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Break out the bubbly

If you ever needed an excuse (many wouldn’t) to toss your favourite bottle of bubbly on ice, the arrival of summer is it. Food and wine writer Richard Holmes shares his pick of the most elegant.
champagne bottles

Cue long evenings by the pool, a lazy lunch with platters of seafood, and the convivial gathering of your nearest and dearest. Whether it’s toasting a year well spent or cheering the arrival of the next, nothing celebrates the new or pays homage to the old like a bottle of bubbles.

Madame Lily Bollinger was famous for never needing an excuse to enjoy a glass of champagne, and a bottle of ‘Bolly’ is certainly a fine choice this summer. Their Special Cuvée is reliably good, but look out for the Bollinger Cuvée Rosé 2006. It’s the first time this storied champagne house has dedicated a limited-edition vintage to a rosé-style bubbly. After more than a decade of quiet maturation, this blend of Pinot Noir (72 percent) and Chardonnay (28 percent) delivers an extremely delicate mousse with a rounded palate of rose petals, raspberries and a delicious undercurrent of wild strawberries.

Closer to home, Steenberg’s award-winning winemaker JD Pretorius adopts an almost identical blend in his superb Méthode Cap Classique, Lady R. Pinot Noir delivers the delicate pink hue and refined strawberry notes, while barrel-fermented Chardonnay brings structure and complexity. The current vintage release is 2013, highlighting this wine’s superb ability to age.

But some bubblies aren’t meant to mature; sometimes they’re simply a means to instant gratification and are to be enjoyed immediately.

In the past five years prosecco has taken the bubbly world by storm, even outselling champagne in key markets. This year, cellars in the Veneto region of Italy expect to produce north of 600 million bottles of their signature sparkling wine. It’s made using the charmat method, with fermentation in steel tanks instead of barrels and bottles. The result? A sparkling wine that’s best enjoyed young, ensuring the vibrant flavours of honey, golden apple and Williams pear stay fresh.

If you’re new to prosecco the Bottega Gold is a fine place to start. Produced exclusively from the Glera grapes rooted in northern Italy’s Valdobbiadene hills, it’s great as an aperitif but just as happy in cocktails.

As is the new-in-SA Veuve Clicquot Rich Rosé. It’s best enjoyed over ice with fresh ingredients, including lime, pineapple, ginger or tea.

But don’t waste a drop of Tokara’s Méthode Cap Classique in cocktails. This remarkable MCC is a classic blanc de blanc, crafted from 100 percent Chardonnay grown on the Tokara estate above Stellenbosch. The base wine was matured in oak casks for 15 months before blending and bottling for secondary fermentation, where it spent four years on the lees before being disgorged. But they still weren’t done: it was matured for an additional 15 months under cork, before release. It’s a remarkable wine, a vibrant mousse setting the stage for a palate of toasted almonds, bright citrus and an undercurrent of salinity. It’ll keep improving until the mid-2020s, so keep a few aside.

The Plaisir de Merle Grand Brut 2016 – an almost even blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – is a reliable drop, while the Von Arnims of Haute Cabrière in Franschhoek have a bubbly for just about any occasion. The Haute Cabrière Belle Rose is superb paired with seafood. Bubbly aficionados might also want to pay attention to the Lourensford Cuvée 89 from the 2007 vintage, which spent a full 89 months on the lees. Too much maturation? Taste and decide.

‘Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right,’ wrote American author F. Scott Fitzgerald.

With any of these in the ice bucket this summer, we couldn’t agree more.


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