Cap Classique is South Africa’s fabulous answer to Champagne. The ever-popular sparkling wine is made using the age-old method attributed to Dom Perignon in the late 1600s. Since Champagne is a geographically specific region, protected under international law, South Africa cannot use that term for its bubblies. Local winemakers came up with a label which gave a nod to the French technique – Methode Classique – but put a proudly South African stamp on it by adding the site-specific word ‘Cap’ (French for Cape). So Cap Classique decoded means ‘sparkling wine or bubbly made in the Cape, in the traditional Champagne way’. However, the flavour associations of tangy green apples, lime or citrus or more evolved biscuit, toast and sourdough remain the same.

The story Of Cap Classique

The earliest example of local bubbly was made in 1971 by Frans Malan of Simonsig, who called his version Kaapse Vonkel. But proper, bottle-fermented sparkling wine was quite a hard sell back then, especially when it was so much easier to take the easy route, gassing dry wine with carbon-dioxide.

It took a full 10 years before anyone else followed in Malan’s pioneering footsteps. Boschendal was second to the party and went the same route of making a base wine and fermenting it dry before adding a bit of sugar and yeast to the wine to kickstart the second fermentation in the bottle. Since the bottle is tightly sealed and the second fermentation takes place within it, there’s nowhere for the gas to escape – so it is reabsorbed into the liquid until the cork pops, and it gets a chance to sparkle!

Pongrácz was launched in 1990 at a time when Cap Classique was in its infancy and was one of the 14 founding members of the Cap Classique Association, which was established just two years later to promote quality and set minimum standards for Cap Classique wines. Pongrácz soon became the best known and biggest selling South African bottle fermented sparkling wine, taking this dynamic category to new heights.

Perfect food pairings

SEAFOOD: Prawns, Oysters, Fish, Sushi, Smoked Snoek, Salmon
HERBS & SPICES: Mint, Fennel, Dill, Parsley, Lemongrass, Ginger, Garlic, Chilli
CONDIMENTS: Soy Sauce, Mayonnaise, Siracha
FRUIT: Lemon, Pineapple, Grapefruit, Granadilla, Apple, Papaya, Avocado
NUTS: Peanuts, Almonds, Sesame Seeds, Pinenuts

Discover the flavours


Some of the early producers of Cap Classique used grapes such as Chenin Blanc and Pinotage but nowadays most serious makers use the true Champagne grapes of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and, to a lesser extent, Pinot Meunier, a grape which remains very unusual.


The standards set by the organisation are high and incorporate advice on grape pressing, for example, to ensure that only the heart – or cuvée – is used, with the head and tails discarded. Whole bunch pressing is also de rigeur, so no individual grapes are destemmed prior to crushing. All of this, along with a minimum time of one year in bottle, is done to ensure the best possible quality. With exclusively Chardonnay bubblies, the flavours which predominate are citrussy while those containing Pinot Noir reflect that red grape’s character in a light red berry, strawberry or even cherry nuance. Sometimes, a portion of the base wine (first ferment) goes into oak – invariably older oak so that there is not “oaky” flavour perceptible in the final wine, but it adds a more textural element or breadth to the “feel” in the mouth.


The main impact of the time in bottle undergoing the second ferment is the development of the typically leesy flavours. These translate as creamy, yeast or bread dough, toasty or even cream cracker and biscuit association. Like many things winey, there’s a code for the different styles of Cap Classique. Blanc de Blanc literally translated means ‘white from white’ so this is a bubbly made only from Chardonnay grapes. Brut is the internationally accepted term for a bubbly being dry. It thus follows that Ultra-Brut is extra dry – and there is even a drier category, Brut Nature.

What separates them is the amount of residual sugar or level of sweetness in the final wine. Brut is 12g per litre or less, Ultra-Brut is six grams or less and Brut Nature is three – and is for fans who like super tangy, somewhat tart bubblies. Demi-sec is sweeter in style (sec being French for sweet) and the sweetness measurement ranges from 32g to 50g of residual sugar per litre.

Liqueur d’expedition

The final step in the process of making Cap Classique has a wonderfully evocative name: the liqueur d’expedition, in other words, a little “loopdop” for the journey. It is where the winemaker adds the dosage just before corking.

This 20 ml dose is a mix of sweetened grape must or sugar and wine which tops up the liquid lost when getting rid of the dead yeast cells in the bottle. It also helps balance the tart acidity and add a touch of sweetness. It’s like the sprinkling of salt and pepper as a final flourish on your meal.


