Yesterday I attended a presentation by Graham Beck winemaker of 27 years, Pieter ‘Bubbles’ Ferreira, at the colourful The Stack, sharing with us what a difference stemware makes in the tasting experience and enjoyment of Graham Beck sparkling wines.
We were served a welcome drink of Graham Beck Rosé in the upstairs Members’ Club section of The Stack. Attendees were writers, trade and hospitality representatives, and Graham Beck staff. Canapés of ratatouille bruschetta; rare roast beef, garlic aioli, pickled carrots, feta, and pea shoot; and Croque Monsieur made with ham and Gruyére were served. Graham Beck Marketing Manager Lisa Keulder welcomed all guests, and explained the program.
We went downstairs to the dining room, and also the presentation venue. Two TV screens had been set up, onto which Pieter’s presentation was screened. We were addressed by the friendly Graham Beck Enterprises CEO Chris du Toit, who shared the process of Graham Beck shedding its Still Wine division, which began with a meeting in Burgundy in August last year with Antony Beck, himself, and Pieter. What won’t change at Graham Beck is that it is a family and a profitable business with core values. Steenberg is part of the group, and will not change ‘for the moment’. Similarly, nothing at the Highlands breeding stud will change, Chris shared. What has changed is that the Graham Beck Still Wine division has been unbundled and its brands sold. The Stellenbosch farms have been sold, and the staff ‘sold’ with them. The Still winemaking team was retrenched, its winemaker Erika Obermeyer over-seeing the roll-out of the sold brands until the end of this year.
In the next five years they will plant an additional 50ha of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Robertson. The lees time of the non-vintage MCCs will increase from 15 to 24 months. Chris also announced that in January Madeba 4 will commence construction of a new cellar, with a pressing cellar, allowing production to increase to 180000 nine-litre cases. Then follows the construction of Madeba 5, allowing production to expand to 250000 cases. A solar energy project will generate up to 40000 kw of electricity. A Tasting Centre on ‘this side of the mountain‘ is also planned, but neither the timing nor location were revealed. Chris announced that a total of R150 million will be invested over the next five years, leading to a production capacity of 6 million bottles on the lees. He concluded by saying that the goal of the company is to make Graham Beck ‘the leading sparkling wine in the world‘.
Chris introduced Pieter’s presentation by saying that Graham Beck wants to give each bubble the best chance to unlock its perfection in the perfect glass.
Pieter started at Graham Beck 27 years ago, and worked on its sparkling wine since day one. In this period he and his team have created a portfolio of seven brands, with Gorgeous still wine too. He shared that recent visits to Champagne had led to the observation that no flutes are used to taste their wines, which has been a wake-up call to him and his team. A lot of research has gone into the effect of stemware on the taste of wines, and I have previously attended a tasting demonstration on the effect on taste of stemware by Riedel.
Pieter used the research of Guillaume Polidori, Philippe Jeandet,
and Gerard Liger-Belair as the basis of his presentation, which he named ‘The Glass Act’. He told us that 80% of carbon dioxide in a sparkling wine dissolves into the air when poured, only 20% of the initial pour remaining in the glass, yet still being 20 million bubbles. The bubbles increase in size as they reach the surface. He shared that stemless glassware is all the rage now, but is not feasible for sparkling wine, as one’s hands warm up the glass and its contents too quickly.
Pieter said that a sparkling wine must spend a minimum of nine months on the lees to carry the Cap Classique descriptor, but Graham Beck has moved to a minimum of 15 months on the lees, the norm in Champagne too. We tasted three Graham Beck MCCs in six different glasses:
# Graham Beck Brut Non Vintage in a traditional flute, and in a Riedel Ouverture Champagne Glass
# Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs 2012, in a traditional flute, and in a Riedel Veritas Champagne Glass
#. Graham Beck Cuvée Clive 2009, in a traditional flute, and in a Lehmann Jamesse Prestige Grand Champagne Glass.
