Several days ago we opened a very special bottle of wine: Colmant Absolu Zero Dosage NV. Peter eased the cork from the bottle and poured both of us a glass. As we watched the bubbles rise in our glasses many fond memories of visiting Colmant Cap Classique & Champagne in South Africa’s Franschhoek Valley came back to us. There is nothing quite like wine for making memories.
We fell in love with South Africa’s Cape winelands the first time we set eyes on this scenic and diverse wine region. We’ve returned twice since and hope to return again. I can’t imagine traveling to Africa without making a stop in Cape Town.
During our most recent visit we were completely charmed by the Cap Classique wines made by Jean-Philippe Colmant at his stunningly beautiful Franschhoek Valley wine farm.
A Brief Intro to Franschhoek
The drive from Cape Town to Franschhoek Valley takes about an hour and is picturesque in itself. Franschhoek, which translates to French corner, was named for the French Huguenots who joined Dutch settlers there beginning in 1688.
These earliest settlers displaced the Khoikhoi people who were living in the valley. This pretty valley, rimmed by mountains, was first called Olifantshoek by the Dutch settlers because of the numerous elephants in the area. Many French names, or Dutch versions of French names, persist in the valley today and Bastille Day is celebrated with flair in this charming village.
Among The First All-Cap Classique Wineries in South Africa
Jean-Philippe grew up in French-speaking Belgium where he developed a keen appreciation for both wine and champagne. After moving to South Africa he saw the potential for a small, family-run wine farm dedicated to making only Cap Classique wines, so he decided to do just that.
He purchased a 5 hectare property, which was part of the original La Motte farm granted to one of the French Huguenots back in 1694, and moved with his family to Franschhoek in 2002. He planted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in 2003 and completed a cellar specifically designed to make Cap Classique wines in 2005. The first harvest took place in 2006 with the first release in 2008.
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Jean-Philippe’s experience with wine and champagne had been as a consumer, so he went to Champagne for two years to study méthode champenoise winemaking at Champagne Tribaut-Schloesser. That relationship led him to import Champagne Tribaut-Schloesser as well as Champagne Mailly and Champagne Le Mesnil into South Africa. Hence the & Champagne in the winery name.
All of Colmant’s Cap Classique wines are made using only Chardonnay and Pinot Noir sourced from Franschhoek, Elgin and Robertson. Only the first two of three pressing fractions (cuvée and première taille) are used and they are vinified separately in stainless steel and French oak without malolactic fermentation.
To date all Colmant Cap Classique wines are non-vintage. JP believes blending is an important part of achieving complexity and to that end each year a portion of the cuvée wine is held back for blending. Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) wines must be made using the traditional method with the second, bubble-producing fermentation in the bottle. Colmant Cap Classique ages for 18 to 84 months on the lees before disgorgement.
A Taste of Colmant Cap Classique
During our visit to Colmant in October 2018 we tasted six wines with Schalk Basson and briefly met Jean-Philippe. The tasting experience was informative and very personal. The wines we tasted:
Colmant Brut Plaiser NV — light and fruity, with a hint of sweetness. Aged only 12-15 months on the lees to preserve the fruit flavors. Enjoy this bubbly before a meal.
Colmant Brut Reserve NV — more acidity and complexity. Aged for at least 30 months on the lees.
Colmant Brut Chardonnay NV — clean, lively, yeasty, complex. 100% Chardonnay aged 45 to 48 months on the lees.
Colmant Absolu Zero Dosage NV — way more complexity, with brilliant acidity balanced by 85 months on the lees. 100% Chardonnay based on 2011 vintage plus blended reserve wines.
Colmant Brut Rosé NV — red berries, citrus, lively, dry. 10% Pinot Noir as a red wine, 65% Pinot Noir without skin contact, 25% Chardonnay aged 24 months on the lees. Made with intention for the rosé lover.
Colmant Sec Reserve NV — sweet fruit perfectly balanced by clean acidity. 20g/L dosage, aged 24 months on the lees. Schalk described this wine as the odd one out because it is the only sec MCC made.
Colmant Cap Classique wines have been frequent winners at the Amorim Cap Classique Challenge, the premier competition for Méthode Cap Classic wines in South Africa. And the accolades have come from Platter’s Wine Guide as well: five stars in 2018 for Colmant Brut Chardonnay NV and five stars in 2019 for Colmant Absolu Zero Dosage.
Current production at Colmant is only 60000 bottles according to the winery website. Most of the production is consumed in South Africa and Europe with less coming to the States.
That bottle of Colmant Absolu Zero Dosage NV I mentioned at the beginning of this post is one we brought home with us from our visit. We chose the occasion of our wedding anniversary to open it and we enjoyed it with a meal. Stellar wine.
Colmant Absolu Zero Dosage NV — medium yellow in the glass with vigorous bubbles. Generous aromas of toast and spice. Flavors have become more toasty, honeyed (but not at all sweet), concentrated and spicy. Brilliant acidity remains in balance with the flavors. Seriously delicious bubbly!
Early in 2019 Jean-Philippe announced Paul Gerber had joined the winery as winemaker. JP is always looking to move his wines to an even higher level of quality and Gerber brings considerable knowledge and reputation as a Cap Classique winemaker.
P.S. We never drive ourselves when we visit wineries in the Cape winelands. We always arrange transportation with Luhambo Tours and we highly recommend Cedric and his team. Make a note for when we can all travel again to contact Luhambo Tours for your exploration of the Cape winelands.