Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Beautiful Bubblies from South Africa




We've all heard the old saying, "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing" and boy is that ever true when it comes to the subject of wine! We've probably met a few people who have recently started to take some interest in wines from around the world, so of course, they know everything! They'll tell you that of course, for great Cabernet Sauvignon in California you have to go with a wine from Napa Valley or that New Zealand only makes great white wines, just to name a few concepts. Of course, neither is true, but the people that know a little bit want to show you how much they know, when in reality, they are only showing you how little they really have grasped.

No doubt, a better saying when it comes to wine would be "I'm open to some new surprises." This was you can find some gems out there that you never knew existed or thought might not be anything special. I've tried to have that sort of open-minded approach in my 30 years in the industry and it's led me to some wonderful wines, many of which don't receive the type of attention they deserve.

What all of this is leading to are two wonderful sparkling wines from the Graham Beck winery in South Africa. I'll admit to not trying too many South African wines in general, so when these wines were sent to me for my thoughts, I thought to myself that this would be neat, as I've never had any bubblies from this country. I went into this without any great expectations but after my friend Gerhard Eichelmann in Germany who has written books on Champagne told me that South Africa is "making some nice sparkling wines" and when I saw that Champagne authority Tom Stevenson had awarded the Graham Beck sparkling wines with some nice scores, I was more excited about tasting these wines.

I can happily report that the two examples I tasted, the NV Brut and the NV Brut Rosé are very impressive wines. Here are my notes:

Graham Beck NV Brut
Dried pear and lemon peel aromas with a hint of graham cracker biscuits. Medium-full with very good to excellent concentration. Rich finish with very good acidity, excellent persistence and hints of buttered toast. Very good complexity and well made with good overall balance; enjoy over the next 2-3 years. This would be especially good with sea bass, grouper or poultry with a cream sauce. $18- an excellent value!


Graham Beck NV Rosé
Instead of my notes here, this is what is written about this wine on the winery website:

"This finely crafted creation... is destined for those who appreciate a fizz with flair. Flirtatious and fun with pin-prick tiny bubbles that burst gently and exhilaratingly on your tongue, it's a tingle no celebration or sunset should be without."


How can I top that?

I found the Rosé, a blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir, to also be well balanced with aromas of ripe strawberry, dried cherry and orange zest. Medium-bodied, the wine has good acidity and persistence with a clean, charming finish. I'd pair this with a wide variety of foods, from Thai or Oriental cuisine (especially with chicken or pork) to lighter game or red meats. This is nicely priced at $22.


Both of these wines are listed as "Méthode Cap Classique", which is the classic method of sparkling wine production, where the secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle, as in Champagne.


So keep that attitude of having an open mind and be receptive to new things. You may just find some wines you never knew about - like the Graham Beck sparkling wines from South Africa - and love them. That's something the know-it-all will never have the pleasure of discovering!


There are several sources for these wines in the US. Vias Wines represents them in New York and New Jersey; Maritime Wine Trading Collective in San Francisco imports the wines, while Vintage Wines represents these products in the Chicago area.


P.S. I see on the website that there are other Graham Beck sparkling wines, including a vintage Blanc de Blancs, a vintage Rosé and a top vintage-dated offering called Cuvée Clive. Based on the two non-vintage wines I tasted, I hope to have the opportunity to try these wines soon!

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