Amorim MCC Challenge: a judge’s view

21 June 2011  by Amorim Cork South Africa
With juding of the Amorim WINE Magazine MCC Challenge to commence next month, the five judges are preparing their palates.
The judging panel is chaired by Allan Mullins, Cape Wine Master and consists of Christine Rudman, CWM, wine writer Neil Pendock, sommelier Miguel Chan and Heidi Duminy CWM. We put some questions to Ms Duminy.

You judge an array of wine styles. As a judge, what do you look for in MCC?

Sensory analysis follows the same basic ritual with the obvious important additional consideration and assessment of the bubble quality and its behaviour. This would include the evidence of the bubble in the glass with particular note to size, speed, persistence, formation of a crown or ring and then the aesthetic experience in the mouth and across the palate to finish and aftertaste.

Appearance, Aroma and Palate assessment are all equally as important as when judging any still wine. The 20 point scoring system is applied in this competition. A top scoring wine will display purity of fruit and deft use of varieties, outstanding balance, complexity, freshness, integration, leesy richness, autolytic intrigue, optimal maturity, intricacy, luminosity and potential.

The category is growing locally – among producers and consumers. What has led to South African consumers fondness for MCC?

Value. I would dearly like to believe that the style and quality of MCC provides faith strong enough to be first choice, but all things being equal, I believe that the consumer would still be reaching for the champagne. The motivation for drinking plays an important role in this purchasing decision and it is undeniable that the majority of consumers still drink brands rather than wines. MCC offers a fantastic more casual value proposition although it is still the consolation prize in the shadow of the big C.

There has been a surge in producers releasing very small volume boutique cuvées that make for great intrigue and interest, but shall take some time before becoming commercial contenders. The tremendous growth in the category has peaked and is now seeing a retreat

Can you name major areas of improvement in MCC wines that you have noticed over the past, say, 10 years?

There has been huge progress in creating definitive styles with the categories now emerging as more obvious. Vintage is showing substantial depth and dimension with more leesy intrigue and richness instead of being made as an uncomplicated NV that happens to be made of base wines from the same year.

There has also been less use of random varieties with the classic Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (and even Pinot Meunier) now dominant. Rosé MCC has also come along tremendously across styles. Beneath the cork and beyond the glass, technical experience and better understanding of the category in a Cape context has allowed better work to preserve inherent fruit, supported by leesy complexity whilst still retaining natural freshness for better balance and vibrancy.

Although diversity is joy, what are the non-negotiable characteristics of a good MCC? 

Balance and bubble quality are critical – a good MCC should be well integrated with a detailed core of pure fresh fruit enhanced by an easily evident autolytic character balanced by a fresh natural acid line and a persistent fine mousse.

Are there any inherent characteristics/ features embodied in MCC that distinguish the category from other countries’ bubbles?

The fruit profile. In the Cape, harvesting for MCC needs to happen early enough to retain natural freshness, yet still at optimal phenolic ripeness not to be lean and dilute. This often comes at the cost of complexity and/ or freshness in SA, making the fruit too rambunctious and clumsy. Even when perfectly balanced, elegant and restrained, MCC reveals a pronounced fruit profile as a pose to more mineral savoury characters common in other sparkling wine.

Note to MCC producers: entries are now open for the Amorim MCC Challenge, and producers should have received their entry forms. Closing date for entries is 15 July. Judging commences on 10 August, with the awards ceremony being held at Bosmans Restaurant at the Grande Roche Restaurant in Paarl on 15 September.

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