook. You can enjoy bubbly tastings at all of these wineries. Some offer even more than that, make sure to book ahead for these events.

Cabrière offers cellar tours and a sabrage (decapitating of the bottle neck by sabre) by the cellarmaster, Achim von Arnim, himself.Franschhoek Pass Winery market their Cap Classiques as a lifestyle experience and tours are personalised with owner and winemaker Nick Davies where he runs through how it’s made, a short history of champagne and then goes into a Taste Off. Beginning in the cellar you start by tasting the wine with no dosage (the liqueur mix added to replace the removed yeast) with dosage, and then move on to a MCC comparison with French champagne—along with cheese and crackers. Dieu Donne also does a sabrage and, to taste bubbles of a different sort, you can visit their brewery as well. Graham Beck offers a Master Tasting with oysters and salmon accompaniments.

Where to Stay
Val d’Or: 4-star Boutique Guest House is set close to the village, the welcome is warm, tranquillity tangible and the ambience geared to your comfort. Sip a sundowner—what else but bubbly—on the terrace overlooking vineyards and mountains, or relax on your own private patio. 021-876-3902.
Mont Rochelle Hotel & Mountain Vineyards: 5-star Boutique Hotel offers alfresco dining, a pool, wellness centre, gym, restaurant and wine tasting facility. 021-876-2770.
Le Petite Ferme: 4- and 5-star B&B offering peace and privacy on a boutique wine farm. Also on offer are 5-star vineyard suites with own patio and plunge pool. 021-876-3016.

Where to Eat
The Tasting Room, Le Quartier Francais: SA’s most highly-regarded restaurant with enough awards to wallpaper a town hall. Contemporary cuisine, 021-876-2151.
Reuben’s Restaurant & Bar: For flavour-rich food that is simply prepared. Global cuisine, 021-876-3772.
The French Connection Bistro: Fresh ingredients and simple, tasty food. Bistro fare, 021-876-4056.

Winging it in Stellenbosch
Although Stellenbosch doesn’t have a bubbly route as such, you will find some of SA’s most well-known and popular MCC wineries here. From JC Le Roux, Simonsig and Hazendal to Villiera and Morgenhof.

The House of J.C. Le Roux has launched their ‘Bubbly and Heavenly Bites’ tastings where you can taste five of J.C’s MCCs paired with five handcrafted Rodé treats. Interested? Here is a sneak preview: the J.C. Le Roux Pinot Noir is paired with nougat in dark chocolate. The acidity of the Pinot Noir brings out the richness of the almond and honey in the nougat. It’s a sophisticated taste that is not too sweet. 

Hazendal is running a summer promotion of four oysters served with freshly-baked farm bread and a glass of White Knights Brut Cap Classique. And for something a little more laid back and personal, the Grier family of Villiera Wines—famous for their Tradition brand—invites you to pack a picnic basket and gather some friends for a relaxing day on 15 November. Their range includes award-winning Cap Classique sparkling wines, a variety of still wines as well as a selection from Domaine Grier, their French property. Live entertainment will be provided and picnic baskets can be ordered in advance if you prefer. 

Eikendal will be holding an informal tasting called ‘The Berry Best of Eikendal Wine Experience’ which includes six wines paired with six different berries or fruit bites. They have also just launched their maiden MCC, Mon Desir 2005. Make sure to have a taste of that too. Mont Rochelle offers picnics, baskets and bubbly included, in their garden, by the dam or a more secluded spot if romance is in the air.

Where to Stay
African Valley Estate: Lush green gardens and cool waters of a sparkling pool will make all the difference in summer. 021-882-8369.
Kleine Zalze Lodge: 4-star Country House Hotel, which offers vineyard and mountain views, award-winning wines, fine dining and accommodation; only 3km from Stellenbosch. 021-880-0740.
Zorgvliet Vineyard Lodge & Spa: 4- and 5-star Guest House in the Banhoek valley with views of the mountains and vines as well as pool, spa and restaurant. 021-885-1561.

