There is something magical about toasting to friendships, family and good fortune with a glass of crisp bubbly in hand. From the elegant shape of the flute to the delicate spray that sparkles and pops in the glass, bubbly is renowned for celebration. And has been for over 200 years!
It’s no surprise then that many of us take part in this ritual yet may have no idea why. John Woodward, founder of the TOPS at SPAR Wine Show – the fastest-growing national wine exhibition that returns to Jo’burg for its 10th consecutive time between 7th and 9th May at the Sandton Convention Centre – explains.
Bubbles are steeped in history: The tradition of celebrating with bubbly is historically associated with luxury and the parties of the royal courts where the expensive beverage was viewed as a status symbol. Visually bubbly delivers in every way, since it overflows in abundance and joy with its tiny bubbles rising to the occasion. Yet according to legend, the bubbles found in sparkling wine were the result of a complete faux pas in the wine-making process in France at the time. Luckily the problem of secondary fermentation that led to the development of bubbles was never rectified but rather refined.
It’s also believed that the producers of one of the greatest French Champagne brands made it their life’s work to perfect the ultimate glass of bubbly through the process of riddling and disgorgement. Sparkling wine around the world is now neither overly sweet, has big bubbles nor appears cloudy.
Is it MCC or Sparkling Wine? Wine-making in South Africa dates back over 300 years to 1659 and our wine-makers know a thing or two about producing world-class cultivars from thriving vineyards. The Western Cape’s climate is similar to that of France, Spain and Italy, which are some of the greatest wine-producing regions in the world, and why our wines are as good (if not better?) than theirs.
While many people still refer to sparkling wine as Champagne, strict legislation and a trade agreement has been in place since 1992 that prevents bubbly producers outside of the Champagne region in the north of France to call their sparkling wines Champagne.
South African wine-makers use two methods for producing sparkling wines and one of them replicates the traditional Champagne method of producing bubbles while the other is a well-known Italian method called Charmat. To distinguish between the two in South Africa, wines made using the Champagne method are labelled as Methodé Cap Classique (or MCC) and the other as Sparkling Wine. This method was first used by a wine-maker in Stellenbosch in 1971, making it the first bottle of sparkling wine ever produced in a South African cellar.
How to drink bubbly: It must be served and drank icy cold. Never yank the cork out and remember elegance is key. What you’re looking for is a soft pop, which preserves the bubbles. Only remove the wire caging when you are ready to pour. Pressure may have built up inside the bottle which could force the cork out too quickly. Always tilt your glass when pouring bubbly and hold the glass by the stem to keep it cold. It’s fashionable to enjoy bubbly with classic canapés such as oysters, cheese and strawberries. Chefs far and wide use bubbly as the ideal complement for their dishes. The wine-makers at Niel Joubert suggest pairing their bubbly with grilled tiger prawns with lemon butter sauce or a duo of duck.
More and more, I feel that bubbly is being poured not just for extra special occasions with multiple layers of snobbery, but a little more casually and a little more often, to celebrate life. And I for one am not complaining!
~ Sarah Graham: respected foodie, author, cooking show host and blogger from www.afoodieliveshere.co.za.
Sarah also adds that the more exposure we have in South Africa to excellent quality bubbles for a relatively inexpensive price also means that we can pair it with food that’s a little simpler. She suggests pairing bubby with Prawns in Tarragon Butter, Rosemary Panacotta with Spiced Clementine Syrup or Fig & Camembert Skewers with Honey Salted Caramel.
Try until you find your taste: With more than 150 bubbly producers countrywide it’s easy to become overwhelmed when choosing your favourite. So to find out what you like best, get tasting! At this year’s 10th annual TOPS at SPAR Wine Show – taking place between 7th and 9th May at the Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg – visitors can try some of South Africa’s top bubbly producers. Among them are Stellenbosch-based wine estate Mooiplaas and its Duel MCC NV; Niel Joubert Wine Estate in Paarl which produces the Christine-Marie Méthode Cap Classique as well as Somerset West’s Lourensford which presents its MCC Brut Rose and MCC Brut. Or, join fellow wine lovers at the show’s special Bubbly Bar, a pop-up event centrepiece that pays homage to the much-loved, and time-honoured, bubbly beverage.
Tickets to the TOPS at SPAR Wine Show are available in advance through www.wineshow.co.za or at the door and include a 10th year crystal tasting glass, all tastings, access to the Wine Extra Theatre and a map to help navigate the show.
Dates: Thursday 7th May – Saturday 9th May 2015
Time: 16h00–21h00 (Thursday & Friday) & 12h00-21h00 (Saturday)
Venue: Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg
About The TOPS at SPAR Wine Show:
The TOPS at SPAR Wine Show was launched in 2006 by John and Clare Woodward and has since grown to become arguably South Africa’s fastest-growing consumer wine exhibition. Four events are now held annually in Johannesburg (10th show), Durban (4th show), Nelspruit (2nd show) and PE (6th show) between May and August. Besides its diversity of quality wines to try and buy direct from the exhibitors, seasoned wine connoisseurs as well as up-and-coming wine fans are engaged with its fun, edu-tainment format that includes the Wine Extra Theatre, pop-up Bubbly Bar, street performers and modern violinist. In 2015, TOPS at SPAR Bierfest’s owners, Andrew Douglas and Brett Archibald, acquired a major stake in the business, giving it a significant boost with respect to event production and regional marketing.
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Image courtesy: Thinkstock / Muenz