CHARLES FOX CAP CLASSIQUE WINE ESTATE
Sunday 5 March 2017
The final kilometre of my journey to Charles Fox in the Elgin Ward was along a dirt road. This built an anticipation of somewhere hand-picked and special, and so it was. This is a new wine estate and little more than 10 years old. Charles and Zelda Fox converted the former fruit farm in 2005 after much searching for an ideal Cap Classique terroir.
Ten blocks of the traditional grape varieties used for champagne – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – are planted on 6.3 hectares of the 33 hectare estate. The blocks are at between 230 metres and 300 metres above sea level and face North-East and South. Intriguingly, the rows of trellises are angled North-West to South-East to minimise wind damage.
The fine attention to detail to make this premium Cap Classique is evident everywhere. The simple single-story Tasting Room is set proud on top of the hill overlooking the vineyards.
Large amphorae were impeccably positioned outside. There’s a fountain outside the front set in an elegant parterre-style lawn. No water was flowing, of course, given the current water restrictions.
The large and airy Tasting Room oozed style and class. It was modern-French in style and decorated with a comfortable range of seating and ‘champagne’ memorabilia. There were family photographs, matching and positioned to perfection, on the grand piano. One of the Austrian tourists played Adele as I waited for my tasting. Henry, the friendly, cat was jet black. Unsurprisingly, there was barely a single white patch or white hair on him.
Zelda welcomed me for tasting: R50 for three glasses and with no refund for purchase. I understood this to be a necessary fee to offset the cost of open bottles that do not keep. Zelda poured a good serving in three tasting glasses, each etched with the estate logo.
The wines were served in increasing order of price, beginning with the 2013 Vintage Brut. The medium-yellow colour matched the lime-green bottle. Dry and toasty, with a delicate nose of lemon and pear, this was a wine to savour.
One year older, the Vintage Brut Rosé was a beautiful medium salmon pink in appearance with the finest of rising bubbles. The cherry and strawberry nose hinted of sweetness but was offset by a complex acidity with a lingering finish. I was in no rush to write detailed notes but to appreciate the glass.
A fine line of bubbles was rising in the lemon-green Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs so I did not want to wait too long to taste. The nose was a blend of fresh lemon, melon and warmer apricot, mixed with vanilla, nougat and dry toast. This was yet more quality in a glass with characteristic crisp acidity and a generous finish.
These were champagne-style wines made as close to the French tradition as permitted in South Africa. You have to look hard to find the word ‘Méthode’ on any estate sign, printed literature or online. This is ‘Cap Classique’ rather than ‘Méthode Cap Classique’ and the word ‘Méthode’ appears in small print only on bottle labels.
I told Zelda that I was studying with the Cape Wine Academy and I had visited the champagne region in Reims and Épernay in France last year. She took me down to the underground storage beneath the Tasting Room. Hundreds of bottles were neatly arranged in side alcoves in the arched cellar. The only difference I could find to the French style of production was that the bottles were mechanically rather than hand ‘riddled’. Riddling involves tilting and twisting the individual bottles so that the sediment settles in the bottle neck for easy removal. Master riddlers can turn as many as 40,000 bottles as day as I learned during tours at Lanson and Moët & Chandon.
The visit to Charles Fox was a real treat – and for all my senses. The setting, Tasting Room and wines were all a feast for the eye. Each glass excited the nose. The tastes, though all different, displayed the same sense of detail that my arrival promised. I could easily have extravagantly bought – and drunk – all three bottles.
The Charles Fox ‘Cap Classique’ style is as close to the French champagne as I have experienced in South Africa. I bought a bottle of the Vintage Brut Rosé. I now need find an elegant occasion to drink it!
Wines tasted (bought *):
2013 Vintage Brut – R240
2012 Vintage Brut Rosé – R250* FAVOURITE WINE
2013 Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs – R360