Searching for the perfect bubble

Every problem has a solution, so it is said. But not every solution is successful in its own right.

I stumbled on one this past week, when I asked Pieter Ferreira, at what age their vineyards had to be before the fruit would be channelled into the extensive range of Graham Beck bubblies. At the time our lucky group of media were faced with the vertical of Ferreira’s Blanc de Blancs (pictured below), and what I thought was the raison d’être of the event.

Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs (l - r) 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010. Note how little the colour changes
Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs (l – r) 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010. Note how little the colour changes

Given the meticulous attention Ferreira pays to every aspect in his search ‘for the perfect bubble’, that question seemed entirely logical but I was somewhat taken aback by his reaction of delight. He promised to answer it – later. That answer arrived at lunch in the form of Gorgeous, a pinot noir-chardonnay still table wine and new addition to the range, made from vines too young to be used in any of the bubblies. According to Ferreira, until the vineyards reach six or seven years old, the fruit won’t be ripe at 19° Balling.

This pinot noir-chardonnay (or vice versa) blend is an interesting phenomenon. Technically, it’s a rosé, but I wonder how many would find that nomenclature less attractive than a label bearing the two great grapes of Champagne? The style is certainly not a one-night wonder; the Cabrière von Arnim family have enjoyed and still enjoy 20 years later, huge success with their Chardonnay-Pinot Noir and I note from compiling the index for the 2015 Platter guide that others have joined the party.

Gorgeous 2014 pack shotThe Beck version is no namby-pamby little pink, but a serious wine in its own right. It’s food-friendly dry with pure pinot flavours and a lowish 11.25% alcohol, all attractions as a lunch time indulgence with an afternoon’s work ahead –Salmon Trout on this occasion, which complemented the wine in colour as well as the oily/fresh contrast.

But how are people going to ask for this, I wonder? ‘I’ll have a glass of Gorgeous, please,’ isn’t a phrase I can imagine suits asking for. The name, though reflects the late Graham Beck’s favourite term of endearment. So if this manly man could use it, why not other men? I do, however, guess it’ll come down to; ‘A glass of the Beck Pinot Noir-Chardonnay, please.’ And you won’t be sorry with wine, nor a reasonable restaurant mark up, when the ex-cellar price is R60.

The thought occurs, what happens when those young vineyards come of age and graduate into the bubblies? I guess more pinot noir and chardonnay will have to be planted; maybe by then some newer clones, even better suited to making South African Méthode Cap Classique will have been identified.

It’s the newer, Champagne clones and virus-free vines that have made all the difference to Ferreira’s Blanc de Blancs from 2008. We tasted from 2006 to the current release 2010 (R190 ex cellar). The two oldest wines have the same languid fine bead as the younger trio, but lack the creaminess associated with evolving Blanc de Blancs. ‘Simple’, as Ferreira describes them. Things change dramatically with the 2008, my favourite; with its creaminess and typical nutty evolution, it’s unmistakeably a Blanc de Blancs. The majority vote went to 2009, which retains the typical limey tones of Robertson chardonnay. 2010 is still a baby, the creaminess yet to develop and there’s still a hint of oak on the nose (half the juice is barrel-fermented to encourage that creamy texture).

Tastings with Ferreira are always both informative and enjoyable; I hope his search for the perfect bubble doesn’t end too soon!

'Champagne' day in Cape Town for the launch of the new Graham Beck Gorgeous
‘Champagne’ day in Cape Town for the launch of the new Graham Beck Gorgeous

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