The Franschhoek Cap Classique and Champagne Festival is just around the corner, once again bringing the Magic of Bubbles to their guests glasses. If you’ve ever been, you’ll know it is quite the affair, with people dressing their best, parasols raised against the summer sun and flutes filled with the delicious, sparkling MCC and champagne. If you’re a fan of swanky parties (think polo without the horses) and the finer things in life, this is definitely going to hit the spot.
However, if you’ve missed the ticket sales, or if crowds aren’t your scene, I can definitely recommend you head out to one of the surrounding wine farms to taste their bubbles at the source. A little while ago I joined a group of foodies for a Franschhoek MCC tasting tour where we got to visit a handful of estates and pop some of the finest bubbles in our country. It was a lovely way to rediscover the valley and discover new gems.
We started the day at Babylonstoren’s tasting room. I visited this recent addition for the first time this year and it is currently my favourite hangout on the estate. Babel is of course famous for lunch (which means you hardly ever get a booking) and the Greenhouse is a gorgeous spot for breakfast or a leafy meal, but I like the tasting room’s airy interior and large windows offering views of the vineyards and orchards. Here you can taste the estate’s wines and snack at one of their generous platters offering produce straight from their gardens. If I could live on these I would be a happy camper.
Babylonstoren also makes a very special MCC called Sprankel (the Afrikaans word for sparkle). This MCC is a gorgeous blanc de blanc which delivers on creamy, fruity flavours. What initially drew me to this, however, was the packaging. It was designed by artist-designer Peet Pienaar who created a butterfly theme. Open the box and you’ll find the inside covered in blue butterfly wings, contrasting to the bright orange exterior. This carries through on the label and even the cap on the cork. It’s a beautiful gift that delivers on aesthetic and on flavour.
From here we stopped by Plaisir de Merle where we gathered inside the manor house for our second round of tastings. The cool, historic house has been preserved to show off its authentic heritage, always a treat when visiting these valleys. We settled into plush chairs around a long wooden table and were poured two vintages of their Grand Brut. I was particularly fond of their 2011. I found it slightly dryer than the 2014, with delicate notes of freshly baked bread and soft fruits.
Boschendal was next on our route where we would start the visit with a chocolate and bubbly pairing, followed by lunch. The chocolate tasting is done with their Brut and Brut Rosé and it’s a really lovely experience, especially if you have a sweet tooth. The chocolate was specially created to compliment the bubbles and each bar has a unique flavour and mouth feel. However, my favourites were poured after these: The delicious Grand Cuvée Brut and the very special Jean le Long. The Chardonnay grapes for the Jean le Long are selected from cooler climate vineyards resulting in lower sugar and a crisp, fresh taste. I found it bright and zesty, with soft biscuit flavours and lemon zest aromas.
It was a stunning day to be out, with a few spots of clouds and soft sunlight spilling through the leaves of the large oak tree reaching over us. By this point the party was becoming very mellow, and talk of a quick afternoon nap were just starting to surface when four ponies were led across the giant lawn before us, two moms and two babies. Complicated wine talk would have to wait; half the party had already rushed across the grass, cameras pointing to capture a shot of the tiny, spindly legs and Mohawk mane.
After the tasting was complete we headed to the opposite end of the estate to have lunch at The Werf restaurant. I’ve been to Boschendal for a picnic several times before but this was the first time I’ve eaten at The Werf. It was gorgeous. There was a moment several of us were standing inside the bathroom to take pictures of the antique communal basins and large windows, the lush greenery outside reflecting in mirrors on all sides of the room.
This was nothing to the rest of the building, decorated to the finest detail to reflect the heritage of the estate. Our lunch lived up to the surroundings. Chef Christiaan Campbell started us off with a special salad of cured buffalo milk mozzarella, baby gems and broad beans, showing off the seasonal produce from the farm. Next we indulged in citrus salt-baked trout which was broken out of it’s salt crust at the table, releasing mouthwatering aromas as the waiters chipped away. And finally we finished our meal with a delicate and beautiful dessert of strawberries, goats cheese and a salted almond ice cream. The strawberries were prepared in various ways to deliver a variety of textures and tastes, all brought together by the soft sponge and silky ice cream. Everything we tasted was top standard and I can definitely recommend you visit them for your next day in the winelands.
It was nearly time to head back to the city, but first we had two more bubblies to taste at Allée Bleue. You might know them for their massive herb gardens (worth a tour, by the way), which supplies to most supermarkets in the Western Cape. They also happen to make some very delicious wines. We tried their Brut Rosé 2013 and the Brut 2012, and since I’m generally a fan of a dryer MCC the last-mentioned caught my fancy. The Brut 2012 is a blend of Chardonnay at Pinot Noir and delivers beautiful brioche and toasted nutty flavours with soft fruits and just a hint of zest. Delicious.
And then it was time to head home. As I was waiting for our shuttle, gently running my hand over the lavender bushes outside to release their aroma, I was once again reminded that we live in one of the most beautiful places on earth. So on the next sunny day I recommend you head out to the winelands, buy yourself a bottle or two and make the most of these scenic places.
The Franschhoek Cap Classique and Champaigne Festival will take place on 3 & 4 December at the Huguenot Monument in Franschhoek. You’ll be able to taste MCC by Pierre Jourdan, Morena, Môreson, La Motte, Boschendal, Colmant, Leopard’s Leap, Noble Hill, Plaisir de Merle, Anthonij Rupert Wyne, JC le Roux, Pongracz, Simonsig, Steenberg and Villiera, as well as well as champagne by international producers Piper Heidsieck, Champagne Guy Charbaut and Veuve Clicquot. Tickets range between R315 and R350 and you can still purchase online for Sunday 4 December at webtickets.co.za .Head to franschhoekmcc.co.za for more.