Sunshine in a glass

If ever there was a South African success story, this is it. Chenin Blanc used to be known locally as Steen – and there are some indications that this name is making a bit of a nostalgic comeback. It is a supremely versatile grape that can literally be used for anything! Dry wine, wooded wine, sweet wine, sparkling wine and even brandy – and that was why no producer took it particularly seriously until about 20 years ago. Then a handful of producers decided to take up the challenge and try to make something special with Chenin since so much of it was planted. The Chenin Blanc Association was formed, an annual competition held, and the quality improved year after year. It is now at the point where international critics believe South Africa is leading the world in terms of diverse expressions of this wine style. So, what does it smell and taste like? Much like Chardonnay, it depends on whether it has been oaked or not. Stone fruit such as nectarine, apricot, peaches along with green or orange melon, sometimes guava. Any wonder that tropical fruit salad is often used as a descriptor for Chenin Blanc? If oaked, then words such as vanilla, caramel, toast and nuts are used. Honey also comes into play if it is a sweeter, dessert-style wine.

The story of chenin blanc

France’s Loire region is the home to this grape variety where it has been planted since the 1500s. It is known for its versatility in making quite acidic dry wines as well as riper, sweeter wines in warmer years when the vintage conditions permit good ripening. The bulk of French Chenin production goes into sparkling wine from the region: Crémant de Loire. Another reason it’s so popular globally is that it crops well, providing heavy yields.

Perfect food pairings

SPICES: Ginger, Chilli, Cumin Coriander, Turmeric, Saffron, Vanilla
HERBS: Thyme, Mint, Basil
MEAT: Chicken, White fish, Prawns, Scallops
VEGETABLES: Spinach, Green beans Asparagus, Salad leaves, Baby Marrows, Cucumber
CHEESE: Gorgonzola, Cream cheese, Feta
FRUIT: Pears, Apricot, Coconut, Pineapple, Lemon, Pomegranate, Peaches, Spanspek, Granadilla, Guava

Discover the flavour


South Africa is renowned for its Chenin Blanc. It is the ultimate “sunshine in a bottle” grape – and our country’s winemakers are the envy of their Loire counterparts because of the abundance of sunshine the vines revel in. Obviously, wines from the warm Swartland boast higher ripeness levels than those made in cooler areas such as pockets within Stellenbosch or Elgin but this grape has a fantastic ability to express fruit. Its acidity and sweetness vary, depending on the level of ripeness the producer wants to express in the final wine.

Pick it early and the acidity will be high while the sweetness will be muted. Leave it to hang on the vine for another few weeks and the acidity will diminish while its sugar sweetness will increase with ripening. When it comes to noble late harvest wines or even straw wines made from Chenin, that honeyed ripeness is emphasised even more with the grapes raisined and almost dehydrated to a degree. And with all that comes additional alcohol, a slight increase in viscosity as well as a notable hike in honeyed sweetness and flavour.


In terms of structure, Chenin Blanc can be light and playful in its primary fruitiness when unoaked or something entirely different when either fermented or aged in barrel, becoming very structured with a firm tannin backbone. Young Chenin Blanc is a refreshing summertime drink – but the grape is capable of more complexity and nuance. When the fruit is riper and sweeter, the winemaker can decide to give it a bit of barrel exposure – possibly at fermentation but generally once it has been fermented dry, so purely for maturation, to add more breadth, tannin structure and oaky, creamy flavour. But winemakers can also choose to settle somewhere in the middle by blending unoaked, fresh wine from stainless steel tank with Chenin that has been oaked to create something altogether more complex.


When made for maturation Chenin develops a deep, rich peach and apricot/- stone fruit and even honeyed, dried straw element. When it has some residual sweetness or is made as a sweet wine like a noble late harvest or straw wine it just gets even more concentrated and capable of greatness in age with caramel, barley sugar and brûlee flavours.


Zesty and refreshing

South Africans LOVE Sauvignon Blanc! It’s an ideal thirst quencher for our long, hot summer days and evenings. It’s zesty, refreshing and cooling, making it a perfect match for summer. Galileo Galilei said a long time ago ‘Wine is sunlight, held together by water,’ and this still resonates for South Africans’ tradition of summer meals, often accompanied by Sauvignon Blanc, a perfect summer party partner.

Just 20 years ago, Sauvignon Blanc would have been described as grassy, flinty, gravelly, with gooseberry, green pepper or even asparagus notes. That’s because everyone was following the then popular New Zealand trend. Nowadays it is more likely to have a riper, fruitier and more tropical expression. So, expect to find aromas and flavours of granadilla, melons, lemon, grapefruit, kiwi, peach and apricot along with some grass and herb notes, accompanied by the occasional flinty or dusty whiff. Sauvignon Blanc’s acidity invariably makes it tangy and zesty – and that’s where the refreshment comes from.

