Bursting the bubble

Not everyone quite gets sparkling wine. Including me, most of the time. What is it about bubbles that prompt so many people to forget that the wine containing them is often either acidic or insipid?

Not to mention, it is usually more expensive at all quality levels than the modest stuff without the bubbles.

No generic wine is more overpriced, surely, than champagne — the real stuff from France, I mean.

But let me not be too sour. There are some great champagnes and the occasional sublime one, such as Salon, but even aficionados seem contemptuous of big-volume famous brands such as the ordinary Moët and Veuve Clicquot, which are available at absurd prices, even in your local supermarket here at the foot of Africa.

There is good local sparkling wine too and it is holding up better in the current depressed market than most categories, judging by the way more and more estates are bringing out their own versions. There must be far more than 100 MCC labels — méthode cap classique, that is, the local indication that the carbon dioxide derives naturally from a second fermention in the bottle rather than being pumped in. And many are acceptable, at least. They are fresh and crisp, if not complex and deep like a few at the top end (Graham Beck Cuvée Clive, Simonsig Cuvée Royale and a few pricey others).

Cheerful association
Most people clearly want bubbles or, appreciatively or irritatedly, feel obliged to have sparkling wine to help them celebrate. That cheerful association is the brilliant achievement of long-time champagne marketing from which the rest of the bubbly-producing world now also benefits, if less lucratively.

Locally, by far the biggest brand is JC le Roux. In fact, it is apparently the biggest wine brand in all categories. Perhaps this security is what has kept it so mediocre in just about all its offerings, from the dry MCCs to the cloying carbonated stuff such as Le Domaine.

Some Distell brands have improved remarkably over the past decade or so, notably Nederburg and Fleur du Cap, but not so JC le Roux.

It is now easier to avoid this particular brand, even at the cheap end of the market, with — believe it or not –a range of imports by retailers Ultra Liquors. Not champagne of course, but French, probably from the deep south. Veuve de France is the brand — a clever allusion. But, said Mark Norrish, the Ultra man behind it all, Veuve Clicquot made only a token objection. There is a Brut (dry), a nicely copper-tinged Brut Rosé and a Demi-Sec (not quite dry but not too “girly”).

I was doubtful when I first heard of these, but after tasting them I realised that at R35 (or perhaps double that) there is no chance of doing better for your money in this genre. They are decent wines, fresh but soft and flavourful, and cheaper than any JC le Roux dross.

Norrish said he was troubled by patriotic thoughts when bringing them in, but perhaps it is a patriotic duty to show Distell what is possible and rescue South Africans from what the local ugly giant churns out.

If you are disturbed by drinking French, however, Ultra Liquors has more than adequate and well-priced local MCCs in its Table Bay (R55) and Secret Cellar ranges — a Brut and Blanc de Blanc in the latter, both retailing at R50. Something to celebrate and something with which to celebrate.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories


Subscribers only

How lottery execs received dubious payments through a private company

The National Lottery Commission is being investigated by the SIU for alleged corruption and maladministration, including suspicious payments made to senior NLC employees between 2016 and 2017

Pandemic hobbles learners’ futures

South African schools have yet to open for the 2021 academic year and experts are sounding the alarm over lost learning time, especially in the crucial grades one and 12

More top stories

What the Biden presidency may mean for Africa

The new US administration has an interest and much expertise in Africa. But given the scale of the priorities the administration faces, Africa must not expect to feature too prominently

Zuma, Zondo play the waiting game

The former president says he will talk once the courts have ruled, but the head of the state capture inquiry appears resigned to letting the clock run out as the commission's deadline nears

Disinformation harms health and democracy

Conspiracy theorists abuse emotive topics to suck the air out of legitimate debate and further their own sinister agendas

Uganda: ‘I have never seen this much tear-gas in an...

Counting was slow across Uganda as a result of the internet shutdown, which affected some of the biometric machines used to validate voter registrations.

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…