Pieter explained that the broader the glass is, the more light it receives, the same wine having a different colour in the specialist wine glass compared to the conventional flute. He also said that the finish of the sparkling wine is influenced by the height of the glass. The Riedel Ouverture glasses will be used in the Graham Beck tasting room for Graham Beck Brut NV tastings. Riedel Veritas will be used for the Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs tasting. Lehmann Jamesse Prestige Grand stemware will be used for Graham Beck Cuvée Clive tastings. In discussing Graham Beck Cuvée Clive, the prestige MCC which is only made in exceptional quality years, Pieter shared that for the first time they are making two Cuvée Clive MCCs this year.
We were asked to empty the two Riedel glasses as well as the Lehmann glass, and the latest vintage Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs 2012 was poured into all three glasses. The Riedel Veritas glass had more bubbles than the other two glasses.
Pieter shared that they are working on Graham Beck Brut Zero, the ‘Skinny Jeans‘ project. Further exciting projects are in the pipeline, one of them being an extended lees of 10 – 12 years before disgorgement. Graham Beck Gorgeous ‘may have some bubbles in it‘ in future.
Pieter ended off his presentation by mentioning Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs 2009, describing it as ‘a stand-out vintage’, named as the best sparkling wine in the world two years ago in the International Wine Challenge. It is of a similar quality to its winning 1999 Diners Club Cap Classique Wine of the Year. He also acknowledged ‘the divine inspiration‘ that comes from Champagne, and his first boss Achim von Arnim.
Pieter sat next to me during lunch. We spoke about the new Dom Pérignon bar planned for The Ritz, and Pieter said that it would lift the champagne and sparkling wine category in our country. We spoke about the holiday in Turkey which he and his family recently returned from. John Meinking sat next to me too, and told me about his interests in food science and biochemistry, his fields of study, and photography. He now offers photography and videography services, and presents a two hour program on Tuesdays on wine on Hashtag Radio.
We stretched our legs whilst the presentation room was transformed back into the dining room, and Bellinis were offered, in the colourful Members’ Club.
Lunch was prepared by Chef Warwick King, which commenced with a tempura oyster, lime, pickled ginger, apple, and squid ink aioli. I was surprised when the waiter came to check whether my mussel allergy applied to oysters too, before bringing my starter plate. The pairing with the first course was Graham Beck Brut Zero 2011.
I was delighted about the presentation in a strong red of the second course, being cured salmon with a (less successful) lentil fritter, lemon yoghurt, grilled corn, and a nectarine salad, the dishes at The Stack not previously having reflected the strong interior design colours on the plates. This course was paired with Graham Beck Brut Rosé 2011.
I have previously had the Duck liver parfait at The Stack, and it was an interesting addition to the main course of duck breast, confit leg, citrus, and asparagus. This course was paired with Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs 2009.
The dessert was a disappointment, whilst colourful. The Savarin is usually a dry brioche which is soaked in a flavoured syrup or in rum, but tasted dry. It was served with fresh and fermented strawberries, as well as salted honeycomb. The plating appeared untidy. This last course was served with Graham Beck Bliss Demi-Sec NV.
Chef Warwick told me that they are launching their new Menu today, and that stronger colours can be expected on the plates.
Disclosure: We received a bottle of Graham Beck Brut Blanc de Blancs 2012, as well as a Riedel Veritas champagne glass.
Graham Beck Wines, Robertson (Tasting Room) and Franschhoek (Marketing & Sales). Tel (021) 874-1258/(023) 626-1214 www.grahambeckwines.com Twitter: @GrahamBeckSA
The Stack, Leinster Hall, 7 Weltevreden Street, Gardens, Cape Town. Tel +27 (21) 286-0187 www.thestack.co.za. Twitter: @The StackCPT Instagram @TheStackCPT. Monday – Saturday Lunch and Dinner.
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.whalecottage.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@WhaleCottage Facebook: click here Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein