What is Champagne?
Champagne is the most prestigious sparkling wine in the world. One of the factors that
makes it so unique is that it can only be grown in the region of the same name, which is
situated in the northeast of France. The wine region of Champagne is well-suited for
sparkling wine as it has a cool, continental climate. Viticulture is quite challenging,
however, as wine farmers regularly have to deal with freezing temperatures, frost and
rain. Despite this, the farmers are able to grow grapes with low levels of sugar and high
levels of acid – making them ideal for sparkling wine.
The sparkling wine from Champagne can be made using three grape varieties:
Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier. Chardonnay results in a more light-bodied
Champagne with high acidity and floral and citrus flavours, whereas Pinot Noir results in a fuller-bodied Champagne with red fruit flavours. Meunier is added to a blend to create more youthful Champagnes with fruity flavours.
South African “Champagne”
In South Africa, many winemakers make sparkling wine in the same way as the ones
made in Champagne. However, we are not permitted to name it “Champagne” as that
name is reserved only for the sparkling wines made in that region. So, our
“Champagnes” are called MCCs – Méthode Cap Classiques – named after the method
we use to make them.
Méthode Cap Classique
A bottle of MCC is quite different from a bottle of Sparkling Wine. The latter is simply a
wine that has had carbon dioxide added to it, whereas the former would have to
undergo a particular method that involves secondary fermentation in the bottle. We call
this method the Traditional Method and only if we have made our wines in this method,
can we name it “MCC”.
In a nutshell, MCCs are initially started off with a bottled base wine. A liquid solution is
then added which is called liqueur de tirage – a blend of wine, sugar, yeast, yeast
nutrients and a clarifying agent – and the bottles are sealed and stored horizontally.
This starts the process of secondary fermentation, creating carbon dioxide which is not
able to escape and thus dissolves into the wine causing bubbles to begin to form in the
Once the fermentation process is completed, the yeast cells have died, and fall to the
bottom of the bottle, creating a type of sediment called lees. The lees is what gives
MCC its bready, biscuit-like flavours and the longer the wine is left on the lees, the more
flavour is transferred into the wine. South African MCCs are required to spend a
minimum period of nine months on the lees, but many have extended this period to a
year or more.
When the process is complete, winemakers slowly move the bottles upside down into a
vertical position to ensure that all of the lees sinks to the bottom of the bottle (now the
neck) so that it will be easy to remove. Once the desired amount of resting time has
passed, winemakers freeze the neck of the bottle so that the sediment will also freeze
and can thus be removed easily. This process is known as disgorgement.
The bottle is then topped up with a mixture of wine and sugar (if required) called liqueur d’expédition or dosage and sealed with a cork that is kept in place with a wire cage. Most MCCs are ready to drink when they are released, but some can benefit from
further bottle aging.
Which food can be paired with MCC?
Because the flavours within MCC are quite delicate, it pairs well with foods that also
have delicate flavours, such as oysters. However, South African MCCs can be quite versatile and some can also pair well with chicken or fish dishes. The sweeter styles can also pair nicely with light curries or salty cheeses.