Still and bubbly good value

Good value – taken as a happy ratio of quality to price –  is not the prerogative of cheaper wines, though we often carelessly speak as though it is. There are indeed some modestly priced bargains, but I can think easily of many wines for R150 which are better value for money than some stuff for R25.

Take Colmant, for example, in the often overpriced category of tradionally made sparkling wines (Méthode Cap Classique wines they’re called locally, MCC for short). Colmant is a small specialist producer in Franschhoek – although buying in grapes from elsewhere too. It’s now just a decade since Jean-Philippe Colmant, who makes the wines, arrived in the Cape from Belgium with his wife Isabelle, an alarming number of children, and a passion for bubbly. I’m glad he did.

What makes the Colmant wines immediately unusual at the smarter end of sparkling wine is their lack of vintage date, which is brave, given our general prejudice in favour of vintaged wines. I would guess that soon there will be vintage Colmants too, but at present Jean-Philippe clearly finds it advantageous to blend in reserve wines from previous years – and quality overrides marketing advantage.

Time plays a further significant role in the making of the Brut Chardonnay and the Brut Reserve (the latter made from chardonnay and pinot noir). They benefit from, respectively, 45 and 32 months of contact with the lees – the remnants of the yeasts which had produced the secondary fermentation in the bottle, giving rise to the carbon dioxide that eventually bursts forth as bubbles in our glass.

This maturation is crucial to their subtle complexity. The vast majority of even the more serious cap classiques spend little more than 12 months on the lees – yet many sell for over R100 a bottle, often much more. (Sparkling wines constitute one of the few buoyant sections of the local wine market.) So the Colmants are remarkable value for money on these grounds alone: around R140 for the Reserve and R170 for the Chardonnay – and there’s also a very good Brut Rosé for those who like their bubblies pink.

Above all, the Colmant wines (especially the two whites) are superb, with a classy, stony finesse that you won’t come near finding in – dare I say? – the industrially-produced French champagnes, like basic Moët, at twice the price or more in your local supermarket. Subtle, though – these are not wines for your wedding party unless you have discerning guests!

Good value at lower price, and not a bubble in sight, you can find from the Winery of Good Hope. All of this winery’s ranges are to be enthusiastically applauded – Radford Dale at the top, Land of Hope and Vinum in the middle – but what is particularly admirable about the cheaper wines is that they are not dumbed down at all.

Too many producers regard people either unwilling or unable to afford a lot of money on wine as wanting or deserving only sweetish, fruity stuff. The Winery of Good Hope basic wines are ready for drinking and easily accessible, but are made with the respect for wine and the winelover that characterises the winery’s most ambitious offerings. At around R50 (the Pinot Noir and the Granite Ridge Reserve shiraz-based blend are more, but worth it) they offer, I reckon, value that’s not easily matched.


From the Mail & Guardian. 10-16 August 2012

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