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MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES #166 (article first published : 2007-01-28)

It has always seemed a pity to me that South African sparkling wines made with the classical technique of France and with the same grape varieties should have to be labelled, rather clumsily, Methode Cap Classique, this because of the French insistence that they have sole rights to the name champagne.

The South African version is made by the same slow, expensive and painstaking process of secondary fermentation of the wine in bottles which are laid in “pulpits” and turned daily by hand to move the sediment down to the cork, where it is “disgorged”, after which a “dosage” of syrup is added before final recorking.

This applies only to sparkling wines labelled Methode Cap Classique. The best of them are comparable to the authentic champagnes of France, and it would be reasonable to call them Cape champagne. But international agreements have to be respected and so our wines are called MCC, which stands not for Marylebone Cricket Club but for Methode Cap Classique.

Among the leading Cape producers of these classy wines is the Graham Beck cellar at Robertson, owned by Graham Beck himself, an affluent business man who was well known as an owner of racehorses before he turned his talents to wine. His cellarmaster is Pieter Ferreira, formerly of Durban, who has won awards with his first-rate bubblies.

The cellar makes many other wines, red and white, but it is probably best known for its Cap Classique range. The Graham Beck Brut, non-vintage, is the best known. I tried a bottle recently and it really is a very superior item. It is a blend of pinot noir (54 percent) and chardonnay (46 percent), the grapes used in France, and it has a lovely creamy feel on the palate, with yeasty, fruity aromas and flavours and a fine and long-lasting mousse (bubble).

Alcohol content is a mild 12 percent and the wine comes in an elegant, expensive-looking bottle. At a retail price of R70 a bottle one may wonder why it is ever necessary to pay R300 for French champagne.

The cellar’s other Cap Classique wines are Graham Beck Brut Rose 2005, in which the black grape pinot noir is increased to 80 percent of the blend. This is a celebratory kind of wine, salmon pink in colour, with strawberry and raspberry flavours on the palate. Price: R100 a bottle.

The Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs 2002 is, as its name indicates, a white bubbly, made this time entirely of chardonnay grapes. This wine won Pieter Ferreira the highly regarded Diner’s Club Winemaker of the Year award. It is yeasty, limey, creamy, elegant. Price: R100 a bottle.

Graham Beck Wines at Robertson is open for tastings and sales, phone 023 626 1214.




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