Where to Eat
De Volkskombuis: The focus is on traditional fare, so expect favourites such as baked Karoo lamb rib, honey-roast duck and oxtail. SA Cuisine, 021-887-2121.
Terroir: A constantly evolving menu of simple dishes. Provencal with a Cape twist, 021-880-8167.
96 Winery Road: Fresh, uncomplicated and generous food in a warm, relaxing venue. Country cuisine with global influences, 021-842-2020.

Upcoming Festivals
It’s a pity there aren’t more festivals dedicated to bubbly around the country. But here’s what you can look forward to this summer.

Investec Private Bank Cap Classique and Champagne Festival 
Expect South African Cap Classique and French Champagne to flow for an entire weekend. And it’s not just bubbly, delicacies will be prepared by the valley’s gourmet chefs. Franschhoek, 6-7 December, R180 per day.

Summer Elegance at the House of Krone, Twee Jonge Gezellen
This festival incorporates an array of treats from sushi and oyster bars, to nougat and Turkish delight. Tulbagh, 13 December, R60 per person.

How Do You Celebrate Christmas?
Elunda Basson, JC Le Roux: “We try to all get together and make a big fuss over the children on Christmas Eve. My husband wears a Santa suit and hands out gifts. On Christmas Day we go to church and spend the day relaxing and eating leftovers. And like every special occasion, there is bubbly.”

Stephan du Toit, Dieu Donne: “Christmas is a summer affair for us at the sea. We give each other handmade gifts in the morning around the Christmas tree and then just enjoy the outdoors. Our food is traditional South African fair, for a late lunch. MCC accompanies us from early on in the day.”

Jeff Grier, Villiera Wines: “It always involves a big family gathering around food and wine, especially bubbly. We prefer magnums on such occasions—although some family members still enjoy beer, which I find very strange.” 

Pieter Ferreria, Graham Beck Wines: “For the last couple of years we have celebrated the day at our beach house in Pearly Beach. We invite a very small group of our closest friends, who are godparents to our two children William and Kate, for Christmas Eve. We dress-up, start the evening with bubbly as sundowners (and never stop) and gather around for an extensive dinner with some Champagnes and favourite Cap Classiques. Being at the sea we also do oysters, self-picked mussels from the rocks, shellfish, fresh line fish and much more.” 

How Winemakers Drink and Pair Their Bubbly
Elunda Basson, JC Le Roux: “I love sushi and a Brut Rosé, as well as oysters and MCC at a special occasion.”
Stephan du Toit, Dieu Donne: “I like drinking MCC in beautiful surroundings—either in the mountains or overlooking the sea—quietly sharing a bottle with a few friends while soaking up the scenery. I prefer my bubbly with oysters and seafood in close proximity to the ocean, preferably on the rocks if that is feasible.”

Achim von Arnim, Cabriere Estate: “You don’t have to threaten me with an AK47 to get me drinking some bubbly. It’s the way I celebrate life. I believe that the style of wine distinguishes which tastes will go best with it. I enjoy pairing my wines with good food and do this often with the Gordon’s who run Cabriere Restaurant. I would say: quail with the Pierre Jourdan Brut, mussels with the Pierre Jourdan Cuvée Belle Rosé and scallops with our Fortified Chardonnay. I believe wine should dance with the food, it must not dominate and vice versa.” 

Jeff Grier, Villiera Wines: “I like to drink bubbly as a relaxing drink: a Friday evening sundowner after work or a welcoming icebreaker when having guests around. Oysters are great with MCC but I also enjoy it with sushi and prawns.”
JC Bekker, Boschendal: “Any day, every day, any time of the day. A sunny day becomes more sunny, a rainy day becomes happier. Life is a celebration, so celebrate it every day. What better way to do it than having a glass of bubbly to add some sparkle. With food, oysters is first on the list and then strawberries.”