The story of sauvignon

Its roots are in Bordeaux, France, but details of Sauvignon Blanc’s history are blurred by the mists of time. The name is believed to derive from the words ‘sauvage’ (or wild) and ‘blanc’ (white). These geographical roots also explain why it is used in the fabled sweet wines of Sauternes, as well as the white Graves blend, where it shares billing with Semillon, since both are in Bordeaux. It is now a widely planted varietal in both old and new world wine regions. The Sauvignon/Semillon Bordeaux-style blend is one gaining more and more traction in South Africa.

Perfect food pairings

HERBS: Parsley, Basil, Mint, Thyme, Fennel, Bay Leaves
VEGETABLES: Petit Pois (Baby Peas), Asparagus, Capsicums (Peppers), Cucumber, Sweet Corn
SEAFOOD: Mussels, Smoked Mussels, Prawns, Haddock, Kingklip, Hake, Sole, Oysters
SPICES: Saffron, Fennel Seeds, Black Pepper, White Pepper, Tumeric
CHEESE: Goats Cheese, Yoghurt, Cream Cheese, Créme Fraiche
FRUIT: Coconut (Fresh and Coconut Cream), Pineapple, Apples, Granadilla, Peaches, Nectarines, Dried Turkish Apricots
MEAT: Parma Ham, Chicken, Pork

Discover the flavour


Depending on where Sauvignon Blanc is grown in South Africa, the wine can taste very different. It’s best suited to cool areas – which is why Lutzville and Koekenaap, Darling, Durbanville, Elgin and Elim produce some of the country’s premium examples. Sauvignon Blancs from these areas tend to be characterised by dusty, flinty, zesty aromas and flavours, with leaner, tauter structure and bright, tangy acidity. But there is a growing affection for the more tropical-toned Sauvignon Blancs being produced in warmer regions such as Paarl, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. They tend to express tropical and stone fruit more (think peach, nectarine, apricot and even kiwi), being slightly less acidic, fleshier and more rounded in structure and texture – and generally more approachable and appealing because of their fruitiness.


When it comes to winemaking or cellar influence, the winery team tries to preserve as much of that freshness as possible, so as a rule Sauvignon Blanc is unwooded. The exception to that is when it’s made as a Blanc Fumé (literally translated as smoky white) because the oak contributes a smoky, creamy flavour. Generally, the goal is to retain vivacity, tang and typicity so the grapes are kept as cool as possible on their journey to the winery and are also protected against oxidation. To ensure the latter, many producers blanket the grapes with dry ice as the carbon dioxide displaces oxygen.


In the past few years, there has been a growing appreciation for how Sauvignon Blanc ages. Older wine will still not be every consumer’s cup of tea but at least the old cliché of making sure that this particular style of wine is drunk before the end of the cricket season – or in the same year of its vintage – is no longer the case! Aged Sauvignon Blanc can take on a richer, deeper, vegetal – even cabbagey or weedy – note. It’s an acquired taste that doesn’t necessarily appeal to all wine drinkers.

Unique flavour compounds

If you have ever wondered why some young Sauvignon Blancs are very fruity while others have more savoury tones, the cause may well be a group of flavour compounds called pyrazines (the Green Pepper flavour). Pyrazines may have an overpowering effect on a wine but could also yield attractive, complex flavours that add to the identity of a wine. In Sauvignon Blanc, when present in moderation it can produce fresh herbaceous tones of mint, parsley or basil, and of course hints of succulent Green Pepper.


The queen of white wines  

Chardonnay is marvellously versatile for winemakers. It grows relatively well and adapts to a variety of different soils and climates. Chardonnay can be made as an unwooded or wooded wine. Again, ‘broad strokes’ descriptors of aromas and flavours include citrus most commonly – from orange blossom to lemon, lime, grapefruit and marmalade – all the way through to buttered toast, caramel, vanilla, butterscotch, roasted nuts and smoke. Many of these aroma and flavour associations are linked to whether the wine has spent time in barrel or not. But that is explained elsewhere.

The story of chardonnay

The spiritual homeland of this grape is Burgundy in France and for many years it was assumed that Chardonnay was somehow derived from Pinot Blanc or Pinot Noir – but some grape geeks disagreed, citing the fact that it had been grown in the Middle East, in Lebanon and Syria, for many years and theorising that the grape may even be related to Muscat. But the renowned department of oenology and viticulture at the University of California, Davis, drilled down into the DNA and their modern fingerprinting technology “suggests” that it is the result of a crossing between Pinot Noir and Gouias Blanc, a grape which the Romans were thought to have brought to France from Croatia!

