Champagne Friday


When our kids are quizzed at school as to what they will do on the weekend, they will always start with “Well, Friday is Champagne Friday…,” what they say thereafter, God only knows, but how we haven’t had an enquiring email from a teacher yet, surprises me.

Champagne Friday is a simple wind-down pleasure, more for my wife, her friends and the kids, but if I must admit, it is kinda nice. Early evening, a few friends will arrive, bottle in hand. Kids run off and do their thing, and the adults are left to jabber, eat and drink, allowing the troubles and stresses of the workweek to float away on the tiny, gorgeous bubbles we consume.

Champagne Friday

After a run of good weather, news of the flowers blossoming on the West Coast, one cannot but think that Spring is around the corner. Spring enlightens a sense of freshness, lightness, a little skip in your step; a lot like that heavenly wine called Champagne, pardon monsieur…Sparkling wine.

With full rights to the name Champagne, and deservedly so; the French have in a way forced the rest of the world to re-invent their own brand of sparkling wine. You have Cava in Spain, Espumate (Portugal), Prosecco (Italy), Sekt (Germany) and last and by no means least, the South African Cap Classique. Sparkling wine is produced through three main methods: Method Champenoise (our Method Cap Classique, simply known as MCC), where the carbon dioxide results from a natural fermentation in the bottle. Method Charmat, where fermentation takes place in a large tank, designed to withstand the pressures and finally the Injection method, where carbon dioxide gas is injected into the wine at time of bottling.

Image fine bubbles

My favourite and undoubtedly the most pleasurable drink is the MCC. Did you know that the average bottle of sparkling wine contains enough carbon dioxide to potentially produce 49 million bubbles, giving each bottle an average atmospheric pressure of 6 bar? This in itself is an amazing fact to think that a glass bottle holds 3 times the amount of pressure than your car tyre.

A brief, MCC 101, for intelligent dinner talk. The grapes used in the production of MCC are traditionally Chardonnay and Pinot noir; however there are brands which use Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and even Pinotage very successfully. These grapes are the first to be harvested in the season which results in a dry still wine, acidic to taste and seemingly unremarkable in character. The second fermentation is actually the essence of an MCC. Sugar, selected yeasts, nutrients and a clarifying agent are added to this base wine and bottled, sealed with a crown cap (as per a beer bottle).

The time period of fermentation is insignificant, but the ageing period thereafter on that sediment of dead yeast cells (the lees) is what adds to the complexity of the final sparkling wine. It can add beautiful bakery, biscuity, toasty aromas to the wine, which balanced with the acidity and freshness gives a wine with volume and nice length. On average these wines are left on the lees for 18 months, where after the sediment is claryfied down to the neck of the bottle in a process known as riddling. The neck of the bottle is frozen, and in a process known as disgorgement, the sediment is ejected by opening the bottles and shooting it out with the pressure. At disgorgement, the bottle is topped up with some more base wine, perhaps a bit more sugar, and some other secret ingredients which will add to the complexity of the wine. The cork and wire are applied, and the wines are generally left horizontal for 6-12 months before labelling and release into the market, for our enjoyment. The sign of a well-madesparkling wine, over and above the taste and your preference, is the finesse of the bubbles (called the mousse).

In closing, my favourites, and recommendations for your Champagne Friday are:
Graham Beck Brut Blanc de Blanc (100% Chardonnay)
Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel Brut Rose (Pinot Noir, Pinotage, Pinot Meunier)
And for a little more of an occasion, the Steenberg 1682 Chardonnay MCC.

So, Unless you are an aspiring F1 driver, or excessively extravagant, use the injection method sparkling wines for the spraying at parties, and keep the MCC close to your lips.

Until next time, Ciao

Michael Fernandes
Born and raised in Cape Town, Fortunate to call the wine industry my work place. Wine lover, collector and most importantly…consumer. Blessed with an amazing family. Favourite thing of all time: Long boozy lunches with family and friends. On the menu, good food, good wine, loads of laughter…. and time will stand still.