A few weeks ago, a group of sommeliers, wine media and importers took part in the first- ever Cap Classique Challenge to celebrate South African #CapClassiqueDay. It was similar to the Pepsi Challenge, with participants blind-tasting champagne and Cap Classique, the South African version of bubbly made in the traditional method (the same production method as champagne), and guessing which was champagne.

Cap Classique can use any grape varieties, including South Africa’s famous Chenin Blanc and Pinotage, but in this challenge, the grape varieties used in making the Cap Classique were the same as those used in champagne – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Cap Classique Challenge

There were four categories in the challenge:

  • Non-vintage: the style in which producers blend wine from different years in order to make a consistent house style without vintage variation; also, the time spent ageing on lees is less than vintage (12–20 months)
  • Blanc de Blancs: the style in which only Chardonnay grapes are used
  • Rosé: the style similar to non-vintage but pink in colour. Incidentally, sparkling rosé is the only rosé wine that allows the blending of red and white wines. All other rosés are made from red grapes with short skin-contact time in order to extract the colour.
  • Vintage: the style of wine that comes only from one year. The vintage is on the label, and this is made only in a good year, usually with a much longer lees ageing time (minimum 36 months, but often up to 60–72 months).

The result was just like the Pepsi Challenge – most of the 68 participants found it difficult to make the choice and about half thought Cap Classique was actually champagne!

The objective of the challenge was not to doubt the quality of champagne but to highlight other sparkling wines that can be just as good as champagne. This echoes with the sparkling wine article I wrote a month ago for Foodie.

Bottled-fermented (traditional method) sparkling wine is made in most wine-producing countries, but they are simply not allowed to be called champagne. However, some of these wines have the same finesse as champagne and almost all of them are more affordable than champagne.

The next time you fancy a bottle of bubbly, think Cap Classique, cava, espumante and sparkling wines from Australia and New Zealand.

You can watch the different versions of the Cap Classique Challenge here.

Wines of South Africa is now running the Over the Rainbow fundraising campaign, where HK$10 per bottle of South African wine sold will be donated to Pebbles Project and Anna Foundation, two charities helping underprivileged children and their families in the farming communities of Western Cape, South Africa. It feels good to know we’re drinking for a good cause!

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A marketer turned winemaker, I make, promote, judge, write about and drink wine.

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