Perfect food pairings

SPICES: Cardamon, Vanilla, Garlic, Ginger, Chilli
HERBS: Sage, Thyme, Basil
MEAT & FISH: Chicken, Pork, Tuna, Prawns, Scallops, Lobster
FRUIT: Oranges, Lemons, Naartjies, Spanspek, Guava, Granadilla
NUTS & SEEDS: Almonds, Macadamias, Cashews, Sesame Seeds
DAIRY: Butter, Créme Fraische, Camembert, Cream, Goats Cheese

Discover the flavour  


Chardonnay can be quite difficult to typify with precision simply because it can be so neutral. It grows well the world over and is capable of true greatness when the right conditions of soil, sun, rainfall and winemaking combine. It’s generally agreed that Burgundy in France produces some of the best expressions in the world – but Australia, California in the United States of America, South Africa and even Argentina, Chile and New Zealand have great examples! Much like other grapes already profiled, Chardonnay can vary depending on the clone planted, the warmth or coolness of the region and the winemaking decisions taken. There is one clone which naturally has a more aromatic component, adding a musky, perfumed element to the nose. In cooler areas such as Elgin and parts of the Hemel-en-Aarde valley, the grape’s acidity is higher which makes for a more reined in, tauter structure while grapes grown in warmer areas such as certain parts of Stellenbosch, Worcester, Robertson, Paarl or even the Swartland are riper, rounder, more expressive and fleshier.


Chardonnay is a grape known for its affinity with oak – and winemakers often choose to either ferment or mature in barrel. That being said, international critics often praise South African winemakers for how astutely they manage the wood so that it does not dominate or overwhelm the fruit. Twenty years ago, this was not the case and producers would both barrel-ferment as well as age in brand new barrels – which made the resulting wines too chewy and oaky, and quite fatiguing to drink. Nowadays, it is frequently matured in a variety of barrels: some new, some second-fill and third-fill and some even older.


It is also a grape which benefits from age – both in the barrel and in the bottle. It is capable of maturing and gaining in complexity, becoming a deeper, richer flavoured wine with pronounced yellow gold colour. As the primary citrus notes fade, a more biscuity, creamy and toasty note develops.


Pinot Grigio / Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the same grape variety and wine. Since the grape has had cultural significance in both Italy and France, the words ‘Pinot Gris’ and ‘Pinot Grigio’ are used interchangeably. Depending on where the grapes are grown (most famously in Alsace where it is spicier and fuller-bodied), Pinot Grigio can take on faint honeyed notes; floral aromas like honeysuckle; and a saline-like minerality.


AROMAS AND FLAVOURS: Lime, lemon, pear, white nectarine and apple

ACIDITY: Medium-High – High

FOOD PAIRING: Pinot Gris with its zesty and refreshing acidity pairs really well with fresh vegetables, raw fish and lighter meals. Fish and shellfish are classic pairing partners with Pinot Gris. 


Albariño is grown in the north-west of Spain and has become a particularly

fashionable grape variety. Thick-skinned and thus able to resist fungal disease, it is an aromatic variety that can have an intense peach, apricot fruit character balanced by naturally high acidity. It too can be made in a richer, fuller bodied style.


AROMAS AND FLAVOURS: Lemon zest, grapefruit, honeydew, nectarine and saline


FOOD PAIRING: A friend to all things from the sea, Albariño pairs exceptionally well with white fish and meats as well as leafy green herbs. Try it with fish tacos.


Sémillon is the most widely planted white variety in Bordeaux and given its thin skin and its affinity for noble rot, is widely used for sweet wines (most notably, Sauternes). It gives wines with a golden colour and plenty of body. It has an affinity for oak and its wines can age well. 


AROMAS AND FLAVOURS: Lemon, beeswax, yellow peach, chamomile, saline

ACIDITY: Medium acidity

FOOD PAIRING: Sémillon pairs excellent with richer fish entrées such as black cod and with white meats including chicken and pork chops. Try spicing with fresh fennel and dill.


Riesling is widely planted around the world. It is a fruity, aromatic grape variety that retains high acidity. It ripens late, but is very hard, making it an ideal source for late-harvest wines. It can produce great wines in a range of styles, in a range of climates. Like Chardonnay, Riesling produces wines that vary with and reflect their location. Germany is the world’s most important producer of Riesling.


AROMAS AND FLAVOURS: Lime, green apple, beeswax, jasmine, petroleum


FOOD PAIRING: Off-dry Riesling wines make a great pairing to spicy Indian and Asian cuisines and do excellently alongside duck, pork, bacon, shrimp and crab.