AMONG wine lovers who can string a sentence together, Patrick Straker must be one of the most envied people on the planet.
He was only the third editor in 100 years of Harper's Wine & Spirit Gazette, and on his retirement 10 years ago founded The Drinks Business, a highly respected UK industry publication.
A five-decade career in wine journalism started with him learning first-hand how to make sherry in Spain, Champagne in France, and wine in Germany.
Guest speaker at a recent Wine-to-Your-Door club, Straker is one of the fore- most comm- entators in the world on sherry and bubbly.
His visit to Port Elizabeth coincided with both "Oscar night" and the 54th anniversary of his first visit to Champagne.
In the spirit of celebration then, the evening kicked off with tastings of Pierre Jourdan MCC Brut (bone-dry, yeasty and complex, everything a fine bubbly should be) and the pretty, salmony-pink Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel Brut Rosé.
For those who think only a posh French name and equally posh price tag will do, Straker says: "There's no reason to pay Moët prices when South Africa produces MCCs like these."
As the name is restricted to product of the Champagne region of France, in South Africa Methode Cap Classique (MCC) indicates that the wine was produced by the same traditional method. After the standard fermentation in a stainless steel tank, the magic comes in – the wine is bottled, extra yeast and sugar added, and the bubbles are produced by this second fermentation in the bottle.
For a product with so much cachet attached, selling 320-million bottles worldwide annually, Champagne is produced under harsh conditions – grown at the very limit of where wine can grow in France, in a tiny area about a quarter the size of South Africa's wine-growing region, where the grapes fight for survival and barely ripen in summer.
Compare the price of ordinary grapes (about R18 in a local supermarket for the 1.2kg needed to make one bottle) to the R85/kg earned by growers in Champagne and you'll start to understand why the good stuff comes at a premium.
Wine-to-Your-Door is the brainchild of local public relations guru Michelle Brown. Members meet every second month to taste the latest offerings, and have the option of ordering a Value for Money, Premier, or Exclusive case of six bottles delivered to their door.
This month's offerings ranged from Ernie Els's Big Easy White and the new Beyerskloof Cab/Merlot in the Value for Money case, to the organic La Motte Pierneef Sauvignon Blanc, Paul Cluver Chardonnay and Tokara Cabernet in the Exclusive package.
Drop Sam an email – firstname.lastname@example.org– if your wine club has an interesting speaker or event coming up.